Claudine’s Story


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Claudine’s Story

Hello.  My name is Claudine, Claudine Kelly.  You called last week and left a message on my answering machine.  You said you were collecting stories from women with very short hair for a book you are writing.  Well, I checked with my husband, because this story is as much his as it is mine, and he said okay.

The abridged version of my story is that I shed my long hair twenty years ago and have kept it short ever since to please my husband.  But the full story is much more complicated.  I hope you find it interesting.

I met Richard when I was a senior nursing student.  At the time he was in his second year of med school.  I was working part-time as an aide at Boston University Hospital.  We passed in the hallways.  I noticed him and I guess he noticed me.  Anyway, one evening I was eating a late dinner in the employees’ cafeteria when he sat down at my table and introduced himself.  In short order he said he liked the way I looked and wanted to get to know me.  I should mention at this time my hair was quite long, down toward the middle of my back.  It was then, and still is, a dark auburn shade, more brown than red, and rather attractive if I do say so.

Well, one thing led to another.  Richard and I began studying together.  Soon we were inseparable.  I got a B+ in Organic Chemistry thanks mostly to Richard’s personal tutoring.  I discovered that not only was he very good looking, but he was brilliant, the most intelligent person I’ve ever known, and a kind, compassionate human being besides.  I fell head over heels in love. By the time I graduated we were planning our wedding.  After we married I got a job in the intensive care unit at Massachusetts General where Richard did his internship and residency.  I provided most of our income during that time, but as soon as Richard established his practice in pediatric surgery I quit to have our first child.  Two more followed in quick succession and I’ve been on “extended maternity leave” raising our three sons ever since.

During these years I kept my hair long even though many of my girlfriends adopted shorter hairstyles after their children came.  I gradually let it grow even longer mainly because Richard adored my long hair, or so I thought.   I knew that most men preferred long-haired women.  Although I detest vanity in most things, I must confess I was exceedingly proud of my hair.  Women always said how much they envied me.  Men were attracted by it and I admit that I enjoyed their attention.  At the time of this story my auburn mane extended nearly to my waist, about two and a half feet from my crown to the blunt-cut ends.

Our oldest son, Tommy, had just turned six, when I discovered Richard’s dirty little secret.  Now, I don’t want to give you the wrong idea.  Richard has never been unfaithful, at least he hasn’t had an affair.  But he has been dishonest about important things, and for me that was almost as hard to take.  You see, my husband has built a reputation as one of the most caring and charitable physicians in our community.  There’s not a week goes by that he doesn’t operate on one or two needy kids without charge.  He’s on the board of the Children’s Hospital and makes sure all his colleagues contribute to their fundraising campaigns.  He challenges them to match his sizeable pledges.  Sometimes I wish he wasn’t so generous, but I guess that’s one reason I fell for him in the first place.

As I said, it was twenty years ago that I discovered my husband had been lying to me.  He came home late one evening after he had called to say he had an urgent consultation on an upcoming surgery.  I didn’t suspect a thing because these late meetings were a regular occurrence in our household.  I fed the boys and put them to bed.  Richard arrived home around nine and said we needed to talk.  That’s when he dropped the first bombshell.

He admitted that he was not at a consultation.  He had been having drinks with his old girlfriend.  I knew I wasn’t the first woman in Richard’s life.  When we started dating he told me about Maria, the Puerto Rican beauty, who taught him about sex.  I didn’t really mind because I wasn’t a virgin when we met either.  Anyhow, Maria mysteriously disappeared after their junior year of college—vanished without a trace.  I figured she must have run off with another guy, but it was difficult to understand why she would dump someone as wonderful as Richard, especially a man with his excellent financial prospects.

Getting together with his old flame and then lying about it was bad enough, but I was totally unprepared for what came next.  Richard informed me that the reason Maria dropped out of college was because she was pregnant with his child.  He told me he had an eighteen-year-old daughter named Grace he had never known about.  I found it hard to believe that Maria would willingly have a child without a father, especially one as wonderful as Richard.  Remember, this is back when being a single mother wasn’t nearly as accepted as it is today.

According to my husband, Maria knew that if Richard discovered she was having his child he would have “done the right thing” and married her.  That would have meant dropping out of school, shelving his plans for med school, and taking an ordinary job that wouldn’t make use of his remarkable skills.  So she left town without telling anyone and moved to San Francisco where she had relatives.  After the baby was born her aunt and uncle adopted Grace.

Now, the reason Maria contacted my husband after eighteen years of silence was because their daughter had graduated from high school and was accepted at Stanford.  Apparently Grace inherited Richard’s brains.  She was fifth in her class of 400 students.  What’s more, she wanted to become a doctor.  Maria had told her daughter nothing about her father other than he was a kind and handsome gentleman.  Maria’s aunt and uncle, Grace’s adoptive parents, couldn’t afford Stanford’s tuition.  Grace had an academic scholarship, but that would cover less than half of the cost.  Richard said Maria was a businesswoman; that she had started a promising cosmetics company, but it wasn’t yet very profitable.

It seemed that Maria had been keeping track of Richard’s career over the years.  He’s a very public figure, with his name in the papers all the time, so she didn’t have any trouble finding him.  Richard said Maria was asking him to pay for Grace’s college education.  That’s when I lost my composure.  I couldn’t believe this woman whom I had never met, who had seduced my husband when he was a naïve college student, would have the nerve to ask to us to support this love child.  Besides, we didn’t know for sure that Grace even was Richard’s offspring.  What about a paternity test?

