Liz sat perfectly still, her breath coming in short, shallow gulps. Her hands gripped the chrome arms of the enormous chair so tightly it would have taken the Jaws of Life to pry her free. She smelled the swarthy barber approaching from behind before he entered her field of vision. The odor of his cheap cigars mingled with the bay rum aroma that filled the shop. A feeling of dread crept over her, starting from the pit of her stomach and radiating outward to her fingers and toes. The growing lump in her throat rendered her incapable of speech as she desperately tried to maintain her composure.
She closed her eyes and tried not to cringe as his thick fingers caressed her abundant tresses. “How the hell did I get myself into this position?" Liz thought frantically. “What was I thinking when I agreed to get my hair cut in this place?"
One last panicked warning flashed through her brain. “It’s not too late to back out," a familiar voice counseled her. “Just get up before it’s too late. Tell him you’ve changed your mind."
Another part of her mind reminded Liz that she could not go back on her promise. Not at the last moment. Not if she wanted to preserve her marriage. She had given Rob her word that she would go along with his fantasy. Having her hair cut in a barbershop was his idea. For years he had tried to persuade her to go along with his wishes. He never insisted; never issued an ultimatum; but made it painfully clear that only seeing her hair cropped short by a barber would satisfy the powerful longing that was never far from his consciousness. After years of resistance she had finally agreed. If she backed out now she knew he would never forgive her.
The barber paused to confer her husband who was standing by her side. “How short you want to go?" he asked matter-of-factly.
“About here," Rob answered, pointing to a point level with her jaw.
It had been clear from the moment they walked into this old fashioned shop that Rob was in charge of her haircut. He almost pushed her through the door. He walked up to the barber standing next to his vacant chair and explained, “My wife would like a haircut." Then he added, just for emphasis, “a short haircut."
“Sure, we can do that," the barber readily agreed. Turning to Liz he grinned and said, “Why don’t you step up into the chair, honey?"
Liz hated when strangers called her “honey," yet she accepted his invitation, slowly lowering herself into the red leather seat trying hard not to reveal her nervousness. The barber spun the chair so she faced the large mirror on the wall. An array of haircutting implements were spread out on the shelf beneath the mirror—scissors of varying sizes, bottles of tonic and lotion, a couple of stiff brushes, a round container holding a collection of combs immersed in blue liquid. Hanging on hooks below the shelf were three electric clippers. These were the barbering tools she feared most although she felt sure one of them would soon be used to shear her head.
The barber snapped open a fresh white cape and spread it over the skirt and silk blouse she had selected for the occasion. He pulled a long tissue from a receptacle on the counter; she gathered her hair up out of the way as he wound the paper around her neck and snapped the cape tightly over the tissue. For the past week Rob had patiently coached her on barbershop rituals and etiquette. Liz knew that this was the customary preparation for a man’s haircut. She consoled herself with the thought that this ordeal soon would be over— Rob had promised the haircut would take no more than fifteen or twenty minutes. All she had to do was to focus her mind on some far distant place and quietly submit to his obsession.
The image reflected in the huge mirror looked so strange. Her tasteful outfit was entirely hidden by the immaculate white covering, only her sandaled feet were still exposed. Her gleaming auburn tresses hung down well past her shoulders on either side of her head. The barber stood behind her, poised to begin. Rob hovered at her side, hungrily savoring every detail of her distress. Though Liz tried to smile, her face bore the distinct expression of a condemned woman on her way to the gallows—a sad, mournful look, scarcely disguised by a valiant effort to preserve a shred of dignity.
The barber approached with his scissors in hand and opened them an inch beneath her ear. He glanced at Rob who solemnly nodded his approval. Liz closed her eyes as she heard the unmistakable sound of the steel blades biting into her hair. There was nothing she could do now. For better or worse, her fate was sealed.
Liz’s mind raced back to the day four years ago when Rob first proposed that she get her hair cut short. At first she couldn’t believe he was serious. “This must be some kind of joke," she thought. After all, he often complimented her on the appearance and condition of her hair. He always noticed when she arranged it in a new style. When making love, he tenderly caressed her flowing locks. She concluded her long hair turned him on and she was right, but in a way she had never anticipated. Rob confessed that his fascination with her hair came from a powerful source deeply buried in his psyche. He had never shared this fixation with anyone else, he said. Only because he trusted her was he opening this hidden side of his personality.
