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Christine took a deep breath, picked up her bag and walked out of her room. She was a student at university in the north-east of England who was due to graduate in a weeks time. Today was the conclusion of a year long process, which had started just before grad last year. Christine had been leaving her room for walk, and had seen the girl from the room opposite, Helen, whom she knew slightly, coming out with what must have been her Mum.

Helen was a quiet, timid, mousy kind of girl. Christine had not met Helen’s mum, but her first impression was of a bossy, domineering lady who wouldn’t stand for any nonsense. As the pair walked past Christine heard Helen say ‘Oh Mum, do I have to?’ ‘Yes, you do,’ replied her mother firmly ‘I’ve paid for three years at university, the least you can do is look nice for your graduation.’

‘Poor girl’ thought Christine, ‘I bet she’ll have to wear a horrible dress. I’m glad my Mum’s not like that’. Christine’s Mum, like most middle-england mothers, liked her daughter to look smart, conservative and feminine, but she never forced the issue. Instead, she endured the tatty jeans and baggy t-shirts with resigned sighs, and only occasionally suggested that Christine’s long, fine hair would benefit from a good cut, and a shorter style. She did sometimes ask Christine to dress up nicely, and tidy up her hair, usually for large family occasions. Christine was always happy to oblige, and didn’t mind at all wearing a smart blouse and skirt, or a neat dress for the day. She had also become adept at putting her hair up into a tidy french pleat with a handful of hairgrips and a good coat of her mothers old fashioned hair lacquer.

Christine left for her walk. She took a long route, exploring some of the older parts of town that she hadn’t been in before. She stopped for a coffee, and started to make her way back to her hall of residence. Walking down a quiet road, she saw two ladies come out of an old fashioned hairdressers a little way in front of her. With a second look she realised that it was Helen and her mother, and that Helen’s hair had been cut short, and curled into a formal, traditional style, similar to her mother’s hair. In fact it was similar to Christine’s mother’s style, along with most women of her generation. Helen and her mother quickly got into a car, and didn’t look towards Christine, but it seemed clear from Helen’s body language that she was a little shocked, and not really very happy.

Christine didn’t know what to make of this, but couldn’t get it out of her head all the way home. She decided to go up to the graduation ceremony, to see if she could catch up with Helen, just to check that she hadn’t imagined the scene she’d just witnessed. She arrived in time to see the new graduates coming out, and sure enough there was Helen, her immaculate hair complemented by a conservative navy-blue skirt suit, a white blouse with a large pussycat bow and low heeled court shoes. Helen seemed to have had time to adjust, and certainly didn’t look unhappy now; she seemed comfortable with her appearance, and proud to be looking smart and conservative next to her similarly dressed Mother.

Over the ensuing year, Christine had often found the image of Helen at her graduation popping up in her mind, and she even found herself wondering how she would look with her own hair in a short, neatly curled style, and what reactions it would get from those around her. There wasn’t much doubt that her Mum would be delighted to see her daughter with a tidy, respectable style. She felt that potential employers would be pleased too, with a graduate presenting herself with a sensible, mature and no-nonsense image. But how would she feel? And how about potential boyfriends? These questions were what she had been trying to work out for the last year. She’d spent a few afternoons hanging around near the hairdressers, and had seen plenty of mature ladies arriving and leaving with short, neat hairstyles, and a few younger ones too. She had to admit to herself that the traditional styles didn’t look out of place on any of the younger ladies, and decided that this was because they were all smartly dressed. If she were to get her hair cut and styled like that, then the jeans and T-shirts would have to go!

She had also spent some time thinking about how she felt when she was dressed up nicely for family occasions. She had finally decided that, whilst she couldn’t really dress that way as a student, she actually enjoyed looking smart, and was looking forward to dressing in a professional manner when she graduated and got a job. This final reminiscence brought her up to date, and she was now on her way to the hairdressers to make an appointment for graduation day. Her Mother was coming up on the train for the big day, and Christine had decided to surprise her with her new hairstyle.

But first, she had to get changed. She didn’t want to turn up at the hairdressers in jeans, but hadn’t wanted to leave college in formal clothes, hence the bag. She went to the old department store in town. Her first stop was the beauty department, where she bought a large can of hair lacquer, the same traditional brand that her Mum used. The young, trendy shop assistant gave her a funny look, but didn’t say anything. Christine then went upstairs to what was called the ‘Ladies Powder Room’ and quickly changed into a smart skirt, blouse and jacket. Then she pulled a brush through her hair, twisted it up and pinned it firmly in place. Finally, she took a deep breath and gave her hair a long spray with the newly-purchased lacquer.

When the haze cleared she looked in the mirror and saw a very smart and respectable young lady looking back at her. For a moment her resolution wavered. Surely if she just put her hair up like this she looked smart enough for any occasion; she didn’t need it cut at all. ‘No’ she thought firmly, ‘I’ve made my mind up, and now is the right time for a good short haircut’. Keeping that thought in her mind she walked quickly to the hairdressers, leaving her bag in a locker on the way.

‘Good Morning,’ said Christine, ‘I’d like to make an appointment for Thursday morning please.’

The smartly-dressed, middle-aged lady regarded Christine slightly doubtfully over the top of her glasses. ‘Good morning.’ she replied. ‘I’m afraid this is a rather traditional salon, we don’t really do fancy, modern styles. Or long hair either come to that.’

‘That’s fine,’ replied Christine. ‘I actually want my hair cut nice and short, and ummm… curled, in a, well, in a traditional, conservative style’. The hairdresser raised one eyebrow slightly at this, and Christine rushed on. ‘It’s for graduation you see, I know my Mum has always wanted to see me with short hair, and I’m sure that seeing me graduate with a neat head of curls would make her really proud of me.’

‘And how long is your hair now?’

Christine turned sideways, and indicated half way down her back. ‘About here.’

‘Very well. 9 o’clock sharp then. And expect to leave here looking very different to when you walk in.’

Christine left the salon, her heart pounding, and reversed her journey, changing back into her jeans and brushing her hair out as well as she could. The lacquer left some stiffness behind though, and a distinctive smell. Christine hoped that no-one would recognise it, and ask her why she had old-fashioned lacquer in her hair!


Author’s note: Please send feedback to the email address at the top, especially if you like the story. I’d love to hear what you would like to see happen to Christine.

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