Mom bought me the razor when I was thirteen. It was not my birthday, but I came home from school at three-thirty, after another truly crap day, the kind of day where you hope to suddenly discover outer space travel. I kept imagining seeing the spaceship, hovering on the grassy lawn, pointing a blue beautiful laser walkway at me: “Molly,” the aliens would say. “We have selected you. Come.” And I even got a little pleasure out of the depth of the envy Baker Adams might feel, the envy and relief, seeing me walk across the lawn, past the flagpole, onto the sheer blue walkway and up into the spaceship to project into the future, perhaps a future on another kinder and hairier planet.

I had walked half an hour to get home so I could avoid the whole bus rigmarole, and Mom had it for me as I walked in, wrapped in paper that was obviously from the pharmacy. Being that it had CVS all over it, in bright red letters.

“For you,” Mom said, handing me the package. “I thought of you today when I was shopping. How was school?”

“Awful,” I said. “The usual.”

Aimee Bender

Aimee Bender is the author of four books, including The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and Willful Creatures. She is currently compiling a new story collection, and her short fiction has been published in Granta, The Paris Review, Tin House and more. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches creative writing at USC.

Q&A by Pei-Ling Lue

PL: Why do you think there has been such a fascination with bearded ladies?
AB: I think it’s one of those images that just works—a feminine body/a masculine facial hair addition—and voila! Gender is all mixed together.
PL: Ultimately, “The Bearded Girl” seems to be a story about being different and how being different may alienate you from others. Do you think that the world will learn to accept Molly as she is, or will she always be working for the circus?
AB: It’s an interesting question because maybe part of accepting Molly is also accepting that she IS different—and that the circus is where we all belong, really. That the dividing lines between strange and regular are very blurry. Because she has accepted herself, I do think others will fall in line.
PL: Why does Baker seeks Molly out at the end of the story?
AB: He has run into his own surprises.
PL: When you were in high school, did you develop a “beard” that you had to learn to live with? And if so, what was it and what happened?
AB: A good question—made me think. One is I had a shorter leg discovered in ballet class in 6th grade. It was minor, but to avoid growing crooked, I wore a shoe with a rubber lift on the bottom of it that was noticeable if you looked. Wore it through high school. I felt bothered by it and proud of it at the same time. A couple junior high school boys called me “Big Shoe” but it was warmly said. And—I have dark hair and remember acutely two different guys in high school who decided to point out that I had a mustache! So maybe that’s the genesis of the story. I felt so exposed by their comments and promptly bleached it. Those were not said warmly—felt like high school self-consciousness-making in play.
PL: How does a circus that charges extremely low prices stay in business?
AB: Ha! I have no idea. The people are working kind of in a co-op situation? Low pay but free room and board?
PL: Where did the idea for this story come from?
AB: It was for an anthology on carnivals and I was immediately drawn to telling the Bearded Lady story in a teenager.
PL: What are you working on now?
AB: Finishing up a collection of stories!
PL: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
AB: Write what you feel like writing every day.