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Tony’s Hair Emporium is a typical strip mall barber shop.  Located on a busy highway between a dry cleaner’s and a convenience store, Tony’s welcomes a steady stream of customers from the surrounding suburban neighborhoods.  At the front of the rectangular brick building is a small waiting area with a collection of dog-eared magazines and plastic covered chairs.  Beyond that, along the side walls stand six barber stations facing each other in two parallel rows.  Tony occupies the first position on the right and presides over everything happening in his domain.  In a thick Italian accent, he entertains patrons with tales of his golf game and the funny things his grandchildren do.  He has a loyal clientele, many of whom have been coming to his shop for decades.

 I am one of the newcomers.  I’ve been getting my hair cut in Tony’s establishment for the past three years.  It’s not the conversation that draws me back.  I return because of the lady barbers Tony employs.  I have always found it thrilling to have my hair cut by a woman. Whenever I come to the shop I insist that one of the ladies does the job.  There’s only one problem with this arrangement; Tony’s female barbers seldom stay for long.  No sooner do I get used to one lady than she’s gone.  I first went to Pauline, but she soon got a better job at a beauty salon in a nearby mall.  Then there was Laura who cut my hair for nearly a year until she left to work at a local hospital.  Most recently, Crystal has been my barber of choice.  She’s young and unmarried, friendly and cheerful.  More important, she listens carefully as I tell her how I want my hair cut.  For these reasons she has developed a large following of regular customers, especially among the younger men.  Crystal is an attractive woman in her late twenties.  Most of the time she wears her long blonde hair pulled back off her face and hanging half way down her back.  But it’s her lively sense of humor more than her looks that keeps the guys coming back for more.  I look forward to my monthly visits to Tony’s shop and make sure never to come on Crystal’s day off.

 But this story is not about me; mostly it’s about my wife, Kate, and her appointment with Crystal. 

 Kate and I have been married for nearly thirty years.  It’s hard to keep secrets from each other when you’ve been together that long.  Just a few months after we were wed Kate discovered my short hair fetish.  On our wedding day her dark blonde hair reached well past her shoulders.  It hadn’t always been that length.  Four years earlier, when we first met, she had worn her hair in a medium length, side-parted bob, but as soon as we became engaged she started growing it longer.  Like most women, Kate cherished a vision of herself walking down the aisle in a floor length white gown and with long, flowing tresses to match.  On our wedding day she was a picture of 1970s chic, with fat curls cascading down her back.

 One day, about six months after the ceremony, Kate casually remarked that she was thinking about cutting her hair.  Caring for her long locks had become a chore, she explained, and she was considering going back to the more practical length she had sported when we first met.  I suspect she was surprised by my enthusiastic response.  Not only did I approve, I encouraged her to try an even shorter style. After some hesitation, she agreed.  Since we were saving every penny for the down payment on our first home, I suggested that we could economize by letting me administer the haircut at home.  To my delight, she consented.  One Friday evening she pulled a chair into the center of the kitchen in our small apartment, handed me a scissors and comb, and instructed me to clip her long locks to a chin length bob.  I tried to conceal my excitement as I carefully removed more than a foot of her hair.  The resulting cut was not quite even and rather amateurish in appearance, but she praised my effort and thanked me for doing the job.  The next week she made an appointment at a salon to have her ends trimmed more precisely.  That was the first and only occasion that she allowed me to cut her hair, but the memory of that evening is something I will always treasure.

 Since that day Kate has worn her hair in a variety of styles.  Twice she tried to go back to the long hair of her youth.  It was painful observing the growing out process.  I held my tongue as her shaggy bangs crept past her eyebrows until she had to pin them to the sides with little barrettes.  It would do no good for me to comment on her unsightly appearance.  I had to wait until she figured it out for herself.  Mercifully, both times the experiment lasted only a year or so until she gave up in frustration and reverted to a shorter style. 

 Most of the time Kate has kept her hair between chin and shoulder length.  It was reasonably attractive, I guess, but never as short as I desired. 

 Kate knows that I would love to see her adopt a briefer, more radical style.  I have dropped plenty of hints over the years, but to no avail.  More than once she has caught me admiring super short haircuts on other women at concerts and movies. Kate made it clear that she had no intention of trying any of the extreme looks I favored.  It had gotten to the point WHERE I had stopped trying to persuade her.  Still, I considered myself fortunate.  Kate was very understanding.  She tolerated my fetish, never mocking or ridiculing me, but never going out of her way to encourage it either. 

 After years of fruitless fantasizing, I sadly concluded that Kate would never consent to the barbershop haircut that was my fondest desire.  Nothing I could think of would persuade her to budge on this issue.  I devised hundreds of stratagems designed to win her over.  I thought about trying flattery, bribery, supplication, even force.  Once I concocted a wild scheme to conspire with her hair stylist to talk her into a major makeover, but eventually I gave it up, convinced that she wouldn’t be any more likely to listen to her hairdresser than to me.  When two of her best friends converted to shorter styles, I nurtured the hope that Kate might join them, but she resisted.  It seemed that the only way I was going to see my wife with short hair was in my overactive imagination.

 So it came as a complete surprise four months ago when Kate came home from work and announced, “Dave, I’m thinking about getting my hair cut.” 

 “That’s nice, hon, you could use a trim,” I replied offhandedly, not suspecting anything out of the ordinary. 

 “No, you don’t understand,” she continued.  “I’m thinking about getting my hair cut short.”  She had uttered the magic word.  Instantly, she had my full attention. 

 “You’re kidding, aren’t you?” I inquired, not really believing what I had just heard.  “This is one subject you shouldn’t tease about,” I cautioned. 

 “No, I’m perfectly serious,” she insisted.  “Believe me; I’m fully aware of your fetish.  I know better than to joke with you about cutting my hair.  This time I’m actually considering getting my hair cut short, just like you’ve been urging all these years.” 

 “Kate, this is wonderful news!” I exclaimed, still not sure that I wa
s hearing her correctly.  “I think you’d look great with short hair.  How short are you thinking about going?” 

 “Well, I haven’t made up my mind,” she replied, “but I’m thinking about a very short haircut; maybe even as short as Elaine’s.” 

 I should explain that Elaine Youngblood has been our next-door neighbor for nearly fifteen years.  She’s Kate’s closest friend.  Ten years ago she shocked everyone on our block when one day she appeared with her hair shorn in a close-to-the-scalp buzz cut.  She has worn her salt and pepper hair that way ever since.  We have gotten used to her distinctive look, but she still draws stares from strangers.  Perhaps because Elaine is an artist who dresses in colorful shifts and wears long dangling ear rings, we expect her to be a bit eccentric.  She and my wife have little in common.  In many ways, Kate is Elaine’s exact opposite.  Kate works as a personnel manager at a large hospital.  She dresses conservatively, shuns flashy accessories, and rarely wears jewelry besides small gold studs in her ears.  While her clothes are tasteful and up-to-date, she prefers comfort to high fashion.  I can’t remember the last time she purchased a pair of high heels.  She dresses up for special occasions, maybe twice a year.  Her hair is neatly styled, but never anything that would attract attention to herself.  Kate is not the kind of woman who makes extreme fashion statements or impulsive decisions.  That’s why her declaration in favor of short hair caught me completely off guard.

 Of course, my fetish was raging.  My curiosity was running wild.  I couldn’t wait to hear more.  “I can’t believe it, Kate,” I exclaimed.  “In the past, whenever I suggested that you get your hair cut short you were dead set against it.  What happened to change your mind?” 

 “That’s true,” she answered.  “Before yesterday I never seriously considered a short hairstyle, at least, nothing as short as you’d like.  But the other morning you might say I had an epiphany,” she explained.  “As I was driving to work I saw a woman about my age getting out of her car.  I was stopped at a red light and found myself staring at her for the longest time, even after the light changed.  The driver behind me had to honk to get me going again.  I even drove around the block to get a second look at her.  This woman had silver gray hair that was very striking.  She wore it quite short, not as short as Elaine’s, but no more than two inches at the longest.  It was brushed back off her face, short around her ears, and tapered down the back.  It was a rather masculine cut, but there was no mistaking that she was a woman.  She looked so poised and confident, like a model in the AARP magazine.  I watched as she walked into an office building.  I told myself, that’s how I’d like my hair to look.”

 “That would be quite a change,” I commented.  “Are you sure you’re ready to let your gray show?” 

 “Yes, I think I’m ready.  It’s time to stop pretending and admit my age.” 

 Ten years ago, when the first silver streaks started to appear among her locks, Kate begged her stylist to hide them under blonde highlights. As the gray hairs proliferated, the coloring became more abundant.  Now she had to have fresh highlights applied every six weeks, otherwise the telltale roots would become too obvious.  While I loved Kate as a blonde, the prospect of seeing her with short hair was far more appealing.

 “You know I’ve always wanted to see you with short hair,” I exclaimed. 

 “Yes, I know,” she said with a sigh.

 “This is great news!  What are you waiting for?  You should make an appointment right away,” I urged.

 “Not so fast, mister,” she smiled.  “I’m not ready for such a big change just yet.  This haircut is still in the planning stage.  I don’t want to rush into something major like this without careful consideration.  You know me; I need to work up to it gradually.  I’ll let you know when I’m ready.” 

 “How long will this take?  Is there anything I can do to help you make up your mind?” I eagerly offered. 

 “No, Dave.  You’ll just have to be patient.  I don’t want you bugging me every hour of the day and night,” she cautioned.  “I knew once I told you you’d be dying to see me get my hair cut.  In fact, I debated whether or not I should even tell you.  I considered surprising you by coming home one day with my hair chopped off.  Then I realized that it wouldn’t be fair.  I know how long you’ve been waiting for this.  You probably want to be involved in every detail.  Isn’t that right?” 

 “Of course.  I’d be devastated if you did this without telling me in advance.  I appreciate your consideration.  I’ll try to restrain myself, hon, but it won’t be easy,” I confessed. 

 “Well, mister, you’ll just have to hold your horses,” she cautioned.  “I’m not ready to do anything just yet.  I need more time to prepare myself.”  I knew there was no point in pressuring her.  Kate would follow her own timetable in making this decision.  My challenge would be to remain patient and say nothing while she worked up her courage.

 The next few weeks were pure torture.  Whenever I spied Kate brushing her hair I pictured her wearing a new, sleek, abbreviated do.  I scoured fashion magazines looking for photos of short-haired models that I might pass along to her.  I found a few pictures of models her age with attractive hairstyles, but I refrained from clipping them out for fear of irritating her.  At night I often lay awake dreaming about the day she would have her hair cropped.  When that day arrived, if it ever did, I wanted a front row seat.  In the meantime, I knew I had to be on my best behavior. If I was overeager and tried to force Kate into a hasty decision, I easily could push her in the opposite direction.  Then she might abandon the idea of a short haircut altogether.  So I bit my tongue and kept a hopeful silence.

