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It was mid-June and the heat was sweltering. George Pankin and his family had just moved to a small town north of Atlanta, very close to the Tennessee border. George had spent years in the hardware business and finally had the opportunity to buy a store of his own. The previous owner was ready for retirement, and with no children of his own, put the store up for sale. George heard about the offer and jumped at the chance. He always knew what he wanted, and never let anything stand in his way.The family had finally finished unpacking and, for the most part, the house was beginning to come to order. Robert, 13, was the oldest boy. Along with his eleven-year-old brother Sean, he enjoyed getting into trouble more than just about anything. The two brothers were the "tough guys" amongst the younger boys in their old neighborhood and were ready to try to take on that role in their new surroundings. Robert and Sean tolerated their two sisters, and often had occasion to stick up for their nine-year-old sister Katie, who frequently got herself into many predicaments with her sassy mouth. Their mother, Emily, was also a confident and forthright person. Hidden in this boisterous family was the oldest child, Heather.

Heather had spent most of her years in the shadows; never really wanting the attention or the opportunity to voice her opinion quite the way her parents and siblings did. She had just graduated from high school and turned eighteen the month before. George briefly delayed the move to allow her to finish her senior year. Heather was a great student, but never joined in or participated in many extra-curricular activities. Instead, she spent much of her time jogging after school, listening to classical music on her headphones. The rest of her free time was spent reading and occasionally writing short stories or poems about her thoughts. She, of course, never let anyone see them, or even know of them. She had had few friends throughout most of her school years. She wore plain clothes and little or no makeup or jewelry. She had slightly shorter than shoulder-length, thick, richly colored brown hair with huge brown eyes to match. Her years of jogging had kept her in perfectly fit shape. She was lean and petite, only 5’1" tall and didn’t crack 100 pounds. Her very small chest, loose blue jeans and lack of cosmetics could often pass her for a boy. However, on the few occasions that Emily helped Heather with her makeup and clothes, like the time Heather served as a bridesmaid at her cousin’s wedding, she was absolutely gorgeous. Despite this fact, Heather had never had a boyfriend.

George had wrapped up his unpacking duties and decided to go check on the hardware store. Emily piped up and said that the boys needed haircuts. "Yeah, it’s hot!" exclaimed Robert. The boys kept their hair in crew cuts throughout the summer. It was comfortable and fit their image. "And take the girls with you," added Emily. "If Heather wants a trim, let her get it … but Katie does not get her hair cut, she doesn’t need it," she quipped.

The hardware store was close by, within a mile. It was in the central area of their town. A few antique stores, a small department store that could be better described as an old general store, one bank, and about a dozen other shops made up the tiny downtown area. Along the way was the Central Barbershop. It was one of three barbershops in the town, but the only one in the ?downtown? area. It was a very old shop, an original tenant in one of the four buildings that made up the two-block shopping district. It was a long, narrow shop, five chairs, dusty old shelves and vintage haircut signs showing a variety of ?styles for men and boys?. The chairs were old and they certainly showed their age. The brass parts were tarnished and the leather on several of the seats was torn. The pump handle on the last chair in the row had been broken off. A couple of boxes in the chair, and supplies piled up on the counter at that station indicated that it was no longer in use. There were enough waiting chairs to accommodate ten people, lined up side by side along the wall opposite were the barbers worked. An old cash register sat on the counter next to the first chair and a small black and white television had been mounted on a shelf above the last waiting chair. The floor was black and white checkerboard tile, and the walls were marred by years of wear. The entire wall behind the barber’s chairs was covered with several mirrors that were mounted side by side so as to run the length of the room. The mirrors were used only at the end of the process, as the barbers positioned their customers at an angle toward the television.

George and his children arrived at the shop and Robert led the charge in the door. Three barbers were at work that day. The first chair was manned was an older gentleman, the shop’s owner, grayed crew cut, clich? barbers garb including the un-tucked multi-pocketed shirt that was the choice of barbers some 40 years earlier. The second chair was idle while two younger men, in their late thirties or perhaps early forties, manned the third and fourth chairs. They were wearing less traditional clothing for the task. The place was unmistakably a man’s place; a place to gather and get away from the women, one of the last bastions of true manhood that had not yet been overtaken.

Only the shop’s owner had a customer, the other two barbers were focused on the baseball game airing on the fuzzy black and white screen above. As the whole group got in the door, the older barber paused to greet them. George introduced himself and the barber quickly guessed that he was the gentleman that bought old man Morrison’s hardware store. George laughed and affirmed his guess. "My boys need a haircut." he stated. "And my daughter would like a trim. Do you trim girl’s hair here?" The old barber returned, "Made a point years ago never to touch a woman’s hair, that goes for girls too, just too picky, never satisfied. However my younger associates don’t hold steady to the same principals, they can take care of her." Laughing, George acknowledged the old man’s ways and said, "the boys get crew cuts and just a trim for my daughter. I’ll be back in about a half hour." Robert, Sean and Heather stood in a group near the waiting chairs, and Katie started to make her way off with her father. "No, no Katie, you stay here." George responded, I’ll be back to get you when everyone is finished."