Liz listened incredulously as her husband described how short hair on women excited him in a sexual way. He loved gazing at her long hair, he admitted, but only because he was imagining how she would look with her locks closely cropped. He revealed that nearly every day he fantasized about seeing her hair cut in a variety of styles, each one shorter than the next.
Rob assured her that he would never force her to cut her hair against her will; he was prepared to wait until she agreed to satisfy his wishes. Despite her adamant refusal to entertain his proposition, somehow he remained supremely confident that eventually she would grant his request and submit to the haircut of his choice.
Rob explained that although some men were attracted to women with shaved heads, he had no desire to see her bald, and Liz felt some small relief from that. However, he did reveal one peculiar proclivity—a strong preference for barbershop haircuts. If she ever agreed to cut her hair as he desired, it would have to take place in a traditional men’s establishment. A beauty salon would not do; to satisfy his fantasy a barber, not a stylist, would have to administer her radical makeover. For some strange reason, only a haircut in that setting would complete his long-cherished fantasy. She wondered if this was a sign of latent homosexuality. Did he want her to look like a man and then make love to her? This was so bizarre she banished the thought from her mind.
The next day Liz did some research on the Internet and discovered that Rob’s condition was not uncommon. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men shared the same affliction. It was called a fetish, a strong erotic attachment to an object not usually considered sexual. Some guys got off on high heeled shoes or women’s lingerie; others, like her husband, were aroused by hair. Most led perfectly normal lives except for their peculiar fascination. What she learned was somewhat reassuring, except for the part that said this obsession was unlikely to weaken or disappear. Apparently this was a permanent problem; one that she would have to learn to accept.
Liz recalled Rob’s promise to never do anything to her hair without consent. He, in turn, asked her to never divulge his obsession or to use it to embarrass him in public. That understanding sustained their relationship for the next four years.
Now that she was aware of his fetish Liz began to notice things she had previously ignored. She saw that Rob’s eyes often strayed when he passed a short-haired woman in the supermarket or sat behind a girl with freshly cropped locks at a concert. Invariably, when he commented approvingly on a beautiful actress or model, she sported a very abbreviated hairstyle.
Liz decided to test Rob by foregoing her regular salon appointments and letting her hair grow longer. As her husband watched her tresses gradually lengthening, he never complained. Now they reached nearly to her waist. It seemed as though Rob was savoring the prospect of eventually watching them being snipped off. From time to time, especially in the hot summer months, Liz began to seriously consider the advantages of short hair. Sometimes she pulled her hair back behind her head and tried to imagine what she would look like without the locks she had lovingly cared for over so many years. Still, she couldn’t bring herself to submit to his obsession.
A few weeks ago Liz noticed that Rob was spending more time than usual on the computer. Many times he stayed on the Internet for hours after she went to bed. When she asked what he was doing, he gave vague answers like, “Just keeping up on current events." She wondered what he found so fascinating.
One day last week she stayed home from work with a sore throat and felt better after resting in bed all morning. Enjoying a rare day home alone, Liz decided to check out Rob’s computer. She was curious to see how he had been spending his time; what kind of sites had he been visiting. On her third try she successfully guessed his password; it was “Lazy Susan," the name of their fat yellow tabby cat. It didn’t take long to discover that nearly all of the websites Rob visited were devoted to images of women with very short haircuts; some featured girls and women with their heads shaved completely bald. She never knew that such places existed, but sadly realized that Rob was gripped by his fetish more firmly than ever before.
Liz didn’t know what to think. She knew lots of men visited porn sites on the web and in a sense this wasn’t much different. If he got his rocks off looking at pictures of girls with their hair cut off, at least he wasn’t chasing bimbos all over town. Perhaps, she thought, this was a harmless diversion.
What she found in his e-mail account was far more troubling. Rob had been exchanging lengthy messages with a woman named Maria, sometimes two or three a day. This strange woman apparently shared his preference for short hair. She called him “My Barber." He referred to as “The Barbered Beauty." In her most recent messages this mystery woman encouraged Rob to arrange a rendezvous where she would allow him to cut her hair “as short as he liked." Rob’s side of the correspondence made it clear that he was eager to accept her offer. It seemed the only thing standing in the way of their getting together was the fact that she was from Los Angeles and he lived in Connecticut.