But dear, kind Richard asked me to put myself in Maria’s shoes.  If my only child—Maria never had other children—was bright enough to be accepted at Stanford and lacked the tuition money, wouldn’t I do almost anything to make her dream of college and medical school come true?  I had to agree that I would have done the same thing.

Now, you must be asking what does this story have to do with the length of my hair?  You’ll have to be patient.  I’m getting to that part.

After I calmed down a bit Richard suggested that I should meet Maria and hear her story face-to-face.   What’s more, he had invited her to come to our home the next evening.  Again I exploded.  The idea of welcoming my husband’s paramour, his long lost lover, this Latin sexpot, into the home where I was raising our three sons was almost more than I could handle.

Once again, he had to calm me down.  He said that he once had loved Maria, but after she disappeared without even saying good-bye he got over his infatuation.  Richard promised that I was the woman he loved.  Said that I was smart, funny, good looking, understanding—the ideal wife and mother to his children—that he wanted no one else.  He apologized for lying to me about meeting Maria and promised that he would be scrupulously honest from that day forward.  How could I stay angry after a declaration like that?  I agreed to meet with Maria the next night, but only after the boys were safely tucked into bed.

Maria’s taxi arrived at our home around nine o’clock.  I spent the day in a flurry of cleaning.  I wanted to prove what a wonderful wife and mother I was.  I vacuumed and dusted every nook and corner; made sure that the latest photos of our sons were prominently displayed; even found time to prepare puff pastries—my one culinary specialty—for a dessert.  Richard hadn’t told me much about Maria’s appearance.  I knew she had to be good looking—my husband had no trouble attracting beautiful women.  I knew she had worn peasant blouses, long flowing skirt, and flowers in her hair during her student days.

When Maria walked through our front door you could have knocked me over with a feather.  The woman I beheld was nothing like the flower child he had described.  She was dressed in a tailored conservative business suit—probably from Brooks Brothers or some other high-end clothing store.  She was the image of a successful female executive, a far cry from the bare-foot hippie I had pictured.  Of course, she was very attractive, with a flawless light brown complexion and smoldering dark eyes.  In no way did she resemble pale-skinned, freckle-faced, blue-eyed, red-haired me.  But the feature that left me completely speechless was Maria’s hair.  It was so short!  At the longest it couldn’t have been more than an inch and a half, and those were the brief bangs framing her face.  Most of her hair was much shorter.  I’d seen pictures of women with radical hairstyles like this, but she was the first I ever met in person.  Despite her extreme haircut, I could not deny that Maria was a sexy, very feminine lady.

Richard introduced us and Maria spoke first.  “You have a beautiful home, Claudine.  The décor is so charming and warm.  My apartment seems cold and sterile in comparison.  These must be your sons,” she said, pointing to a group portrait.  “Richard told me about them.  You’re so fortunate to have three healthy, well-adjusted children.”

I thought about Tommy’s learning disability and Robbie’s asthma, but decided not to burst the bubble of the perfect suburban family.  I had planned to start on a positive note.  Instead, I blurted out the first thing that came to mind.  “You’re hair!  Richard never said a word about your hair.  Not everyone can wear a style like that and still look like a woman.”

I’d stuck my foot in my mouth, as I often do, but Maria was gracious.  I imagine she’d heard lots of comments about her hair, as short as it was.  “Richard was shocked to see me with short hair too.  When he knew me my hair was nearly as long as yours.  But mine was curly, not straight.  In fact, when I was a girl I wanted straight hair like yours.  In high school I actually went to the hair dresser and begged her to straighten my hair.  Thankfully, she talked me out of it; she told me I should be proud of my Latin looks and not try to be someone I wasn’t.”

I felt the need to match her anecdote.  “My girlfriend keeps hinting that I should cut my hair, but I’m too much of a coward.  Short hair looks great on women like you, but I’m afraid if I cut my hair I’d look just like another suburban soccer mom.”

“But we didn’t come here to talk about hairstyles, did we?”  Richard interrupted.  “Before the hour gets any later I think we should discuss the issue that brought us together.”

I’m sure Richard was surprised when I spoke up.  “Maria, tells us about your daughter.  I understand her name in Grace.”

“Yes, I gave her that name because I prayed to the virgin to watch over my daughter and give her the guidance I would not be there to provide.  The Blessed Mother must have been listening because my prayers have been answered.”

“Richard said you gave Grace up for adoption at a young age.”

“She was one week old when I signed the papers.  It was a family adoption which made it easier.  Tia Helena is my mother’s sister.  She always wanted children but was never blessed with any of her own.  I knew Grace would be raised in a loving home.  It was not like giving her away to strangers.”

“Still, it must have been very hard.  I can’t imagine giving away one of my kids.”

“It was the hardest thing I ever did in my life.  I knew it was best for everyone, but that didn’t make it any easier.”

“And now she’s a young woman going to college in the fall,” I said.

“Would you like to see her graduation picture?”  Maria opened her wallet and showed me a photo of a proud, smiling young woman striding across a stage, diploma in hand.

“She’s very beautiful.  She looks a little like you, but I can see she has Richard’s eyes and his smile.”

