I locked the car and began to walk through the village. I had taken great care to dress how my friend had suggested had suggested – very conservative in a navy suit and a white top with plain court shoes. I had taken care with my makeup – perfect but conservative. I was on my way to have my hair properly styled in a very traditional salon. This was an adventure that I had dreamed about since I was a girl but the prospect still terrified me. I walked along the road towards my appointment, my nerves mounting. My friend also liked the idea of old fashion salons and sets and had chanced upon this place. She had been treated to a forceful old fashioned shampoo and set and had walked out with her bob length hair set in a bouffant hairdo. She had made the appointment for me.
I approached the salon door and taking a deep breath pushed it open and stepped in, my entrance heralded by the tinkle of bells. The place indeed smelt slightly old and musty but at the same time the scents of shampoos, sprays and ammonia from perms and colours hung in the air. I sat down on the chair in front of the window and waited feeling very self conscious and my nerves screaming at me. After ten minutes wait I heard the hairdresser Marjorie coming down the stairs. She was just as my friend had described her. She was a heavyset older lady with very severe looking short hair. She looked as though she took no nonsense whatsoever from her clients – I was thrilled and terrified. She didn’t even bother with the formalities of greeting just said – oh you’re here, and held her hands out for my jacket which I obediently slipped off. She wrapped me in a dingy gown then pushed my head forward and lifted my hair to tuck in a tissue. “I’ll just be a minute” she said and set off up the stairs once more. I sat down again feeling tension mount. I heard voices upstairs – she had someone with her already so I sat in to wait, fighting the urge to get up and run. I stared out of the window. Sitting there in the gown, my hair spreading over my shoulders waiting for “one of Marjorie’s specials”.
Ten minutes later she came down again and asked me to follow her. I walked up the stairs with butterflies wheeling in my tummy. The scents of hair products became ever stronger.
I walked into the salon proper. It was like a museum exhibit. A woman (It had to be the dominating Miss Kelly who had made such an impact on my friend Debbie when she had visited here.) was sitting by the window sipping a cup of tea. She smiled at me and stood up. “Hello you must be Karen, Debbie has told me so much about you.” Formalities over I was soon sitting in front of the mirror as a large cape was swept around me. Marjorie began to run a brush through my hair, smoothing it back from my forehead. Marjorie picked up a razor and drew up a section from my crown. “You really need a good cut” she said as the razor hovered near the tress. Miss Kelly stood up and stepped closer. “Yes Marjorie she needs it much shorter so she can get some height.” Scriiik. She dragged the razor through the lock and I watched in horror as seven inches fell away. She lifted the next section. I sat rigid staring into the mirror and the razor nonchalantly sawed through my hair leaving another five inch length on top. “Erm I didn’t really want it cutting” I managed to force out, my mouth so dry it felt as though my tongue was glued to the roof. It was Miss Kelly who answered. “Nonesense – you are well overdue for a cut. How can you expect Marjorie to make this mess look presentable?” Scriik another layer was chopped as she worked forwards from the crown. “Your hair is much too long for a smart presentable style so we simply have to have it cut!” I lowered my eyes not daring to argue with Miss Kelly and felt as Marjorie shortened another layer from the top. “Her hair is very thick too.” Marjorie said as she worked and another section fell to the floor. Miss Kelly interrupted. “Will it hold in a set Marjorie?” Marjorie hacked through another tress. “I’ll use my strongest lotion, it will hold for four or five days.” Scriiik – another layer fell onto the cape. “I was wondering if she needed a perm?” Miss Kelly asked innocently. Scriik more hair fell. Marjorie paused to comb through my fringe. “You have it coming forward at the front?” I forced a smile and nodded. She lifted a layer at the side. “Yes she does, a perm is just what she needs” scriik, this lock fell too. I stared in horror into the mirror. A perm she couldn’t be serious could she? She held a section over my ear. “Do you have time to perm her?” Miss Kelly asked. I watched as Marjorie sawed at the tress and it fell away to slide down the cape to the salon floor. My hair now stopped just above my chin, a sort of ragged bob rather than the long lengths I had walked in with. “Yes I can perm her now and I have a Toni Wave.” She worked on lifting and razoring my hair. “Oh good I’m sure that’s just what she wants.” Miss Kelly simpered and smiled at me in the mirror. “You’d love a nice perm wouldn’t you dear?” I looked at her in terror – of course I didn’t want a perm it was enough I was having my hair chopped. “Erm er, well I just came in for a set really” I managed to force. “Oh don’t worry dear Marjorie doesn’t do those hideous wash and wear perms.”
