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It was Susan’s hair that first caught my attention as she filed out of the crowded lecture hall.  Amid a jostling throng of students at the close of my initial American Literature class, she stood out like a lighthouse beacon on a foggy night.  Her hair was deep brown, almost black, and it hung straight down beyond her shoulder blades.  She wore it parted down the center, forming dark, glistening curtains on either side of her face.  As she chatted with her friends she laughed and flashed a brilliant smile.  On any rating scale she definitely was a “10.”  I followed her with my eyes as she walked out the door, admiring her trim, athletic figure as I gathered up my notes.  I also noticed her tasteful attire.  Instead of the blue jeans and sweatshirts favored by most undergraduates, she wore a ribbed sweater and tailored slacks.  My male radar locked on her frame till she disappeared down the corridor.  “With scenery like this, it’s going to be a very interesting semester,” I said to myself.

From that day on I habitually glanced toward her assigned seat in the middle of the tenth row before beginning my lecture.  On the few occasions she was absent I felt a stab of regret.  When I spotted her opening a notebook or idly waiting for class to start, I checked to see how she was wearing her hair.  On most days she let it fall around her shoulders as she had when I first saw her; sometimes she would pull it back into a high ponytail; occasionally she wore it up in a twist or a bun.  Whatever the style, her presence never failed to delight me.  I consulted the seating chart and learned that her name was Susan Ward.  A check of university records revealed that she was twenty-one years old and came from an affluent suburb of Chicago.  With nearly two hundred students enrolled in the class, however, there was no opportunity to engage her in conversation, no chance to get to know her.  By the end of the semester all I knew, in addition to her name and hometown, was her grade on the final exam—one of the highest in the class.  “Is this why I became a college teacher?” I complained to a colleague, “So I could lecture a sea of youthful faces without ever making personal contact?” Of course, the real cause of my distress was my failure to make the acquaintance of one highly desirable coed.

In my second year at the university I finally had an opportunity to teach a smaller class.  I offered a seminar on my specialty–the literature of the Vietnam War.  Because it was an honors course, enrollment was limited to twenty students with high academic averages.  Before the first class I scanned the class roster and spied one name at the bottom of the list.  “Ah, the lovely Miss Ward,” I observed, “you’ve returned.  Perhaps this term I shall get to know you better.”  It wasn’t long before I discovered that not only was Susan a beautiful young woman and an excellent student, but she also was widely read, with strong views about the authors we covered.  Frequently, she challenged her classmates’ interpretation of the novels we discussed and didn’t hesitate to disagree with me when our views diverged.  I noticed that she wore her hair in the same style although it was somewhat longer than the previous year.  Her clothes were still impeccable—mostly sweaters and slacks with an occasional blouse and skirt for variety.  She was one of the most attractive coeds on our campus of 30,000 students.

One afternoon during the fourth week of the semester she stopped by my office to discuss the topic for her term paper.  I was delighted, of course, but had to struggle to keep my mind on academics. She was wearing a short skirt that revealed her shapely legs.  My cramped space on the third floor of the antiquated Humanities Building was scarcely larger than a prison cell.  There was room for only two chairs so she sat with her knees just a few inches from mine.  She flashed her winning smile and brushed the hair out of her eyes. “Be careful, Rob,” I cautioned myself, “You know it’s against university policy for professors to get involved with students.  Don’t do anything stupid.” I managed to restrain myself during this and our subsequent meetings, but it wasn’t easy.  She visited me twice more before the semester ended.  Each time our conversation lasted longer but never strayed from the research for her paper.  She shared her ideas with me and eagerly accepted my suggestions for further reading, jotting down the titles I mentioned.  I yearned to explore other subjects such as her preferences in men and whether she currently was seeing anyone, but forced myself to stick to business, nothing personal or even faintly suggestive.

Susan earned the highest grade in the seminar, submitting a highly original paper on the novels of Tim O’Brien.  In my evaluation I lavished praise on her insights and writing skills.  I even volunteered to write her a letter of recommendation for graduate school.  Frankly, I was relieved that I had completed the semester without breaching the great wall constructed by university administrators to protect attractive female students from horny male professors like me.

Susan was not enrolled in any of my spring semester classes although I did spy her from time to time strolling the halls of the Humanities Building or lounging in the Student Union.  Each time I caught a glimpse of her impeccably groomed hair and sparkling blue eyes I fought the urge to approach and strike up a conversation. I smiled and nodded in her direction when she passed, but remained a model of professorial decorum. I did nothing that would endanger my academic career.  Occasionally I daydreamed about what might have happened if we had met under different circumstances.  Would I have swept her off feet with my dry wit and manly charm?  She must have dozens of suitors.  Would I really stand a chance?  It was hopeless, I knew.  There was no way I could date her without jeopardizing my future.

Toward the end of April, during the semi-annual end of semester crunch, I was busily grading papers when I heard a knock at my office door.  I looked up to see Susan casually standing in the hallway.  “I hope I’m not interrupting anything, Dr. Fitzgerald.  Do you have a minute?” she asked. 

“Of course, Miss Ward, I can always find time for one of my best students.  Come in,” I replied.  “How are you doing?”  I wondered why she had come to see me.  Perhaps she was seeking the recommendation I offered last semester.  I could think of no other explanation.

She settled into a chair and answered, “Well, you know, it gets kind of crazy this time of year, but I’m doing well.”  

“Taking any more English courses this semester?”  I inquired, keeping the conversation on a safe topic.

“No. I had to finish my major requirements if I wanted to graduate on time. Although I love literature, there just was no room in my schedule.”  I was surprised to learn that she wasn’t an English major.  I had assumed that anyone so well read and passionate about writers had to be a literature student.  I realized that, outside of her class work, I really knew very little about Susan. 

“What is your major, Miss Ward?  I thought you were one of us—I mean an English major.” 

“Oh no, I’m studying Economics. I signed up for the A
merican Lit class to fulfill my Humanities requirement.  The seminar was just for fun.”

“For fun?  Most students don’t consider advanced literature courses fun, not even our majors.”

“Well, they are for me.  I love literature and your classes were a welcome break from econometrics and monetary theory.” 

 “Pardon the cliché,” I responded, “but you certainly prove that you can’t judge a book by its cover.  I thought all economists were dull number crunchers who resembled Alan Greenspan.  You certainly don’t fit that mold.” 

“I know.  I get that all the time,” she laughed.  “In fact, I don’t intend to become an economist.  I’ll enter law school in the fall.  I thought economics would be a good foundation for a career in corporate law.  At least, that’s my plan right now.” 

“Again I’m amazed.  You don’t look like a corporate lawyer either.” 

“And what do I look like?” she inquired, suddenly turning serious and fixing her blazing blue eyes on me. 

“I don’t know,” I stammered, unnerved by her direct questioning.  “You just don’t look like an economist or a lawyer.” 

“What do I look like?” she repeated.  When I didn’t reply, she continued.  “I’ll bet you see me as a nice piece of ass, don’t you?” Her bluntness shocked me.  I wasn’t used to students addressing me so directly.  How could I answer her accusation?  I could deny her charge, but she would know I was lying.  Or I could admit my desire and risk sounding like a lecherous old professor.  The conversation suddenly had veered in a very dangerous direction.  I was on the verge of panic.

“No, no,” I protested.  “I think you are one of the most intelligent, articulate young women I have ever had the pleasure to teach.” 

“You don’t find me attractive?” she demanded.  I was momentarily speechless.  Of course, I found her attractive, overwhelmingly desirable, in fact, but there was no way I could confess my feelings.  That would violate all the rules of political correctness.  I struggled to come up with an appropriate response.

“You don’t have to answer that,” she added with a sly smile that signaled the end of her cross-examination.  “From the way you’re blushing, I can tell what you’re thinking.  I couldn’t help but notice how you ogled me in class, both this year and last.  But I didn’t mean to put you on the spot.  I realize that professors aren’t allowed to date their students. Fortunately, in three weeks I’ll be graduated.  I thought then we might get together for a drink some evening,” she proposed.  “Would you be interested?” 

“I don’t know,” I blustered.  “I mean, I suppose if you’re no longer a student there wouldn’t be any problem.”

“If you’re no longer in a position of authority over me, then there are no grounds for a sexual harassment charge, if that’s what you’re worried about,” she answered, sounding very much like the lawyer she hoped to become.  Obviously, she had done her homework on this subject.

“But there’s always the appearance of impropriety,” I objected.

“Ah yes, ‘the appearance of impropriety,’” she smiled as she mockingly repeated my words.  “You could allow that fear to rule your life, but I’ll bet that you’re willing to risk a few raised eyebrows.  So what about it?  Will you join me for a drink after graduation?  We could continue our discussion of Going After Cacciato or perhaps even explore some topics totally unrelated to your seminar.”

“Yes, I’d enjoy that,” I finally admitted. 

“Great.  I’ll give you a call,” she said as she rose and sauntered out of my office.

It was nearly half an hour before I recovered my composure enough to resume grading.  Never had I encountered such a direct, confident young woman.  Clearly, she realized how attractive I found her and didn’t hesitate to let me know she saw through my professorial reserve.  Her approach left me both flustered and delighted.  I had tried to disguise my attraction, but she wasn’t fooled.  Here was a young woman who was used to getting what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to bend a few rules going after it.  She was totally unlike the bookish academic types I had been dating for the past five years.  I had had a couple of brief affairs in grad school and currently was seeing an assistant professor of Art History, but none of these women could hold a candle to Susan.  It seemed my luck was changing for the better.  I prayed that she was interested in more than casual conversation.

During the week following commencement I felt like a high school freshman preparing for his first date as I nervously waited for Susan’s promised call.  I realized that I didn’t have her phone number or address.  I couldn’t reach her if I wanted to.  She controlled all aspects of this relationship.  By Friday afternoon I began to worry that she had forgotten her offer.  Finally, about four o’clock my phone rang.  I answered on the second ring and heard her voice on the other end of the line. 

“Hello, Dr. Fitzgerald.  This is Susan Ward.  Remember me?” 

“Of course, Miss Ward.  How are you?” 

“I’m fine, thanks.  Remember that drink we talked about?  Would you like to join me at Luigi’s for a glass of wine and maybe some dinner afterwards?” 

“Sure, that sounds great,” I answered, trying hard not to sound overly eager.  “I’ll meet you there in an hour.” 

Luigi’s is a beloved campus institution.  The intimate bar and restaurant has been operated by the Grimaldi family for nearly 50 years.  Luigi, the founder and family patriarch, passed away a few years ago.  The establishment is now operated by his son, Tony, who greets every patron like a long lost friend.  Numerous Grimaldi offspring work behind the bar, wait on tables, and staff the kitchen. While undergraduates flock to the bars and pizza joints farther down College Street, Luigi’s warm family atmosphere and reasonably priced meals make it a favorite watering hole for faculty and grad students. “A great choice for a first date,” I observed.  “She has excellent taste.”

I entered and found Susan seated at a secluded corner table in the back of the dining room.  She was sipping a glass of red wine and waved for me to join her.  She looked stunning in a tight white top and a short navy skirt.  Her dark hair was gathered by a silver clip at the back of her head and hung loosely around her shoulders.  I pulled up a chair and apologized, “Hello, Miss Ward.  Sorry I’m late.”  

“Oh you’re not late, Dr. Fitzgerald,” she assured me.  “I got here early.  I wanted to be sure to get a good table.  Would you like some burgundy?” she offered, and without waiting for an answer began pouring me a glass from the decanter on the table.  “I do wish you would stop calling me ‘Miss Ward.’ It sounds so formal.  My name’s Susan.”

“I guess I can do that,” I responded.  “So Susan, if we’re going to be on a first name basis, you should call me ‘Rob’.” 

“Is that what your friends call you?”

“Yes, nearly everyone calls me that.”