 In the month that followed Kate said nothing more about cutting her hair—not one word.  I began to worry that she had changed her mind.  Perhaps the thought of altering her appearance so drastically was more than she could handle.  My hopes began to fade.  Then, with a single comment, she restored my spirits.  We were out for the evening with Elaine and her husband, Jack, listening to a jazz trio in a local club.  During a break in the music Kate casually remarked to Elaine, “I’m thinking about cutting my hair.” 

 “You are?”  Elaine answered politely.  “That’s nice.”

 “No, you don’t understand,” Kate continued.  “I’m thinking about getting my hair cut short—like yours.” 

 Elaine responded immediately, as I knew she would.  “Kate, that’s amazing,” she shrieked, clapping her hands together and nearly jumping out of her seat.  “It would be wonderful having another short-haired woman on the block.”

 “Do you think I should?” Kate continued.&nbsp

 “Yes, of course, Kate,” Elaine enthused. “I mean, if that’s what you want, I’m sure you’ll love it.  Short hair is so easy to take care of,” she said, stroking her cropped head for emphasis.

 “When you got your hair cut for the first time how did you feel?” Kate asked.  “I mean, was it difficult for you?”

 “Difficult?  You bet.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  As you remember, I’d worn my hair long for ages.  But one day I screwed up my courage, marched into the barbershop at the mall, and told the barber, ‘Chop it all off.’  At first he didn’t want to do it, said I should reconsider, but I insisted.  When he was done I felt so relieved.  It was like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders.  I’ll never go back to long hair.”  Elaine smiled warmly and took Kate’s hand in hers.  “I’d be happy to come with you if you’d like some moral support,” she offered.

 “Thanks, Elaine, but I don’t think that will be necessary,” Kate responded.  “But I do have one question.  Where do you go to get your hair cut?  Did you keep going back to that barbershop?”

 “No, I only went to that barbershop the first time,” Elaine explained.  “Since then I’ve found someone who cuts my hair just the way I like it.” 

 “And who’s that?” my wife inquired.  “Do you go to one of those unisex salons?”

 “Oh, no,” Elaine laughed.  “I stick much closer to home.  I found the best barber in the world, and his prices are so reasonable,” she added, beaming across the table at her husband.  “Monsieur Jacques does it for me at home. Every couple of weeks he gets out his clippers and buzzes my head all over with the number two attachment.  It only takes a few minutes.  You should come over and watch him next time.  I’m sure he’d be happy to do the same for you.” 

 Jack and I had stopped talking to eavesdrop on our wives.  When Jack caught the drift of their conversation, he generously offered his services.  “Sure, Kate.  Anytime.  Give me a call.  I’ll be happy to clip you just like I do Elaine.  In fact, I have a special rate for relatives and neighbors—no charge.” 

 “Thanks, Jack, but that won’t be necessary, at least not just yet,” Kate replied. 

 “Well, let me know if you change your mind,” he answered.  Kate took a long sip of her merlot and changed the subject.  While a haircut was not yet on her calendar, I was pleased to hear that she was still considering a radical makeover.

 Another month passed without further mention of a haircut.  Kate seemed to be avoiding the subject, while I could think of little else.  Many times I was tempted to inquire about her plans but said nothing.  Although her hair had now grown beyond its usual length, she kept delaying a trip to the beauty parlor.  Often, as she sat reading, I saw her absent-mindedly pushing her bangs off her forehead.  I could tell that her hair was beginning to be an annoyance, but she seemed to be avoiding a decision.  I wondered if there was some way I could encourage her move toward short hair.  Finally, I could stand the suspense no longer.  I had to find out what Kate was contemplating. 

 Saturday morning, as we were driving to the grocery store, we approached the mall where Tony’s shop is located.  I mustered my courage and blurted out the question that had been on my mind for weeks.  “Kate, are you still thinking about getting your hair cut short?” I inquired.

 “Well, yes, Dave.  I haven’t made up my mind for sure, but I’m still pondering it,” she replied.  “Why do you ask?” 

 “You see that shop over there?” I said, pointing across the road to Tony’s.  “That’s where you should go to get your hair cut.” 

 “But that’s a men’s barber shop.” she objected.  “Isn’t that where you get your hair cut?”

 “Yes, it is, but they cut women’s hair too. That would be the best place to go.  Most beauty salons aren’t prepared to give a haircut as short as Elaine’s.  A barber shop would be much better.  They know how to do short haircuts,” I argued. 

 To my surprise, Kate concurred. “You’re probably right, Dave.  I don’t think any of the stylists at my salon would be willing to cut my hair as short as Elaine’s.  In fact, they’re always urging me to grow it longer.  They’d probably try to talk me out of it.”  My hopes were soaring.  Instead of rejecting my suggestion of a barbershop haircut out of hand, she actually was agreeing with me.  “I know you’re eager to see me get my hair cut, Dave, but I’m just not ready yet,” she cautioned.  “I need to think about it for a while longer.  You’ll have to be patient.”  While Kate still was noncommittal, her words were encouraging.  She appeared to be nearing a decision.

 The next Saturday we passed the mall again on our weekly grocery run.  I resisted the urge to ask Kate if she was any closer to making up her mind, but she surprised me by reopening the conversation.  Gesturing toward Tony’s shop, she said, “Dave, could you turn in here and drive past that barbershop?  I want to get a closer look.” 

 “Sure, Kate, I’ll be happy to.”  I slowed our car and turned into the parking lot.  As we approached the shop, a blue Camry pulled out of a parking spot in front of us. 

 “Why don’t you pull in here?” Kate suggested. I did as she asked and we sat for five minutes watching half a dozen customers, all of them men, enter and leave the busy shop.  Kate peered through the plate glass window, straining to observe what went on inside.  We could see four barbers at work, two women and two men, and several male customers waiting for haircuts.  Finally she spoke.  “Dave, I know you’d like me to get my hair cut in there, and I’ve been thinking about it, honest I have.  But I’m afraid it’s too much to ask.  I just wouldn’t feel comfortable in there.  Having my hair cut short is going to be hard enough; having an audience of strange men watching me would be too traumatic.  I don’t want a bunch of guys sitting around gawking and making wisecracks while I get my hair cut.  It would be too embarrassing; I would be too self-conscious,” she confessed. 

 “Yes, I understand how that might be difficult for you,” I said.  I wanted to be sympathetic, but didn’t want to let the opportunity of a lifetime disappear. “I’m sure something can be arranged,” I assured her.

 “Really?  What do you mean?” she inquired, surprising me with her unexpected interest. 

 “Well, we might be able to make a private appointment after their regular hours,” I suggested.  “That way only you, me, and the barber would be present—no one else would be watching.” 

 “Yes, that definitely would be better,” she answered.  “Of course, I WOULD want you there for moral support, but I don’t want anyone else around while I get scalped.” 

 “Sure, I understand,” I agreed.  “There’s another thing that might help you feel better abut this haircut.  You should select a w
oman barber—ask for Crystal,” I volunteered.  “She’s the one who cuts my hair.  You’ll like her.”

 “Yes, a woman barber would make the experience more bearable,” she said.  “I don’t want some greasy old man doing it, especially not the first time.”  Kate paused for a moment, then continued, “Dave, you’ve been very considerate, but don’t go making any plans just yet.  I still need more time to think this through.  I’ll let you know when I’ve made up my mind.” 

 I started the car and pulled back into traffic more hopeful than ever.  This was going better than I could have imagined.  Kate had not dismissed my suggestions about the barbershop and the female barber.  Rather, she seemed to be seriously considering them.  All the pieces were falling into place. She seemed to be on the verge of making up her mind. A short haircut definitely seemed to be in the offing.  My months of expectation were on the verge of fulfillment.

 I nearly went out of my mind with anticipation that weekend.  I didn’t want anything to go wrong.  The next move was up to Kate.  All I could do was wait and hope that she reached a decision quickly. 

 Sunday afternoon Kate went next door to Elaine’s. From our bedroom window I could look into the Youngblood’s kitchen.  What I saw there set my heart racing.  Elaine was seated on a high bar stool in the middle of the room.  Jack stood nearby with a pair of clippers at the ready.  Elaine continued chatting in her usual animated fashion, as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening.  I yearned to observe Kate’s reaction, but she was hidden from my view.  Jack stepped up to the stool and began running the clippers back and forth across Elaine’s head.  She sat still as fine, dark clippings rained from her head onto the white bath towel draped around her shoulders.  This was their usual routine; they did it every two or three weeks.  But this time Elaine had invited Kate over to witness her shearing.  I wondered what effect this would have on my wife.  Would she be scared off by seeing the real thing up close?  Or would watching Jack clip his wife make Kate more willing to get her hair cut in the same short style?  If Kate needed reassurance before coming to a final decision about her haircut, Elaine was the right person for the job.  Kate would be much more likely to trust another woman than me.

 When my wife returned home half an hour later she said nothing about her visit next door.  I searched her face for some hint of her reaction to watching her friend being buzzed.  I yearned to ask whether she had come to a decision about cutting her hair, but thought better of it.  “Don’t appear too anxious,” I cautioned myself.  “She’ll tell you when she’s ready.”

 Kate made no mention of her haircut that night or the next morning, but as we cleared the dinner dishes Monday evening she gave me the news I had been awaiting for months.  Trying hard to appear nonchalant, she remarked, “You know, Dave, I really do need to get my hair cut.”  I stood by the dishwasher, doing my best to remain calm although my heart was beating furiously.   “I’ve procrastinated much too long,” she continued.  “I’m finally ready to take the plunge.”  I offered a silent prayer of thanksgiving. 

 “Does this mean you’ll get your hair cut at Tony’s shop?” I asked breathlessly.

 “Yes, Dave, I think it’s time to visit that barbershop of yours,” she said with half a smile.  “What do you think about that?”  Of course, she knew what my reaction would be.

 “I think that’s great,” I stammered.  “I mean, if you’re sure that this is what you want.”  Although I felt like shouting for joy, I didn’t want to appear too eager.

 “Yes, Dave, I’m sure,” she answered seriously.  “Do you think you could make an appointment for me?”  What a foolish question!  She knew that I would like nothing better that to schedule her long-delayed haircut.