Attached to one of the e-mails was her photo. This Maria was older, around forty Liz guessed, and not a great beauty who would stop traffic or even make men look twice. She had dark eyes and an olive complexion and looked ethnic, perhaps Latin. Even more surprising was the sight of dark brown hair hanging down nearly to her shoulders. Given the content of their correspondence, Liz expected that Maria would sport a radically short hairstyle like those shown on the websites Rob frequented. As she probed further in their correspondence, Liz discovered the reason for this rather unexpected development. “It’s been nearly three years since I had a god haircut," Maria revealed. “I’m growing it longer so the man of my dreams can buzz it all off." She taunted him, “Will you be the one?"
Rob’s responses made it clear that he was intrigued by this mystery woman. Although he protested that he had no experience cutting hair, Maria assured him that she didn’t have a problem with his beginner’s status. “I’ll teach you everything you need to know," she promised. Rob confided a particular fondness for a cut known as a flattop. “That could be fun," she replied. “I’ve never had a flattop before. If it doesn’t work out, we can always go shorter."
Liz didn’t know how to respond to this troubling discovery. Her initial impulse to confront Rob with the evidence of his infidelity, but that would involve an admission that she had snooped on his computer, something she promised never to do. Besides, if she backed Rob into a corner and forced him to choose between the two of them, she was not certain that he would pick her. Was the power of his fetish strong enough to end their years together? She couldn’t say for sure—she lacked self-confidence and could readily see the power of his fetish.
The source of her insecurity could be traced back to her childhood when other children mocked her looks. Her two older sisters were popular and widely regarded as beauties. They treated their younger sister with condescension and occasional teasing. Her prominent nose earned cruel nicknames like Pinocchio and Hawksbeak. Her thick glasses were another problem. As a teenager her woes were compounded by a serious case of acne. It was then that she began to grow her hair longer. She found some comfort hiding behind a long veil of auburn hair. She rarely pulled her locks back into ponytails or clipped them up behind her head the way other girls did. Almost always her hair hung down on either side, partially shielding her blemished face.
By the time she entered college her complexion had cleared. Contact lenses replaced the glasses and her nose no longer seemed so huge. Still, a sense of inadequacy remained. Other girls always seemed more beautiful. She never was satisfied when she looked in the mirror. Her only saving grace was her perfectly groomed hair. When Rob first asked her for a date, she could scarcely believe her good fortune. When he proposed marriage, she readily accepted, fearful she would never find another suitor.
Another alternative was to ignore the whole thing and pretend she knew nothing about Rob’s secret pen pal in hopes that he would come to his senses and do the right thing. From the torrid tone of their correspondence, however, that seemed unlikely. Whenever he went out of town for a professional meeting or convention she would wonder if he was acting out his fantasy with the other woman in his life. Living with this doubt would create a difficult situation, one that she could not endure for long.
Liz tossed and turned for two nights trying to come up with a solution. Finally, she decided the only way to deal with Rob’s obsession with short hair was to substitute herself for Maria. She would have to fight fire with fire and become “the Barbered One." As much as she disliked the prospect of having her hair chopped off, the thought of sharing her husband with another woman was more disturbing.
The next morning at breakfast she summoned her resolve and tried to sound casual as she announced, “Rob, I’m thinking about getting my hair cut."
He didn’t even look up from the sports page. “Umm, that’s nice," he replied almost as if he hadn’t heard her.
“No, you don’t understand," she said more forcefully. “I’m thinking about getting my hair cut short, like you want."
Suddenly she commanded his full attention. He put down his newspaper and asked, “You’re not serious are you?"
“Yep," she answered, growing more confident as she observed his enthusiastic response. “I decided it’s time to get rid of this mop; time to see what I’d look like with short hair."
“Liz, that’s fantastic," he beamed. “What made you change your mind?"
“Oh, I don’t know," she lied. “There’s a woman at work who got a short haircut a couple of weeks ago and she looks really great. That started me thinking."