“Well, I’d like to call you Robert, if you don’t mind.”

“No, I don’t mind.  But why?”

“Well, I’d rather use a distinctive name, not one that your other friends use.” 

“Does this mean we’re going to be friends,” I asked coyly.

“Oh, I hope so.  I‘d like for us to become very good friends,” she replied with a hint of flirtation in her voice. 

“Well, here’s to friendship,” I proposed, lifting my glass in a toast.

  “To friendship,” she replied.  She paused for a moment to swallow her wine, and then continued, “If we’re going to be friends I should begin by apologizing for my crude remark of the other day.  You know, when I accused you of seeing me as a piece of ass.  Remember?”  

“Of course.  How could I forget?  I’ve never had a student speak to me that way before.” 

“I hope I didn’t come across as an impertinent bitch.  Sometimes I just say what’s on my mind without thinking of the consequences.” 

“No, I didn’t find you disrespectful.  You took me by surprise, but I think you accurately assessed the situation and injected some welcome honesty into our relationship.  I admire your candor.” 

“Since we’re being candid, you should know that my remark was calculated to catch your attention.  I know that most men view me as a sexual object.  I see the way they look at me.  And I don’t mind.  In fact, sometimes I encourage it.  Why should you be any different?  I just wish that sometimes men would consider me as something more than a potential partner in bed.  I could see that you were interested in me that American Lit class, but I admired your restraint.   You didn’t try to hit on me the way a lot of guys would.  Plus, I really loved your class.  You have a wonderful way of getting your points across.  And I enjoyed your sense of humor.  That’s when I decided to go after you.”

“You did what?” 

“Sure.  Don’t be so naïve, Robert.  Do you think that only guys are stalkers?  Before signing up for your honors seminar I did a little research.  I noticed that you didn’t wear a wedding ring.  A friend who’s a grad student in your department told me that you weren’t seriously involved with anyone.  Then I got hold of a copy of your dissertation from University Microfilms.  I read what you had to say about the novelists of the Vietnam era.  It was no accident that I chose Tim O’Brien as the topic for my term paper.  I knew he was your favorite author.  I figured that this was the best way to get your undivided attention.”

“Why you scheming little vixen,” I exclaimed in mock anger.  “I don’t know whether to be flattered or to be pissed off.”

“I certainly hope it’s the former,” she replied.

“You’ve been playing me like a video game,” I charged.

“I was afraid you might be upset if I told you, but I believe that honesty is the best policy.  I hope we can speak openly to each other,” she confided.

“Under other circumstances I might be angry, but frankly, there’s no one else I would rather be manipulated by,” I replied.  “Now, it’s my turn.  Why did you decide to go after me?  What do you have in mind?”

“Well, I want to get to know you better.”

“Does it bother you that I’m nearly ten years older than you?”

“No, that’s not a problem. Most guys my age are interested in only two things—getting laid and getting drunk.  All they talk about is football, basketball, hockey, or baseball depending on the season.  Older guys aren’t much better.  Most are so preoccupied with their careers that they rarely can talk about anything other than work.  They don’t understand that some women are interested in other things.”

“It sounds like you’ve had a lot of experience,” I observed.

“Well, I’ve had a lot of dates, if that’s what you mean, but few serious relationships,” she answered.

I raised my glass and offered a second toast.  “Here’s to serious relationships,” I proposed.

“I’ll drink to that,” she replied.

We consulted the menu and ordered dinner.  Three hours later we lingered over dessert, finishing a second bottle of wine.  Patrons at adjoining tables had come and gone, but we were in no hurry.  I learned that Susan had obtained a position as a summer research assistant for a distinguished economics professor.  She explained the nature of her work, but it was far too esoteric for me to comprehend.  Her parents had offered a trip to Europe as a graduation present.  She declined their offer because she was determined to pay her own way through law school.  Her father was a prominent surgeon with a thriving practice and her mother was a successful real estate broker.  It sounded like they had lots of money, a far cry from my own lower-middle class upbringing.  I discovered that Susan loved tennis, horseback riding, and water skiing.  That explained her terrific figure and marvelous tan.  Before finishing we made a date to play tennis the next morning. 

When we walked out the door of the restaurant and into the parking lot my legs felt a little unsteady.  “I think I’ve had too much to drink.  I better leave the car here and come back for it in the morning.  Just point me in the right direction and I’ll walk you home.” We strolled down the main drag past the noisy student hangouts and darkened bookstores.  As we crossed College Street she took my hand in hers.  I must have looked surprised because Susan smiled and said, “You don’t mind, do you?” 

“No, it’s just that I’ve never held hands with a student of mine before,” I explained. 

“I’m not your student any more, remember,” she answered.  When we reached the door of her apartment she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.  “Thanks for a lovely dinner, Robert.  I’ll see you at the tennis court at nine.  You better get some rest.  You’ll need to bring your best game if you hope to beat me.”

We saw each other almost every day that summer.  Together we enjoyed the weekly jazz concerts on the quad and viewed nearly every foreign film that came to town.  She was a better tennis player than I was, but I tried to make up in effort what I lacked in skill.  By August we were deeply in love.  My colleagues kidded me about “robbing the cradle.”  Susan needled me about my inadequate tennis game, threatening to trade me for a younger partner if I couldn’t provide more competition.  Never had I felt so alive.

The lease for Susan’s apartment expired at the end of the summer and we discussed moving in together.  “No way I’m moving into that dump of yours,” she chided.  p>

“I thought you said my place had lots of character,” I retorted. 

“Sure, if you like broken down, shabby, and dilapidated.  I want to live in a place where the plumbing works all of the time and paint isn’t peeling off the ceiling.  And the furniture cannot be Salvation Army surplus.  If we’re going to live together, it’s got to be someplace with a pool and tennis courts.  Our apartment must have two studies, one for you and one for me.  The appliances cannot be more than five years old.  No roaches, no mice, no noisy neighbors.  Those are my conditions and they’re non-negotiable.”

“You drive a hard bargain, Susan, but I can accept your terms as long you let me keep my easy chair,” I capitulated.

We drove all over town looking at vacant apartments.  Most did not meet Susan’s stringent requirements.  Finally we toured a new townhouse development on the outskirts of town that had all the features she needed.  The rent was more than we planned to spend, but less than we were paying separately.  We signed the lease and moved in on Labor Day weekend.  The next week Susan’s parents came to visit.  It was obvious that they idolized their only child and were suspicious of my intentions.  Her father looked at me with thinly disguised disdain.  I could see that he never would consider any male good enough for his darling daughter.  Her mother dropped hints that she didn’t approve of my wardrobe or the length of my hair.  The Wards were pretty conservative and it was clear that they disliked our living together.  To humor them, we began talking about getting married, but that seemed to alarm them even more.  They had big plans for their only child and marriage to an assistant professor of English fell several notches below their preferred perch on the social ladder.

Finally, Susan and I decided that the only thing that would shut them up would be to go ahead and actually get married.  One Friday afternoon in late October we went to the county court house to exchange vows before the magistrate.  Our friends, Jim and Ruth, came along as witnesses.  I wore my good navy blazer.  Susan looked spectacular in a white linen suit.  Her dark hair was gathered in the back of her head with an antique clasp I had given her.  It tumbled down her back in thick curls she had set that morning.  After a one-night “honeymoon” at a quaint country inn we broke the news to her parents.  Her mother obviously was disappointed that she would be denied the big church wedding she had long dreamed of.  Her father was upset that his little girl was forsaking their country club life style for the genteel poverty of academia.  Her folks weren’t thrilled with our marriage, but after much discussion Susan persuaded them that her happiness should be their primary concern.  Gradually, they accepted me as a member of their family.

Shortly before Thanksgiving the English Department held a reception marking the publication of my first book.  It was a monograph based on my dissertation and was being put out by a leading university press.  All my colleagues considered it a major feather in my cap.  Of course, I basked in their praise.  It was the first college event that Susan attended as my wife.  She went shopping the week before and came home with an elegant red silk sheath.  It was cut in the Chinese style with a high neck and short sleeves.  It showed her figure to full advantage.  With her hair wrapped in a bun and held in place by ivory pins, she resembled an Oriental princess.  I feared the other faculty wives would turn green with envy, but Susan quickly won them over with her brains and charm. 

My chairman said a few words about how proud he was to have me in his department and the bright future that stretched ahead of me.  Then I rose to deliver my remarks.  “Thank you for those kind words, Dr. Gibbons.  I hope I can live up to them.  To steal a line from the great Lou Gehrig, ‘Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.’ Not only do I have a wonderful job teaching at this fine university and my first book is being published, but last month I married the woman of my dreams, the beautiful and talented Ms. Susan Ward.  I’d like all of you to make her welcome.” I beamed with pride as Susan acknowledged the congratulations of my colleagues and their spouses.

*   *   *   *   *

Most of our social life revolved around a group of five or six younger married couples all connected with the university.  On Saturdays we would go out to eat and then take in a concert, a play, or movie.  The conversation at dinner always was lively and opinionated.  Although Susan was the youngest member of the group by five years, she more than held her own; often she dominated the discussion.  Her closest female friend in the group was Jeanette Owens who taught in the Modern Languages department.  One evening Jeanette startled everyone when she arrived sporting a short new hairdo.  Up to this time her hair had been nearly as long as Susan’s.  Now it was cut in a brief, boyish bob.  A barrage of questions greeted her. 

“Hey Jeanette, what happened?  I thought you were never going to cut your hair.  What made you change your mind?”

Jeanette felt obliged to defend her conversion to short hair.  “Hey guys, there comes a time in every woman’s life when she has to accept the fact that she’s no longer a girl and must start acting like an adult.  With two small kids at home, I just couldn’t handle the long hair any more.  It had to go.  I decided it was time to grow up.”  

“Well, I think you look great.  It’s very attractive,” Sandy and Beth responded in unison. Ruth and Harriet, two other young mothers in our circle had also cut their hair within the past year.  They joined in praising their friend’s new do.  I noticed that Susan remained silent. Now she was the sole long-haired woman at the table.  After the chorus of compliments died down she offered her opinion.  “Well, I for one hope that I never reach the point where I feel that way.  A woman should be able to wear her hair long at any age.  I have no intention of ever cutting my hair.”

“Haven’t you learned never to say never?” Beth cautioned.   “You better be careful or you may have to eat those words some day.” 

“Let me go on record,” Susan continued, “I cannot foresee any situation or condition that would persuade me to cut my hair.” 

“I’d like to get that in writing,” Jeanette declared.  “One day, and it won’t be so long, sister, you’ll be short-haired like the rest of us,” she predicted.

As if to emphasize her resolve, after that night Susan let her hair grow even longer.  Every three or four months she would schedule an appointment to have the ends trimmed, but what was cut was hardly enough to notice.  When she graduated from college her dark mane had reached below her shoulder blades.  Now it hung nearly to her waist.  I loved to watch her brush her thick brown locks as she got ready for bed in the evening.  When we made love I would bury my face in her hair and revel in the smell of her herbal shampoo.  Occa
sionally she would allow me brush it, but that didn’t happen often; most of the time she preferred to do it herself. 

When she went out in public with her hair hanging free both men and women cast admiring glances in her direction.  Unfortunately, she wore her hair up more often these days—usually wrapped in a bun or twisted in a knot on top of her head.  Now that she was a doing an internship with one of the leading law firms in town she needed to look more professional.  In the conservative corporate world, long flowing hair was not part of the desired no-nonsense “power image.”  

I began to drop hints that Susan should consider a shorter hairstyle. I noted that she spent a great deal of time taking care of her hair and then hid it from view.  “A short style really would be much easier to care for,” I suggested.  As the weather grew warmer I observed that all the hair on her neck must make her hot.  One evening when we were waiting in line at the movies I pointed out a short-haired woman standing ahead of us and said, “Now that’s a style that would look good on you.”

