THE BARBERSHOP HAIRCUT
They walked to the door of the barbershop together, but when he reached for the handle she stepped back, letting him enter first.
"Hi, Harry. How's business?" he asked.
"Not bad. Have a seat. I'll be with you in a minute."
They went into the small waiting room and settled into the worn vinyl and chrome chairs. He reached over and picked up a year old sports magazine from a stack on the table, turning the pages without reading. She sat opposite the door, looking straight ahead, nervously fingering the ends of her dark brown hair.
After a long silence he spoke. "Are you ready for this?"
"Yes, of course," she replied quietly.
"Well, I just wanted to be sure."
"Look, we've talked enough. I made up my mind. I don't want to talk about it any more."
"Okay. I just wanted to check."
He resumed thumbing through his magazine, crossing and uncrossing his legs. She watched as Harry finished with the customer. He pulled the apron from the man's neck and shook it as he stepped down. He reached into his pocket and handed Harry a five and two ones.
"Thanks a lot, Charlie," said Harry as he deposited the bills into the register.
"You're next, Phil," he called.
Phil put down his magazine and slowly walked into the other room as the old man went out the door.
"It's not for me," he said to Harry. "It's for her," nodding to the woman in the next room.
"Well, we cut women's hair in here too," Harry replied. Speaking to her directly, he said, "Come on in."
She got up, shook her head swinging her hair from side to side, and walked to the chair. She stepped up and slid into the chair which Harry held for her. He draped the apron around her shoulders and fastened it behind her neck.
"Well, what'll it be?" he asked casually.
They both started to speak at the same time. "Cut it short she said."
"She wants a short haircut," Phil added.
"Short? How short?"
"Real short," he answered. "A crew cut."
"Are you sure, lady?" Harry said, speaking to her. "I never gave a woman a crew cut before."
"Yes, I'm sure. We talked it over and that's what I want. Give me a crew cut."
"Hey, Phil," he said, "I just want to be sure you go along with this."
"Look, it's my hair and my decision, not his," she burst out. "I want you to give me a crew cut."
"It's okay, Harry. Do what she wants," he added.
"All right, if you're sure. A crew cut it is. She's got a lot of hair. I'll have to charge extra."
"That's fine. Just get on with it," she said impatiently.
He carefully combed her hair, examining it tenderly as he circled the chair. It hung straight, reaching her shoulders and bounced as he touched it. She sat rigidly, watching him in the mirror. He gently lifted a handful of hair out to the side of her head, let it drop back and took the scissors in his hand.
"Okay. Here goes," Harry said gravely.
He began cutting above her forehead, holding a thick lock of hair and clipping it close.
"Do you want me to save this or anything?" he asked with ten inches of hair hanging from his fingers.
"No. Just get it over with," she answered firmly.
"Well, it's too late to turn back now," Harry joked, but no one smiled.
Harry worked deliberately, moving from the front to the back, sending a stream of long brown hair to the floor with each stroke of the scissors. Phil stood back, intently following every action, rocking on his heels. She sat perfectly still, her hands gripping the arms of the chair. At first she solemnly studied her image in the mirror, but soon she closed her eyes and kept them shut.
For several minutes the only sound was the steady snipping of the scissors as Harry finished the top and then clipped each side until her ears stood out. The hair fell at his feet in dark drifts which spread as he moved around the chair.
When he cut the last long strand from the back of her neck he stepped back and took a deep breath.
She opened her eyes and looked for a long time, slowly turning her head. The hair stood about an inch long all over, jagged and uneven. Her shining hair had been replaced by a coarse stubble. The apron was littered with the remains of her long locks. She shifted in the seat, swallowed hard, and blinked back her tears.
"You look like Joan of Arc," Phil offered.
She ignored his comment and continued staring at her transformed appearan
"Look, lady, I can still give you a short haircut if you like. It doesn't have to be a crew cut," Harry added hopefully.
"No. We've gone this far," she said. "Let's finish it."
"Okay. You're the boss."
He reached for his clippers and turned the chair away.
"No. Turn it back. I want to watch," she ordered. "I want to see you do it."
"You're the boss," Harry repeated, spinning the chair and switching on the clippers.
He swiftly guided them around her ear and up the side of her head. A shower of short brown hair fell on her shoulder and then into her lap. The room was quiet again except for the steady buzzing of the clippers. He retraced their upward path as he methodically mowed the back. He pushed her head down, gingerly clipping the nape of her neck and then ran them up the other side. When he completed the shearing he turned off the clippers and laid them on the counter.
"I'm going to put some stuff in your hair to make it stand up," he said. Not waiting for a reply, he opened a jar and began applying a colorless gel until her ragged hair stood straight up.
"Hold still," he commanded. "This is the hard part."
He stood behind her and passed the clippers from side to side across the top of her head. Little clumps of dark hair fell on her forehead and ears. As he worked a flat surface began to take shape along the length of her crown. He made a second pass, cutting still closer. She continued to watch him, biting her lip, scarcely breathing.
When he reached the back of her head he returned the clippers to the counter and took up a stiff brush. He attacked her short hair, forcing it to stand erect. He paused to inspect the result and picked up the clippers again. This time he steadied her head with his left hand as he deftly slid them back and forth across the top with his right.
With each swipe her remaining hair was reduced by a fraction of an inch. Harry continued the steady movement of the clippers until only a brief trace of her brown hair was left on top. It formed a precise, geometric plane from front to back. Her white scalp glistened through the short hair and her ears stood out from her head.
Harry passed for a moment, brushed her hair again, eyed it critically and shut off the clippers.
She gazed at herself for a long time, still grasping the chair. She seemed to be frozen in the seat, looking hard at her unfamiliar image. Phil watched her anxiously, afraid to say anything.
Harry gave her a small hand mirror and she held it to each side, peering out of the corners of her eyes.
"Well, lady," said Harry, finally breaking the silence. "What do you think?"
"It's fine. Just fine," she replied softly.
"I could cut it shorter if you like," he added.
"No. It's fine the way it is."
"Okay. I never gave a lady a crew cut before. I didn't know how you wanted it."
"You did fine. It's just the way I wanted it," she sighed.
Harry removed the cloth from her neck and shook it. More short hairs fell to the floor, joining the long ones already piled at his feet.
She stepped from the chair, still viewing herself in the mirror, while Phil reached for his wallet. He pulled out a twenty and gave it to Harry saying, "Keep the change."
"Sure. Thanks a lot," he chimed as she pushed open the door. "Come back again."
She was striding quickly down the sidewalk when he caught up to her.
"Wait a minute," he said.
When she stopped he asked, "Can I feel it?"
"Sure. Go ahead."
He reached up and gently pulled his hand across the level crop of her hair.
"Do you like it?" he asked eagerly.
"I guess it'll take a while to get used to it," she replied, slowly feeling her newly shorn head.
"I was afraid you might change your mind," he said.
"I almost did, several times, but I'm glad it's done now."
"You know it took a lot of guts to do what you did--to get a crew cut."
"Well, I was ready for something different. And you were too."
"I don't look like a boy, do I?" she asked.
"No. You look beautiful."
She rubbed her hand several times over the short bristles of her flat top. She smiled and took his hand. "You know, I really like the way it feels. Let's go home," she said.
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