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He arrived home at the usual hour, parked the car in the garage, and climbed the stairs to their apartment.  She stood at the kitchen sink with her back to him.  As soon as he entered the room he noticed the change.  Her hair was shorter; she had gone back to the length she used to wear.  In the morning when he left for work, she had given no hint that she planned to return to her old style. Sometime during the day she had her hair cut.  The change did not come as a complete surprise; several times in the last weeks she mentioned the longer length had been bugging her.  She never managed to find a way to keep it from flopping into her face; it seemed that every five minutes she was brushing it out of her eyes again.  Sharing her frustration was her indirect way of preparing him for what was to come.  

“You cut your hair,” he observed without much enthusiasm.

She turned to face him.  “Yes, I couldn’t stand it anymore.  I called the salon and Terri had an opening so I took it.”

“I guess I’ll just have to get used to it,” he said before going to the bedroom to change out of his work clothes.  He didn’t try to mask his disappointment.  Usually a new haircut aroused his interest, but not this one.

The year of growing out had been a difficult time for both of them.  She wasn’t able to explain exactly what she hoped to achieve for a final look; all she said was that she was tired of wearing bangs and having the same haircut as every other woman her age.  He had a strong preference for shorter hair and wasn’t at all sure that he would appreciate the new style she was striving for, whatever that might be.  Yet he could see she was determined; he knew any criticism from him would not be welcomed, so he held his tongue.

After months of struggling to arrange her hair in an acceptable fashion, finally it had begun to look half way decent.  Her bangs had grown nearly to her chin.  She had kept the back trimmed fairly short during the “in between” period so her haircut gradually began to resemble a classic bob.  At last he understood the look she had been aiming for and been unable to describe.  She had never worn her hair at this length before; to his surprise he found he liked it.  Her new look was trendy; far more fashionable than the nondescript modified pixie cut she had worn for years.  The more he studied her new longer hairdo, the more he enjoyed it.  He even found himself fantasizing about persuading her to convert to a more extreme inverted bob with a buzzed back.  The possibility was exciting.

The night as they got ready for bed she said, “You don’t like my haircut, do you?”  It wasn’t really a question, more of an observation acknowledging that she correctly interpreted his cool reaction earlier that evening.

He considered his words carefully before replying.  He didn’t want to offend her at a time when she was most self-conscious about her appearance.  “I’ve never minded you trying out new styles,” he began cautiously, “but I thought your hair looked quite attractive after it grew out.  It was sharp and up-to-date.  Now it seems you’ve turned back the clock and exchanged a cool new look for a rather old fashioned haircut.”  He hoped she would not be offendedby his honesty.

“Yes, I know what you mean,” she said.  “I didn’t really have a style in mind this afternoon when I went to the salon.  I just told Toni to cut it shorter without any specific direction.  She assumed I wanted to go back to my old look and this is what I got.”

Her response was unexpected.  It seemed that she shared his critical assessment.  “So what are you going to do now?” he asked.

“Not much; just try to get used to it I suppose,” she replied.  “I hope you can stand it.”

He knew she wasn’t ready to hear any more disapproval from him.  “If you can get used to it, I’m sure I can too,” he added sympathetically.

In the weeks that followed she said nothing more about her haircut, but he could tell that she was unhappy with it.  The signs were unmistakable.  She experimented with different arrangements, sometimes parting it on the side, sometimes down the middle.  As her bangs grow longer she pinned them to the sides to keep them out of her eyes.  Some mornings he spied her standing in front of the bathroom mirror silently venting her frustration at the shaggy mop perched on top of her head.  He concluded he was in store for another prolonged, painful growing out season.  It was not something he was looking forward to.

It was a Saturday in early September.  That evening they would be going to a dinner party thrown by their best friends.  After taking care of grocery shopping in the morning, neither one had plans for the afternoon.  “I’m going to go to the mall to get my hair cut,” he announced shortly after lunch.  “Want to look my best for tonight.  Be back in an hour or so.”

“Why don’t I come with you?” she suggested.  “I can look in Macy’s to see if I can find something to wear tonight.”

He was puzzled by her eagerness to accompany him.  Usually she let him go off alone and do his thing.  He shrugged and thought perhaps she wanted to deflect attention from her unattractive hairdo by wearing a stylish new dress.

As they drove to the mall she was uncharacteristically quiet and seemed a bit nervous.  “Something bothering you?” he asked.

“No, why do you ask?”

“You just seem kinda jumpy, that’s all.”

“It’s nothing,” she assured him.