She didn’t say anything at the time, but when we returned home after the film she confronted me.  “What is it with you and my hair?”  she demanded.  “Your comments and suggestions are starting to get on my nerves.  If I told you once, I told you a thousand times. I have no intention of cutting my hair.  Why can’t you take no for an answer, Robert?”  

Rather than shutting up, as any sensible husband would have done, I continued to press the issue.  “I just thought that with summer coming on you might want to get your hair cut shorter, that’s all.  With all your swimming and tennis it would be much more practical.”  

“I thought you liked my hair long,” she replied.  “Since when have you become concerned about practicality?”

“I do love your hair,” I protested.  “It looks wonderful when you wear it down, but you do that so infrequently now.  I also happen to think you would look good with a short haircut like Jeanette’s.”

“Do you find short haired women more attractive?”

“Well, no, not all of them,” I replied.  “But, yes, I do notice them.”

“And you think I would be more attractive if I got a short haircut?”

“Honey, any hairstyle would look wonderful on you.  But, yes,” I admitted.  “I think you’d look really great with short hair.”  After two and a half year of marriage we were getting dangerously close to exposing my most carefully hidden secret.  I feared that she might get angry, but her reaction was completely unexpected.

After a long pause, a knowing grin spread across Susan’s face.  “Wait a minute, Robert.  I think I’ve figured out what’s going on here.  This has got nothing to do with what’s best for me.  It’s about your needs, isn’t it?  You really want to see me get my hair cut short, don’t you?  Does the thought of me getting my hair cut turn you on?  I’ll bet it does.  You’ve probably got a thing about cutting women’s hair.  We studied guys like you in my Abnormal Psych class.  You’ve got one of those fetishes.  Some men get off by dressing in women’s clothes.  For others it’s their shoes.  Then there are the ones who sneak up behind long-haired women and cut off their braids.  You’ve got a hair fetish don’t you?”

I had to confess that she was right.  Although had I tried to hide it, she had discovered my secret obsession.  In the hour of intense conversation that followed I described to Susan my peculiar attachment to women’s hair.  I told her how as a young boy of nine or ten I would go through my sister’s fashion magazines and clip out all the photos of short-haired models.  Walking home from school I would detour past a beauty salon to peek in the windows.  Sometimes I would be rewarded with a fleeting glimpse of a haircut in progress.  As I grew older it seemed that my fascination with short hair became more all-consuming.  While the other boys desired the girls with big breasts, I lusted after the ones with short hair.  In school I imagined what the long-haired girls would look like with radically short haircuts, and once in a great while my wishes were granted when one of my classmates appeared at school with an abbreviated new style. 

I assured my wife that I had never acted on any of my fantasies.  I explained that I had kept this secret from her for fear that she would find it offensive or it would make me seem perverted in her eyes.  I didn’t want my compulsion to interfere with our relationship.  Now, at last, it was out in the open.  Susan gave my tale her full attention.  She asked a few questions, but mostly she just listened.

Fortunately for me, Susan showed none of the disapproval I had expected.  She was not angry.  Instead, she seemed relieved.  “Well, that explains a lot.  Now I understand why you always stroke my hair when we’re making love.  You’re probably thinking about giving me a haircut, aren’t you?”  I had to admit that she was right, but promised never to force my desires on her.  She, in turn, agreed not to mock or ridicule me about my strange hang up.  I was grateful that she was so understanding.  “As long as it gives you pleasure and you don’t harm anyone else, I have no problem with it,”  she declared.  “But don’t think that you’re going to talk me into getting my hair cut.  I love you very much, Robert, but I will not cut my hair for you.”  Then she issued a stern warning, “Don’t ever let me catch you fooling around with some short-haired chick.  That would be the end of our relationship.  I’d be out of the door so fast you could smell the burning rubber from my sneakers.”  That ended our conversation about my hair fetish.  I was relieved to have the issue out in the open.  Despite Susan’s firm refusal to consider a short haircut, I still nurtured the hope that one day she might change her mind.  But that probably would take years.  Till then I would have to entertain myself with fantasies.

*   *   *   *   *

Everyone in the department told me that the fifth year of my appointment was the most critical one.  The following year I would come up for tenure review.  If I had not established a strong record of publication by year six, I would be shown the door.  During the past two years seven young members of the English Department had come up for tenure.  Only three had been successful.  The reviewers praised my first book.  It had sold a meager 300 copies, but in academic circles the most important currency is critical recognition, not profitability.  But that was nearly three years ago.  Since then I had published a couple of articles in professional journals, but not enough to gain me tenure.  My colleagues agreed that a second book would guarantee my future and win me promotion to associate professor.  I decided to aim my next book at a wider audience.   I planned to compare well known combat novels from the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam; works like The Red Badge of Courage, All Quiet on the Western Front, T
he Naked and the Dead, and my own personal favorite, The Things They Carried.  I would show how the literary interpretation of warfare had changed over the generations.  I sold the idea to a leading publishing house on the strength of my previous work and a twelve page outline.  The proposed volume would contain ten chapters and approximately 300 pages.  They gave me a contract with an August 1 deadline.  That was more than a year ago.  I took a leave from my teaching responsibilities to allow sufficient time to finish writing before the tenure review began.  “Your book doesn’t actually have to be published,” my chairman informed me.  “Just knowing that a prominent publisher has accepted your manuscript should be enough to persuade the committee.”

It was the end of March and thus far I had produced just one meager chapter, only 25 pages. I had piles of notes, several thick folders full, but little else to show for six months of work.  Each morning I sat down at my computer determined to make a major breakthrough and each evening I had only a few unsatisfactory paragraphs done.  I had torn up five drafts of chapter two.  Although I knew what I wanted to say, I couldn’t seem to find the right words.  The deadline was looming large.  Though still four months away, it seemed increasingly doubtful that I would be able to deliver the manuscript on time.

Each evening when she returned from her classes Susan asked, “How’s it going, hon?”  I would answer, “Just fine, love,” and quickly change the subject.  I showed her the first chapter, which she liked, but when I failed to deliver the second installment I’m sure she suspected something was amiss.  I assured her that everything was going well–just the usual difficulties–but that was a lie.  I realized that I no longer could continue deceiving her.  I needed to unburden myself.

Finally, one evening, when she asked her usual question at dinner, I began to confess over the spinach salad.  “I’m afraid it’s not going well at all. I can’t seem to make any progress, no matter how hard I try.  The one chapter I showed you three months ago is all I have finished.  I don’t see how I’m ever going to get the manuscript to New York by August 1.”

“Yes, I can see that you’ve been preoccupied lately—not your usual horny self,” she observed with a wink.  “It sounds like you’re suffering from writer’s block.”

“I guess you could call it that,” I agreed.

“Do you know what causes it?” she asked.

“I don’t have a clue and neither does anyone else.  If there were a cure it would sell better than Prozac or Viagra in the literary world.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

“I don’t know.  It’s my problem and I need to find a way to deal with it.”

“Yes, but your problem could become my problem if you don’t get tenure.  Perhaps I can help you find some motivation.”

“I sure could use a large dose of it.  Do you have a secret supply?”

“Well, I know when I get bogged down on a big project I try to find a way to reward myself when the job is done.  You know, go on a shopping spree or take a couple of days for a mini-vacation—something like that.  Perhaps that would work for you too.”

“I don’t think a shopping spree is the answer to my problem.”

“Of course not, silly.  The reward would have to be tailored to your individual needs; something that satisfies a special want of yours.” 

“I can’t think what that might be.”

“You know best what would work, but sex always seems to get your interest.  If you finish the book on time perhaps I could give you a special present,” she said in her most provocative voice.  “Do you think that would make you more focused?”

“I don’t know, honey.  I mean, it sounds like a great idea, but this incentive would have to be something very powerful to snap me out of this slump.”

“Well, why don’t you sleep on it?  Let me know if you come up with an idea that can get you back on track.”

“I’ll think about it,” I promised.  “I’ll try to come up with something.”

The instant she began talking about a reward I knew what would work.  The promise of cutting her hair was the most powerful incentive she could offer, but I feared that the idea might offend her.  Worse yet, it could ruin our relationship.  But she had given me an opening that I couldn’t pass up.  I knew I had to approach the topic delicately.  I spent the next day deciding how to capitalize on this opportunity.

That evening as we cleared the dinner dishes I cautiously reopened our conversation. “Susan, I’ve been thinking about what you said yesterday.  You know, about helping me get over my writer’s block.”

“Did you come up with a reward?” she asked eagerly.

“Well, I’ve got an idea that might work, but I don’t know if you’d consider it.”

“Why?  What do you have in mind?”

“You promise you won’t get upset with me?”

“Sure.  Let’s hear it.”

“Well, you know how much I admire women with short hair, don’t you?”

“Yes, you’ve made no secret of your fascination on that subject.”

“Well, I was wondering if…”

“Wait a minute,” she interrupted.  “You’re not suggesting that I cut my hair off, are you?  I thought I told you last year that I wasn’t going to get my hair cut no matter how much you begged and pleaded.” 

“Sure, I remember.  You nearly crucified me for suggesting it.  But the prospect of seeing your hair cut is the one incentive powerful enough to get me out of this slump.  I hope you’re not angry, but you asked me to think of something.”

“Wow.  That’s not exactly what I had in mind when I offered to give you a special present.  I know how much you like short hair, but I have absolutely no desire to change my hairstyle.  I like it the way it is.  Short hair just is not something I’m willing to consider.  I’m sorry.  Is there something else I can do for you instead?  Maybe I could buy a short wig.  Would that work?”

“No.  I don’t think that would be effective.  Isn’t there some way you might consider cutting your hair?  I really think that would get me motivated again,” I pleaded.

“No, Robert.  That’s just not possible.  I’m sorry I got your hopes up.  I love you and I want you to finish your book, but that’s not something I can do for you.”

“That’s okay, Susan,” I replied.  “I understand.  It’s my problem and I’m the one who’s got to find a solution.”

*   *   *   *   *

Saturday night we were out with the gang again at Luigi’s.  After consuming several pizzas and draining a few pitchers of beer the conversation turned to tenure as it often did.  “Did you hear what happened to Matt Anderson in the History Department?” David asked. 

“Yes, I understand he got turned down for tenure,” Sam rep

“Yes, and it’s a damn shame too.  I hear he’s a great teacher.  His courses are among the first to fill each semester and it’s not because he’s an easy grader,” Joel added.

“That’s true.  I hear students are begging to get into his seminar.  But that doesn’t count for much when tenure time rolls around.  Publish, publish, publish—that’s the name of the game,” observed Jeanette.

“Yes, but I thought he had published a monograph on some Civil War general,” Sandy offered.

“He did, but that was four years ago.  He didn’t have much to show since then,” Sam commented. 

“It sounds like the status committee is raising the bar again.  Hell, half of the senior professors in my department wouldn’t be able to pass muster if they came up this year,” Beth opined.

“I think I speak on behalf of all the assistant professors gathered around this table when I say that I find this conversation deeply depressing.  Can’t we find something more uplifting to gossip about?” I urged my friends.

The discussion sent chills down my spine.  Anderson’s record was an exact replica of my own: a popular teacher with one book to his credit, but not much else on his curriculum vitae.  The handwriting was on the wall.  Either I complete my book or next year my friends would gather to mourn my demise.

Susan was quiet on the ride home.  I noticed she hadn’t said much all evening.  She seemed deep in thought.  When we arrived back at our place she turned to me with a worried expression on her face.  “Robert, I heard what they said about Matt Anderson tonight at dinner.  Do you think that could happen to you?”

“You’re damn right, honey.  If I don’t get that book finished, by this time next year I’ll be history.  We’ll be searching the want ads for openings at second rate teacher’s colleges in places like North Dakota and Arkansas,” I remarked glumly.