”I certainly do not” Marjorie interjected as she continued to cut.
“She’ll give you some lovely firm curls so she can set you into a nice presentable style.” Miss Kelly smiled and I realised that I was defeated – I couldn’t argue with these two ladies so I closed my mouth. “Perm then Marjorie…” Marjorie chopped the last of my layers, the length gone now it all hung in almost a ragged layered bob. “OK a perm.” Marjorie stepped away and wheeled over a small trolley. She then laid a towel on my shoulders and pressed me forwards to the sink. As the water began to flow I was able to see as more hairs were washed into the sink. Marjorie wasted no time and swiftly, firmly shampooed me before wrapping my head in a towel and allowing me to sit up again. She dabbed at my hair with the towel then began to run a wide toothed comb through smoothing my hair into the bob shape she had cut. She combed a sectioned parting in my hair then eased my fringe forwards hanging damply over my face. The section immediately behind this she combed straight up. Miss Kelly picked up the pack of end papers and handed one to Marjorie who carefully folded it over the ends of the tress then wound it tightly around a pink plastic rod. She combed out another section and repeated the process. I now had two curlers at the front of my hair, my damp fringe hanging below them. Marjorie worked in silence creating a row of curlers going back across the top of my head. “I thought you might use the tightest rods” Miss Kelly offered as she watched. On this one she lost out however. “Her hair is too long and thick for the tightest, I’m using the next size.” Was I relieved? “Don’t worry though her hair will take the perm really, really well.” Miss Kelly smiled at me in the mirror as she held out another end paper for Marjorie. “Oh good – aren’t you looking forward to a nice head of curls dear?” I didn’t reply. “Of course you’ll have a good set to work your hair into a lovely bouffant like mine rather than simple curls.” I studied Miss Kelly’s wide, high bouffant bob. “Won’t that be lovely for you?” I forced myself to give a little nod.
“Er yes, thank you.” All too soon Marjorie was finished and all of my hair was tightly wound onto about forty perming rods. Marjorie picked up a bottle and snipped the top from the long nozzle. She handed me a small towel and when I did nothing with it said “Cover your eyes with it, keep the perm lotion out of them.” I obliged so of course was blind. Miss Kelly spoke “Ready for this dear? No turning back now. You will love having permed hair.” I felt the icy cold solution seep through the first rods on top of my head, Marjorie was applying the lotion. “I have mine permed every three months or so, you will get so used to the advantages of curly hair…” The scent was overpowering and my head all grew cold as every rod was methodically soaked. At last it was done and Marjorie took the towel from me. She paused to place cotton wool all around the perimeter of my confined tresses then slipped a polythene cap over the entire ensemble. This was it I was getting a perm! I looked at the box she had “casually” placed in front of me. “Hard to wave short hair”? Shit!
I sat and stared into the mirror my head clustered with the perm rods, the chemicals doing their work of breaking down my hair. Marjorie collected a sweeping brush and very slowly and deliberately began to sweep up around the chair. There was masses of my hair around the chair which she nonchalantly swept into a corner then scooped up with a pan on a pole. Miss Kelly followed my eyes as I watched Marjorie. “I think you will look so much more presentable with a nice neat short curly hair” she offered. Was she trying to be pleasant and reassuring?
I sat up and stared at my curls in the mirror. Marjorie smiled at me as she began to slip a comb through them gently. “It’s taken very well indeed, lovely and tight, I said it would on her thick hair.” Miss Kelly couldn’t resist a gloating grin in the mirror too. “That’s wonderful Marjorie, lovely and curly. She looks so much better already without that long straight hair she walked in with. Don’t you think so dear?” I was speechless, particularly as Marjorie had picked up the scissors , she had already chopped my hair hadn’t she? She lifted a curl from the front and stretched it out. With a delicate schnick she just tickled the ends, mere millimetres falling. She worked on across the top. Then to the side. After the major cut and the perm my hair now ended at the bottom of my ears. Obviously not short enough for Miss Kelly. “Take it shorter at the sides Marjorie. When stretched I still had about five inches of hair over my ear. Schnick, this was reduced to three. The other side too was chopped a little shorter then she worked down the back. At last she was happy. She drew over another trolley, this one with rollers. She began at the front but combed forward a fringe. She combed up a curl and soaked it with liquid from another bottle similar to the one that had contained perm lotion. She wound the curl around the roller until it was tight to my scalp. A grip to pin it in place and she moved on. The process continued, section, lotion, roller, grip. I watched as my curls disappeared around pink rollers, my head once again being confined. As she came to the back she changed to wave clips, pincurling the hair, obviously my hair was shorter there. “Do you bleach your hair dear?” Miss Kelly asked as Marjorie wound in the curlers. “Er yes” Miss Kelly nodded and smiled solicitously. “I thought so, its too brassy for you – isn’t it Marjorie?” Marjorie continued to work but nodded. “On your next appointment Marjorie will tint it for you. I think a nice brunette shade.” I stared into the mirror at my tortured tresses a tint too? “Yes you need a good tint. Chocolate I think.” Marjorie offered as she worked. “Goodbye bleached blonde – a brunette you shall be” Miss Kelly responded. Inwardly I groaned. Soon my head was clustered once more and she took time to drape a net over the ensemble, tying it at my neck. Two thick foam pads under the net to protect my ears. I stood to walk over to the dryer and was soon esconced in a cocoon of warmth and noise.
