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My latest from the Angry Hourglass weekly contest with a max word limit of 360 and the above picture as a prompt. 

His voice was like a matchstick in a gas tank when he commanded me to come downstairs. I could feel it snaking through the pipes and bursting into my face, as I sat on my foster sister’s Barbie rug. I had just finished straightening Barbie’s blonde hair when I heard it.

“Robbie, picture time,” he said.

Picture time, said as if it was a happy time. At least I got her hair right before I had to go. My foster sister, Brittany, always left her hair entangled with a brush or once, I had found her gum stuck in it.

My seventh birthday was a week ago, but I still remembered my third sitting in the swirling chair while my mom shampooed a customer’s hair. Her fingers painstakingly worked through the strands, as if making sure each particular one glowed and shined.

I put Barbie in the back pocket of my shorts, her smiling face with perfect white teeth sticking out, and headed toward the back door of the foster home.

On the way, I passed what Brittany called the “Bragging Room.” She told me all the plaques and ribbons covering the walls were to recognize the “awesomeness,” as she said, of the foster home from the community. She said the picture above his desk was of him and the governor. I didn’t know what a governor was, but she made it seem important.

Through the back door, I came to the steps. Steps I had known since I arrived here. By now, I knew each ache and moan they made and where, how the bottom step was the only quiet one, how when I was younger, the distance between each step felt gigantic for my little legs.

And the nail marks along the railing. None today.

Barbie would keep me safe. Maybe if he saw how straight I got her hair, he wouldn’t take his pictures where the snap, snap, snap felt like that one time I got a splinter under my pinky finger.

“Off,” he said, fixated on his professional camera.

My shorts pooled around my ankles like a dead shadow. Barbie stayed in the heap, smiling away.

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