“Robert, that’s terrible.  You’re one of the best teachers in the English Department.  That should count for something.”

“Well, it may count for something, but not nearly as much as an article in a top rated journal.  My own chairman told me as much last month.  I’ve got to get that book done or we can say good-bye to this town.”

“Robert, you know that I would move anywhere to be with you, but you love it here.  This is where you belong.  It would be so unfair if they didn’t give you tenure.”

“Unfair or not, those are the rules.  No one is going to make an exception in my case.”

“Yes, I know.  It’s the same way in the legal profession.  You’ve got to produce or you’ll never make partner.  It’s just so rotten.”

“So I guess we’d better forget about going away next weekend.  I’m going to be working on my book full-time from now on.”

“I thought you were working full-time.”

“Now I’m going to be working overtime.”

“And how has it been going?  Making any progress?”

“No, not really.  I’ve written a couple of pages since our talk on Tuesday, but I’m not really satisfied with them.  They’re not very good.”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself, hon.”

“I’m not.  Objectively speaking, they stink.  My mind is just as constipated as it was last week.”

“Well, you’ve got to keep working, hon. I’m sure you’ll come up with something,” she said with an encouraging pat on my butt.

The next morning at breakfast my wife was her usual cheerful self.  I, however, was feeling the effects of too many beers the previous evening.  After chatting about the weather and her upcoming tennis match, Susan sounded a serious note.  “Robert, I’ve been thinking about Matt Anderson and your tenure situation.”

“Me too.  In fact, I’ve hardly thought about anything else.”

“Well, in light of this development, I think we ought to reopen our negotiations.”

“What negotiations?  What do you mean?”

“About my hair.  Remember?”

“Yes, of course.  But I thought that subject was closed.  You said you would never consider cutting your hair.”

“Well now I’m reopening it.  I know how much this job means to you.  Perhaps I was being too selfish.  I’m going to give your proposition some serious consideration.  I would feel awful if I let my vanity interfere with your success.”

“But Susan, I don’t want you to sacrifice your hair because you feel sorry for me.”

“Look, Robert, don’t be so damn noble.  I didn’t say that I would do it.  I just said that I’d like to discuss it further.”

“OK.  That’s fine.  What would you like to discuss?”

“Well, you said that I would have to agree to get my hair cut if you finished your book, right?”

“That’s right.”

“And if I promise to cut my hair, what would that involve?  Would it be enough if I got it cut to shoulder length?” she asked.

“Nope.  That wouldn’t work.  It would have to be shorter.”

“I was afraid you were going to say that.  Just how short would I have to cut it?”

“You would have to agree to get your hair cut any length I choose.”

“Any length you want?  No limits?  That’s asking quite a lot.”

“Yes, I know, but this deal won’t work unless I am in control of every detail–the length, the style, the time, the place, everything.  That would be a big part of my incentive.”

“Do you have a particular style in mind?”

“Not really.  There are many possibilities.  I’m sure I’ll come up with something, but it will have to be a surprise.  You won’t know what’s coming.  That’s also part of the deal.”

“So you’re asking me to put my fate entirely in your hands.  I walk into a salon not knowing what they’re going to do to my hair and I walk out wearing the style you have ordered.  Is that right?”

“Yes, that’s pretty much what I have in mind.”

“Would this also involve changing my hair color?  Do you want me to be a blonde or a redhead too?”

“Well, that might be fun, but the haircut is the important thing.  That would be enough.”

“I don’t know, Robert.  What you’re asking is a mighty big step.  I’d like to help you finish the book, but my hair is a big part of my identity.  I don’t know if I can give it up, especially not under such strange conditions.  Besides, I don’t want to make myself into the object of your fetish.  If I do this once I’m afraid you probably won’t be satisfied unless I shave my head or something.”

“No, hon, that’s not what turns me on.  Please, I wish you’d consider doing this for my sake.”

“Well, Robert, I haven’t ruled it out, but I need some more time to think it over.  Why don’t we try a little ex
periment?  You get to work today.  If you can show me ten new pages when I get home this evening, we will discuss your proposal further.”

As soon as Susan left for class I went to my study filled with a renewed sense of purpose.  I turned to the draft of chapter two that had kept me bogged down for months.  As I read over what I had written I realized that my approach was all wrong.  I was using the abstract academic prose of my previous work, but this book needed a more direct, less pretentious style. I realized my writing would be much more persuasive if I addressed it to an intelligent lay reader like Susan rather than trying to please the literary critics. I scrapped my previous draft and started a totally new version.  By the time I got up from the computer for lunch, I was well into the new chapter.  The words flowed freely and at the end of the day I had completed fifteen pages.  When Susan arrived home I proudly displayed mey see y output. 

“Here, luv.  I want you to read what I’ve done today.”

She took the sheaf of papers into her study and shut the door.  When she emerged thirty minutes later she exclaimed, “Robert, this is very impressive.  I like it.  You haven’t been holding these pages in reserve for an occasion like this have you?”

“Nope.  Every word you read was freshly typed today.”

“I didn’t realize I had such power over you.  Do you think this might work with other frustrated authors?  I see the possibility of a new career here.  I could have some business cards printed saying, ‘Susan Ward, Muse for Hire.’  What do you think?”

“Well, you seem to hold the key for this frustrated author.  I don’t know what others would require, and I really don’t want to find out.  So what do you say?  Do we have a deal?  Will you agree to cut your hair if I keep this up and finish the book?”

“Not so fast, Robert.  Before I agree to anything I need to hear the terms you’re proposing once again.  You’ve got to spell out the details.  Exactly how will this work?”

“OK.  Here they are.  Number one, I must finish the manuscript by August 1.  That means having all ten chapters in the mail to New York by that date.  There may be further corrections and revisions, but the bulk of my work will be done.  Number two; you must agree to get your hair cut on August 1 or soon thereafter.  You must submit to any style I select.  Whatever I choose, you must go along—no complaints or objections.  Number three; you must agree to let me select the location for the haircut and the stylist as well.  I will take care of all the details.”

  “And who will administer this haircut?  You’re not planning on doing it yourself, are you?”

“No.  That would be exciting, but I’m afraid I would butcher the job.  You can be assured that I will find a licensed professional to do the job.”

“Will I have any say in choosing the style?  I’d like to have some say.”

“Nope.  It must be my choice.”

“And will you tell me how I’m going to look when this is done?”

“I can assure you that you’ll look wonderful, but I haven’t decided on a style yet.  Besides, it’s got to be a complete surprise for maximum impact.”

“Well, that could be a problem.  You know that I’ll be starting with Green, Carvath, and Jones in June.  They’re one of the biggest law firms in the state. Even before I pass the bar exam I’ll be meeting with corporate clients and I may have to appear in court from time to time.  There’s no way I can do my job wearing some of the radically short haircuts I’ve seen you admire.  If I agree to go along with this scheme you must promise to select a style that fits my professional image—nothing too extreme or bizarre.  No mohawks or buzz cuts.”

“Yes, I can live with that.  But you’ll have to trust me to select an appropriate style.  I’m sure you will turn heads with your hair cut short, but not because you look strange or out of place.  You will look very feminine and fashionable.”

“And if you’re not done by August 1?  What happens then?”

“If I don’t finish, nothing happens.  You keep your hair and I remain a frustrated, untenured assistant professor.”

“That hardly seems kosher.  If you don’t finish on time there should be some penalty attached.  If I’m going to put my hair on the line, you should have to put up something as well.”

“Okay.  I see your point.  I guess that’s only fair.  Do you have anything in mind?”

“Well, you know how much I dislike cooking.  If you fail to finish the manuscript you must prepare dinner every night for the rest of the year—from August 1 to December 31.  Not only that, you must do all of the food shopping and clean up the dirty dishes as well.”

“Every night?” I begged.

“Every night.  You will be responsible for dinner.  If you don’t feel like cooking we will go to a restaurant or order carry out.  If you lose this wager, I won’t fix another meal this year.  Understand?”

“I get the picture.  I’m asking you to make a big sacrifice, so I should be prepared to do the same.”

“Exactly.  What do you say?”

“I say you’ve got a deal,” I said.  “Do we need to put that in writing?”  

“No, a verbal contract is just as binding as a written one,” Susan answered in her most lawyerlike voice.

“And you’re entering into this agreement of your own free will, fully aware of the consequences?” I responded in the same tone.

“Yes, I am,” she said solemnly.  Susan paused and slowly extended her hand.  “You’ve got four months to finish your book.”

I took her hand and we shook to seal the deal.  “And you’ve got four months left to enjoy your long hair.”

“My hair versus five months free from cooking.  You know, Robert, I’d like to see you finish your book, but now I kind of hope you don’t.  It will be real nice to come home from work and put my feet up while you’re slaving in the kitchen fixing the meal,” she said smugly.

“Well, don’t count your dinners before they’re cooked,” I replied.  “I don’t intend to lose this wager.  Now please excuse me.  I’ve got a book to finish.”

*   *   *   *   *

In the weeks that followed we teased each other about our bargain.  One evening Susan came home with a package in her hand.  “What do you have there?” I inquired. 

“I bought you a little present,” she said, extending the gift to me. 

“Darling, you shouldn’t have,” I exclaimed in mock protest. 

“Go ahead and open it,” was her retort.  I ripped off the wrapping paper to discover a Julia Child cookbook.  “I want you to start studying,” she explained, “so when it’s your turn to prepare dinner you’ll know how to cook something other than macaroni
and cheese.”

The next night she presented me with a full-length apron and a white cook’s hat.  “It’s called a toque,” she explained, “and it’s worn by all the best French chefs.  Why don’t you try it on?”

I placed her gift atop my head and turned so she could admire it.  “Robert, you look so professional.  I can hardly wait till you start cooking full-time.”

I couldn’t let her challenge go unanswered.  The next day I went to the local drug store and bought a copy of “Short Hair Styles”  and a large bottle of styling gel.  When Susan sat down in her favorite easy chair I dropped the magazine in her lap.  “I want you to look through these pictures to get an idea of how you’re going to look at the end of the summer.  And this should come in handy when you’re styling your new do,” I announced as I handed her the gel.

We never had gone in for nicknames, but she started calling me “Julia”  and I retaliated by dubbing her “Buzz.”  Whenever I spotted a woman with very short hair I would point her out and say, “Do you like that style, hon?  I think you’d look great with your hair cut like that.”  She would turn the television to the cooking channel and call to me, “Robert, here’s a delicious recipe you should take down.”

Each night before going to bed Susan sat in front of her nightstand and carefully brushed her hair as I watched.  She had done this as long as I had known her, but now she seemed to derive special pleasure from flaunting her mane in front of me.  “Does this turn you on, Robert?” she would coo.  Then, glancing at my bulging pajama bottoms, she continued, “Yes, I can see that it does.  Perhaps you should take a cold shower if you can’t control yourself.”

“Don’t worry.  I can control myself,” I replied.  Her antics only made me more determined to win our bet. 

One evening I was hunched over my keyboard when Susan stuck her head in my study.  “How’s it going, Hemingway?” she asked.  “Making any progress?”

“Yes, thanks.  It’s going well today.  Say, did you know that Hemingway had a thing about short hair too?”

“You’re kidding, aren’t you?  How do you know?”

“Well, actually I read it in a journal somewhere.  It’s common knowledge in literary circles—one of our dirty little secrets.  If you read his books it’s pretty obvious though.  You remember Maria in For Whom the Bell Tolls?”

“Wasn’t she the Spanish woman who had her hair cut off as a punishment, the character that Ingrid Bergman played in the movie?”

“Yes, she’s the one.  Can you imagine how excited Papa must have been when he learned that the world’s most beautiful actress was having her hair shorn so she could play the movie role?  He must have been in seventh heaven.  I bet he insisted on being present for Ingrid’s shearing.  He probably volunteered to do the job himself.”