“Yes, she has inherited the best of both parents.  She has her father’s brains and her mother’s Latin temperament.”

“I understand she wants to be a doctor.  Does she know her father is a doctor?”

“No, I haven’t shared that with her.  Perhaps one day I will.”

“Ladies, I hate to interrupt, but the hour is growing late,” Richard interjected.  “Would you like to hear my proposal?”

“Sure, Richard, go ahead,” I said.

“This morning I talked with our lawyer about the best way to underwrite Grace’s college costs.  There are several alternatives, but he suggested we set up an educational foundation.  Its stated purpose would be to provide scholarships to needy Latina students.  We could define the criteria as narrowly as possible—young women of Puerto Rican heritage who plan to attend medical school, for example.  That way Grace would qualify and few others.  Claudine and I will donate a substantial amount to start and will contribute additional sums on an annual basis until Grace finishes med school.  At that point the foundation will cease to exist.  The foundation will have three trustees—you two and myself.  We will jointly sign off on all scholarship payments.  Our lawyer has volunteered to be the foundation’s executive at no cost to us.”

“Will this plan provide enough to cover all of Grace’s college costs?” Maria asked.

“I doubt it,” Richard answered.  “Your daughter’s education at one of the top schools in the nation will be very expensive.  She may have to apply for other scholarships and take out loans, but the foundation should cover a significant portion of the expense.”

“I like what I’m hearing, Richard,” Maria responded.  “You and Claudine are very generous.  I know Grace worries about the cost of college.  She doesn’t want to put too many demands on her parents because they really can’t afford it.  I will help out, of course, but as I explained last night, my company is not yet generating a lot of revenue.  I have high hopes for the future, but it will take a few years.  I’m sure Grace will be delighted when she learns of this arrangement.”

At this Richard turned to me.  “You’ve been very quiet, dear.  What do you think, Claudine?”

While he had been making his pitch I came up with a couple of things I wanted to add.  “I’d like to include two conditions, if both of you are agreeable.  Number one, our identities shall be concealed.  Grace must never know that the money has come from us.  We will remain anonymous benefactors.”

“Sure, that sounds like a good idea,” Richard agreed.

“Number two, aside from foundation business, there shall be no other communication among the principals.  No letters, phone calls, e-mails, tweets, or other messages.  No skypes or photo exchanges.”

Maria spoke up.  “Claudine, I understand that you don’t want me talking with your husband.  I can accept that.  But to forbid him to communicate with his daughter, that seems cruel.”

“Perhaps someday I’ll change my mind, but for now that’s how it must be.”

“I can accept that,” Richard answered.  “Anything else?”

“One thing more,” I asked of Richard.  “You said we would contribute a substantial sum to establish the foundation.  How much did you have in mind?”

Richard seemed to know my question was coming.  I could see he would have preferred discussing it after Maria had left, but there was no way he could dodge the issue now.  “I checked the balance in our savings account this morning.  We have about $130,000.  I’d like to donate the whole thing.”

I was speechless.  This was the amount we had set aside to purchase a vacation cottage on the Cape.  I stared at Richard and he stared back at me.  Maria finally broke the silence.  “Richard, that’s extremely generous, but it’s too much really.  I’m sure half that amount would be enough.”

Then Richard spoke up.  “Maria, Claudine, it’s important you understand how I feel.  Eighteen years ago I fathered a child and for all those years other people have been raising her, looking out for her welfare.  Now it’s time that I accept my responsibility.  This is the least I can do to make up for years of neglect.”

I saw a look of admiration spread across Maria’s face as Richard spoke.  This was the same man she loved as a twenty-year-old college student.  His words proved he had not changed; that success had not spoiled him.  Then she looked at me.  She waited to hear whether I agreed with Richard’s magnanimous offer.

“I agree with Richard,” I finally said.  “I think the whole amount should go into the scholarship fund.  We can manage without a vacation home.”

Maria reached across the couch to take my hand.  “Thank you, Claudine,” she said.  “I know I’m a stranger who has disrupted your routine, but I’m also a mother who wants the very best for her child.  I hope you understand.”

“I do, Maria,” I answered as I wiped a tear from the corner of my eye.  “In your shoes I would have done the same thing.”

Richard rose from his chair.  “I guess that takes care of our business.  Tomorrow I’ll set the wheels in motion to establish the foundation.  Maria, Stan, our lawyer, will send you the documents to sign.”

“Richard, can you call a cab for me?” Maria asked.

Richard went into the kitchen to call a taxi.  Maria slid next to me and spoke in a hushed, confidential voice.  She said, “Claudine, I know it’s not my place, but I’m going to give you a piece of advice.”  I stared at my husband’s former lover not knowing what to expect.  “If you want to keep your husband happy, I suggest you consider cutting your hair.”

I couldn’t believe the words I was hearing.  “Why in the world do you say that?” I asked.

Maria slipped her business card into my hand.  “Call me tomorrow.  I’ll explain,” she whispered.

Richard entered the room and asked, “What are you two whispering about?”

“I was just telling your wife what a lucky woman she is to have such a lovely home, such beautiful children, such a handsome husband,” Maria lied convincingly.