“I thought you’d never change your mind," he continued. “Last time I suggested getting your hair cut you were so adamant there seemed to be no possibility that you would ever consider a shorter style."
“Never say never," she said flirtatiously. “A girl’s entitled to change her mind, isn’t she?"
“So when is this big event going to take place?" he inquired eagerly.
“Soon," she answered vaguely, “but I still have to decided where I‘ll have it done."
“May I make a suggestion?" Rob offered. “Why don’t you let me make the arrangements?"
“Does that mean what I think it means?" Liz asked.
“You know my preference," he told her. “I’d like to take you to my barber shop."
“I figured that’s what you would say," she replied with an air of resignation. “Yes, I’m willing to visit that barber shop of yours, just this once."
Rob practically jumped out of his seat. He embraced Liz and twirled her around the room. “I can’t believe this is really happening," he gushed. “Honey, you’ve made me a very happy man."
That night he made love with a passion that had been missing for months. Liz was convinced that she had made the right decision, but that knowledge did not silence her nagging worries.
Liz sat motionless as the barber continued snipping off her tresses at a slow, deliberate rate. He carefully selected each long section, making sure the scissor blades were level with the previous cut before closing them and slicing away another strand.
After what seemed like an eternity, Liz opened her eyes and shuddered in disbelief. The hair on the right side of her head was now clipped into a brief bob, still covering her ear but revealing one half of her neck. A large mound of severed auburn hair rested her lap. The hair on the left side remained at its original length. It was a weird and disturbing sight. Liz released an involuntary gasp as the magnitude of her transformation hit home. The barber sensed her distress and tried to reassure her. “Don’t worry, honey, we’ll have you looking shipshape in a few minutes," he said with a smile as he resumed his work. He never noticed the tears rolling down her cheeks. Liz had resolved not to cry, but she was powerless to stop their flow. So many years had been invested in conditioning and grooming those locks; so much wasted effort.
True to his word, the barber picked up his pace as he attacked the remaining long tresses on the left side of her head. Each slice of the scissors reduced the gleaming auburn curtain hanging down beyond her left shoulder and added to the pile accumulating on her lap. Liz watched in stunned astonishment as he inexorably transformed her into a person she hardly recognized. When the last long strand fell from her head the barber stepped back so she could view his handiwork. He held a small mirror behind her head so she could inspect the damage.
“Well, what d’ya think?" he asked eagerly.
Liz knew the barber expected words of praise, but she couldn’t bring herself to congratulate him on the blunt cut he had just fashioned. Although her new style was symmetrical and neatly trimmed all around, in her opinion she looked incomplete. Part of her was gone that would be impossible to replace.
Rob, however, was not so reticent. “It would look better with bangs," he volunteered. “You should cut some bangs about here," he announced, pointing to a spot on her forehead just above her eyebrow. Liz detested bangs; she thought they looked childish and had resisted efforts by her usual stylist to revise her classic center parted look by adding a fringe. Now, however, she was speechless; she couldn’t summon the words to protest.
The barber sprang back into motion, combing down a swath of hair over her face. He inserted his shears at the side and slowly removed the auburn veil shielding her eyes. The severed hair tickled her nose as it fell into her lap; she resisted the urge to wipe her hand across her face. Each time the scissors closed, another swatch fell away until her vision was no longer blocked. Glancing in the mirror, Liz saw herself wearing bangs for the first time since eighth grade. “They don’t really look too terrible," she consoled herself. To her relief, the barber had cut the bangs full and thick and left them long enough so they could easily be swept to the side. At least he didn’t give her a wispy little mini-fringe—the look she so hated as a school girl. “I suppose it could be worse," she thought to herself.
Once again the barber asked her opinion. He had done a competent job; the line of hair now covering her forehead was cut even and straight and not too short. Still, she was too shocked to tell him what she thought. With the brief bob she now sported, she rather resembled the little Dutch boy who used to adorn paint cans. She felt foolish and exposed. This was a cute hairdo, she had to admit, but one better suited for a grade school girl; hardly a becoming look for a thirty-something businesswoman. She searched for the right words to express her disappointment, but none came to mind.