“I wonder if Mrs. Hemingway ever encouraged her husband’s creativity.  Do you think the two of them made a bargain like ours?”

“Well, I don’t know about that, but I do recall reading that she wore her hair short to please him.  I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that she used her feminine wiles to inspire him.”

“Now, don’t go putting yourself in the same class with Hemingway just because you guys share the same fetish.  It takes more than that to make a great writer.  Besides, Hemingway’s life didn’t end so well.  He blew his brains out with a shotgun, didn’t he?”

“He did.  But you don’t have to worry about me.  I’ve got too much to live for.  I want to see your haircut.”

*   *   *   *   *

Susan graduated from law school in May.  She finished with one of the highest averages in her class and a solid offer from one of the most prestigious firms in town.  She looked stunning at the graduation ceremony as she marched across the stage to accept her diploma, dark hair cascading down the back of her gown.  It was so long now that she could almost sit on it.  I noticed heads turning as she returned to her seat.  It seemed that all of the men around me had their eyes fixed on my beautiful wife.  I did too, but my view probably differed from theirs.  I was imagining how she would look when my book was done and she her hair was cut short.

Susan’s parents came for the ceremony and that evening we went out to dinner with them.  We suggested Luigi’s, but they insisted on an expensive French restaurant.  Nothing was too good for their darling daughter.  During the meal Susan’s mother surprised me by bringing up the topic of her hair.  “You look lovely tonight Susan, but you really should think about cutting your hair.  You’re not a student any more, my dear.  You’re going out into the corporate world and they rather frown on long locks like yours.  I know you love wearing your hair long, but your new colleagues may not approve.  Have you ever thought of adopting a shorter style?  It might be a good idea.”

Susan aimed a sly smile in my direction as she replied to her mother.  “Mom, I have no plans to change my hairstyle.  When I go to the office I’ll probably wear it up most days.  I don’t think they’ll object.  Besides, Robert likes my hair long, don’t you, dear?” 

My mother-in-law turned to me and continued, “Robert, don’t you think Susan would look stunning with her hair cut shorter, perhaps to about shoulder length?”

“I’m sure she would look great,” I replied, “but she’s pretty stubborn about her hair.  It would take something big to make her change her mind.” 

Returning to Susan, she continued, “Well, dear, you should think about it.  If you ever decide to get your hair cut, let me know.  I can recommend an excellent stylist.”  I couldn’t believe that her mother was actually on my side of the long hair debate, but I knew that wouldn’t make much difference to Susan.

*   *   *   *   *

Six weeks later Susan and I were sitting down to dinner.  “Tomorrow is July first—only a month away from your deadline.  How much more do you have to do?” she asked.

“I’m just finishing chapter seven.  That leaves thirty-one days for the last three chapters.  It’s going to be close, but I think I can do it.”

“Well, don’t work too hard.  I want you to be full of energy when it’s your turn to cook dinner.”

The next week I set my alarm for 4 AM.  I maintained a monastic routine: a quick shower and cup of coffee; then on the computer in my study.  I wrote furiously for an hour or so, then paused to back up my files and print out the new pages.  After reviewing the fresh output and jotting corrections in the margins I returned to the keyboard and pounded away for another hour or two.  I worked that way for six or seven hours until it got too hot in our apartment.  After lunch I went to the air-conditioned college library to continue my research.  I saw Susan briefly in the morning
and then again in the evening when we ate dinner.

“Robert, you’re so pale,” she said after dinner in mid-July, holding her golden brown arm against my whitish limb to emphasize her point.  “Any other year you’d have a nice tan by now.  You haven’t been out in the sun for more than an hour all summer.  Why don’t you join me at the pool tomorrow?  You could use a break.  Besides, you haven’t seen my new swim suit yet.”

“I saw it when you brought it home from the store,” I protested.

“That’s right, but you haven’t seen it on me.  It leaves very little to the imagination.  I think you’ll like it.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’re right, but that will have to wait.  I’m working on a tight deadline, remember?  I don’t want to be the one cooking dinner from now ‘til New Year’s Eve.  Besides, after I finish the manuscript we can go on vacation for the month of August.  Then you can show off your cute figure all you want.”

“That sounds wonderful.  Where would you like to go?”

“I think we should go someplace remote and isolated, rent a cabin in the mountains perhaps.  All I want to do is sit around all day and admire my beautiful wife in her sexy short haircut.  What do you think about that?”

“Don’t get your hopes too high, buster.  There are only two weeks left and you still have two chapters to go.  I think you should see if they’re giving any classes at the Culinary Institute this fall.  If you lose this wager you’re going to have to learn how to fix more than just hamburgers and pizza.  I want you to prepare some real gourmet meals.”

“I better get back to work.  This talk of food makes me feel like writing.”

I finished chapter nine on July 27.  Only one remained.

“Just four days left, Robert.  You’ve been working like a dog, but I don’t see how you’re going to finish by the deadline.  Why don’t you just relax a bit?  I’m sure your editor won’t mind if you send the manuscript a week late.  It must happen all the time.”

“Yes, I’m sure Sarah would give me an extension, but right now finishing the book is less important than winning our bet.  I’m determined to see you with short hair.  I’ve got to finish by August 1.” 

“Okay, Robert.  You go for it.  Just don’t have a breakdown in the process.  Nothing is that important.”

What Susan didn’t realize was that the last chapter was going to be the easiest.  It was basically a summary of the arguments I had presented in the earlier chapters plus some informed speculation about the future of combat novels.  This one would not require the extensive research that went into the other chapters.  In fact, I had made twenty pages of notes for the last chapter while I was revising earlier chapters.  By working twelve to fourteen hours a day I figured I could finish in three more days.  That would give me another full day to go back and make changes in the text before August 1.  Friday’s deadline was fast approaching, but I was confident that everything would be done on time.  So confident, in fact, that Wednesday afternoon I placed a call to schedule Susan’s haircut.

*   *   *   *   *

My friend Nino Benedetti is the proprietor of Nino’s Unisex Hair Salon on College Street.  He is a gregarious man about my age who still speaks with a slight accent of his native Italy.  He’s been cutting my hair for the last three years.  His clientele is evenly mixed between men and women, mostly people associated with the university.  I selected Nino’s as the location for Susan’s shearing because I knew Nino would treat her gently and was skilled in administering all types of short haircuts.  In fact, his salon has a reputation as the place to go for short cuts.  I never had seen anyone, male or female, emerge from Nino’s with long hair.  This was not a place that Susan would ever consider patronizing.  If she knew this was our destination, I feared that she might try to back out of our bargain.  That’s why I insisted on keeping the location secret when we sealed our deal.

“Hello, Nino?  This is Rob Fitzgerald.  Yes, I know I haven’t been in for a while.  I’ve been kinda busy.  Working on a new book.  Yes, it’s nearly done.  Say, I’d like to make an appointment for Friday.  About one o’clock?  That’s great.  No, it’s not for me; it’s for my wife.  No, she hasn’t been to your shop before. This is going to be kind of a special occasion.  Can you set aside an hour for her?  Great.  One more thing.  Could we use your back room for a little privacy?  Thanks, Nino.  You’re the best.  See you Friday.”

It was well past midnight on July 31 when I staggered into our bedroom.  I was dead tired after two weeks with three hours sleep a night, but I felt satisfied.  The final chapter was done.  Tomorrow all I had to do was print out the manuscript and deliver the pages to the post office.  The package would be in the mail to New York and I would win our wager.  That afternoon Susan would report to Nino’s shop, surrender herself into his capable hands, and receive the haircut of my choice. 

I stood next to the bed watching my bride sleeping.  Her dark hair was spread across the pillow.  I reached down and fondled a strand of her silken locks.  “I shall miss your long hair, Susan,” I whispered to my slumbering spouse, “but I’ve been waiting for this day for four long months.  Tomorrow it’s going to all come off.  Prepare for the haircut of your life.” I crawled into bed and soon drifted off to sleep dreaming of our appointment with Nino.

Early Friday morning I went to my study, fed a fresh ream of paper into the printer, and began churning out the finished manuscript.   I heard Susan wake up about 8:00 and joined her in the kitchen.  “I finished the last chapter after midnight, hon. I’m printing the whole thing right now.”

“Oh Robert, that’s wonderful news,” she said, giving me a warm embrace.  “I’m sure this book will be even better than your last one.  At this rate you’ll make full professor before you’re forty.”

“Well, I couldn’t have done it without your support and inspiration, dear.”

“That’s sweet, Robert.  After breakfast I’ll start packing.  We are leaving on vacation tomorrow, aren’t we?”

“Of course, Susan, you should probably get started.  But aren’t you forgetting something?”

“My haircut, you mean?”

“Your haircut,” I echoed.

“Oh, I haven’t forgotten.  These last few days I’ve thought of little else.  I know you’re hot to trot.  I’ve seen the way you’ve been watching me when I dry my hair after showering.  You look like a starving hound eyeing a t-bone steak.  I was hoping that you might extend the date for my haircut until we get back from vacation, but I have a feeling that you’re not going to show any mercy.”

“That’s right, sweetheart.
 I couldn’t possibly wait that long.”

“Shall I get ready now?”

“No, not yet.  We have an appointment for one o’clock this afternoon.  Is that okay with you?”

“I guess so.  I mean, you’re the one calling the shots.  I’m just following orders.  When the time comes, I’ll be ready,” she answered dolefully.

“That’s what I wanted to hear.  I wish you could share my excitement.  You’re going to enjoy short hair.  It will be so much less trouble.  I see the time you spend each day washing and combing it.  Think of all the hours you’ll save.  Besides, you’re going to look very sexy with short hair.”

“Save your breath, Robert.  You’re not going to convince me this is a great idea.  I’ve had long hair for too many years.  It’s like a security blanket.  Other women come up to me to say how much they admire my hair.  Men usually don’t say anything out loud, but I notice how they look at it.  It’s been my trademark since I was a teen.  Losing my long hair will be like having a limb amputated.  But don’t worry.  I won’t back out.  I’m not looking forward to it, but I will go through with it.  I just hope it turns out all right.”

“You’ll look great, trust me.”

“I wish I could be as confident as you are.” 

By 11:30 the last page slid out of the printer.  I fit the stack of paper—nearly 350 pages in all—into the mailing carton and walked into the living room to show Susan.

“Well, here it is—the finished manuscript.  Four months ago I didn’t think it was possible.  Now, thanks to you, it’s ready to go.  I’m going to drive to the post office to mail it.  Why don’t you come along?  We can have lunch to celebrate.”

“Sure, that sounds good to me.  Just let me change into something more presentable.” She emerged from the bedroom a few minutes later wearing a cream colored sleeveless silk top with a scooped neck and a light blue cotton print skirt.  She had pulled her hair up off her face and gathered it up on the back of her head with an elastic band.  The long ponytail dangled half way down her back.  I watched it swinging back and forth as we strolled to the car. Susan turned to me and confided, “Robert, I’ve been dreading this day since we first made our bargain.  I’m referring to my haircut, of course, not your finishing.  I hope I don’t start bawling or make a big scene.”

“I’m sure you’ll do just fine,” I said trying to reassure her. 

While we drove downtown Susan told me, “You know, you’re not the only one who wants to see me get my hair cut.  Within the past month a couple of women at the firm asked if I ever thought about wearing my hair shorter.  Just like my mother, they hinted that it would look more professional that way.  Even old Mr. Porter, the most senior partner, spoke to me last week.  ‘Ms. Ward,’ he said, ‘you know we really like the work you did on the Amsco case—first rate.  But you need to watch your appearance.  Some of our clients still aren’t used to working with female attorneys.’  At first I thought he was talking about the length of my skirts, but they’re not that short.  I think he was referring to my hair.  Some nights when I couldn’t sleep I would list all the advantages of short hair, but I still haven’t persuaded myself.  Even when I saw how determined you were to finish I kept hoping that you might relent and allow me to back out of our agreement.”