When the cab arrived Maria and I embraced like long lost sisters.  “You know, I was really scared coming here, afraid that you would hate me,” Maria said.  “Then I said to myself, Richard would never marry a woman who didn’t share his kind spirit.  I see now that I was right.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

I spoke softly so Richard couldn’t hear.  “I know you still love my husband.  How could you not love such a wonderful man?  It’s okay to love him from a distance.  But if I ever catch you near him again, so help me God, I’ll scratch your eyes out and strangle you with my own bare hands.”  I was smiling as I said these words, but Maria could see that I was deadly serious.

After Maria departed Richard spoke to me.  “Honey, you never cease to amaze me.  After our discussion last night I never expected you to go along with my proposal.  You were wonderful.  How can I ever make it up to you?”

“Well, Dr. Kelly, I think you could start by planning our summer vacation.  You’ve given away our savings, but our credit card still works.  How about you take me and the boys to Disney World?”

“You’ve got a deal,” my husband readily agreed.

 

I spent a restless night trying to imagine why Maria told me I should cut my hair.  Was it done for spite?  Or did she want me to chop off my crowning glory out of envy?  Maria didn’t seem like that kind of woman, but it was hard to tell after one brief meeting.

As soon as Richard left for the office I parked the kids with my neighbor and called Maria’s number.  “Is this a good time to talk?” I asked when Maria picked up.

“I’ve got half an hour before my next meeting,” Maria replied.

“What did you mean last night when you said I should consider cutting my hair?  Why would you say a thing like that?”

Maria answered back, “I’m sure you think you know your husband better than anyone.  What I’m going to say probably will come as a shock, but I believe Richard would love you better if you had short hair.”

“I can’t believe you would say a thing like that.  Richard has always admired my long hair.  He would be very upset if I cut it.”

“Are you sure about that?  Perhaps you should ask him.”

“What makes you so sure?  You’ve been missing from his life for eighteen years and now you tell me how to please my husband.  You’ve got a lot of nerve.”

“Claudine, let me explain.  Since I cut my hair short I’ve discovered there are some men, a small group, who prefer women with short haircuts.  Actually, it’s more than a preference; it’s an obsession.  They obsess about hair cutting; they get sexually aroused whenever they see a woman with a short haircut.  When they meet a woman with long hair like yours all they can think about is cutting it very short.  I’m convinced that Richard is one of these men.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“When we reunited two days ago he couldn’t take his eyes off my hair; he couldn’t stop talking about my haircut, how sexy it looked.  He even found an excuse to fondle it.  I could see it gave him a thrill.  Believe me, I know the symptoms.  Guys like this hit on me all the time.”

“I noticed the way Richard was looking at you last night, but I didn’t connect it with your haircut.  I took it as a sign that he was still in love with you.”

“That may be, I don’t know, but he definitely is in love with my haircut.”

“What you say is very disturbing, Maria.  How can I be sure what you say is true?”

“I suppose the best way to find out is to ask him flat out.  If he loves you, he will tell you the truth.  It won’t be easy.  He’s probably ashamed of his fixation.  He’s been hiding it from you.  Many people consider it a perversion.  You must be kind and non-judgmental, but if he really loves you he’ll be honest with you.”

“Do you think he wants me to cut my hair as short as yours?”

“I can’t say for sure, but would that be such a bad thing?  You can find any number of very attractive short styles these days.”

“I suppose you’re right, but it’s not something that I’ve ever considered.”

“For the sake of your marriage I think you should.”

 

Two days later, as Richard and I were discussing plans for our trip to Disney World, I made an unexpected announcement.  Without any warning I said, “Richard, before we leave for vacation I’m going to get my hair cut.”

Without the slightest inkling of what prompted my statement, Richard replied, “That’s fine, honey.  You really don’t need my permission.”

“This time I think I do need your permission,” I continued.

Now I had his full attention.  “I don’t understand,” he said.

Looking into his puzzled eyes I explained, “You see, Richard, I’m planning on getting my hair cut short, very short.”

“Why would you do a thing like that?” he asked in stunned surprise.  I could understand his confusion.  Over twelve years of marriage and two years before that while we were dating I never once expressed interest in a short haircut.  In fact, I had insisted I was forever committed to long hair.

“I could say it’s because I’m tired of long hair; that shorter hair would be so much easier to care for, especially with three growing boys to look after, but that would be a lie,” I told him as calmly as I could.

Truly bewildered by my unexpected declaration, he asked, “Why then, why in the world would you cut off your beautiful hair?  I don’t understand.”

I paused, took a deep breath, and then revealed my motive.  “I would do it to please my husband,” I said, “because I don’t want to lose him to a short-haired temptress.”

Richard flushed in anger, thinking that I was accusing him of infidelity.  “What in the world are you talking about, Claudine?  I’ve never heard you say anything so crazy.”

“Don’t be coy, Richard,” I answered back.  “I saw how you looked at Maria with her hair cut so short.  You couldn’t take your eyes off her.”

There was no point in denying my accusation.  Richard had been fascinated by Maria’s radical haircut.  “It was such a shock,” he protested.  “She wore her hair long when I knew her.  I didn’t even recognize her at first.  I was shocked by the change.”

Now I was beginning to get angry.  “Maria said you told her she looked very sexy.”

“Now that you’ve seen her, don’t you agree?  She’s a very sexy woman.  I was just giving her a compliment.  A woman with a new hairstyle always likes to hear a compliment, whether it’s true or not,” he protested.  “I learned that lesson years ago.”