 “Sure, Kate.  I’ll be happy to handle all the arrangements,” I replied, trying hard to contain my excitement, but scarcely believing my good fortune.  “When would you like to set it up?” I asked. 

 “Any day this week would be fine.  Actually, sooner would be better.  That way I won’t have so long to worry about it.  But remember–not during their regular hours,” she cautioned.  “And be sure to get that woman barber.  What’s her name—Crystal?” 

 “Yes, she’s the one.  I’ll check to see when she’s available,” I assured her.  “I’ll take care of it first thing tomorrow.  Kate, you won’t regret this.” 

 “I hope you’re right,” she answered.  “But I don’t want to discuss it any more today.  Just talking about this haircut makes me nervous.”  I could see that she still wasn’t completely comfortable with the idea. I hoped that she wouldn’t change her mind.

 I arrived at Tony’s shop early Tuesday morning. Crystal already had one gentleman ahead of me.  While I waited for her to finish with him, I mentally reviewed the dialog I had been preparing.  I wanted to make the arrangements for Kate’s haircut in a casual fashion without calling attention to my fetish.  I hoped this would appear like a perfectly normal occurrence, though it was far from that. 

 When Crystal’s satisfied customer stepped down from the chair, I hopped into his place.  After routine chatter about the weather and her pets, I began to recite my carefully rehearsed lines.  “Crystal, do you cut women’s hair?” I inquired. 

 “Sure, Dave,” she replied.  “I’m licensed as a barber, not a cosmetologist, but I cut my sister’s hair and a couple of my girl friends’.  They say I do a good job.” 

 “But do you cut women’s hair here, in this shop?” I asked again. 

 “Well, you can see for yourself—we don’t get many women customers,” she said gesturing to the five male clients.  “I have a couple of regulars, but not many.  Most ladies prefer to go to a salon.  Once in a while one will stop in for a trim or a father will bring his young daughter, but mostly it’s guys.” 

 “Would you like more female customers?” I continued. 

 “Sure, I guess so.  I never thought about it much.  Why do you ask?” she inquired. 

 “Well, my wife has been thinking about getting her hair cut.  Her old stylist moved out of town and she hasn’t found anyone else she trusts.  She’d like to try a new style and is looking for someone who’s skilled at short haircuts. I suggested that she come here.  Would you be available to cut her hair?”  I wasn’t being completely honest, but my version was not too far from the truth.  I had no intention of revealing how I had steered Kate to Tony’s or how hesitant she was to visit a men’s shop.  I certainly wasn’t going to tell her that seeing Kate sitting in the big red barber’s chair with a fresh cape draped around her neck would fulfill my most fervent fantasy.

 “Sure, Dave.  I can do that.  Tell your wife she can come in any time.  I’ll take go
od care of her,” she enthused. 

 “That’s great.  I’ll let her know,” I responded, “but there’s one problem.” 

 “What’s that?” she asked. 

 “You see, she doesn’t get off work till six most days and the shop is closed by then.”  It was another little lie, but I saw no need to share the real reason why Kate required an afterhours rendezvous.  “I was wondering if you could stay open a little later one evening to accommodate her,” I proposed. 

 “I’d have to check with Tony, but I think that would be okay,” she answered. 

 Crystal was putting the finishing touches on my haircut.  Now all that remained was to set a date for Kate’s appointment.  “Why don’t you ask Tony if my wife can come for a haircut Thursday evening?” I suggested. 

 “The day after tomorrow?” she replied.  “Sure, I’m free then.  I can do that.”  As I was paying for my cut, Crystal turned to Tony and asked, “Dave’s wife would like to come for a haircut Thursday after closing time.  Would that be okay with you, Tony?” 

 “Sure, I got no problem with that, Crystal,” he answered.  “If you wanna stay late, it’s okay with me.”

 “Great!  It looks like we’re all set,” Crystal chirped as I put my wallet away.  “Tell your wife I’ll see her Thursday at six.”

 I could barely contain my excitement as I drove to work.  After months of painful waiting, Kate’s conversion to short hair was now just two days away.  Not only would I soon witness her shearing, but it would happen in the setting of my choice, with my favorite barber presiding.  When I got to the office I immediately phoned Kate at the hospital.  As soon as she answered I blurted out the details, “Honey, mark your calendar.  You’ve got an appointment to get your hair cut Thursday evening. Crystal will be expecting you at six o’clock,” I informed her. 

 “Boy, you didn’t waste any time,” she remarked.  “Did you have any problem with the hour?” 

 “Nope.  Crystal will be happy to take care of you then,” I continued. 

 “And you’re sure no one else will be there?” she asked.

 “Only the three of us,” I assured her.  “I think you’ll like Crystal.  She does very good work.” 

 “Okay.  I guess it’s settled then,” she concluded with a note of resignation in her voice.  “I’ll be ready Thursday at six.”  Kate still sounded a little tentative.  She certainly didn’t share my enthusiasm, but the plan was moving inexorably forward.  In fifty-four hours she would enter Tony’s shop where Crystal would be waiting to convert her into the short-haired woman of my dreams.  All I had to do was wait and pray that nothing upset my plan.

 Wednesday evening was our regular night for eating out.  As usual, we went to Lombardi’s, a quiet Italian place with great food and an intimate atmosphere.  Over drinks before the meal we discussed Kate’s work, my work, the college basketball team, local politics, the stock market, and new movies—everything but Kate’s impending date with Crystal.  Both of us avoided that sensitive topic.  Finally, after the waitress had taken our orders, I hesitantly broached the subject that was foremost on my mind.  “At this time tomorrow, Kate, you’ll be sitting in Tony’s barber shop while Crystal is cutting your hair.  Are you looking forward to it?” I inquired. 

 “No, not like you are, Dave,” she observed accurately.  “You should understand this is a huge step for me.  I hope I’m making the right decision.  I’ve thought it over a thousand times and managed to convince myself that it’s time for a change.  I can’t stand my hair like it is now.  I definitely need to get it cut.  There’s just one problem.” 

 “What’s that?” I asked, suddenly concerned that she might find some reason to renege on her commitment. 

 “Well, Dave, I’m not sure about the length,” she answered.  “When we first started talking about this haircut I said I wanted it short like Elaine’s.  Now I’m not so sure.  I’ve been thinking.  Short hair looks great on her, but how will it look on me?  I don’t have her features and I worry that with super-short hair people will stare at me. You know how insecure I am about my appearance.” 

 “Honey, you’ve got nothing worry about,” I said, trying to reassure her.  “You’ll look great with short hair.” 

 “I wish I could be as confident as you are,” she replied. 

 “What about getting your hair cut in Tony’s barber shop?” I asked.  “Do you still want to go through with it?” 

 “That’s another thing that bothers me,” she confided.  “I suppose I should look on it as a great adventure—going someplace few women have gone—but that’s not how I’m feeling right now.  There’s something about the atmosphere of a beauty salon that’s reassuring.  They know how to make a woman feel pampered and appreciated.  I’m sure I won’t find that in your old barber shop.” 

 “It’s not too late to change your mind,” I offered.  “I can always cancel the appointment and you can return to your old salon.” I waited for Kate’s reply, desperately hoping that she would dismiss my offer as a noble gesture.

 “No, that won’t be necessary,” she said. “I know you’re hot to see me with short hair and I’m ready to give it a try.  I really am.  It may not turn out as short as you’d like, but I will keep my appointment with Crystal tomorrow,” she assured me.  “I just hope I don’t panic and do something stupid.” 

 “You’ll be fine,” I told her.  “Crystal will take good care of you.” 

 Kate paused and took a sip of her wine.  Then she said firmly, “When we’re in the barber shop, Dave, I want you to behave yourself.  Don’t bring the video camera.  Don’t make a big fuss. And try not to act like this is your idea.  Just stay in the background and let me do the talking.  Don’t make this more difficult than it already is.  Now, please shut up about my haircut.  I really don’t want to talk about it any more.”  I was relieved to hear that Kate was resolved to go ahead with the plan, but concerned that she might not get her hair cut as short as I had been hoping for.

 Thursday afternoon I found myself daydreaming about Kate’s haircut instead of concentrating on my work.  I was too distracted to get anything accomplished at the office, so I left an hour early and drove home.  When I pulled in the driveway I noticed that Elaine was busy working in her garden.  She was wearing a floppy straw hat to protect against the sun.  She waved to me and I strolled over to chat with her. 

 “Hi, Dave, you’re home early,” she greeted me.

 “Yes, in a little while I’m taking Kate to get her hair cut,” I announced.

 “So she’s finally going to do it,” Elaine replied.

 “Yes, she’s made up her mind and I think you had a lot to do with it,” I commented.

 “Perhaps I did,” she admitted.  “I’ve been telling her h
ow liberating it is to get rid of all that hair.  You’re not mad at me, are you?” she asked.

 “No, why should I be mad at you?” I answered.

 “Well, your average husband wouldn’t be too thrilled if his wife announced she was going to have all her hair cut off.”  Elaine looked at me with a curious expression.  I felt like she was testing me; trying to gauge my reaction to Kate’s impending haircut.

 “I guess I’m not an average husband, then,” I replied, trying to be as noncommittal as possible.

 “So you don’t mind?” she continued to probe.

 “Not at all.  In fact, I’m rather looking forward to it.  I’m eager to see how she will look with short hair,” I admitted.

 “I remember how Jack reacted when I came home with no hair,” she said.  “I hadn’t prepared him.  He nearly had a cow.  It took him a long time to get used to it, but now he loves it.”  By sharing these details with me, Elaine obviously expected me to reveal more of my feelings, and I didn’t disappoint her.

 “In our case, I was the one who first suggested a short haircut.  It took Kate quite a while to come around to my point of view,” I confessed.

 “So that’s how it is,” Elaine observed with a knowing grin, letting the subject drop as she returned to weeding her flowerbed.  It was then that I realized she probably shared my fetish for short hair.  I wanted to explore the subject further, but saw that Elaine had no desire to discuss it.  This would remain our mutual secret.

 I retreated into our home and nervously waited for Kate to arrive.  The time passed slowly as I paced the floor, praying she would go through with the plan.  When she pulled into the driveway I rushed to the door to greet her.  “Hi honey.  Only half an hour until your appointment.  You’re still going, aren’t you?”  I asked. 

 “My, aren’t you the eager beaver tonight?” she chided me.  “Yes, I’m still going, but you’ll have to wait a little longer.  I don’t want to get there too early.”  With that she retreated into the bathroom and took a brush to her hair.  Through the partially open door I observed my wife.  Her bangs flopped in her eyes; more than two inches of gray roots were visible beneath the blonde highlights; in back her hair hung down over the collar of her blouse.  From her expression, I saw that she was apprehensive about her pending appointment. She pushed the hair back off her face and pressed it close against her head, trying to visualize how she would look with a style as short as Elaine’s.