“You know, Susan, I’m not going to force you into anything against your will.  If you can’t go through with this, I’ll understand.  I’ll be disappointed, but I won’t love you any less.”

“That’s very generous, Robert, but you’ve made yourself pretty clear.  If I want a happy husband, I better keep my end of the bargain.  I know you would have prepared the dinners had you lost.  After you’ve worked so hard these past four months I don’t want to frustrate you.  I guess I’m going to have to get used to short hair.”

We parked near the post office. Susan waited in the car while I went inside and shipped my package by priority mail.  Then we headed for Luigi’s for a glass of wine and some lunch.  We ordered the pasta special and I called Sarah, my editor, on my cell phone.  “Sarah.  It’s in the mail.  Yes, I just finished the last chapter.  You should get it on Monday.  I believe you’re going to like it.  After you read it, let me know what you think.  Gotta go now.  I’ve got to collect on a bet.”

I put the phone away and toasted my wife.  “To my beautiful wife and inspiration.  Salude.  Enjoy your lunch,” I offered. 

“It’s hard to concentrate on the meal knowing what’s coming afterwards,” she replied. 

“Don’t be so gloomy.  You sound like you’re going to your execution.  It’s not going to be that awful.”

“I guess I should have prepared myself sooner.  When I saw how eagerly you went to work once we made our bet, I should have realized that my long-haired days were numbered.  But I’m still not ready.  You wouldn’t consider postponing this haircut for a couple of days, would you?”

“Nope.  There will be no eleventh hour reprieve.  I’ve been anticipating this day for four long months.  I can’t wait another hour.”

“Yes, of course.  I understand.  But can’t you give me a hint?  What do you have planned?”

“Well, when we leave here I will deliver you for your appointment.  You will walk in the door of the salon with long hair and emerge an hour later with a new short, sexy hairdo.”

“Yes, that much I figured out for myself.  But can’t you give me a hint about the style?  You do have one selected, don’t you?”

“Yes, of course.  But I won’t tell you.  That would spoil the surprise.”

“At least you can tell me where I’m going to get my hair cut.”

“Be patient.  You’ll find out soon enough.  It’s all part of the surprise.”

Shortly before 1:00 the waitress delivered our bill.  I paid and we walked out of the restaurant and down the sidewalk toward our car.  When we reached our parking place Susan reached for the door, but I took her hand and told her to keep walking.  “Where are we headed?  Where are you taking me?” she demanded.

“Follow me, hon, you’ll find out.  It’s just a short walk.”

“I guess we’re not going to the Beauty Nook are we?” she asked, referring to the fashionable suburban salon where she got her ends trimmed.

“Nope.  I’ve made a reservation at a special place for this haircut.  Your regular salon just won’t do.”

We crossed the street and approached Nino’s Unisex Salon.

Susan glanced down the row of storefronts ahead of us and gasped when she realized where we were headed.  “Oh no.  We’re not going in there are
we, Robert?  Isn’t this where you get your hair cut?  It looks like a barbershop to me.  You never said anything about getting my hair cut in a barbershop,” she protested.

“Well, read the sign.  It is a unisex shop.  That means they cut both men’s and women’s hair in here,” I answered testily.

“Yes, I’ve heard my friends talk about this place.  If a woman walks in here she’s sure to get scalped.  That’s why all the lesbians in town come here.  I’ll probably wind up looking super butch.”

“Look, Susan, I’m starting to run out of patience.  Four months ago you agreed to let me pick the place for your haircut.  I said a licensed professional do the cutting and Nino is licensed to cut hair by the State of Michigan.  Now, please don’t make a scene.”

“Robert, I never imagined you would take me to a barbershop for my haircut.”

“Well, this is what I want and I’m afraid you’ve got no choice.  I’m in charge of this haircut and you agreed to go along with my preference.  Unless, of course, you want to back out of our bet.”

“No.  I’m not going to chicken out.  I suppose I can do this.  I did agree to let you pick the place and the stylist.  I see now it was a mistake, but I guess there’s nothing I can do about it now.  I just hope this Nino knows what he’s doing.  I’ll never forgive you if he butchers my hair.”

“Please, don’t worry, Susan.  Nino’s the best.  I’d never let anyone butcher your hair.”

“Okay.  I see that you’re determined.  I suppose nothing I can say will change your mind.  We might as well go ahead and get it over with.”

I pushed open the door and Susan reluctantly followed.  She glanced around at the unfamiliar surroundings.  There were four chairs arranged against the back wall.  Two were occupied by customers in the final stages of their haircuts; two were standing empty.  A young man, probably a student, was having his hair buzzed close to the scalp.  An attractive woman in her mid-thirties also was being clipped, although not as short as the guy.  The hum of two clippers at work filled the shop.  Susan intently examined both haircuts.  A worried expression crossed her face.  Both customers and their two stylists looked in our direction.  Clearly, it was unusual for a long-haired woman like Susan to enter this shop.  Of course, she could have come to observe my haircut, but the prospect of having her as a customer must have been a tantalizing prospect for the barbers.

Nino rose from his chair and crossed the room.  He wore a white smock and black slacks.  Dark hair curled around his head, but with his thickly muscled arms he hardly fit the image of a lady’s hair stylist.  He looked exactly like the barber he had always been.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw Susan cringe as he approached.  Nino welcomed us with an effusive greeting.  “Hello, Rob.  How you doing today? And this must be your wife. What a lovely lady.  I’m so happy to meet you.  My name is Nino.”

“Hello, Nino.  I’m Susan,” she said, offering her hand. 

“It’s an honor to have you in my shop. Rob tells me that you’d like me to cut your hair today.” 

“That’s right, Nino.  I’m here to get my hair cut, but it’s not my idea,” she said with an air of resignation. 

“What do you mean, Susan?  You don’t want me to cut your hair?” Nino asked with an injured expression on his face.

“It’s a long story and I don’t want to go into it,” she replied.  “Let’s just say that Robert and I made a bet and I lost.  I wish I could say I’m thrilled to be here, Nino, but I’m not.  Frankly, I’m more than a little nervous.” 

“I understand.  Maybe you’ve never had a barbershop haircut before?”

“That’s right.  I’ve never even been inside a barbershop before today.  I never dreamed this would be happening to me.”

“Okay, Susan.  It won’t hurt.  We’ll treat you real nice, I promise.  Here, come with me,” Nino said taking Susan by the hand and escorting her past the other customers to a small room in the back of the shop.  “For special customers like you I have a private room,” he said as he opened the door.

“That’s good.  I appreciate that.  I’d rather not have everyone watching while you cut my hair,” she confided.

“Susan, you sit right here,” he said pointing to a black chair in the center of the room. A large round mirror hung on the wall in front of the chair.  Behind the chair was a counter stocked with barbering implements and bottles of lotion.  “Rob, you can sit over there,” he said, pointing to a folding chair in the corner.

Susan gingerly settled into the chair.  Nino closed the door and addressed her in a soothing tone, “Are you comfortable, Susan?  Can I get you a cup of coffee or some tea?” he offered.

“No thanks, Nino.   I’d rather get this over, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure, that’s fine.  I’ll take good care of you,” he assured her.  Nino reached into a cabinet and extracted a fresh striped cape that he draped over her front and fastened behind her neck after pulling the ponytail out of his way.  Next he turned his attention to her locks.  “I need to see what we have here,” he said, pointing to her hair.  He grabbed a small scissors from the counter.  Susan flinched and Nino explained, “I’m just going to cut the elastic band.  We’re not going to start on your hair yet.”  Deftly he snipped the band holding her ponytail so her dark hair tumbled down on her shoulders and covered the back of the chair.  Susan shook her head as the locks fell free and ran her fingers through her hair.  Then she sat silently as Nino took up a brush and began to tenderly stroke her dark tresses.  “It’s not every day we get such a beautiful head of hair in here,” Nino observed.  “You must have been growing it for a long time.”

“Yes, the last time I had hair above my shoulders was freshman year of high school, eleven years ago.  That’s why I’m so nervous today.”

“Don’t worry, Susan,” Nino said in a consoling tone, “I’ll only cut as much as you want.  Now you must tell me, how do you want your hair cut?” he continued.  “We do all kinds of cuts here—short, long, in between.  Just tell me what you like and I’ll do it.”

“Nino, I’m afraid you’ll have to talk with Robert about that.  He’s in charge of this haircut.  He will tell you how to cut my hair.”

Nino looked a bit perplexed, but turned to me and asked, “Is that right, Rob?  You gonna pick the haircut for your wife today?”

“That’s right, Nino.  We had a bet and she lost.  She said that I could pick any style I liked.  Here’s what I want you to do.”  I got out of my chair, walked up to his side and whispered my instructions in his ear.

“Rob, I don’t understand,” Nino said.  “You want me
to give your wife three haircuts?  Why is that?”

“Well, you see, Nino, Susan has never had a short haircut before.  You should cut it in stages so she can get used to it gradually.”  Of course, this was a total fabrication.  My plan to give Susan a trio of haircuts sprang solely from a selfish desire to maximize my pleasure, not from any concern about her welfare.  I wanted extend the moment as long as possible.  I knew I would never get another chance like this.  My explanation may have sounded a bit fishy, but Nino seemed to buy it.  “Sure, I can do that,” he replied.

“What’s this about three haircuts, Robert?” Susan inquired.  “I only agreed to get my hair cut once.  You didn’t say anything about multiple cuts.”

“Susan, you’ve got so much hair that Nino can’t possibly go directly to a short cut.  He’ll have to do this in stages.  I thought you might like to see how you’d look in different styles before you arrive at the final destination.”

“You mean you’d like to see how I would look in different styles, don’t you Robert?  Let’s be honest about this.”

“Yes, of course.  You’re right.  This is my desire.  Can’t you humor me?  Can you go along with it?”

“Okay, Robert.  I guess so.  But no more surprises.  I’ve had enough for one day.”

“Sure, Susan.  Why don’t we get started?  Are you ready?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be.  I’d like to get this over with.”

“Okay, Nino, here’s what I want you do to.  First, I’d like you to cut Susan’s hair right about here,” I said drawing a line with my finger at a spot just below her shoulder.  Cut it straight across but not in a blunt cut.  I’d like the ends to curl under like a page boy.”

“Sure, I can do that,” Nino replied.

Nino placed his foot on a pedal at the base of the chair and pumped it several times.  Susan rose two feet in the air, her head nearly level with Nino’s.  She looked at me, silently imploring me to call off this ordeal.  I smiled sadly and shook my head.  We had come too far to turn back now.  Nino took a large wide-toothed comb from the counter and began drawing it through Susan’s silky locks.  He carefully combed her long tresses, gently caressing them even as he prepared to destroy them.  Despite his reputation, I could tell he was reluctant to cut them.  “Susan, are you sure you want to do this?” Nino inquired, giving her one last chance to escape.

“Yes, Nino,” Susan answered softly.  “Cut it exactly like Robert told you.”

“Okay, Susan.  You’re the boss.”