“And how many times in the past five years have you given me a compliment like that?” I fired back.

“Not often enough, I guess,” he answered sheepishly.

“You know, your wife would like to be told she looks sexy from time to time.  You can’t take things like that for granted.”

“Honey, you are the sexiest woman I know, I hope you know that.  I’m sorry if I don’t say it enough, but I thought you knew how I feel,” he apologized.

I continued without acknowledging his defense.  “Maria isn’t the only one.  There was your first receptionist, the blonde. What was her name—Sherry something?”

“What about her?” Richard demanded.

“She told me that you said she’d look good with her hair cut in a shorter style.”

Richard regretted that unguarded comment made years ago.  Now it was coming back to bite him.  “I may have said something like that.  I don’t recall.  I don’t understand why you’re making a federal case out of an innocent remark.”

But I was not finished with him.  “And then there was Kaylie,” I declared.

“The babysitter?” he asked.

“Yes, the babysitter,” I replied hotly.  “You positively leered her the night she showed up with that supershort haircut.”

“I did no such thing,” he retorted.  “Good lord, she was only fifteen.”

“Did you ever wonder why I stopped calling her?  Because I didn’t want to see my husband drooling all over our teenage sitter, that’s why.  And then there was Jayne Smithfield,” I continued, mentioning our neighbor and my best friend.

Richard probably wondered if this string of accusations would cease, but I was just warming up.  “Remember when she showed up at the Hendersons’ New Year’s Eve party with her hair chopped off?  You couldn’t take your eyes off her.  You followed her around all evening like you were stalking a bitch in heat.”

Richard saw he wasn’t going to win this argument, so he tried a different tack.  “Honey, I don’t know where this ridiculous idea came from.  I love your long hair; I always have.”

“But you would love me better with short hair, wouldn’t you?” I demanded.

He continued denying his attraction to short hair.  “Darling, my love for you does not depend on the length of your hair.  I would love you just as much if your hair reached to the floor or if you had no hair at all.”

Despite his protestations I was not convinced.  “That’s a lovely sentiment, Richard, but I don’t believe you.  I’ve been doing some research and I discovered there’s a name for your condition.  It’s called a fetish; an extreme sexual attachment to some object or body part.”  My husband squirmed uneasily as I exposed his long hidden obsession.  “I also learned that there’s nothing so terrible about a fetish as long as you keep it under control.  I know you’re basically a kind man and a loving husband.  I just want you to be honest with me.”

Richard was not yet ready to concede I was right.  He tried to capitulate without admitting his guilt.  “Honey, you can wear your hair however you like—short, long, or in between.  It’s up to you.  Whatever you want is fine with me.”

I was in no mood to listen to more of his evasions.  “Richard, I really hate to say this, but I still don’t believe you.  You lied to me about meeting Maria and you’re probably lying to me about this too.  I’m going to put you to the test.  Whether you like it or not, I’m going to cut my hair before we go on vacation.  When you come home tomorrow night, after the boys are in bed, I’m going to show you some pictures of different hairstyles.  I’m going to let you pick the one I will get.  It will be your decision.”

“Honey, this is ridiculous,” he insisted again.

I’d heard about as much as I could tolerate.  “I don’t think so.  I’m doing this to save our marriage.  When we go to bed I don’t want you dreaming about Maria or any other short-haired woman.  If you are interested in a trusting relationship, you’ll stop pretending and do as I say.”

Richard saw there was no point in prolonging our discussion.  Once I make up my mind I can be pretty stubborn.  “For your sake, honey, I’ll go along with your crazy scheme,” he conceded.  “I just hope you come to your senses before you do something you’ll regret.”

 

The next evening, when Richard arrived home after a long day at the hospital, I was in a better mood.  My anger from our argument the previous night had subsided.  I was back to my old self, loving and attentive—the devoted wife.  Richard was pleased when he smelled his favorite pot roast cooking on the stove and even more delighted when I produced a freshly baked apple pie for dessert.  I made no mention of our heated discussion about cutting my hair.  Richard probably hoped I had come to my senses and abandoned my rash plan.

While Richard put the leftovers in the refrigerator and stacked dirty dishes in the dishwasher, I read bedtime stories to the boys and tucked them in for the night.  When I came down the stairs I called to my husband.  “Richard, would you come into the dining room for a moment?”

He put down the dishrag he had been using to wipe the granite countertop and found me seated at the dining room table.  Spread in front of me were four photos, each one showing a woman with a different short haircut.  This was the scene he had been dreading.  “You sit there,” I ordered, pointing to a chair on the opposite side of the table.

“Honey, do we have to do this?” he complained.  “I don’t think this is a good idea.”

“But I do,” I told him firmly.  “This is non-negotiable.”

Reluctantly Richard took his seat and listened as I explained what he was to do.  “Now dear, I want you to study these pictures very carefully.  All you have to do is pick out the haircut you like best and that’s the one I’ll get.”

Despite my uncompromising tone, he tried once more to persuade me to let him off the hook.  “Since you’re the one who’s going to get her hair cut, I think you should be the one to decide,” he objected.  “After all, you’re the one who will be wearing it.  Pick the one you like best.”

“That’s now how it works,” I told him sweetly.  “This haircut is for you.  You have to pick.”