"Who’s up first?" barked one of the younger barbers. Quickly, Robert and Sean jumped into the two chairs. Heather slumped down in the closest waiting chair and Katie joined her. The boys’ hair had grown a little scraggly during the move, the family had been very busy and haircuts had taken a back seat. In unison, the barbers snapped the blue and white cotton capes around the boys, allowing them to come to a rest gently on the shoulders. Each barber pulled a tissue from and dispenser and tightened it around their necks. They pulled up the capes and snapped them on the tightest snap. The barbers adjusted the chairs to the proper height and began cutting their hair into the crew cuts their father had requested. Shortly into their cuts, the older barber finished his customer, and thanked him as he walked through the door. The barber returned to the chair and brushed away the loose hairs from the previous customer. He turned to Heather and said, "Come on, let’s go, you’re next." Heather’s eyes lit up, as if to ask "who, me?" She, of course, had heard the barber’s soliloquy and had no idea what could have changed his mind in five minutes. What could have caused him to suddenly set aside a forty-year-old pact with himself? Never to question anyone or speak up, Heather slowly rose from her seat and walked toward the chair. Today, Heather was wearing a loose white T-shirt, a pair of tiny khaki shorts, white canvas Keds tennis shoes and no socks. Her perfectly fit and tan legs seemed to slightly give way as she approached the chair. She turned around and raised her self up onto the chair. "Slide on back, I’m not going to hurt you." directed the barber. Heather pushed herself to the back of the huge chair and at the moment her back hit it, the barber stretched the tissue around her neck. Heather had been to the barber’s with her brothers before, but never had she been treated so roughly.

At that moment Robert and Sean turned their heads slightly toward one another and smiled. They did not have to speak to communicate. The barber then tossed the cape around Heather and tightened up around her neck, perhaps a bit too tightly. The barber was a tall man, so he had to pump the chair quite a few times to get Heather to the proper height. With each pump, her dangling feet bounced. To control them, she slowly crossed her right leg over her left. Heather could feel herself trembling slightly, but would never dream of saying a word. With her brothers carrying on in the other two chairs she felt especially shy and out of place. She turned her neck slightly and relieved some of the pressure of the cape. The cape hung down almost to her feet, all that was revealed was her tiny ankles and shoes.

The chair at its final destination, the barber turned to his counter and clamored around with several items. He spun back around with his comb in his left hand and his largest pair of clippers in his right. Heather, of course could see nothing is she sat perfectly still and silent. Robert had turned to look and knew exactly what was going on. He looked at Sean and the two smiled.

Combing straight through her shiny brown hair, the barber worked his way around the back of her head. "Been a while since you got a haircut, huh son? Well we’re about to take care of that right now." With his final work he snapped on the clippers. They were an older type of clipper with a very loud motor, sounding much slower and deeper in tone than the newer clippers. At the pop of the clippers, Heather’s body tightened stiffly and a numbness fell over her body as she began to feel a little dizzy. The barber placed his left hand on the left side of Heather’s head. The comb, still in his hand, covered her ear. He slid his hand up to the top of her head and pushed her head to the right and forward, bringing her soft brown hair up off the cutting cape. The barber placed the blade of the unguarded clippers at her narrow soft-skinned neck right behind her left ear. With a rolling motion, he ran the clippers up through the hair and with a quick flick of his wrist, four inches of brown hair floated to the floor. Katie quickly covered her mouth in astonishment, but her eye caught the stern face of Robert whose unmistakable stare said, "Don’t say a word." The barber passed the clippers up through Heather’s hair, each time stopping halfway to flick away the sheared hair. One clump landed directly in the middle of the cutting cape on Heather’s lap. The sight of it quickened her dizziness. The barber continued to cut through her hair with powerful sweeping strokes and a time-perfected rolling motion. Hair began to pile on the floor, circling Heather’s stiff body. One clump from the back was flicked over the front and landed on the top of Heather’s foot, stuck between her foot and tongue of the shoe. Heather made no effort to free it.

The barber continued around the back of Heather’s head, each time running the clippers up to the halfway point. Once around to the right side, he adjusted his grip on the clippers and folded Heather’s ear down with his finger as he circled the clippers over her ear, shearing away the hair to match the back. With a pop, the clippers were off. "Much better already?" he asked looking at the quivering girl with merely a patch of straight hair on top of her head. He changed clippers and added a larger blade. Reaching over Heather and supporting her head from behind, he set the clippers at the right side of her forehead and slowly passed them to the back to meet the already clippered hair. Across her head, stroke by stroke, he sent brown tresses slithering down Heather’s back and to the floor. A few tears began to well at the bottom of Heather’s eyes as she felt the cold metal of the clipper blade shear away her hair. The older barber worked much faster than his counterparts. He grabbed a third pair of clippers and blended the top hair into the sheared sides and back. He loosened the cape and quickly brushed away the loose hairs that once crowned Heather’s shivering head.

With a quick spin of the chair he turned Heather to the mirror. Her face expressed her unbelievable shock. "There you go, back to normal" the barber quipped. Heather barely had enough strength to slide down off the chair and collapse in the waiting chair. The older barber turned to Katie and said, "You’ll have to wait on one of them, like I said I don’t cut girl’s hair."

Robert quickly answered, "She’s not getting a haircut."

"But your father asked us to give her a trim," responded the barber.

"Not her, he meant Heather – she was supposed to get the trim!" Robert shouted as he pointed to his sister. "She’s a girl!"

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