Jack’s windowsill was crammed with plants in yoghurt pots. On the chest of drawers near the window was his microscope and aquarium. Jack lifted the wire mesh and sprinkled in some fish food. Several tadpoles wriggled past the pondweed to the surface. One had a tiny tail and two bumps for eyes. Another one had two miniature legs.
He smiled and changed out of his school uniform into jeans and a T-shirt,
A clunk of the front door opening came from the hall and his mum called out. “Sophie’s here.”
There was a rapid thump of feet up the stairs. The door opened and Sophie leapt onto the bed.
Her black hair swung across her face while she rummaged through her shoulder bag and pulled out a torn piece of newspaper. “Here’s that advert I was telling you about.”
There were photos of a man’s head. One was bald, and next to it was the same head with a new growth of hair. Below it said, With the new improved Rogers’ transplant technique you will in no time have a verdant growth of new hair. A head you can be proud of. At the bottom it said, Introductory course £1,990.
“Men will do anything to look young again,” she said. “When my dad was alive, Mum was always teasing him about losing his hair.”
He ran his hands over his head. “I’d hate to be bald again.”
“Do you remember when I used to look out for any new hair that was growing? And I showed you a great big one that had come out?”
“That was mean showing me one of yours.”
She giggled. “I kidded you on for a while, didn’t I?”
He nodded. “I still like watching that video my dad made. Do you know the one?”
She smiled. “Can we see it?”
He got up, turned on the TV and video and sat beside her on the bed. An image of him sitting on the sofa flickered to life. The video had been taken four years ago when he was eight. In it he was wearing a bottle green polo neck that his mother had knitted and his dark hair was cut with a short back and sides and a crooked fringe. He blamed his father for that.
She nudged him in the ribs. “We look so young!”
Out of shot from the camera, his dad said, “Tomorrow is the big day. Tell us what’s going to happen, Jack.”
Jack swallowed. “I’m going back onto chemo.” His eyes widened. “Again! And then after that, when I’ve had my radiotherapy, Sophie has kindly agreed I can have some of her bone marrow.”
The camera pulled back to show Sophie sitting to his left grinning at him, her face brown and rosy next to his bleached skin.
Jack fast-forwarded to the image of himself lying in hospital, without hair or eyebrows, holding Sophie’s hand. She was gazing at him with huge
As he sped up the tape, the days flicked past. He paused every time there was an image of him, and then sped up to the next one. First his hair appeared and then his eyebrows. At the start, his hair was light and fuzzy, then as months went by it got longer and thicker.
He sighed. “I love watching my hair come back.”
He turned off the TV and picked up the newspaper clipping. “I reckon it’s worth a try.”
“It can’t be that difficult,” she said, holding out her hands.
“Way easier than a bone marrow transplant.” His eyes widened. “If we get this right it could make us rich. Who'd believe a couple of kids could do it? Have you got everything?”
From her bag she pulled out a Swiss army knife, surgical tape, a bag of cotton wool, and laid them on the bed.
“You are ready, aren’t you?” she asked, rolling up her sweatshirt sleeves.
He jerked back. “I thought it was your turn.”
She shook her head. “Miss Chan said I was brilliant at flower dissection. She said I'd make an excellent surgeon.”
“But I was the guinea pig last time.”
She fluttered her eyelids as she gazed at him. “I’ll be really careful.”
He sighed and held out his bare arm, fist clenched. “Just do it quickly.”
She took his wrist, stroked the smoothness of his forearm, and where her nail ran along the skin it left a pink streak. She flicked open the blade and grinned. Jack’s eyes widened, then he frowned.
She pinched his cheek and smiled. “Don’t worry,” she said, resting his hand in her lap.
She took the lighter and stroked the flame over the blade. Amber light flickered across her round cheeks and black hair. He tightened his fist and gritted his teeth. There was a hiss as the metal touched his skin.
He jerked back his hand. “Ouch!”
“Sorry, I should’ve let it cool down.”
He held out his arm again and she pressed the blade against his skin, but it wouldn’t cut.
“I’ll have to try harder,” she said, peering at the red mark.
He pulled back his arm. “Let me do it.”
“I’ll get it right this time.” She eased his arm away from his chest and drew the knife over his skin. “For the sake of science.”
Her tongue slid in and out of her lips. A pool of blood formed around the blade. Her eyes widened as the tip slid under the skin. He swallowed hard and looked past her shoulder at the notebook on his desk. Written at the top of the page was, A cure for baldness - Day one.
“You’re very brave,” she said.
He frowned. “You always get your own way.”
She broke off a piece of cotton wool and reached for the surgical tape. “And you let me.”
“One day I’ll take over your body and you’ll be mine.” She placed cotton wool against the cut. “Hold that.”
He pressed it against his arm. The wad filled with blood and a drop ran down his elbow.
She leaned over and plucked a hair from his head, then another, and another. She lifted the cotton wool and with the blade of the knife, eased the dark brown hairs under the skin, then added fresh cotton wool and wrapped surgical tape around his arm.
“That should do,” she said, snapping the scissors across the tape. “Still feeling all right?”
His insides turned and a hiss filled his ears. “Wouldn’t mind some orange juice,” he murmured.
Bursts of light drifted across his vision and he started falling.