Nino picked up a large pair of shears from the counter.  Standing at Susan’s right side, he aimed the blades at a section of her hair just below her shoulder.  Susan closely observed his actions.  Nino caught her eye in the mirror and paused until she whispered, “Okay, Nino.  Go ahead.” Slowly, carefully, Nino squeezed the blades together and a twenty-inch lock of dark brown hair separated from her head and silently slid toward the floor.  Nino caught it and turned to me.  “Rob, you want me to save this?” he asked.  “Sure, Nino.  That would be great,” I answered.  He dropped the handful of hair on the cape in Susan’s lap and returned to his work.  He advanced the scissors into the next section and deliberately cut again.  Another long strand escaped from Susan’s head.  Slowly, methodically, he circled the chair. Each slice removed another section of her glistening hair.  I watched breathlessly.  The left half of Susan’s hair hung half way to the floor while the right half ended nearly two feet higher.  Nino paused for a moment to inspect his work, then continued removing the hair draped across the back of the chair.  Finally he reached Susan’s left side and snipped off the last long piece.  The pile of hair in my wife’s lap had grown to a large mound.  When the cutting ceased Susan stared at her unfamiliar image in the mirror.  Nino went back and carefully combed her new shoulder length locks.  He trimmed a few stray strands until the ends were perfectly even.  He rested the scissors on the counter and gave Susan a moment to adjust to her new look.

In five brief minutes her locks had been transformed from waist length to a cut that just grazed her shoulders.  The hair formed a precise straight line much shorter than before, but still covering her neck and ears.  Next Nino picked up a round styling brush and a blow dryer.  His skilled hands worked swiftly on Susan’s new hairdo, encouraging the ends to curl under, creating a classic page boy look.  Finally he was satisfied and invited her comment.  “What do you think, Susan?”

“Oh, Nino,” Susan sighed.  “It’s been ages since I’ve had my hair this length.  I’d almost forgotten how it feels,” she said, swinging her head from side to side.  Her abbreviated locks flared out from her head, then obediently bounced back into place.  She felt the newly cut ends of her hair.  A tentative smile creased her lips, and then broadened.  I was relieved to see she approved of her new look.  “I never could have done that with my old style,” she said, tossing her head again.  “I love the way it feels.”

“Susan, this style really suits your features,” Nino commented.  “Your hair looked good when you came in here, but it lacked pizzazz.  Now you look really smashing.  This is a great length for you.”

“Robert, isn’t this a wonderful style?  Don’t you like the way it looks?  This is short enough, isn’t it?  Can’t we stop here?” she implored.

Both Susan and Nino were excited about her new look and I had to admit the change was impressive.  I loved how Susan’s hair now grazed her shoulders, how it moved when she turned her head.  It would have been fun to savor this pert new style a while longer, but I was determined to continue with her transformation.

  “Susan, you look great.  This length really flatters you, but I think you’ll look even better when we’ve completed the next stage.”

“Nino, you’ve done a wonderful job, but you’re not done yet,” I commanded.

“Rob, I’m not going to cut any more.  You heard your wife.  She likes it this way.  You should do what she wants.”

I told my wife, “Susan, it’s up to you.  You’ll have to persuade Nino to keep going.”  I honestly didn’t know if she would be willing to continue.  I feared that she might put an end to the haircut, leaving my fantasy only partly realized.  I waited for her response.  Fortunately, she decided to proceed.

“Nino, I’m afraid Robert isn’t happy with this style.  He wants you to keep cutting and that’s okay with me.  It’s all right, really.  Go ahead and do what he tells you.”

“Okay, Susan.  If that’s what you want,” Nino said, still obviously reluctant to cut further.

“What’s next, Rob?” he asked me.

“Nino, I want you to give Susan some
bangs.  They should be thick and full.  They should come down to here,” I said, pointing to Susan’s eyebrows.

“Robert, I haven’t worn bangs since senior year in high school,” Susan objected.  “It took me nearly two years to grow them the same length as the rest of my hair.”

“Well, I’ve always wanted to see you in bangs.  I think they will fit perfectly with your new style.”

“Do you want me to do it, Susan?” Nino asked.

“What the hell, Nino.  Go ahead.  Robert wants to see how I will look with bangs.  Let’s humor him.”

Nino took up his comb again.  First he reached half way up Susan’s crown and combed a section of hair down over her forehead.  He repeated this with three more sections till her face was completely hidden behind a thick veil of dark hair.  He took up his scissors and inserted them into the hair just above Susan’s left eye.  When he closed the blades the hair fell away revealing one tightly closed eye.  The next cut exposed her nose.  With two more cuts Nino reached Sue’s right eyebrow.  He paused, took out his comb, and smoothed the newly cut bangs.  Then he returned with his scissors and trimmed away another quarter inch so the bangs halted just below Susan’s eyebrows.

Once again the change was remarkable.  A sleek fringe of dark hair now covered Susan’s forehead.  The bangs met the longer hair at her temples forming two right angles.  Her sparkling eyes were now framed on three sides by rich brown hair.

Susan examined her newly revised image in the mirror.  “Nino, is that really me?” she exclaimed.  “I look so different!”

“Do you like it, Susan?” he inquired.

“Yes, it looks great, Nino.  I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but Robert was right.  The bangs really look good with my hair this length.”

“So, can we stop now, Rob?  Your wife likes this style and I think she looks beautiful.  Why don’t we stop here?”

“I agree, Nino.  She looks marvelous.  But you’re not done yet.  She will look even better when you’ve finished the next stage.”

“And what is this next stage?  What do you want me to do now?”

“I want you to cut it about here,” I said, pointing to the base of Susan’s neck and tracing a line that angled sharply downward to a point near her jaw.  This next cut would result in a subtraction of nearly six more inches from the back but considerably less from the front.  “It should be longer in front than in the back—I think you call it an inverted bob.”

“Sure, Rob, I can do that.  Is that okay with you, Susan?”

“You’re really determined, aren’t you Robert?” she asked.  “You won’t be happy till you see my hair completely destroyed, will you?”

“It’s not going to be that bad, Susan.  Trust me.  This style is going to look really good on you.”

“Well, I guess I have no choice Nino.  Go ahead and do what he says.  I’m just along for the ride,” she said with a resigned air.

“If you say so, Susan.  If you’re sure.”

“Yes.  Let’s get it over with.”

Nino returned with his comb.  He parted Susan’s hair down the middle of the back and gathered the right side, pinning it on top of her head.  On the left side he slid his scissors into the hair at the base of her neck and cut at a downward angle.  He scooped up the severed hair and added it to the pile in Susan’s lap.  He cut again, extending the downward sloping line.  With two more cuts he reached a point directly below her ear lobe at the edge of her jaw.  Then he unclipped the hair on the right side of her head.  After he had combed it smooth he created a second angled line to match the first.  He combed Susan’s newly bobbed hair and trimmed stray ends until he was satisfied that both sides were even.  He stood back and invited her to view his newest creation.

“What do you think, Susan?  Do you like it?” he asked.

Once again, Susan appeared pleasantly surprised with the result.  “Look at me!” she exclaimed.  “This is so strange.  I’ve never had my hair this short.” She reached her hand up to feel her bare neck.  “Nino, I’d like to see the back.” The barber obliged by holding a large hand mirror behind Susan’s head so she could inspect his handiwork.  “My neck looks so pale.  I’ll have to work on my tan,” she declared.

“What do you think?” I inquired.  “Do you like it?”

“Yes, Robert, I do.  My head feels so much lighter.”  She swung her head from side to side and smiled as the angled bob fell back into place.  “Look, you can see my ears,” she exclaimed, pulling a lock of hair behind her ear.  “I’ll have to get some new earrings to wear with this style.”

“Well, don’t rush out just yet.  Your haircut isn’t done.  We still have a ways to go,” I explained.

“What else, Robert?” she inquired.  “What do you want Nino to do now?”

“Your bangs need to be shorter to go with this new style.  Don’t you agree, Nino?” I asked.

“Sure, Rob.  How much you want me to cut off?”

“I’d say about another inch.”

“That’s going to be pretty short.”

“Yes, I know.  But I think that would be best.”

“Is that okay with you, Susan?” he inquired again.

“Sure, I guess so,” she replied.  “Let the cutting continue.”

Nino returned with his scissors and trimmed Susan’s bangs a second time, this time opening a wide gap above her eyebrows.

“Is this okay, Rob?” he asked when he finished.

“Yes, I think that looks much better.”

Susan looked at herself in the mirror.  “Surely this is short enough to satisfy you, Robert,” she pleaded. 

“You do look lovely in this bob, my dear, but we have one more step before your transformation is complete,” I answered.

“Please, Robert, I’ve lost nearly two feet of hair already.  Nino has created this wonderful style for me and you want to ruin it by going shorter still.  I just don’t understand how your mind works.”

“Susan, I’ve spent the last four months dreaming of this day.  The style I have in mind for you requires some more cutting.”

“You’re not going to have Nino buzz my hair completely off, are you?  I won’t allow that.”

“No, Susan, nothing like that.  I understand that your hairdo must look professional, and it will.  You have the power to stop this haircut if you feel I’ve gone too far, but I think you’ll like this last style I’ve selected for you.”

“And what’s that?”

“The final cut involves clipping your hair short all over.”

“And just how short?”

“About two inches,” I explained, holding my thumb and forefinger apart to illustrate the length.

“And what will it look like?”

“Here, I brought
this picture to show Nino.”  From my pocket I extracted a folded photo I had found on-line and opened it to show Susan.  “I promised you it would be short, but still feminine.  Don’t you agree that this is a stunning look?”

The photo showed raven-haired model with flashing eyes sporting a super short hairdo.  No part was visible as her hair appeared to be tossed rather than combed.  The sides were clipped close to reveal her ears.  On top her hair curved upward in brief commas and exclamation points.  Her forehead was mostly exposed with just a few wisps of hair hinting at bangs.  The effect was eye-catching, yet totally feminine.

“Well, Robert, I don’t know,” she said tentatively.  “It’s awfully short.  I agree it looks great on this model, but how do you know it will look as good on me?  I don’t think my hair will stand up like that.”

“Susan, trust me.  This cut will look even better on you than it does on the model. You’ve been a great sport so far.  I’ve been anticipating this moment for four months.  Don’t deny me now,” I begged.

“Robert, you’re acting pretty obsessive about this hair cutting business.  How do I know you will stop here?  You probably have an even shorter style in mind when Nino finishes this one,” she said accusingly.

“No, Susan. This is the last step, I promise.  Let Nino do this cut and I’ll never say another word about your hair.  You can start growing it back tomorrow if you like.”

“I’d like to hear that Nino thinks,” she answered.  “Nino, take a look at this picture.  Do you think this would be a good style for me?  Please be honest.”

After studying the photo for a minute, Nino replied.  “Susan, you have good features for a short cut like this one.  I think you would look great in this style.  Of course, you look good with this bob too.  It’s really up to you.  Would you be comfortable wearing such a short haircut?”

“Nino, I don’t know.  We’re already well beyond my comfort zone.  But everything has turned out okay so far.  Now, you’re sure you can do this cut?”

“Yes, Susan, I can do it, but are you sure you want it this short?  I could leave it a little longer than in this picture.”

“No, Nino.  Cut it exactly like the photo.  Robert’s determined to see me in the shortest hairstyle possible.  So why don’t we go ahead and help him have his fun?” Turning to me, she said, “okay, Robert.  You win.  If it will make you happy, I’ll do it.  But this has to be the last step.”

“Yes, Susan.  This will be it.  I promise.”

  “Okay, Nino.  Go ahead.  Do it like he wants,” Susan ordered.

“Sure, Susan, but it’s going to be a lot shorter, you know.  I won’t do this if you don’t want me to,” he continued.

“I know, Nino.  This is what I want—to make my husband a happy man,” she sighed.  “Why don’t you begin?”

“Okay, Susan.  If you say so.”