Rob appeared delighted with the barber’s handiwork, yet was not satisfied. “It looks great," he announced, “but I think you should go shorter."
“Sure, I can do that," the barber readily agreed. “We can always go shorter."
Liz cringed, but this time she had to concur with Rob. The Dutch boy bob she now wore just was not suitable. Even though the barber had done a better job than she expected, it was not a style she wanted to wear in public. Perhaps a shorter cut would be more attractive, she thought. She was willing to go along with Rob’s plan.
“How short you want to go?" the barber asked.
“Take it up over her ears," Rob ordered, “and part it on the side instead of the middle."
“Tapered in the back?" the barber inquired.
“Yes, it should be tapered," Rob agreed.
Liz had a rough idea of the haircut they were describing. She envisioned something like the boyish style some of her friends sported. With a side part and full bangs brushed across the forehead, it was a popular cut, one popular with soccer moms and busy professional women. While she always prided herself for standing out from the crowd, Liz consoled herself with the thought that a short haircut like that would be low maintenance and definitely would require less time to prepare each morning. At least she wouldn’t look as juvenile as she now appeared.
The barber picked up his comb and scissors and began attacking the back of her head. He used his comb to lift a section near her neck and snip off all the hair that was exposed, then chose another section slightly higher. She felt the cuts coming farther from her scalp as he carefully worked his way up towards her crown. Once he reached the top he returned to her hairline, this time rapidly snipping off much smaller pieces. Liz couldn’t see what he was doing, but as she listened to the steady clicking of his shears she pictured a graduated look, not much different from the haircuts Rob usually got. It would be a drastic change, one for which she now tried to prepare herself.
Her barber shifted his attention to the side of her head. With a few swift strokes he sliced away most of the hair covering her right ear. It seemed so strange to see her earlobe poking out from its auburn covering. She watched with a combination of dismay and anticipation as he continued snipping until no hair on the right side of her head was longer than one inch. Once again she recoiled at the weird image peering back at her from the mirror. The right side was clipped close to her head while the left side still grazed her chin. This half-and-half look was disturbing; Liz silently urged the barber to quickly complete his work.
As if by telepathy he obliged by rapidly exposing her left ear and shortening the other side to match the right. A layer of auburn clippings now covered the shoulders of the white cape. Liz recognized the outline of the finished haircut although she knew her ordeal was not yet over.
The barber lifted a section of hair from the middle of her head with his comb and sliced away four inches of dark red silk. He reached for a second strand and a third. Clumps of hair fell from his scissors at a feverish pace. It seemed as though he no longer was concerned about cutting every strand to the same length. In five minute’s time all of the hair on top of Liz’s head had been reduced to three inches with a slightly longer fringe in front. The barber sprayed a mist of water over her head and drew a clean part down the left side of her head. After brushing the abbreviated locks across her scalp he used a blow dryer to give the top a little volume. Once again he paused so she could inspect his second creation.
“Well, what d’ya think?" the barber repeated.
This time Liz was prepared with a positive answer. “It looks nice," she said firmly. “This will be a good cut for the summer." Although the style was much shorter than she felt comfortable with and looked more masculine than she desired, she resolved that this would be only a temporary condition. In two or three month or two her hair would reach an acceptable length—long enough so she wouldn’t be mistaken for a guy from the back. Already she was picturing herself in a year’s time with a much softer and more feminine style.
However, Rob apparently was not satisfied. Liz could read displeasure in his crossed arms and his furrowed brow as he pensively inspected her new haircut. She dreaded the words that she knew were coming next.
“Okay with you, mister?" the barber asked.
“I thought maybe you could go shorter," he tentatively suggested.
“Sure, we can always go shorter if that’s what you want." The barber looked at Liz, obviously expecting her to contradict her husband. That’s what she desperately wanted to do, but she could feel Rob glaring at her. Liz was torn. She had agreed to submit to a short haircut in this barbershop, but Rob had never told her exactly what he had in mind. Suddenly she realized that Rob’s idea of a sexy shorter style was nothing like the fashionable boyish cut she now wore. He would not be satisfied until her hair was reduced to a microscopic stubble.
Before Liz could protest, Rob jumped in. “Why don’t we go shorter then?" he offered.