Richard stared at the photos.  Each one showed an attractive model with a very short hairstyle.  The first one was a brunette with short bangs cut straight across her forehead.  The hair at the sides of her head was formed into sharp points that ended at her chin.  The longer hair was cut upward at a steep angle.  In back her hair was clipped to almost nothing.  You could see the white skin beneath the dark hair on her nape.  “That one’s called in inverted bob,” I informed him.  “I’m told it’s very popular.”

The second picture showed a young blonde with wild tufts of hair sprouting in random directions from the top of her head.  The controlled chaos of this haircut was in marked contrast to the perfect symmetry of the bob.  Both cuts were quite short.  Most likely Richard was having difficulty believing I would ever adopt such an edgy style.  “This one might be fun for a change,” I told him in a playful, teasing tone.  “It’s a twofer.  You’d get to see me as a blonde in addition to the short hair.”  Richard was getting more uncomfortable with each passing minute.

The woman in the third photo had dark red hair, almost the same color as mine.  On the left side her hair was buzzed very short.  On top, however, it was considerably longer, five or six inches I would guess, and dramatically draped across her forehead.  It was a striking asymmetrical profile.  “What do you think, Richard?  Is this the one?” I asked.  “Would I look sexy with my hair cut like this?”  I’ll bet he thought I’d look incredibly sexy in any of these styles, but he would die before admitting it.

The youthful model in the fourth picture sported the shortest hairdo of all.  Her rich chestnut hair was clipped to a length of about two inches all over.  It was parted on the side and combed across her head.  The brief bangs were brushed up off her face forming a slight curl, her ears were fully exposed, and her neck was bare.  She looked so innocent and trusting.  “This style doesn’t really have a name,” I observed.

Richard didn’t know what to do.  I picked each style because I thought it would appeal to his fetish.  Whichever one he picked would result in my radical transformation.  Now he had to choose among them.  I wondered what was going through his mind.  Was he looking for the one best suited to my features?  Was he considering which one I would be most comfortable wearing?  It was hard to tell.  All I knew for sure was this exercise was causing him a lot of anguish.  Part of me felt sorry for him, but another part felt like he deserved to suffer.  “Serves him right,” I thought.

Richard silently pondered the pictures for several minutes.  I watched as his eyes shifting from one to the next.  He was having great difficulty making up his mind.  Finally I could stand his silence no longer.  “Ding.  Time’s up,” I announced.  “Tell me what you’ve decided.”

Richard made one last effort to avoid making this fateful decision.  “Claudine, I really wish you wouldn’t put me in this position.  If the haircut I choose doesn’t suit you then I’ll bear the blame.  I don’t want that responsibility.  You choose, please,” he begged.

But I would not budge.  “No Richard, that’s not going to happen,” I said.  “This haircut is for you.  You must choose.”  I must admit I took a wicked pleasure in his distress.  Even at the price of having my hair chopped off, it was worth it to see him suffer like this.

Richard’s gaze returned to the four photos.  Slowly, he pointed his finger to the fourth model, the one whose haircut was shorter than the others; the one that didn’t have a name.

I was glad to have that settled.  “Good.  You’ve made your choice,” I told him.  “This is the cut I’ll get.  Tell me, Richard, why did you pick this one?”

“Because she’s the one who looks most like you,” he explained.  “It was easiest to imagine your hair cut like that.”

I knew he wasn’t being truthful.  “You’re lying again,” I shouted.  “I know you’re lying.  You chose this haircut because it’s most like Maria’s; it’s not a perfect copy, but close enough.”

Richard sheepishly shrugged.  There was no use lying.  I knew him far too well.  The one he chose was not as severe as Maria’s haircut, but the lines were the same; the look was the same.

“That’s okay,” I assured him.  “I liked her haircut too.  You said she looked sexy and I agree.  That was one awesome haircut.  This one’s a bit longer, but it’s as close to hers as I could find.”

Richard didn’t know how to respond.  Fortunately, I was nearly finished.  “Then it’s settled.  Tomorrow I’ll call the salon and make an appointment for Saturday afternoon.  I’ll get a babysitter so you can come along.”

“Really, is that necessary?” he protested.  “I don’t think men are welcome in those places.”

I smiled sweetly and told him, “I’m sure they’ll make an exception in your case.”

 

I didn’t sleep very well that night or the next.  Cutting my hair to force Richard to face up to his fetish seemed like a great idea at the time, but now I had to deal with the consequences.  I made him suffer by compelling him choose among the four very short haircuts. Now he was going to see me suffer while my hair was chopped shorter than I ever imagined.  I knew I couldn’t back out, not after I had invested so much emotion in the confrontation over my hair.  It was my turn to face the music.  Even though all four of the models looked incredibly sexy with their supershort haircuts, I dreaded my upcoming shearing.

 

“I’m Ms. Kelly, Claudine Kelly.  I have a one o’clock appointment for a cut with Tonio,” I informed the pert young receptionist seated at the front desk of the Chop Shop.

“Oh yes, Tonio will be right with you.  Why don’t you and your husband have a seat over there until he’s ready,” she informed us in a cheerful professional manner.

Richard looked around, studying every detail of the unfamiliar décor.  It was the first time he had actually set foot inside a salon although I suspect he had imagined this setting many times in his fantasies.  I leaned over and whispered, “See how all the women working here have trendy short haircuts.  That’s how you can tell this is the right place.  I’m so glad Jayne told me about it.”