He found a space for the car and they walked through the parking lot holding hands.  “Where do you go for your haircuts?” she asked casually.

“The Sharper Image,” he answered.  “It’s that chain shop next to Macy’s.  You can go shopping while I get my hair cut.”

When they reached the entrance to the shop he informed her, “I should be done in half an hour or so. I’ll come looking for you when I’m done.”

To his surprise she said, “I think I’ll wait with you.  I’d like to get your opinion of the dresses I’ll be trying on.”

They found two vacant seats in the busy shop.  Five barbers worked on their customers while four middle aged men waited their turns.  She was the only woman in the place.

“Looks like it may take more than half an hour,” he said.

“That’s okay.  There’s no rush,” she assured him.

Her husband’s haircut was just under way when the swarthy barber stationed nearest the door finished with his customer and called out, “I’ll take whoever’s next.”

A heavyset man rose from his seat but halted when he saw her standing up.  “I believe it’s my turn,” she politely informed him.  I can’t believe I’m actually doing this, she thought.

“Sure, go ahead lady,” the gent told her apologetically and sat back down.  Obviously he had not expected that she would be the next person to get a haircut.

She slid into the barber’s chair.  The barber flipped a white cape around her shoulders and ran a strip of tissue around her neck as he had done for his male customers.  “What’ll it be today?” he asked nonchalantly.

“I’d like a haircut,” she tentatively replied.  God, I sound so  stupid, she said to herself.

“Yeah, I kinda figured that,” he answered with a heavy dose of sarcasm.  “But I ain’t no mind reader.  You gotta tell me how you want your hair cut.  Just a trim or something more?”

“More than
a trim.  A short haircut,” she told him.  There, I’ve said it, she thought.  That wasn’t so hard.

“Look, lady,” he said impatiently, “I need more information than that.  There’s all kinds of short haircuts.  I don’t want you getting mad at me if you don’t like the haircut I give you.”

He must think I’m a total moron, she silently exclaimed.  I should have thought this over before I sat down.  She searched the shop looking for an inspiration.  Her eyes rested on a poster displaying several male hair styles.  She pointed toward the wall.  “I’d like that one,” she said a bit uncertainly.

“Which one?” the barber demanded.

“The bottom row, the one in the middle,” she told him with a little more conviction.  I just picked the shortest one, she observed in a mild state of panic.  What the hell possessed me to pick that one?

“The buzz cut?” he asked in amazement.  “You want a buzz cut?”

He must think I’m out of my mind, she observed.  “If that’s what you call it, that’s what I want,” she replied.

“Sure, I can to that,” he said, “but it’s gonna be pretty short.”

“Yes, I know.  That will be fine,” she assured him.  I hope it will be fine, she prayed.  I hope this doesn’t turn out to be a disaster.

Her husband sitting two chairs down strained to hear their conversation.  She hadn’t mentioned a thing to him about getting her hair cut.  He had been shocked when he saw her climb into the barber’s chair.  While he agreed she could use a good haircut, he wondered what inspired her to have it done in this all-male environment.  He knew these barbers were not trained in feminine hairstyles.  Whether she knew it or not, she was about to receive a man’s haircut.

She sat very still as the barber approached her with an ominous-looking electric clipper in his hand.  “Number two okay with you?” he asked.

What in the world is number two, she silently asked.  Although she had no idea what he was talking about, she agreed.  “Sure, that will be fine,” she repeated.

The barber put his hand on top of her head, forcing her chin down into a submissive position.  He switched on the power and placed his clippers on her neck.  A wave of fear washed over her as she waited for her shearing to begin.  Too late to turn back now, she thought as she tried to control her emotions.  Without warning the barber plunged his clippers into the shaggy brown thatch on the back of her head.  He drove them up towards her crown leaving a two-inch wide row of short brown bristles in their wake.  She sat frozen in place as he guided the buzzing blades through her hair again.  This is happening so fast, she thought.  In her salon there would have been a leisurely shampoo followed by an extended consultation about the style and length.  This barber seemed to be in a race to see how rapidly he could remove her hair.  It’s probably best to get this over as quickly as possible, she consoled herself.

The barber continued buzzing around her right ear and then her left.  When the hair on both sides was reduced to no more than a quarter-inch he paused for a moment.  “I can leave the top longer if you like,” he offered.  “Give you something to comb.”

He’s offering me a lifeline, she realized.  This is my last chance to salvage some respectability.  “No, that’s fine,” she told him resolutely.  “Cut the top as short as the rest.”