“How short you want?" he asked again.
This time Rob looked directly at Liz, daring her to contradict him. “Buzz the sides and back with a number two guide," he ordered.
“What about on top?" the barber wanted to know.
“Take it down into a flat top," Rob demanded.
Liz instantly recognized this as the haircut that Rob had proposed for his long distance pen pal. Too late she understood that this had been his plan all along. He had lured her into the barber’s chair with vague talk of a “shorter haircut." The first two haircuts were only a prelude; the next one would be the climax of his fantasy. Once her shearing had begun he was counting on her innate fear of confrontation to accomplish his objective. He was betting that she would be too timid to make a scene.
Liz was hooked on the horns of a dilemma. She could contradict her husband, order the barber to stop, and walk out of the shop wearing the boyish style she now sported. While it was a far cry from a perfect cut, it was one she could get used to. It would take more than a year of growing out to reach past her collar and two or three additional years to return to the below-the-shoulders style she felt most comfortable with.
She could tell from the ardent expression on Rob’s face that any outcome other than the super-short haircut he had just ordered would leave him profoundly disappointed. Liz knew that if she refused to do as he desired her husband would not argue with her or openly express his disappointment. Instead, he would pout and sulk. There would be no big fight, but she would have to endure months of his miserable, brooding silence before things returned to some semblance of normality.
It was not a pretty prospect, but the other alternative was just as frightening, if not more so. If she remained in the barber’s chair she would be scalped almost completely; the bit of hair that remained would be carved into an ultra-masculine military look. How many times had she mocked short-haired women for looking too “butch?" She knew that a close haircut did not necessarily indicate a preference for same-sex relationships. Still, the popular stereotype was firmly etched on her brain. Fending off advances from amorous lesbians was something she could live without.
The stillness was palpable as Liz struggled to make up her mind. Only the slow whir of the ceiling fan disturbed the silence. Both men waited for some sign to indicate her acceptance or rejection of Rob’s decree. Finally she shrugged. “Go ahead," she said, her voice barely above a whisper, “get it over with."
The barber set to work immediately. He grabbed the largest of the three clippers hanging from its hook on the wall, plugged in the electric cord, and rummaged among an array of attachments spread out on the counter beneath the mirror. “You said number two?" he asked.
“That’s right," Rob replied instantly. “Number two."
Liz didn’t know what the number meant, but she was certain that using that attachment would result in an extremely short cut. Her stomach was churning; her mouth was parched; she bit her lips with nervous anticipation. Still, she smiled weakly and struggled to maintain a composed exterior.
The barber stepped behind the chair, switched on the power to his clippers, and held them near Liz’s ear. Their buzzing drone sent a chill down her spine as the finality of her impending shearing could no longer be denied. She felt pressure from his strong hand pressing her head down toward her chest as he placed the cold steel blades on the bare skin of her neck. The hum of the clippers deepened as they bit into her hair. The barber guided them up through what was left of her auburn mane.
From her seat facing the mirror Liz could not see what the barber was doing to her hair; she could only observe the intent gaze on his face as he continued wielding the buzzing cutting tool. His manner was businesslike and professional. She figured that he had done this thousands of times for his male customers. She was receiving no special treatment. Rob, in contrast, could scarcely contain his excitement. He hovered near the barber’s elbow, closely following his every move.
Liz tried to imagine what he was seeing. She pictured large clumps of her severed hair falling to the floor as the barber repeatedly pressed his clippers close to her scalp. “There must be quite a pile there," she thought, considering the amount that had already been cut. She visualized a growing patch of shortened hair on the back of her head. That image was soon confirmed when she felt a cool breeze blowing over the newly exposed area.
It was only a few minutes until the barber removed his hand from the top of her head, stepped to the right side of the chair, and lifted her chin. Without a word he placed his clippers in front of her ear and guided them up towards her temple. Now Liz could see the dark red locks that tumbled onto the white cape covering her shoulder before coming to rest in her lap. She silently groaned. The hair that remained was only a quarter-inch in length, far shorter than she had imagined.
The barber folded back her ear, clipping the few remaining long hairs, before turning his attention to the left side of her head. Liz watched speechlessly as he made sure the two sides were clipped equally short.