“You told Jayne about your haircut?” Richard asked in surprise.

“Of course, silly.  What good are girlfriends if you can’t turn to them for advice on a major life decision like this one?”

“What did she say when you told her?”

I told Richard she was surprised, of course.  Jayne never expected me to go short, but she was very supportive.  She said that it was Tonio who cut her hair last year.  I knew Richard admired his handiwork, so I figured he was the right person to handle my conversion.

“Your conversion?” Richard asked.

“My conversion to short hair,” I explained.  After having long hair for so many years, getting a major haircut was kind of like changing religions.

Richard studied the three female stylists fusing over clients in various stages of their cuts.  He saw no one who resembled a Tonio.  After waiting a few minutes a distinguished gentleman emerged from the back.  He was casually dressed, wearing sharply creased gray slacks, highly polished loafers, and an expensive looking polo shirt.  I’m sure he looked nothing at all like the limp-wristed man Richard expected.

“You must be Ms. Kelly,” he said, pointedly ignoring Richard sitting at my side.  “I’m Tonio Espinosa, the owner of this establishment.  I believe your friend Jayne Smithfield sent you my way.”

“Yes, she spoke very highly of your skill.”

“And I understand you’re looking for a serious haircut today,” he continued.

“If by serious you mean much shorter, then yes, I’m in the market for a seriously short haircut.”

“Excellent,” he said, his eyes sparkling with delight.  “That’s the kind of haircut we specialize in here at the Chop Shop.  Of course, our name is sort of misleading.  We never chop a client’s hair; we snip and trim with the greatest care and precision.  You can be sure of that.”

“That’s a relief,” I said.  “I probably don’t need to tell you, but I’m very nervous about this haircut.”

“Don’t worry, my dear.  That’s perfectly normal.  I know it’s a big decision, but we won’t do anything without your permission,” he assured me.  “We can do it slow or quickly, which ever you prefer.  Did you bring a picture of your new look?”

“Yes, here’s the style I picked,” I said as I unfolded the picture Richard selected and handed it to Tonio.

He studied the image carefully, occasionally glancing at me, comparing my facial structure and hair texture with the model.  “Ms. Kelly, you’ve made an excellent choice.  This cut will bring out your best features, your lovely eyes and high cheekbones.  Do you want us to match her hair color as well?”

“Not really.  I’d rather keep my own.”

“An excellent decision.  Your auburn color is such a strong, vibrant shade.  It would be a crime to tamper with it.”  Already I was feeling better.

“So why don’t we get started?” Tonio declared.

Then I informed him that Richard wanted to watch my haircut.  My husband squirmed uncomfortably, worried that I might reveal his secret.

“Usually we make husbands and boyfriends wait in the wings, but since this is a special occasion, we can make an exception in your case.  Follow me.”  Tonio led us into his private booth at the rear of the shop.

Once Richard was perched in the corner on a wooden folding chair and I was seated in the upholstered styling chair Tonio got down to business.  “We usually begin with a nice shampoo, but since your very long hair will soon be much shorter, I suggest we begin by cutting off the bulk and then do the shampoo.”

I told him that was fine with me.  By this time I was starting to perspire even though it was cool in the shop.  Despite my resolve to stay calm, my nerves were getting the best of me.

Tonio began running a comb through my long hair.  He then suggested making a donation to Locks of Love, the organization that makes wigs for kids with cancer.  I thought that was an excellent idea.

He gathered my hair behind my head and secured the bunch at the base of my neck with two elastic bands.  Then Tonio surprised both of us by inviting Richard to make the first cut.  I wondered about his motive for this unexpected suggestion.  Was he doing this to make my husband more uncomfortable than he already was?  Or perhaps had he recognized the symptoms of Richard’s short hair fixation and this was his way of indulging him?  I couldn’t tell.

I saw that my husband was stunned by this unexpected development.  He stammered something about not knowing how to cut hair.  I rather enjoyed seeing him put on the spot like that.  “Richard, you’re a surgeon,” I chided him.  “Surely you won’t have a problem cutting off my hair.”

He continued to protest nervously until Tonio put the scissors in his hand.  “There’s nothing to it, Dr. Kelly,” he said.  “Just cut between the two elastic bands.  It may take a while because your wife’s hair is quite thick, but just keep cutting until you’re all the way through.”

Richard stepped up to my side and said, “Honey, I think you’re awfully brave.  I hope this turns out like you want.”

“Richard, stop yammering and start cutting before I start bawling,” I scolded.  While I tried to maintain a casual, lighthearted facade, underneath my emotions were roiling.  Truth be told, I was on the verge of tears but there was no way I was going to reveal to Richard and Tonio how conflicted I felt at that moment.

My husband reluctantly did as instructed and placed the scissors around the fat bundle of my precious hair.  His hand trembled ever so slightly, something I’m sure never happened to him during surgery.  As Richard began his first tentative cut the weirdest sense of calmness came over me.  We both should have been nervous, yet I was strangely composed.  While I dreaded the prospect of being separated from the long hair that had been my friend and companion for so many years, I also felt strangely excited.   It was sort of like opening the door to a forbidden chamber.  If everything went according to plan this haircut could transform me into the short-haired woman of Richard’s dreams.  It might restore some of the passion that had gone missing from our relationship.  If not, I would be the big loser, but at this point I was resigned to my fate.