After twenty minutes or so Marjorie came and felt around my head and declared me dry. I returned to the chair. The large cape was removed and replaced with a smaller comb out cape. She untied the net and I was able to see the hair dry and shiny on the rollers. She worked very quickly, pulling the rollers from my much shorter locks leaving bouncy tubes of almost plasticy hair. What had I done? She took up her tailcomb and began to run it through the curls, coaxing them into shape. She worked methodically and carefully easing the sides and back into shape. At the top she paused to backcomb. Her practised hands moving like lightning her face a study in concentration. She backcombed carefully easing each lock into frizz which she then smoothed with the help of the wire handle of her comb.
I stared at my reflection as Marjorie finished teasing my hair into place. She worked slowly but surely with the tailcomb, backcombing a few final sections then smoothing the top hair into the emerging helmet style. Miss Kelly watched approvingly as Marjorie finished and stepped to the window to get her pump bottle of lacquer. “Spray for hold?” she said as she stood close to me the lacquer bottle just three or four inches from my head. Ssss, sssss, ssss. This was nothing like tinned hairspray, the jet was so powerful my hair moved in front of it before springing back into place. Ssss, sssss, sssss the spray had a musky scent and the deluge literally soaked my hair. Ssss, ssss the left side sprayed she moved around me still spraying, sissss, sssisss, ssss, ssss the back, the ssss ssss, ssss the right side. I closed my eyes as she came over the top and to the front. The spray was cold, the scent overpowering. Ssssss sssss Marjorie continued to spray making sure she had covered the top and front with the liquid. She paused and set down the bottle. I could see my hair was wet with the spray. She used the tailcomb to gently coax the hair into its final place, a starched bouffant helmet. She twisted the hair at the perimeter under ensuring that classic rolled edge over my ears. “Its taken the curl really well” she said as she eased the odd wayward hair from my fringe back into the sweep. “Its really lovely” Miss Kelly offered. “You like it don’t you dear, don’t you feel so much neater?” I was in shock, most of my hair was already in the salon bin I had then been permed set and starched into this hideous bouffant that simply thrilled me “Erm its very nice thank you.” I answered politely. Miss Kelly beamed and Marjorie smiled. “Now is that enough spray for you?” Marjorie asked as she paused to check her work. I could see how the hair seemed to be stuck into panels when she moved one tress the whole area moved with it – of course that was enough. Miss Kelly had other ideas though. “Its quite windy today Marjorie” she suggested. “Give her a good lacquering” I smiled.
“Yes please, could I have a little more.”
Ssssssissssssss, sissssssss. The spray fell in another heavy mist onto my starched locks soaking the curls then slowly drying to rigidity. I couldn’t believe it – I had walked in with long straight hair and was about to leave having been chopped, permed and set. It had been such an exciting roller coaster ride. She picked up the small mirror and swept it around me showing me my new look from all angles. From the side the full bouffant effect was obvious. The hair was full and each curl so perfectly defined.
Whether from the perm, the setting lotion or the spray I wasn’t sure but my hair looked oddly shiny. “Don’t get it wet for at least four days or you will have a head full of frizz after the perm” Marjorie suggested helpfully. “Setting on the perm will last a good week so shampoo and set same time next week.” Oh my! Was I about to become a regular. “And her tint?” Miss Kelly interjected. Marjorie smiled and looked at her creation. “Best not do that until the week after next, let the hair settle down a bit.” She gently pressed on the sides of my head with her palms – the hair was stiff and sprang back immediately. “Erm I’m terribly sorry” I managed to say. “I can’t come in next week as I have to go away. I will be in promptly the week after if that is OK?” Marjorie frowned. “Your set won’t last two weeks even with the perm. You had better come in as soon as you can” Miss Kelly also looked unimpressed.