 “Having second thoughts?” I called through the door. 

 “No, I’ll be all right,” she answered.  “Just give me another minute.”  She closed the door so I couldn’t spy on her and remained in the bathroom for another five minutes.  I had no clue what thoughts were going through her mind. Was she getting cold feet?  Would she change her mind and tell me to cancel her appointment?  Or did she just need a few more minutes to bolster her resolve?

 At that moment I was startled to hear the doorbell ring.  I glanced out the window and saw Elaine standing on our porch.  She had abandoned her floppy hat and changed out of her gardening clothes.  She was dressed in her usual jeans and a loose fitting top. Her freshly cropped hair was no more than a quarter inch long.

 “Hi Elaine,” I said as I opened the door.  The look of surprise must have been obvious on my face.

 “Hi Dave.  I’m coming with you for the big haircut.  Didn’t Kate tell you?” she asked.

 “No, Elaine, she didn’t mention anything to me,” I replied.

 Just then Kate emerged from the bathroom.  “Yes, Dave.  I asked Elaine to come with us to the barbershop—for moral support, you know.  You don’t mind, do you?”

 “No, of course not.  The more the merrier,” I lied.  I really didn’t want anyone else intruding on this intimate moment, but if Elaine’s presence would help ease Kate into the barber’s chair, how could I object?  I figured that the presence of another short-haired woman in the barber shop might give Kate the confidence she needed to go through with this radical makeover.

 “I guess it’s time, Dave.  We’d better get started,” she announced bravely.  “Don’t want to keep Crystal waiting.”  So she really was going to do it!  I wanted to tell Kate how much I admired her courage, but this didn’t seem like the best time for that.

 As the three of us walked to the car, Kate’s mood was subdued and solemn.  Despite my elation, I was silent too.  Elaine hopped in the back seat and Kate got in front next to me.  I didn’t want to do or say anything that might spoil the occasion.  Elaine, on the other hand, was chattering away at her usual pace.  She began peppering Kate with encouraging comments.  “Kate, I can’t believe you’re really doing this.  You’re going to look so good with short hair.”  But after her initial outbursts were answered with curt one-word responses, she got the message and settled back to ride in silence the rest of the way. 

 Neither Kate nor I said much as we drove down Route 9.  Small talk seemed pointless.  We had said everything that needed to be said.  Kate looked out the window, absorbed in her own thoughts, nervously twisting a lock of hair between her fingers.  I concentrated on the traffic.  Elaine sat quietly in the back.  When we pulled into an open parking space directly in front of Tony’s shop a few minutes before six, I caught sight of one customer remaining inside. 

 “I’d like to stay in the car till he’s done, if you don’t mind,” Kate requested. “I’d prefer to wait until the place is empty.”  We sat and watched as Tony chatted with the elderly gentleman.  I spotted Crystal sitting in her chair watching television.  I wondered if she had seen us drive up.  If so, she gave no indication of it.  Kate shredded a tissue in her lap while I gripped the steering wheel.  I looked at Elaine through the rear view mirror.  She repeatedly stroked her short hair.  I wondered if it was a good thing to have her along, but it was too late to do anything about it now.  At five minutes after six the old man shuffled out. 

 “I’ll go in and see if everything’s ready,” I told Kate as I exited the car.  Inside the shop Tony was sweeping the floor; Crystal was idly leafing through an old fashion magazine.  She greeted me warmly but expressed surprise at my wife’s absence.

 “Hi Dave. Where’s your wife?  I thought she was coming to get her hair cut tonight,” she asked innocently.

 “She’s waiting in the car,” I explained, “She’ll come in as soon as Tony’s gone.” 

 “Sounds like she’s kinda shy,” Crystal observed. 

 “No, she just wants some privacy,” I answered. 

 “I get the picture,” Tony remarked.  “Some ladies are real nervous about getting their hair cut in a barber shop.  Guess she don’t want Tony around when Crystal cuts her hair.  I was just leaving,” he said as he put away the broom.  “Crystal, you be sure to lock up when you’re done,”
he called over his shoulder as he left by the back door. 

 I spoke to Crystal.  “Tony’s right.  Kate’s never had her hair cut in a barber shop before.  She’s feeling kind of nervous tonight,” I cautioned. 

 “Sure, Dave, I understand.  I would be too,” she replied.  “You go get her.  I’ll take good care of her.”

 “I hope you don’t mind, but she’s brought a friend along for moral support,” I added.

 “No, that’s fine,” Crystal said. 

 I went back to the car and opened Kate’s door.  “It’s time, hon,” I intoned. “Crystal is ready for you.”  I tried to act like this was an everyday occurrence, but I’m afraid that to Kate’s ears I sounded more like a judge handing down a life sentence.

 “Okay.  Okay.  I’m coming,” she answered as she slowly extracted herself from her seat. Elaine got out of the back and placed her arm around Kate’s shoulder in an act of sisterly solidarity.  I didn’t hear what she whispered to my wife, but I’m sure it was much needed words of encouragement.

 I re-entered the shop, this time with Kate and Elaine trailing a step or two behind me.  Crystal stepped down from her perch to welcome us. 

 “Crystal, this is my wife, Kate.  Kate, this is Crystal.  She’ll be your barber tonight,” I said, as I stepped back to introduce the two women. 

 Crystal beamed, “Hi Kate.  I’ve been looking forward to meeting you,” she replied.

 “Hi Crystal,” Kate answered.  “This is my good friend, Elaine.  I asked her to come along for moral support.”

 “Hello, Elaine.  Love your hair,” Crystal continued.  “Have you worn it that way for long?”

 “Yes, for five or six years now,” Elaine answered.

 “Where do you get it cut?” she asked.

 “My husband does it,” she said.

 “Well, he does a good job.”  Crystal turned her attention back to my wife.  “Kate, this seat is reserved for very special customers.  I’ve been keeping it warm for you.  You just climb up and make yourself comfortable,” she said, ushering my spouse to the chair where she had been sitting a minute before.  Elaine and I followed, taking positions on either side.  Kate tentatively eased herself into the big chair and glanced anxiously around the room.  “Welcome to Tony’s Hair Emporium,” Crystal said cheerfully.  “I’ll bet this is your first time getting your hair cut in a barber shop, isn’t it, Kate?” she asked. 

 “Yes, it is, and I don’t mind saying that I’m a little nervous,” my wife answered.

  “Well, don’t you worry, honey.  I know it looks and smells different from your beauty parlor, but when you come right down to it, we operate in pretty much the same way.  A haircut is a haircut, after all,” Crystal observed philosophically. 

 “Yes, I suppose so,” Kate answered without conviction.  “Dave said that you do good work, but this is not exactly what I’m used to.” 

 “I understand that, honey.  Is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable?  Would you like a cup of coffee or some tea?” she offered. 

 “No thanks, nothing for me Crystal, but there is one thing you can do,” Kate said. 

 “What’s that?” the barber asked.

 “In a salon, you usually have more privacy,” Kate commented.  As she spoke a couple of young boys stopped their bicycles on the sidewalk in front of the shop to peer through the picture window.  “Do you think you could close the blinds so those kids can’t look in?” Kate asked. 

 “Sure, no problem,” Crystal said, turning to lower the blinds and shooing the boys away. 

 When she returned from the window Crystal addressed Kate in an experienced professional voice, “Well Kate, it looks like it’s been a while since your last haircut.” 

 “Yes,” Kate answered, “six months, at least.  I kept putting it off.  I couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted.” 

 “And have you made up your mind now?” she inquired.

 “Yes, I think so,” Kate said without conviction.

 “And what are you looking for?  Dave said that you were interested in a shorter style,” she said.  “Is that right?” 

 “Well, yes,” Kate hesitated.  “I definitely need to get my hair cut.  This length doesn’t work for me any more and I’m ready to try something different.  I’ve been considering a short haircut.” Kate answered.  Suddenly my wife sounded much less confident than she had a few days ago, almost as if she wanted someone to talk her out of this crazy idea.  I was counting on Crystal to guide her in the right direction.

 “Well, you’ve come to the right place all right, Kate.  Short cuts are about all we do here,” Crystal remarked gaily.  “Have you ever had short hair before?” she asked. 

 “No, nothing much sorter than this,” Kate replied, pointing to the uneven ends of her hair.  “I’ve always admired women like Elaine with short hair, though I’ve been too chicken to try it myself.  For the past couple of months I’ve been thinking about taking the plunge, you know, trying a shorter style.  Finally, I decided it was time.  That’s when I asked Dave to make this appointment with you.” 

 “I think that’s great.  You see lots of women with short hair these days,” Crystal commented.  “It’s very fashionable.  I’m sure you won’t regret it.”

 Crystal paused; then she asked the question I’d been waiting months to hear.  “Now, Kate, just how short do you want me to go?  Short means different things to different women.  There’s ‘semi-short’—you know, just a couple of inches less than what you have now.  ‘Not too short’ would take off another inch or two, but still leave you with enough to style.  And then there’s ‘really short.’  That means clipping your hair like Elaine’s so there’s less than an inch remaining.  Which one did you have in mind?” 

 “Well, I’m still not sure, Crystal.  I’ve thought about it, but I can’t decide.  Until a couple of days ago I was leaning toward ‘really short,’ but now I’m not so sure,” Kate responded.  Her answer caught me by surprise.  I thought she was set on a super-short cut like Elaine’s.  Now it sounded like she might be wavering. 

 “Why don’t we talk about what you want, Kate?  Tell me what you’d like to accomplish with this haircut,” she asked in her most professional voice.  I was grateful for Crystal’s patient approach.  My wife didn’t respond well to pressure and her barber seemed to sense this.

 “Well, I definitely need to get rid of this mop,” she said emphatically, raking her hand through her hair.  “I want to replace it with something much shorter—nothing complicated–something that will be easy to care for but still stylish.”

 “And when we’re done, Kate, just how short would you like it to be?” Crystal asked. 

 “I’m still not sure.  Sometimes I picture my hair about this long all over,”
Kate declared, holding her thumb and index finger about an inch and a half apart.  “Other times I feel like that’s too short and I should keep it longer.  What do you think?  Would a really short haircut look too strange on me?”

 “Not at all, Kate, but there’s one thing you should consider.  If I cut it real short, so it’s just an inch or so long, you will be gray all over,” Crystal observed.  “If I leave it much longer than that, your hair will be two toned—gray with blonde highlights.  You’d need to get it touched up right away.”