He switched off the power and replaced the clippers on their hook. Liz wondered what was coming next. Surely there would be more hair cutting. The image she beheld in the big mirror was a long way from the pictures of closely clipped women she had seen on Rob’s computer. While the hair on the sides of her head certainly was short enough, the top was a shaggy mop by comparison. Longer tufts of hair flopped down from her brow. It was an unsightly mess. As much as she hated the thought, she knew that her hair could not remain in this half undone state.
Liz’s contemplation was interrupted when the barber returned and positioned himself directly in front of her. In one hand he held a spray bottle in one hand and a stiff brush in the other. He aimed the bottle at the top of her head and squirted a fine stream of droplets into her hair. When the top was thoroughly soaked he began vigorously brushing her hair straight back off her forehead. “Your hair’s been laying down for too long," he explained. “Now we gotta teach it to stand up straight."
She stoically endured the barber’s rough grooming, noting how much his approach differed from the gentle attention she enjoyed on her infrequent visits to her hair salon.
Finally he was satisfied with the arrangement of her hair and turned back to the counter beneath the mirror for new implements. Liz stole a glance and cringed at her latest visage. Her damp hair now looked more brown than red, as it always did when wet. Uneven shafts of shortened hair stood straight up from her crown. Just as striking was the expanse of bare forehead left after her bangs were brushed back off her face. A hint of an ironic smile appeared at the corners of her mouth. Funny, she thought, for so many years she had detested bangs and now she wished she could get them back.
Once again the barber stood in front of her with the clippers in his right hand and a long-toothed comb in the other. She noticed that he had removed the attachment that formerly covered the clippers’ blades. He addressed her in a stern voice. “This is the most critical part," he announced. “You need to hold real still while I do the top."
Liz acknowledged his warning with a slight nod. He switched the power on again and used the comb to lift a section of her hair above her brow. He held the comb level and deliberately ran his clippers across the comb, slicing off nearly an inch of her hair. Small clumps of damp hair dropped onto her nose and face. She remembered the barber’s admonition and resisted the urge to brush them away. He concentrated, intently focusing his full attention on the next cut. Step by step he moved the clippers further back on her head. She endured his efforts with a detached resignation that surprised her. It was almost like being a witness at her own funeral. While she fervently wanted this haircut to be finished, she dreaded the final result. She decided she could wait a while longer before seeing her revamped image.
After an excruciatingly long five minutes the barber reached the back of her head and turned his attention to the sides. He held his comb vertically; guiding his clippers into the hair protruding between its teeth to create perpendicular walls intersecting with the flattened top. Finally he rested his clippers, and returned with the brush. Once again he attacked the hair on top of her head, forcefully sweeping it back. This time, however, there was less resistance from the shortened crop. She sensed that now it standing up as he intended.
Then came a second round of cutting, this time without the comb. He moved his clippers deftly back and forth across her head, more rapidly than he had before. She sensed he was trimming away much less hair this time. Of course, there wasn’t much left to cut she ruefully noted. The barber stepped back to critically examine his creation. She sensed he was satisfied because he switched off his clippers and dipped his hand into a blue jar on the counter. He approached the chair and announced, “This gel will help hold your hair in place." She had never used the product before and passionately disliked the stiff spikes some of her co-workers achieved with its assistance. Yet, she accepted this insult with the same resigned attitude she had adopted to get her through this ordeal.
After he had massaged the gel into her hair he returned with his brush and blow dryer. He aimed a jet of hot air at the top of her head and began forcing it upright again. This time he used the brush with more care, as if he were putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece. At last he stopped and stepped aside.
All during her haircut she had avoided looking in the mirror; now she had no choice. She focused her eyes on the figure sitting in the big chair. Clippings of auburn hair littered the striped cape covering her shoulders and front. She narrowed her vision on the head of the figure in the chair. Her mouth and eyes looked like someone she used to know. The sides of her head were closely clipped, revealing small, delicately shaped ears. But it was the hair on top of her head that was most astonishing. It stood perfectly erect with a band about an inch tall rising from her forehead. She slowly turned her head to observe the horizontal plane of auburn hair that barely covered her head. In spite of herself, she had to admire the skill that had created the haircut she now wore.