“Erm I could perhaps make Wednesday” Marjorie frowned again.
“That’s twelve days but I suppose it will be alright.”
Miss Kelly interjected. “How long between perming and tinting Marjorie?”
“Ten days usually” Marjorie offered.
“So a week on Wednesday you could do her colour for her?”
“Yes that would be alright but you have your appointment on Wednesdays too”
“I know so I’ll be here to encourage Karen again.” She smiled.
My second visit
Once again I found myself walking through the village towards the salon. I had put on my embroidered suit and felt very smart. I had a headscarf draped over my curls. They had gone a little awry having just been washed and not set. Still I had my appointment to look forwards to I approached the salon once more with mounting nerves and paused at the door. I took a deep breath, pushed it open and stepped in, my entrance heralded by the tinkle of bells. The place indeed smelt slightly old and musty but at the same time the scents of shampoos, sprays and ammonia from perms and colours hung in the air. I sat down on the chair in front of the window and waited feeling very self conscious and my nerves screaming at me. I could hear voices from upstairs then after just five minutes wait I heard the Marjorie coming down the stairs. She didn’t even bother with any of the formalities of greeting just said – oh good, you’re here. I stood up and waited for her to gown me. This time she didn’t have me remove my jacket but wrapped me in a dingy gown then pushed my head forward and lifted my scarf to tuck in a tissue. “I’ll just be a minute” she said and set off up the stairs once more. I sat down again feeling tension mount. I heard voices resume upstairs – must be Miss Kelly. I steeled myself to wait, fighting the urge to get up and run. I stared out of the window. Sitting there in the gown, my hair covered with a scarf waiting for “one of Marjorie’s specials”. Ten minutes later she came down again and asked me to follow her. I walked up the stairs with butterflies wheeling in my tummy. The scents of hair products became ever stronger.
I walked into the salon proper. Miss Kelly was sitting in front of the mirror draped in a gown. “Hello Karen, nice to see you.” She said as I stood in the doorway and Marjorie walked over to her. She picked up the hairspray can and sssssss, began to spray Miss Kelly’s hair as I watched. She worked all around her head, dousing her well with the spray. She had had her hair set into a climbing glam bouffant. At last she seemed satisfied and she set down the bottle and Miss Kelly opened her eyes with a smile. “Thank you Marjorie” she said as Marjorie removed the cape. Miss Kelly stood up and looked at me. “Take a seat then Karen….” Gesturing towards the vacated chair. I walked over to it and sat down in the still warm seat.
Marjorie removed the scarf with a tut and I looked at my bedraggled curls. She wasted no time but simply laid a towel on my shoulders and pressed me forward into the sink where my hair was quickly and firmly washed. She was rough with the washing and I stared into the bowl at the running water and the shampoo suds. She sat me up and I looked at my reflection in the mirror with my head wrapped in a dingy towel. Marjorie stepped away for a moment. “Well Karen are you looking forward to having your hair done today?” Miss Kelly asked. “Er yes, I was feeling untidy….” I made eye contact with her in the mirror. “Oh so you need to be tidied up?” She replied with an evil glint to her eye…I gulped. “Er, no that’s not what I meant, I meant I needed a set…”
“Don’t you worry dear Marjorie will soon have you tidied up…” Marjorie returned a few minutes later with a bowl and a tinting brush. She removed the towel and dabbed at my curls before starting to brush the tint in the bowl through my blonde curls. I stared at the dark paste which had a strong ammonia scent. “Karen was saying she felt her hair was untidy…” Miss Kelly offered as Marjorie worked.
“I’m not surprised” Marjorie grunted. “She really needs it setting, she has gone far too long.” She continued to paste my hair.