Nino began the third stage of Susan’s haircut by selecting a longer section of hair from along her part just above the bangs and pulling it straight out from her head.  He inserted his scissors into the strand close to her scalp and squeezed the blades shut.  Five more inches of hair came free in his fingers.  This he added to the large pile lying in Susan’s lap.  He returned for a second section slightly further back on her head and cut it the same length as the first.  Nino worked his way toward the back of Susan’s head, clipping the hair along her crown to a uniform length.  When he had reduced the top to the length of a thick shag carpet, he began on the sides.  Around her ears, he cut more closely, following the curve of her hairline.  He fashioned two sharply pointed sideburns that exposed her ears.  Finally, he clipped the back shorter yet.  He used a fine-toothed comb to lift her hair and trimmed the pieces that protruded through its teeth. By the time he finished cutting the longest hair on the top of Susan’s head was no more than two and a half inches.  The sides and back were an inch or less.  She hardly looked like the same woman.

Nino walked to the front of the chair and addressed Susan directly.  “You know these bangs have got to go, don’t you?” he asked.

“Yes, I thought they might be next,” she replied.  “They don’t really fit with the rest of the style.  Oh well, I really didn’t have time to get used to them,” she sighed.

Nino approached with his scissors and began to cut at her bangs.  Instead of slicing straight across, he cut a curved line, closely following her hairline.  Susan closed her eyes as pieces of hair fell down her face to litter the front of the cape.  Her forehead was now completely exposed.  Only a radically abbreviated fringe remained. 

Nino rested his scissors again.  He grabbed a spray bottle and pumped a fine mist over the top of Susan’s head.  When it was thoroughly soaked he used his fingers to tousle the newly shortened hair, coaxing it to stand up.  Susan looked like she had just come in from the rain.  Damp short hairs sprouted across her head in a haphazard fashion.  Nino used his brush to bring more height to the top.

He turned to me to check the length.

“Rob, what do you think?  Is it short enough?”

“It looks good, Nino, but you’ll need to take off some more to get the effect I’m looking for.  It needs to be more uneven, more jagged, not the same length all over.”

“Sure, I can do that, but that’s going to make it pretty short.”

“Yes but I think that would look best.”

“Oh, go ahead, Nino.  He’s not going to be satisfied till you’ve cut it all off,” Susan injected.

“This won’t take long,” he assured her.

Next he selected another pair of scissors with irregular, serrated blades.  “Susan, I’m going to use these thinning shears to give you hair more texture.”  He attacked the hair on top of her head, cutting in a flurry of random thrusts.  Wet bits of dark hair flew from Susan’s head, landing on her ears, shoulders, and neck.  After cutting furiously for two minutes Nino exchanged his scissors for a brush and blow dryer.  He clicked the dryer on and directed a stream of hot air into Susan’s hair.  He lifted the hair with his brush and swirled it upward till the hair on top stood up at irregular lengths. Then he teased the short hairs forward so that a brief fringe circled her face.  Her ears were set off by the dramatically pointed sideburns.  In back a fringe of short hairs followed her neckline.  When Nino finished Susan emerged wearing an ultra-short hybrid cut that was part punk and part pixie.  The look was slightly disheveled, but decidedly sexy. A dazzling short-haired woman sat in the chair staring in amazement at her new look.

Nino stepped back from the chair and waited for Susan to recover.  I held my breath, afraid to say anything.  Susan gazed at her unfamiliar image for a long time. &amp
;nbsp;Slowly she extended one hand, then the other from beneath the cape.  Gingerly, she began to feel the hair around her ears.  She slid her right hand behind her head, passing it up and down the cropped hair in back.  Finally, she began poking both hands into the hair on top.  She pulled her fingers through the short hair to check the length.  She turned her head to one side and then the other to inspect the sides.  Nino held a mirror behind her so she could view the back.  We waited for some word, but she remained silent.

Finally she spoke.  “Nino, wet it down, please.  I want to try something.”  Nino did as she requested, spraying her hair a second time.  “Now I’d like your comb,” she commanded.  The barber handed it to her and Susan began stroking her newly shortened hair.  She drew a part on the right side and pulled the hair across her head, plastering it close to her scalp. She combed the sides back off her face.  At her forehead he forced the short hair directly back, exposing a curved hairline.  Now she wore a sleek helmet of dark hair that lay close against her scalp, looking nothing at all like the model in the photo.  It was a severe, almost masculine look, but very dramatic nonetheless.  I was amazed at the radically different look she had fashioned from the same short cut.  Susan closely examined this new creation while Nino and I waited for some remark that would reveal her reaction.

“Well, Robert, what do you think?  I wanted to see how it would look this way.  Which look do you prefer—smooth or spiked?” she asked.

“Susan, I love them both,” I exclaimed.  “Which one do you like?”

“I’m not sure, but I think I’ll go back to the spiked look for now.”  Without warning she ran her fingers through her hair and tousled it back into a rough approximation of its former state.  “Nino, do you have something that will help it stay this way?  I’m afraid it will fall down if we don’t give it some help,” she explained. 

“Sure, Susan.  Here’s some styling gel,” he offered.

“Go ahead, Nino, give me the treatment,” she ordered.  I couldn’t believe these words were coming from her mouth.  Until this day Susan had avoided using any spray or gel on her hair.  Now she seemed eager to have it held in place.  Nino massaged the clear gel into her shortened hair and began brushing it upward again.  When he finished, her hair bristled in every direction.  The wild look that resulted was light years away from the refined, neat styles she had worn since we met.

“Well, Robert, what do you think?  Is this short enough for you?” she demanded.  From her tone I couldn’t tell whether she was angry or not.

“Yes, Susan.  It’s short enough.  You look absolutely fantastic,” I answered.

“And Nino, what do you think?” she continued?

“I agree with Rob, Susan.  You look great’” Nino added.  “But what do you think? Your opinion is the most important one.”

“Nino, I don’t know.  This is such a big departure.  I don’t just mean the length.  My hair always has been so neat and orderly.  Now I look so wild and reckless—like a completely different person.”

“I think it’s a great style for you.  It really matches you personality,” I added hopefully.

“What made you decide to pick this style?” she asked.

“I wasn’t sure, but I had a hunch that you’d look tremendous in a more relaxed, spontaneous style.  Do you like it?”

“Like it?  Robert, I love it,” she exclaimed, with a smile spreading across her face.

“Well, I’m relieved.  I was afraid you’d hate your short hairdo and blame me for ruining your looks.”

“No.  I’m more likely to thank you for liberating me from all that hair,” she exclaimed, gesturing toward the dark pile gathered in her lap.

“Is that all?  Is there anything else you want, Rob?” Nino interrupted.

“No.  Thanks, Nino.  You’ve done a great job.”

Nino returned to my wife in the chair.  He dusted the hair off her forehead, neck and ears with a soft brush.  He unclipped the cape and gathered it by the corners.  He held the bundle containing Susan’s long locks and asked, “What do you want me to do with this, Rob?”

“Do you have a bag or a box—something we can use to carry it home in?”

“Sure, Rob.  I’ll see what I can find,” Nino said as he left the room.

Susan remained seated in the chair and continued to examine her new look in the mirror.  She used her fingers to poke and rearrange the tufts of hair on top of her head.  “It’s going to take a while to get used to the new me.  I look so different.  And it feels so strange not to have my neck covered with hair.  My head feels so cool.  This is definitely the right style for this heat we’re having, but I don’t know about the middle of winter.  I may have to grow it longer then.  And what do you think, Robert?  Was this haircut everything you hoped it would be?”

“Absolutely!  This was so much more thrilling than anything I possibly could have imagined.  You look incredibly beautiful and you were a wonderful sport.”

“Well, Robert, now that it’s over I’m glad I lost our little wager.  You got your book completed and I am liberated from my long hair.  We both came out ahead.”

Nino reentered the room carrying a large plastic bag filled with Susan’s hair clippings.  “Here it is,” he said.  “What are you going to do with it?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe use it to stuff a pillow,” Susan replied.

“You can get up now, Susan.  I’m done,” Nino said.

“Thanks, Nino,” Susan said as she rose from the chair.  “Robert was right, you do wonderful work.  You’ve given me a haircut I’ll never forget.  I’ll be back to see you in a couple of months.  Maybe next time we can think of something different to keep Robert entertained.  What would you think about that?”

“Sure, Susan.  I’m always interested in trying new things.  With your good looks you make any cut I do look wonderful.  You’ll always be welcome in my shop.  Next time you can leave your husband at home though.” They both laughed as we walked together toward the door.  Both of the female barbers stopped their work to stare at Susan’s freshly shorn head.  I could tell that they were as amazed as I was at my wife’s makeover.

As we neared the register Susan turned to me and said, “Robert, pay the man.  Whatever his normal rate is, you should triple it.  He certainly deserves it.”

I reached into my wallet and extracted $100 that I shoved into Nino’s hand.  “Thanks a lot, Nino.  This has been quite a memorable day.”

*   *   *   *   *

It’s now two years since Susan’s remarkable haircut.  We left to vacation in the mountains as we had planned.  We spent mos
t of our time secluded in the cabin; celebrating Susan’s new look with some pretty intense sex.  Nine months later our daughter, Amanda, was born.  We asked Nino to be her godfather since he made such a large contribution to her conception.  She’s got thick dark hair like her mother and her mother’s brilliant blue eyes.  With two gorgeous women to love and pamper, I feel like the luckiest man on earth.

Susan kept her hair short during her pregnancy and after, returning to Nino’s for regular appointments every six weeks. For someone who hadn’t changed her hairstyle in years, she’s developed a remarkably playful attitude toward her hair.  She’s tried several variations on her style, experimenting with different lengths including a longer shaggy style and a version that was only an inch and a half all over.  Of course, I liked the shorter one best.  Currently she sports a punk version of the cut, with prominent spikes sprouting from her head at improbable angles.  A generous sprinkling of blonde highlights now accents her dark locks. Her wardrobe has changed considerably also.  Susan’s clothes are less conservative now—blouses with more revealing necklines and tight leather pants.  She’s even begun to wear blue jeans, but only designer labels, of course.  Shortly after Amanda was born she left the stuffy old law firm to form a partnership with three other young lawyers.  She likes the more relaxed atmosphere in her new office because it allows more time with our daughter.  Sometimes Susan takes Amanda with her to work where she rests in a playpen beside her mother’s desk. 

I can’t believe the change that’s come over my wife.  She’s no longer the driven career woman she was just two years ago.  She still hopes to try some major cases, but that’s no longer the highest item on her agenda.  While I can’t credit her haircut alone for this transformation, I believe it was a major step along the way.  It’s as if removing the burden of her long hair freed her to adopt a more open, relaxed attitude toward life.  She says she never wants to go back to long hair and I believe her.  The other women in our group screamed in amazement the first time they saw Susan with short hair.  She answered their questions by explaining that she finally decided it was time for a change.  I was grateful that she didn’t share the story of our wager or reveal that the haircut was my idea, not hers.  That’s remained our secret.

From time to time she threatens to become a blonde and I hope she does.  Not too long ago she returned from Nino’s and told me about seeing a young woman getting her hair completely buzzed off.  “You know, Robert, she looked so remarkably innocent and honest—nothing pretentious or artificial about her.  When summer comes I may ask Nino to give me a crew cut like hers—real short all over.  Just take the clippers and run them across my head without mercy leaving only a quarter inch or so.  You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”   Of course, I agreed.  She knows how I feel about short hair.  Susan sometimes jokes about the monster we unleashed when I arranged her first short haircut.  It’s hard to believe she was once so attached to her long hair.  We’re both glad it’s gone.

Susan did use the remains of her long hair to stuff a pillow.  We keep it on the couch and sometimes it cushions my head while I nap.  She calls it my “tenure pillow” and it symbolizes the sacrifice that helped make our marriage a success.

I was granted tenure shortly after the publication of my second book.  On its first page I inscribed, “This book is dedicated to my wife, Susan, whose support and sacrifice made it possible.”  Many authors have expressed similar sentiments, but in my case the words have special meaning.

I’m now at work on a third book.  Susan occasionally checks to see if my writer’s block has resurfaced.  It hasn’t, but I sometimes think about faking a relapse to see what kind of a bargain we might strike.

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