 “Yes, I’ve thought about that and I’m ready to let the gray show,” Kate declared.  “It’s time to stop pretending that I’m still a youngster.  I’m ready to admit my age.”

 I noticed that Kate exchanged glances with Elaine, and her friend nodded approvingly.  It appeared that this was something they had discussed before.

 “Well then, it sounds like you’re asking for a really short haircut,” Crystal concluded.

 “Yes, I guess I am,” Kate agreed.  “Can you do that?”  Her reply set my heart racing.  Now at last it seemed like she actually would wind up with the radically short haircut I desired.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune. 

 “Sure, Kate, I can do that,” she replied.  “But are you sure you want me to cut so much off at once?  Perhaps it would be easier if we did it in stages.  I could cut it to an in between length tonight.  Then you could come back in a week or two and I would finish the job,” she suggested. “That way it wouldn’t be such a big shock.  You’d have a while to get used to it.” 

 Crystal seemed to be offering Kate a way to avoid an extreme shearing, but Kate was more insistent than I expected.  “No, Crystal.  If I’m going to get my hair cut short, I need to do it all at once,” she countered.  “If I don’t do it tonight, I may never get the nerve again.” Once again Elaine nodded her approval.  I realized that bringing her along was a good move.

 “Sure, Kate.  If that’s what you want, I can do it,” Crystal replied, still sounding a little dubious. 

 “Yes, that’s what I want,” Kate replied.

 “And what do you think, Dave?” Crystal asked, addressing me for the first time.  “Are you okay with me giving Kate such a short haircut?” 

 “Sure, Crystal, it’s fine with me,” I replied, perhaps a bit too quickly.  “But this is Kate’s decision, not mine.”  I knew that Kate didn’t want me directly involved in her haircut.  I needed to be supportive, but let her call the shots.  “If this is what she wants, I’m all for it.  But you should listen to her,” I emphasized. 

 “Yes, it’s my hair and it’s my decision,” Kate interjected, a hint of irritation evident in her voice.

 Crystal promptly turned her attention to back Kate’s hair.  She placed her hands on Kate’s shoulders and swung the big chair and its occupant around to face the mirror. “Let’s see what we’ve got here,” she mused, running her fingers through her client’s shaggy locks.  Crystal teased the hair out from the sides of Kate’s head, getting a feel for its weight and texture.  She picked up a comb and ran it through Kate’s tresses.  She pushed the bangs up off her face. Then she pulled the sides straight back behind her ears and held the hair behind her head.  Finally, she arranged Kate’s hair back in its original configuration—parted down the center, bangs brushed to either side of her forehead, the sides hanging straight down below her chin, the back slightly longer than the sides. Kate endured this procedure with her eyes half closed.  I could tell she wasn’t enjoying it.  She had reached the end of her patience.  If Crystal didn’t begin the haircut soon, I feared that Kate might march out the door.

 Crystal must have sensed Kate’s impatience.  She stopped combing and resumed her analysis.  “You’ve got a good head of hair, Kate, very thick and healthy,” she declared.  “Now, how shall I cut it?  Do you have a style in mind?” Crystal asked. 

 “No, not really.  Aside from being short, I’m not sure,” Kate replied.  “That’s where I need your help.  What would you recommend?” 

 “Well, if I cut it as short as you want, you won’t have a lot of choices. There are three or four styles to consider,” Crystal continued in her professional tone.  “I can do a short pixie cut with a fringe of hair framing your face; you see that on a lot of mature women.”  I could see Kate cringe at the word, “mature,” and Crystal noticed too.  She was quick to offer an alternative.  “If you want a younger look,” she continued, “I can give you a punk style with some length on top so you can spike it.  Or I could leave it a little longer and kinda shaggy all ovey see

 “I thought the shag went out in the 70s,” Kate commented. 

 “Well, it’s back now and very popular,” Crystal replied. “Some women like what we call a boy’s cut—short on the sides and back, a bit longer on top and parted on the side—like a schoolboy.  Then there’s the chili bowl cut—short on the sides and back but with longer bangs and a uniform length above the ears.  Or if you really want to get rid of all your hair I can give you a buzz cut—you know, clip it short all over just like Elaine’s.  Which would you prefer?” 

 “Well, I don’t want anything too complicated,” Kate began.  “No fancy bangs or spikes.  And I don’t want to spend a lot of time fixing it.  I want something short and simple, something that’s going to be easy to care for.  For a while I was thinking about getting my hair buzzed like Elaine’s, but now I don’t think so.  No offense, Elaine, but I don’t want to be a copycat.”

 “That’s fine, Kate,” Elaine replied.  “You need to find your own look.”

 “I agree.  That settles that; definitely not a buzz cut,” Kate said firmly.

 “Well, that does narrow it down some,” Crystal replied.  “Forget about the punk cut and the shag.  Probably not the chili bowl either.  That leaves the pixie or the boy’s cut.  Which one will it be?” 

 “Gee, Crystal, I just don’t know,” Kate answered.  “I guess either one will do, but I wish I had some other choices.”

 Kate’s indecision brought us to a temporary impasse.  I worried that perhaps her haircut would not happen today after all.  Then Elaine came to my rescue.  “Well, Kate, there is one other style you may want to consider,” she interrupted.

 “What’s that?” my wife inquired.

 “Let me consult with Crystal first,” she said mysteriously.  She walked up to the lady barber and whispered something in her ear.  The two women exchanged knowing looks. Crystal smiled and nodded in agreement.  I wondered what the two women were up to.  Kate also seemed puzzled by their private conference.

 “Elaine’s right,” Crystal announced.  “There is one other style you might want to consider.  I didn’t mention it before, but I should have.”

 “What’s that,” Kate repeated impatiently. 

 “Just a s
econd, Kate.”  Crystal paused and stepped back to study Kate’s profile.  “Hmmm.  Kate, let me try something,” she said.  Once again she pushed her hand over Kate’s brow, shoving the bangs back and forcing the hair up between her fingers.  Again she paused, apparently deep in thought.  “Yes, that would work,” she said mysteriously. 

 “What would work?  What are you talking about?” Kate asked; her curiosity piqued; her patience at its limit. 

 “Elaine reminded me of a cut that’s short and simple, like you said,” Crystal answered, “but you may not like it.”

 “Why not?” Kate asked. 

 “Well, you may think it’s too extreme,” Crystal stated.  “I don’t know if you’re ready for such a big change.”

 Kate responded as if her courage had been challenged.  “Well, I did come to get my hair cut in men’s barbershop, didn’t I?  That should tell you that I’m looking for something different,” Kate replied indignantly.  “I’m willing to listen to anything you have to say.” 

 Crystal spoke slowly, considering her words carefully.  “Well, Kate, your hair is thick and straight and you want it cut short, very short.”  She paused.

 “Yes, that’s right,” Kate agreed.

 “With hair like yours there’s one style that would be perfect,” Crystal observed.

 “And what’s that?” Kate demanded.

 “Well, I’m thinking that the best style for you would be …,” Crystal paused.  She seemed to be having difficulty getting the words out. 

 “Yes, what is it?” Kate asked impatiently. 

 This time Elaine supplied the answer.  “Kate we’re thinking that the best style for you would be a flattop.” 

 Elaine’s words were greeted by a stunned silence.  Kate blanched and her jaw dropped open.  This suggestion had caught her completely off guard.  I held my breath, not wanting to interrupt.  Elaine, Crystal, and I waited for Kate’s reply. 

 Finally, Kate gasped in disbelief, “Did I hear you right?  Did you say I would look good in a flattop?” 

 “Yup, that’s what I said,” Elaine answered.

 “You must be kidding,” Kate stammered. 

 “Nope.  I’m perfectly serious,” Elaine replied.  “You probably think I’m crazy, but I believe your hair would look totally cool in a flattop.” 

 “You mean like that picture over there?” Kate said, pointing to a framed photo of a male model with a crisp short haircut on the wall opposite her chair. 

 “Yes, that’s the idea,” Elaine answered.

 “Elaine, I really don’t think I could handle something like that,” my wife complained.  “What do you think, Crystal?”

 “I think Elaine’s right, Kate.  I think you would look fantastic in a flattop,” the female barber agreed.

 “You really want to cut my hair like that?” Kate continued, pointing again to the picture on the wall.

 “Yes, Kate, I do.  If you agree, I’ll cut your hair short on the sides and in the back.  Then I’ll do the same on top, only I’ll buzz it completely flat,” she explained. 

 “I can see that you’re serious, but I don’t believe it,” Kate protested.  “When I said I wanted my hair cut short, I meant it.  But I don’t want to look like a Marine recruit.  I still want to look like a woman,” Kate protested. 

 “Kate, I understand your reluctance,” Elaine replied soothingly.  “I felt exactly the same way before I got my hair cut.  But then I realized that femininity is defined by what’s on the inside, not by outward appearances.  You never thought of me as less of a woman after I got my hair cut, did you?”

 “No, Elaine.  You’ve always looked very feminine in my eyes,” Kate replied.  “It’s just that this is such a big departure from what I’m used to.”

 “I know, big changes can be scary, but sometimes they lead to wonderful discoveries,” Elaine said knowingly.

 I sat back, unwilling to take sides in this discussion, but quietly rooting for Elaine.  Now I was delighted that Kate had invited her to come along.  It seemed that she was acting as my partner in trying to persuade my wife to go for this radical style.

 “I want to hear what Crystal thinks,” Kate insisted.  “Crystal, do you agree with Elaine?”

 “Yes, I do, Kate,” she said firmly.  “The other short styles that would look good on you, but in my opinion a flattop is the style that would look best.” 

 “But the guy in that picture hardly has any hair at all,” Kate complained. 

 “Now, Kate, I won’t cut your hair that short,” Crystal assured her.  “I’ll be taking a lot off, of course, but I’ll leave your hair about an inch long on top and about half an inch on the sides.  It will be a longer version of the cut I do for the cops and ball players who come here.  I guess you’d say it’s my specialty.” 

 “That’s right, Kate,” I chimed in.  “I’ve watched Crystal give several flattops.  She does a great job.” 

 “I’m sure she does,” Kate replied coolly. “But it seems so masculine.  I’m afraid it will make me look too butch,” she complained.  “I don’t want to be mistaken for a lesbian.”

 “There’s no danger of that, Kate, believe me,” Crystal assured her.  “Not many women have the nerve to try a flattop, but you could pull it off.  You have a good head for it,” she argued.  Then she retreated, “But if that’s too extreme for you, if you’re afraid of what people might say, I’m sure we can come up with something more conventional.” 