By this time her husband had been released from his chair and was paying for his haircut.  He stood at the cash register gawking at the scene unfolding in front of him, scarcely believing what he just heard her say.  She saw his shocked expression in the mirror and smiled to reassure him.  Poor dear, he can’t believe what he’s seeing.  I hope he isn’t too upset with me, she thought.

The barber positioned himself in front of her and aimed his clippers at a spot just above her forehead.  She closed her eyes as he rammed the blades straight back into her hair, creating a reverse Mohawk down the middle of her crown.  She felt the pressure on her scalp and clumps of severed hair brushing across her face as they fell into her lap.  She experienced cool air blowing across her scalp where it never had reached before.  She tried to imagine how she must look.  A second pass widened the closely cropped strip and the third one left her with two patches of longer hair surrounded on either side by nearly bare scalp.  She opened her eyes for a moment, but the sight of her partially scalped head was more than she could bear.  Get it over quickly, she fervently pleaded.  With a few more deft strokes the barber removed the last remnants of her old haircut.  Thank God he doesn’t mess around, she thought.   

When the barber paused she assumed he was done with her, but he soon resumed running his clippers back and forth across the top of her head.  “Gotta make sure I got all of them,” he explained.  “Sometime you don’t get them all on the first cut.”

She marveled at the strange feeling as the humming blades traversed her head.  Kinda like a scalp massage, she thought.  

At last the barber switched off his clippers and stood at her side so she could inspect the finished haircut.  The sight of her closely cropped head in the mirror was a shock.  My God, is that really me? she exclaimed.  It’s gonna take a while to get used to this.   

The barber brushed her shortened hair so every shaft was bristling upward.  He removed the cape and shook a flurry of brown clippings to the floor.  She glanced at the remains of her old style scattered across the white tiles.  It’s only hair; it will grow back, she thought with only a hint of regret.

When the barber removed the tissue from her neck she started to get up, but he put a hand on her shoulder.  “I’m not quite done with you,” he said.  “Just two minutes longer.”

What’s he going to do now? she wondered.  The barber went to a machine on the shelf below the mirror and came back with a handful of white foam.  “We need to clean up your neck,” he said in answer to her curious expression.  He spread the warm foam down her neck.  Hmmm, feels good, she thought as he smoothed the lather onto her skin.  She tensed again when she saw him approaching with a lethal-looking straight razor in his hand.  The barber skillfully scraped the sharp blade down her neck and around her ears, trimming her sideburns into a pair of sharp points.  She held her breath until he had finished and cleared away the left over foam.  He rubbed a bracing aromatic tonic on her freshly shaved skin and brushed away the few loose hairs that clung to her ears and forehead.  “There, that should do it,” he brusquely informed her.

She rose from the chair, still gazing at her drastically altered image in the mirror.  Thank God my ears don’t stick out, she thought.  She considered the pelt of uniform brown fuzz that now covered her nicely rounded head.  She noticed that her eyes were more prominent and her face seemed younger.  It’s not such a bad look, she decided.  Not so bad at all.

Her husband had already paid for her haircut.  They walked toward the door together.  “Come back any time,” the barber called to her.

Maybe I will, she silently answered.  Maybe I will keep my hair lik
e this for a while.  She smiled at him and said, “Thank you” as they exited the shop.

“What in the world were you thinking?” her husband demanded as they stood in middle of the busy mall.

“I I needed to take some drastic action,” she informed him.  “I was desperate.  I could see that you didn’t like my haircut; neither did I.  I hadn’t planned on getting it cut so short when I asked to come with you.  I only knew that I needed a different look and couldn’t wait any longer.”

“Why so extreme?” he continued.

“I can’t explain it,” she answered.  “I just knew I needed to try something completely different, kinda like starting over from scratch.  I hope you’re not mad at me.”

“I always said you looked good with short hair, but it’s gonna take a while to get used to my wife having shorter hair than mine,” he remarked.  “Still, if that’s what you want, I’m sure I’ll get used to it.  It certainly is a big improvement over your last haircut.”

“Yes,” she said happily, “that’s one thing we can agree on.”

He hesitated for a moment, then asked, “Can I feel it?”

“Sure, go ahead,” she answered.  She bent her head in his direction as he reached his hand up and gently stroked the short bristles springing up from her crown.  She smiled as she felt his lingering caress.

“Feels good,” he said with a passion that surprised her, “soft like velvet.”  He really likes it, she thought.  I think he’s getting turned on.

“Shall we go to Macy’s now?” she suggested.  “I’m going to need a special dress to go with my new hairdo.”

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