“ Perhaps she needs to be styled a little more traditionally, smartly” Miss Kelly added. I stared into the mirror – how could I be styled more traditionally? I tried to distract Marjorie. “Erm may I ask what colour that is?” Marjorie didn’t pause but continued to paste my locks. “It’s Mahogany”
After a half hour Marjorie came and felt around my head and declared me dry. I returned to the chair. The large cape was removed and replaced with a smaller comb out cape. She untied the net and I was able to see the hair dry, dark and shiny on the rollers. She worked very quickly, pulling the rollers from my much shorter locks leaving bouncy tubes of almost plasticy hair. I looked so different dark, I stared at my reflection. She took up her tailcomb and began to run it through the curls, coaxing them into shape. She worked methodically and carefully easing the sides and back into shape. At the top she paused to backcomb. Her practised hands moving like lightning her face a study in concentration. She backcombed carefully easing each lock into frizz which she then smoothed with the help of the wire handle of her comb. The fringe she combed down over my forehead, it stopped a good inch or more above my eyebrows. That wasn’t enough for Miss Kelly though. “Trim Karen’s fringe back a little Marjorie. A good bubble set needs a nice short fringe…” She couldn’t be serious could she but still I stared as Marjorie picked up her scissors then schnick, schnick, schnick. My fringe was chopped, dark locks falling past my wide eyes leaving the harshest of short blunt fringes. She fussed over my locks for a few more moments. I stared at the balloon of curls she had created. I had been left with a harsh helmet of curls which she had fluffed, teased, backcombed and coaxed into the starkest of plain styles. She smiled into the mirror. “A splash of spray?” I didn’t move or reply as I stared at my transformed hair but this didn’t stop her. She reached for the can of hairspray. Miss Kelly interrupted. “Perhaps you should use lacquer Marjorie since Karen has such a neat style now. “ Marjorie said nothing but put down the can and picked up a plant spray type bottle. She pulled the towel up over my neck then ssssss, sssssissss, sisssss. She began at the left the sticky spraying falling on my tortured curls.
Sissss, sisssss, sisssss. She worked around my head, the heavy, cloying lacquer soaking my hair. I closed by eyes tightly as she worked towards the front coating my hideous new short fringe.
She moved back around to the back and I opened my eyes to see the thick, heavy liquid drying on my hair. She paused and put down the bottle to pick up her tailcomb. She lifted a few sections. I watched as the hair now seemed to move in clumps glued together by the lacquer. She picked up the bottle once more. Ssisss, sissss, sissss, sissss. She sprayed my head again. At last she seemd to be finished and I opened my eyes to look at the hard style she had given me on Miss Kelly’s insistence. She loosened the towel and pulled it down off my neck. On impulse I tentatively reached up to my nape and stroked the soft short hairs that were all that remained at the back. Marjorie saw my movement and smiled into the mirror.
.“I think Karen needs the back tidying up Marjorie” Miss Kelly offered. Marjorie looked at her “Lift her hairline a bit for her would you…?” I said nothing, I felt numb, almost in shock. Click bzzzzz. I heard a small set of clippers begin to whirr. She pressed my head forwards and rearranged the towel over my neck. I stared into the sink, compliant yet horrified. I felt the clippers hard on my neck. Bzzzzz they swept up gently. I tried to judge the distance, perhaps an inch, maybe two. Bzzzzzzzz. Again and again up my nape – I could feel how the back of the clippers pushed against my new curls, the heavy spraying making them move as a mass. At last she seemed satisfied and the clippers fell silent. It was true horror in my eyes as I followed the small mirror swept in behind me. The clippers had denuded my nape, shaven the lower part of my neck bald under the curls. “There, that’s better!” Marjorie said as she whisked a soft brush over my sensitive nape.
She had cut my neck as she might to an elderly lady’s hair. I could not believe it. “OK, all done.” She picked at one or two wayward strands. “Shampoo and set next week - Don’t worry about your neck ‘cos I’ll tidy that each week too – you don’t have to wait for a cut appointment.” She picked up the spray again. “Just a last drop of lacquer to keep it in…” Sisssss she began at the front, I only just closed my eyes in time. Sssssssss around the side then the back. Finally the other side then twice over the top. Another thick heavy spraying. I opened my eyes to stare through the cloud of spray seeing my hair looking wet and shiny. I could even see individual droplets of spray where certain curls overlapped. Miss Kelly stood up and approached standing close behind me. She gently pressed her hands onto my hair on either side of my head. The hair hardly moved. “That’s perfect Marjorie, lovely and set…” She then ran a long manicured nail over my almost bald nape. I could hardly contain a gasp. “A nice shaved neckline is so respectable” she almost whispered. I snaked my own hand free of the gown and tentatively ran my palm up my nape feeling the hard tiny bristles…the side of my hand met the turned under row of curls high above my nape. She pulled the gown open and I stood up to follow her looking to make my escape from the salon wondering what people would say to my second change of hairstyle. In less than three weeks I had gone from trendy and modern to a permed dark bubble.
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