 I could see that Crystal’s last comment hit Kate in an especially vulnerable spot.  She prides herself on being a contemporary, liberated woman.  To her mind, being called conventional is the worst possible insult.  Crystal had no way of knowing, but she had discovered the one argument that was most likely to persuade Kate to try this daring style.

 Kate turned to ask my opinion, “What do you think, Dave? You heard Crystal say she wants to give me a flattop.  Should I let her do it?” 

 I tried to restrain my enthusiasm.  A flattop definitely was my choice, but didn’t want to force my preference on her.  I tried to think of a reason my wife would find convincing.  “Well, Kate, you said you wanted a new look,” I answered.  “A flattop will definitely create a different image for you.  It will be a big change, but I think you’ll look smashing.  You should try it.” 

 “Do you really think so?” she asked.  “Or are you just saying that because you want to see my hair cut really short?” 

 “No, Kate. You know I’d love to see you with short hair, but I honestly think you’ll look great in a flattop.  Crystal knows what she’s doing. You should go for it,” I replied. 

 “No fair. You guys are ganging up on me,” Kate objected.  “I bet you had this scheme all cooked up ahead of time.  Elaine, did Dave put you up to this?” she demanded hotly. 

, honest, Kate,” Elaine replied sincerely.  “This was strictly my idea.  Dave and I never discussed it.  When you came to my house last week and told me that you were planning on a short haircut, I began thinking about styles for you.  It was then that I started thinking about the flattop.” 

 “Well, why didn’t you say something then?” Kate demanded.

 “Because I was afraid it might freak you out,” Elaine explained.  “I just didn’t think you were ready for it at the time.”

 “I don’t think I’m ready for it now either.  You know I like to take my time reaching decisions.  Look how long it took you got get me into this barber shop,” she said to me.

 “Calm down, Kate,” I added.  “Crystal was only making a suggestion.  You can have any style you want.  This has to be your decision.  If you’re not comfortable with a flattop you should select something else.” 

 “Yes, Kate.  Perhaps you should consider one of those other styles,” Elaine added, “something less radical.”

 “No, wait.  I’m sorry I lost my cool,” Kate apologized.  “I know I asked for your opinions.  It just seems like the three of you are pushing me into getting a flattop before I’ve even had time to consider it.  Things are happening too fast.  I need to stop and think it over.” 

 “Kate, I don’t want to rush you into anything,” Crystal assured her.  “With something like this, you have to be absolutely sure.  You can have all evening to make up your mind.  Or you can go home, think it over, and come back another day.  Take your time.”

 “Good.  Now let me hear your reasons again,” Kate said with more composure.  “Explain to me why I should let you cut my hair into a flattop.”

 “Well, I suppose the main reason is that it’s short and simple,” Crystal explained.  “You said that’s what you’re looking for.  A buzz cut also fits that description, but you ruled that one out.  Besides, a close cut like that looks best on someone with a rounded head and yours is more square.  A pixie is good for a woman with delicate features, but that’s not you either.  If I cut your hair short and then tried to comb it over in a boyish style, I’m afraid it won’t lie down properly.  Your thick hair is going to stand up straight when it’s short.  That’s why a flattop would be best for you.  And then there’s another reason.  I don’t want to brag, but it’s a cut that I’m really good at.  I would love to show you what I can do.  But if you want another style, I’ll be happy to do that too.  You’re the boss, Kate.”

 “What you say sounds very logical, Crystal.  It’s just awfully scary,” Kate said.  “When I started thinking about getting my hair cut short I pictured myself in lots of different styles, but a flattop never entered my mind.  Never in a million years.  I’ve seen it on guys, of course, but never on a woman.  It would be a radical departure, but you’re the expert.  I suppose I should at least consider it,” she said with enough interest to keep my hopes alive.  I was encouraged to hear that she wasn’t dismissing Crystal’s suggestion completely.  There seemed to be a remote possibility that she might actually let herself be persuaded to go through with this haircut. 

 “Tell me again what you think, Elaine,” she said, turning to her close friend.  “You know I value your opinion.”

 “Kate, this is your moment of truth,” she said gravely.  “You have an opportunity to make a bold statement.  With your hair cut in a flattop you will be saying to the world, ‘I am a modern woman who’s not defined by outdated notions of femininity.’”  Kate appeared to consider Elaine’s words closely.  If it were anyone else, she probably would dismiss this speech as feminist posturing, but Elaine was her trusted friend and her words carried considerable weight.

 Kate continued to ponder her options, repeating her thoughts aloud for us to hear.  “I asked for your opinion and you gave it to me.  ‘I want something short and simple.’  Those were my words.  Getting a flattop would be a huge step, but you make it sound so reasonable.  It certainly would shock all my friends, but they’ll get over it.  Besides, if I don’t like the way it turns out, my hair will grow out in a few weeks,” she ventured.  “But if I agree to your idea, Crystal, you’ll have to promise not to cut it too short, not like a G.I.” 

 “You bet Kate, I’ll keep it on the long side,” she answered. 

 With each comment I was growing more hopeful.  Instead of dismissing Crystal’s observations and rejecting Elaine’s rhetoric, Kate seemed to be giving them serious consideration.  At last she turned to me.  “Dave, if I go through with this, you’ll have to take me to a jewelry store,” she said.  “I’ll definitely need some new earrings.” 

 “Kate, you’ve got a deal,” I responded joyously.  “We can stop at the mall on our way home.”  It seemed that she was on the verge of making up her mind.

 Kate squirmed in her seat while Crystal and I waited for her verdict.  “Well, guys, it looks like it’s time for Kate to make a decision,” she said, speaking more for her own benefit than for ours.  “We’ve talked long enough.  You’ve made your arguments.  Now I must make up my mind.  What shall I do?” she stated dramatically.  “Shall I be brave and let Crystal give me a flattop?  Or will I chicken out and go for a ‘conventional’ haircut?  What’s it going to be?” 

 Kate took a deep breath as she wrestled with her decision.  I knew which haircut I preferred and prayed that she would select my favorite.  It seemed that Elaine shared my eagerness to see my wife transformed.  Crystal checked the clock on the wall.  It was nearly six-thirty and my wife’s haircut had not yet begun.  I could tell she was anxious to get started.  Kate looked at herself in the mirror and glanced back at the illustration on the wall.  I imagined she was picturing herself wearing the flattop.  Crystal stood behind Kate, waiting for her decision.  Elaine stood on the other side, holding Kate’s hand.  The three of us watched as her eyes went back and forth between her shaggy image in the mirror and the short-haired model with his hair clipped flat as a table top.

 Finally, Kate exhaled and declared, “Okay guys, you talked me into it. For most of my life I’ve done the conventional thing.  Today I’m going to be unconventional.”  She turned to me and said, “Dave, I hope you enjoy this.”  To Elaine she said, “Now you won’t be the only short-haired woman on the block.”  Then she addressed her barber, “Crystal, I’ve decided to go for it.  I want you to give me a flattop.” 

 “That’s great, Kate. But are you sure this is what you really want?” Crystal asked.  “Once I start cutting I won’t be able to turn back.  You have to be certain.” 

 “Yes, I’m certain,” Kate replied with resolve.  “You sold me.  I came here looking for a change.  Now I’m going to walk ou
t of this shop looking like a completely new woman—one who’s not afraid to be different.  Go ahead, Crystal.  Cut off this hair.  I want your very best flattop,” she boldly commanded.

 I offered a silent prayer of thanksgiving.  In all the years of our marriage I had imagined Kate in a never ending variety of super-short haircuts, but those were fantasies.  I hardly could believe what I was hearing.  In my dreams I had imagined a moment like this hundreds of times, but never actually expected to see my wife submitting to such a haircut.  In a matter of minutes Kate would receive the shortest, sexiest haircut possible.  If all went according to plan, her hair would be almost completely shorn and would emerge wearing an ultra-sexy flattop.  I concentrated, trying to burn every detail permanently into my memory.  I knew the chance might not come again; this was a once in a lifetime moment. 

 I looked past my wife to check Elaine’s reaction.  She was smiling broadly.  When she noticed my gaze, she gave me a big wink.  It seemed that she was going to enjoy Kate’s haircut as much as I was.

 “Kate, you are one brave lady.  One flattop coming right up,” Crystal announced gaily.  She reached into the cabinet behind her, extracted a clean, striped cape, twirled it over Kate’s shoulders, and gathered it at her neck.  Then she wound a white tissue around her neck and snapped the cape shut, holding the tissue in place.  “That’s not too tight is it?” she asked. 

 “No, it’s fine,” Kate replied. 

 Without warning Crystal pumped a pedal at the base of the barber’s chair, lifting Kate nearly a foot higher in the air. She grasped the back of the chair and spun Kate around to face away from the mirror, but Kate protested.  “Can you turn me back?” she requested.  “I’d like to watch.  I want to see the whole operation.” 

 “Sure, Kate, you’re the boss.  You’ll be able to see everything from here,” Crystal replied as she returned the chair to its original position. Kate reached out from under the cape and pushed her hands through her shaggy tresses one last time.  “This haircut has been a long time coming.  It will feel good to be rid of this mess,” she said. “Crystal, let’s get started.” 

 Crystal picked up a pair of long, silver scissors from the counter and approached Kate from the side.  “First I’ll cut off the bulk.  When I’ve got it down to a manageable length I’ll use the clippers to finish the job,” she said matter-of-factly. 

 Kate sat perfectly still with her jaw clenched.  Her fingers tightly gripped the arms of the barber’s chair.  Her eyes were focused straight ahead. She offered none of the joking comments she usually employed to relieve tension at moments like this.  The bravado she displayed just moments ago had vanished.  She was deadly serious.

 Elaine sat in the chair to Kate’s left, smiling and trying to be supportive.  Bursting with anticipation, I occupied the chair on her right.  I studied Kate’s face for any sign of last minute indecision.  Her expression conveyed only grim determination.  She sat still, resigned to her fate, as she waited for the shearing to begin.  She was going to go through with it. 

 Crystal slid her hand across Kate’s forehead, lifting three inches of her bangs between her fingers. “I’ll start on top,” she announced.  “When that’s done I’ll do the sides.” 

 “Okay, Crystal.  Get on with it,” Kate answered firmly. 