To her relief, the unsmiling figure in the mirror was obviously a woman despite her radically shortened hair. She watched as the flat-topped woman drew her hand from beneath the cape and felt the bristles on the back of her head. Then she tentatively stroked the top. The stiff spikes felt foreign to her fingers; she knew it would take a long time to get used to the feel, just as it would be weeks or even months before she recognized the short-haired woman as herself.
Well, what d’ya think?" the barber anxiously asked. She knew he deserved to be praised for the tonsorial talent he had lavished on her haircut.
“You do very fine work," she said evenly.
The barber smiled, obviously pleased that she acknowledged his talent. “I just need to do a little more to finish up," he told her. He selected a smaller clipper and used it to trim her sideburns and then clip the fine hairs on her neck. Finally, he employed the blow dryer to chase the loose clippings from her ears and neck.
“There, that should do it," he announced as the removed the cape from around her neck releasing her from the chair. She stepped over the mound of auburn hair on the floor and made her way to the door. Rob hurriedly thrust a fifty dollar bill in the barber’s hand and trotted after her.
“Liz, wait up," he called, but she kept walking at a brisk pace.
When he caught up with her he grabbed her arm. “Liz, you look awesome. I can never thank you enough for this," he gushed.
“You’re right," she agreed. “There is no way you can ever make this up to me."
“What do you mean?" he asked as she resumed walking. “Where are you going?"
“I’m going to catch a cab," she replied.
“A cab? Why?"
“To take me to the airport."
Where are you going?"
“Away from here. Away from you."
“What’s the matter? Why are you doing this?"
“Because I don’t want to see you anymore."
“Was it the haircut?"
“Of course, stupid. You tricked me. You maneuvered me into that barber shop and then took advantage of my timidity to inflict this haircut. If you had asked me at the beginning I might have agreed, but you were sneaky and underhanded and I can’t stand that."
“I think you look really great with your hair cut short like that."
“You may be right. It’s gonna take me a while to make up my mind about that. But you and I are finished. Lots of thoughts raced through my mind during the last half hour, but the one that kept returning was how selfish you are. Your need to see me with this haircut was more important than any consideration of what I wanted. Before I worried that you might leave me for your secret girlfriend in California. Now I don’t care. Go to her. Perhaps she’ll give you what you want."
On the way to the airport she ordered the driver to stop at a large chain drug store. When she emerged a few minutes later her bag held a pair of hoop earrings to replace her studs, lipstick, mascara, and eye shadow—all to enhance her femininity and make sure no one mistook her for a guy. She also purchased a tube of styling gel to hold her new hairdo in its upright position.
Half an hour later Liz stood in line at the ticket counter in the airport terminal. She she pulled out her credit card and purchased a one-way ticket to Miami when she learned that was the next scheduled flight with available seating. She had never been to Florida and knew no one there; she just wanted to make a clean break with her past. As she waited for her flight she noticed a well dressed older gentleman stealing glances at her over the newspaper he was reading.
Just then the airline attendant announced their flight was boarding. The businessman took his place in line behind her. “Excuse me Miss," he said politely. “I couldn’t help but notice your haircut."
“Yes, I just came from the barber shop," she answered. “I’m still getting used to it."
“Well, I think it looks amazing. Not many women have the courage to take such a bold step."
“I’m not sure that courage had anything to do with it," she told him. “It’s a long story."
“If it’s not being too presumptuous, perhaps we can sit together. It’s a three-hour flight to Miami. You can tell me all the details."
Liz smiled inwardly. This wasn’t the first time she had been propositioned, but the other occasions took place in dimly lit bars and her suitors were half-drunk college boys. Today was different. This gentleman was poised and confident. She suspected he shared Rob’s obsession with short hair, but, unlike her former boyfriend, he was direct and up-front about it.
By the time they got off the plane in Miami Liz had arranged a dinner date with her new friend, received a lead on an apartment, and held the phone number of the human resources manager at his company with the promise of a new job. She also had the name and number of his personal barber who, he assured her, was an expert on maintaining flat-tops. Perhaps getting this ridiculous haircut hadn’t been such a bad idea after all, she thought.
Today marked the end of one relationship, but a new one was beckoning.
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