 “Well, here goes,” Crystal said.  She positioned the scissors above her fingers and sliced through the long bangs with one quick stroke.  Only a trace of hair was left visible above her knuckles.  Kate grimaced as the severed hair spilled down her face and landed in her lap.  She glanced down at the blonde lock that had recently covered her forehead.  Crystal drew her hand back and seized the next section.  Kate’s eyes refocused on the mirror as the barber cut again.  She blinked as more hair dropped into her lap.  The third slice removed the last of Kate’s bangs.  Now only a brief fringe remained.  The rest of her hair was much longer, hanging well below her chin.  Crystal selected a seven inch strand from along the part and lopped off five inches, tossing it carelessly to the floor.  I resisted the urge to scoop up the clipped hair as a souvenir. 

 Crystal deliberately worked her way back along Kate’s crown, cropping her hair within two inches of the scalp.  In her wake a patch of short tufts—silver tipped with blonde—began to emerge.  Each cut removed another section of highlighted locks and enlarged the shorn area.  Kate intently followed Crystal’s actions in the mirror, her eyes wide in a combination of fear and fascination.  Neither woman said a word.  Crystal operated with great efficiency and needed only a few minutes to reduce the entire top of Kate’s head to a pelt of gray bristles pointing in all directions.  On the sides her hair still hung well below her jaw and in back it draped over her neck.  The cropped top stood in startling contrast to the rest, both in length and in color.  Kate stared at her freshly cut hair and swallowed hard.  Her transformation was well under way.  Even if she regretted her rash decision, it was too late to turn back now. 

 Crystal paused for a moment and then pulled a strand of long hair out from Kate’s right temple.  “I’ll cut the sides a little shorter than the top,” she announced.  “You’ll see your ears in just a moment.”  Kate nodded and Crystal resumed cutting.  Deliberately, she outlined Kate’s ear and kept snipping until the side resembled the top.  Then she moved to the back, starting at the base of her neck and working upward, removing more sections of hair, eventually exposing the bare skin on Kate’s neck.  Each fresh cut added to the pile of discarded hair accumulating around Crystal’s sneakers.  Finally, she thrust the scissors into the last remaining section of uncut hair on the left side of Kate’s head.  A few quick snips revealed her other ear.  Crystal trimmed around the ear and soon the final strand of long hair drifted to the floor.  Now the sides matched the top.  Kate’s shoulders and lap were littered with discarded locks.  Golden highlights lay strewn around the base of the chair.  The first stage of the haircut was done, but there was still a long way to go before Kate’s conversion would be complete.

 Crystal placed the scissors back on the counter and returned to the chair with a spray bottle in her hand.  She pumped a mist of water over Kate’s head and when it was thoroughly drenched she used both hands to massage Kate’s damp locks.  Crystal repeatedly thrust her fingers into the short hairs on top, coaxing them to stand upright and erasing all evidence of the center part.  Kate inhaled deeply and gazed at her startling new image. 

 I could hardly believe my eyes.  The change was breathtaking.  In less than ten minutes Kate’s hair had turned from blonde to silver.  Ears that had long been buried beneath flaps of hair now stood fully exposed.  Her head appeared smaller and her eyes seemed much larger
.  Her forehead was no longer hidden behind a veil of long bangs.  Her shorn hair was uneven and unkempt—a far cry from her usual conservative look.  I rather liked her wild, disheveled appearance, but knew Kate did not share my feelings.  I wondered what she was thinking.  Was she regretting her decision?  Would she blame me for talking her into this radical cut?  How would she hold up during the next stage when Crystal would cut her hair even shorter?  Would she panic and change her mind at the last minute?  Or would she bow her head and obediently submit to the power of the clippers?

 Crystal stepped back and examined Kate’s unruly hair.  “Sure looks different, doesn’t it?” she said to no one in particular.  “I suppose we could leave it like this if you’re aiming for the waif look,” she said half in jest. 

 “No, you can’t stop now.  I look like a refugee from a concentration camp,” Kate cried with a note of desperation in her voice. 

 “Not for long, dear,” Crystal replied, patting her shoulder.  “It’s kind of messy right now, but I’ll soon clean it up,” she said, reassuringly.  “Your hair has been lying down on the job for a long time.  Now it has to learn to stand up straight,” she explained as she resumed pushing the hair upright with her fingers.  “I just have to administer a little discipline.”  Next Crystal grabbed a stiff brush and boldly attacked the short hair.  Kate braced herself against the force of the vigorous strokes.  When Crystal put the brush down Kate’s hair was standing at attention, pointing straight towards the ceiling.  It still was far from a finished cut, but I could visualize the horizontal line along her head were the flattop would soon emerge.  The most exciting part of Kate’s haircut was now only moments away.  I edged forward on my seat so as not to miss a single detail.  I wondered how Kate would react when Crystal began to apply the clippers to her head for the first time.  I glanced over at Elaine.  She held her hands together as if the excitement was more than she could bear.  Her eyes were focused on the top of Kate’s head.  It seemed that she was as eager to witness my wife’s transformation as I was.

 “You’re going to look just great,” she said to my wife.

 “I hope you’re right,” Kate answered bravely.

 “Okay Kate, here comes fun part,” Crystal announced with a mischievous grin.  She removed a large black instrument from a hook beneath the counter and plugged it into an electrical outlet.  She stretched the cord and held the clippers before Kate, inviting her to inspect them up close.  “This the most powerful model on the market,” she said, sounding more like a salesman than a barber.  “They do a great job cutting thick hair like yours.  First I’ll buzz your sides and back.  When I get them good and short I’ll cut the top nice and flat,” she announced gleefully as she slipped a plastic guide into place over the silver blades.  “You’ll soon see where the flattop gets its name.”

 Kate gaped at the tool in Crystal’s hand and gulped.  A frightened look crossed her face.  I could see that she didn’t share Crystal’s enthusiasm.  “Crystal, I’ve never had my hair cut with clippers,” she said in a trembling voice.  “Are you sure this is necessary?  Can’t you use the scissors?” 

 At this point Elaine spoke up.  “Kate, I know you’re nervous, but the clippers are the quickest and the best way to do this job.  She could use the scissors, but they wouldn’t work nearly as well.  Crystal can’t get the top completely even without the clippers.”

 Crystal seconded Elaine’s comments, “If you want the top good and flat, I’ve got to use the clippers.” 

 “But what if you slip?” Kate objected. 

 “Trust me, Kate,” Crystal responded in a soothing voice, “you’ve got nothing to fear.  I’ve done this haircut hundreds of times and haven’t slipped once.” 

 “Okay, Crystal.  Go ahead.  Use your clippers.  I suppose I’ve come too far to back out now,” Kate answered.

 “Atta girl,” Elaine called in support.

 Crystal moved to a position directly behind the chair, pulled the cord to its full extension, and switched on the power to the clippers.  A mechanical buzzing noise filled the room.  Crystal raised the clippers to the base of Kate’s neck and spoke firmly.  “Okay, Kate.  I need you to put your chin down,” she ordered. Gently, she pushed Kate’s head forward.  “Hold it there while I buzz the back.”  Crystal pressed the clippers against the skin on Kate’s neck.  Slowly she shoved them up into her uneven hair, plowing a path two inches wide straight up her head.  The clippers hungrily chewed through the thick layer of hair, reducing the remnant to less than half an inch. A stream of gray hairs flew out from the clippers, coating Crystal’s hand and wrist.  She repeated the upward motion several more times, flicking clumps of severed hair to the floor as she expanded the clipped region.  Quickly, she exposed Kate’s neck, revealing a hairline shaped like the letter W.  Before long all the hair on back of Kate’s head had been clipped to a uniform length.  Kate strained for a better view.  Elaine and I could see how short her hair was, but from her vantage point she could see nothing. 

 “You’re doing great, Kate,” Crystal said.  “Now let’s take care of the rest.”  She stepped around to the right side of the chair and raised Kate’s chin.  Once again she executed a series of smooth upward strokes, shearing the side until it matched the back.  Crystal circled the chair and performed the same operation on the left side.  For five minutes the steady drone of the clippers was the only sound in the shop.  Kate watched as Crystal removed the last patch of longer hair from the side.  Now she could see the full extent of the damage.  Her eyes grew wide with amazement.  I must admit that her head was a curious sight.  Longer tufts sprouted from the top while the hair beneath was clipped so close that the scalp was visible beneath the stubble.

 Crystal switched off the power and set the black clippers on the counter. “Now for the top,” Crystal announced.  Again she reached for the large brush and attacked her ragged crown, brushing the shortened hair up off her face so it was standing straight.  When Crystal was satisfied that all the hairs were perfectly erect she returned the brush to the shelf and reclaimed her trusty clippers.  She clicked the power on again and held the rapidly vibrating blades just inches from Kate’s terrified eyes.  She addressed my wife sternly, “The top is the most critical part.  I need to get it right the first time and you must hold perfectly still.  If you wiggle even a little bit it will be ruined.  So don’t move.  Don’t even breathe,” she instructed. 

 “I won’t, Crystal. I’ll be good,” Kate whispered meekly.

 Crystal selected a large black comb with long teeth and ran it through the hair above Kate’s forehead, exposing an uneven row of gray bristles.  She raised the humming clippers level with the comb.  Kate focused her eyes on the two figur
es in the mirror.  I feared that the sight of her hair being clipped short would be more than she could bear, but she seemed to be strangely entranced by the scene unfolding before her.  Crystal concentrated her gaze and slowly guided the clippers into the hair sticking up between the teeth of the comb.  The sound of the clippers deepened as its hungry blades followed the line of the comb from right to left, chopping another half inch from Kate’s already short hair.  Crystal removed the comb, flicking clumps of severed hair to the ground.  She returned to the same spot and reinserted the comb.  Slowly, she made a second pass across the comb and clipped the protruding hairs shorter yet.  Next, she slid comb into another batch of longer hair slightly farther back and again guided the clippers through the exposed hair. Another pass brought this section in line with the first.  Crystal repositioned the comb and reduced a fourth swatch; then a fifth and a sixth. 

 For five intense minutes she devoted her full attention to the top of Kate’s head, working with confidence and surgical precision.  Every pass of the clippers mowed more of the ragged hair into a level plane.  Small pieces of hair rained down on Kate’s face and nose, but she never blinked.  As Crystal neared the back of Kate’s head she clipped the hair more closely until the comb was poised half an inch above her scalp.  She paused only after she had finished carving the top of Kate’s head into a perfectly even horizontal surface.  Then she returned to the sides, sculpting Kate’s silver hair into two vertical walls that intersected the top to form sharp right angles. When she stopped, the hair on both sides of Kate’s head rose met the top in a perfect square.

 Only when Crystal switched off the clippers did Kate relax a bit. She peered at her reflection in the mirror with an unbelieving gaze and turned her head to the side, but she had only a moment to contemplate her drastically altered image.  Crystal reached into a large blue jar and extracted a glob of gel with her fingers.  “This stuff will help your hair stand upright,” she explained as she massaged the gel into Kate’s scalp.  Once again Crystal returned with the brush and resumed coaxing the shortened hairs upright.  She worked roughly, jerking Kate’s head with each stroke.  The hair on top was short and level, but Crystal wasn’t satisfied.  She inspected Kate’s head from every angle, then announced, “I need to take it a bit shorter, Kate.”

 “You mean it’s not short enough?  You want to cut it even more?” Kate exclaimed.

 “That’s right.  I need to take another quarter inch off, if that’s okay with you.” Crystal asked.

 “But you said you’d leave it longer on top,” Kate pleaded.

 “Yes, I know.  But it really doesn’t look right.  I’d like to go over it again.” Crystal repeated.

 “I don’t think I can take much more,” she begged.

 “This won’t take long, Kate.  I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it was necessary,” Crystal explained.  “You’ve got to trust me.”

 Kate turned to Elaine who was standing nearby.  She had said nothing since the haircut had begun, but had been following its progress with rapt attention.  She had been enjoying the spectacle of Kate’s transformation as much as I was.  “Elaine, what do you think?” my wife asked her friend.  “Should let Crystal cut it shorter?”

 “Kate, she’s right,” Elaine replied.  “I know it’s kinda scary, but you should listen to Crystal.  She knows what she’s doing.”

 “Okay.  If you say so,” Kate reluctantly agreed.  “Just get it done, Crystal.  I’ve endured about as much of this as I can bear.”

 “You’ll be done in a minute,” Crystal promised

 Crystal retrieved the clippers and repositioned herself at Kate’s side.  She switched on the power again and raised the clippers.  This time she worked without the comb.  Again she placed the clippers at the side of Kate’s head and pulled them across the front row of hair.  Slowly she drove the clippers into the stiff hair, trimming it even shorter.  Crystal moved back to the next row of hair and continued cutting.  She repeated her performance, marching across Kate’s scalp, steadily shearing her remaining hair down another fraction of an inch.

 Kate kept her eyes open, sitting spellbound, watching the transformation taking place before her as if she couldn’t believe what was happening.  She bit her lip and blinked away a few tears, but never moved her head.  In the mirror she beheld the reflected image of a woman wearing a velvety smooth cap of gray hair.  At the front, where her bangs once hung, stood an upright row of silver bristles no more than an inch high.  Further back along her crown, where a part had formerly been located, her hair was barely a quarter of an inch long.  Kate’s bare scalp gleamed beneath the bristles.  The clean, symmetrical lines of her flattop had replaced the uneven contours of her earlier cut.  Kate’s haircut was nearly complete.

  “That’s looking good,” Crystal said with a sigh.  Kate shifted and started to rise from her seat, but Crystal gently shoved her back.  “Not so quick, Kate, I’m not done yet.  I’ve still got some more work to do,” she informed her.  Kate slid back in the chair while Crystal picked up a small pair of cordless clippers.  “I’ll use these to trim the sides and back.  They’ll make everything nice and neat,” she said.  She carefully outlined Kate’s right sideburn.  She flinched at the touch of the cold metal on her skin, but quickly recovered her composure.  Crystal then folded Kate’s ear out of the way and followed the hair down her neck, defining a crisp straight line. She repeated the procedure on the left side, clipping Kate’s other sideburn. Crystal placed the small clippers on the counter.  Again Crystal picked up the brush and attacked the short silver hairs on top of Kate’s head.  When she finished brushing, she eyed the result and once more grabbed the black clippers.  “I have to do just a little touch up to get everything perfectly level,” Crystal said.  “You need to sit still for another minute.”  She switched the clippers on again and returned them to Kate’s crown.  Without the comb, she deftly moved the clippers from side to side across Kate’s head, shaving another fraction of an inch from the already short hair.  Kate’s eyes followed the clippers, but her head never wavered.  Crystal continued, making several more passes, until every hair on the top of Kate’s head stood at exactly the same height.  Finally, she reattached the guide and buzzed the sides and the back a second time, catching a few stray hairs that had escaped the first run.

 Crystal switched the clippers off and deposited them on the counter.  She stepped behind the chair, loosened the cape and removed the tissue from around Kate’s neck.  “One more thing before you’re done,” she announced.  “I usually shave my customer’s neck to give a neat appearance.  Is that okay with you, Kate?” 

 “Sure.  I guess so,” Kate mumbled.  Crystal turned to a dispenser on the counter and produced a handful of white lather.  She spread the warm foam down the sides of Kate’s neck and up behin
d her ears.  Wiping her hands on a towel, Crystal opened a straight razor and skillfully drew it down Kate’s neck, removing the lather and revealing the bare skin beneath.  She executed the same motions on the other side.  When she finished with the razor she pressed the towel around Kate’s ears, wiping away the surplus foam.  Crystal then splashed an aromatic lotion on her hands and rubbed it on Kate’s freshly shaved neck.

 Finally, Crystal stepped back to view the finished haircut.  A satisfied smile spread across her face.  Kate sat frozen in the chair, seemingly paralyzed by the events of the past half-hour.  The short-haired woman sitting there bore only a slight resemblance to my wife who walked in the shop one hour before.  The top of her head now bristled with short gray spikes.  The hair on the sides and back was cut close to the scalp.  Pink skin gleamed beneath the clipped fuzz.  Gone were the blonde streaks.  Gone were the bangs and the part.  In their place was a precise military crew cut.  The hair above her forehead stood stiff and straight, less than an inch long.  A horizontal surface extended from front to back.  The hair on the sides formed vertical walls that intersected the top at right angles.  Not a single hair was out of place.

 After slowly circling the chair one more time, Crystal picked up a soft brush and dusted the loose hairs from Kate’s nose and forehead.  At last she spoke.  “That should do it, Kate.  You can relax now.”  She offered Kate a large hand mirror and said, “Here, take a closer look. Now you can see what a real flattop looks like.”  Kate grasped the handle of the mirror and wordlessly extended her arm to examine her new haircut from every angle.  She raised it above her head to inspect the top.  She turned her head to the side to see around her ears.  Crystal held the mirror so Kate could view the short hair in back.  After a long silence, Crystal placed her hand on Kate’s shoulder and asked, “Well, Kate, what do you think?” 

 “I don’t know, Crystal,” Kate answered feebly, “I don’t know what to think. I didn’t expect it would be this short.”

  “Well, you said you wanted a short haircut.  You asked for a flattop and that’s what I gave you,” Crystal replied a bit defensively. 

 “I know, I know,” Kate groaned.  “You did exactly what I asked.  Only I didn’t know it would be this short.”

 “I think you look totally awesome, Kate,” Elaine exclaimed.  She had closely watched every stage of the haircut, following Kate’s conversion from long hair to short with barely contained enthusiasm.  Now she stood beaming with pride, as if this haircut had been her idea from the beginning.  “This is a great style for you. And your hair—see how it stands up so nice and straight.  It’s perfect. And the gray is really smashing.  It looks great.” 

 “Do you really think so?  You’re probably just saying that to make me feel better,” Kate whined. 

 “No Kate, I really mean it,” Elaine answered sincerely. 

 Then Crystal joined in.  “You could be a model for this style, Kate,” she exclaimed.  “I’ve given a lot of flattops and you’ve got one of the best heads I’ve seen.  I wouldn’t be surprised if other women start coming here asking to have cut their hair like yours.”

 “Crystal is right, you look fantastic,” Elaine chimed in. 

 “I don’t know, Elaine.  I’m kind of numb,” Kate replied.  “I hardly recognize myself.  I wonder what our friends will say when they see me like this.” 

 “They’ll be amazed, Kate,” Elaine said reassuringly.  “Sure, they may be shocked at first, but after they get over their initial surprise, they’ll love it.” 

 “It’s going to take a while to get used to the new me,” Kate said.

 “Yes, it took me quite a while after I took the plunge,” Elaine assured her.  “But after you get used to it I’m sure you’ll wonder why you didn’t do this years ago.”

 Kate still sat in the chair, looking rather stunned, when Crystal rejoined the conversation.  “Here, Kate, you need to feel it,” the barber said as she drew Kate’s hand out from beneath the cape and raised it to her head.  Kate gingerly touched the top of her head and tentatively passed her fingers across the short hairs.  At first she looked curious as she explored the flat surface.  Then she returned her hand for a second and a third time.  Slowly a smile spread across her face.

 “Crystal, it’s so strange!  There’s almost nothing there,” she exclaimed.  “I didn’t think it would be so short, but I like it.”  She stroked her head several more times, each time looking more pleased with the sensation.

 “Dave, come here.  You’ve got to feel this,” she said, turning to me for the first time.  I stepped up to the chair and Kate took my hand, guiding it across the top of her newly shorn head.  Instantly I became aroused.  “You like it, don’t you?” she observed.  “I can tell by the look in your eyes.” 

 “Yes, Kate, it’s fantastic,” I replied.  “I never thought I would see you with such a short, sexy haircut.” 

 Kate continued touching her head, rubbing the short hairs on her neck and the bare skin around her ears. “My head feels so light and cool,” she continued.  “It’s like I took off a heavy wool cap.  Oh, Crystal, this is so strange,” she continued. “For years I wondered how I would look with short hair,” Kate continued.  “And now I’ve got the shortest haircut imaginable.” 

 “Kate, you were incredibly brave,” Crystal observed. 

 “You know, it took me months to work up enough courage to come into your shop,” Kate continued.  “I was scared to death when you put that cape around my neck.  Just before you began chopping off those long chunks of my hair I nearly asked you to stop.  I had no idea what I would look like when you finished.  After you stopped with the scissors I felt sure I had made a mistake. I looked so forlorn.  But by then it was too late to turn back.  And when you started in with those big clippers—that’s when I almost lost it.  I was terrified.  But it was a strange sensation—frightening, yet oddly exciting.  I could feel you cutting my hair shorter and shorter, and I had no idea how it would turn out, but I didn’t want you to quit. You could have kept going till I had no hair left at all and I wouldn’t have stopped you.  It was scary and yet powerfully erotic at the same time.”

  “I could see you were scared, but you never lost your nerve.  When I started buzzing the top I had to take it shorter than we had originally planned.  It just wouldn’t have looked right to leave it longer.  I had to take it down closer to your scalp.  I hope you’re not mad at me for cutting it so short.”

 “No, Crystal,” Kate said.  “Now that I see the finished cut, I realize that Elaine was right. This is the right style for me.” 

 Elaine had been standing off to the side, patiently waiting.  Now she wrapped my wife in a big hug, their two shorn heads side-by-side. 

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