I felt the tension at the back of my head as Richard tugged on my hair.  He closed the blades with little effect.  The scissors were sharp, but my hair was too thick to be easily cut.  He opened and closed them a second and third time, gradually sawing into the bundle.  “You said it would be easy,” he complained to Tonio.  “This is harder than I thought.  It would be better if I had a scalpel.”

I endured Richard’s clumsy efforts, feeling my anxiety return with each passing moment.  He never noticed as a few silent tears slid down my cheeks.  After what seemed like an interminable interval he finally cut through.  Richard stood to the side with a dumbfounded expression on his face, holding twenty-four inches of my severed hair, not knowing what to do with the darn thing.

I raised my hands and removed the one band still in place, then shook my head from side to side.  It was so different feeling the shortened ends of my hair whipping against my cheek.  I tried to avoid looking in the mirror at the unfamiliar woman with the ragged bob.  That sight was too unnerving.  Instead I turned to Tonio and bravely declared, “So this is what it feels like to have short hair.”

Of course, it was all for show.  Richard knew me well enough to know the distress I was feeling.  He knew his lies and evasion had driven me to this desperate step.  He probably feared I would hate how I looked with my hair cut so short.  I feared he would resent me for forcing him to confront his long-hidden fetish.  It seemed we were teetering on an emotional precipice.

Before I experienced a total meltdown a pert young assistant came into the room.  “Nadine will escort you to the shampoo station,” Tonio announced.  “Your wife will be back in ten minutes or so,” he told Richard.  “You can wait here if you like Dr. Kelly.”

Afterwards I learned that as soon as I left the room Tonio lectured Richard.  He explained to my husband how much of a woman’s ego is tied up in her appearance, especially her hair.  The hairstylist informed him that a woman making a drastic change in her look, as I was, required unconditional approval.  Even if Richard found my new hairdo totally unappealing, Tonio insisted that he find something positive to say.

Richard told Tonio he had tried to talk me out of this radical move, but I would not listen to his pleas.  I’m not sure whether my hairdresser understood the dynamic of our relationship, but he persuaded my husband it was time to stop resisting my decision.  The deed was done.  My long hair was gone.  Now his role was to be one hundred percent supportive.

Usually the shampoo is the most enjoyable portion of my salon appointment, but not this day.  I was too tense to relax and enjoy the rich lather Nadine was massaging into my reduced locks.  I was thankful that she was not one of the chatty types who often worked in these salons.  Perhaps she sensed I wasn’t in a talkative mood.  I noticed that she sported a very stylish asymmetrical bob—cut quite short on one side and a good bit longer on the other.  “Did Tonio cut your hair?” I asked breaking the silence.

“Yes, he did it just last week,” she answered.  “Do you like it?”

“Yes it’s very attractive,” I told her truthfully.

I returned from the shampoo with my head wrapped like a turban in a white towel.  As Tonio began combing my wet hair he tried striking up a conversation, but I was too apprehensive to respond.  “Just you wait,” he assured me.  “You’re gonna love the way you look when we’re done.”

“I hope you’re right,” I murmured.

I sat there with limp, damp hair hanging down to my chin on either side of my face.  It was not a pretty picture.  I tried forcing a smile, but still looked like I had just lost my best friend.

“You know, Mrs. Kelly,” Tonio began, “it would be quite easy to cut your hair into an inverted bob.  We could keep it pretty much at its present length and just trim it back from your jaw at a sharp angle.  I’m sure it would be very attractive.”  He was offering me a last second escape route that would avoid the drastic alteration I had requested.

I was familiar with the style he described.  It was one of the haircuts I had reviewed when selecting the pictures to show Richard.  I was kind of hoping he might select that look, but he went for the shortest one.  I felt I had to stick with the picture he had selected.  “I’m sure that would be very attractive,” I told Tonio, “but I’ve decided to go all the way.  Please don’t try to talk me out of it.”

“Of course,” he agreed.  I couldn’t tell whether he really wanted to talk me out of this choice because he thought the haircut I’d selected wouldn’t suit me or was trying to protect himself from my remorse if I hated the result.  Whatever the reason, he continued, patiently explaining how he intended to perform my haircut.  “We’re going to begin cutting with the razor.  It’s going to take a while, but when we get to the appropriate length I’ll switch over to scissors and comb.”

At that point it really didn’t matter how Tonio planned to cut my hair.  He could have used the clippers that barbers use for men’s haircuts to shave me bald and I wouldn’t have complained.  “Just get it over with,” that’s what I was thinking.

Tonio selected a lock of hair from the side of my head and began cutting with his razor.  He ran it up and down until a four inch segment came off in his hand.  This he casually tossed to the floor as he reached for a second lock.  Tonio gradually worked his way around my head, circling the chair where I sat, continuing to razor away while he kept up a constant stream of encouraging comments.  “You’re going to love the way you will look.  You have such marvelous hair, great color, great body.  I love working with it.”

By the time he finished his circuit he had cut off about half of my remaining length.  No hair on my head was longer than three or four inches, yet I looked nothing like the closely cropped model in the photo Richard picked out.  Tonio must have read my mind because he said the words I needed to hear.  “Mrs. Kelly, you have to trust me.  The finished cut is going to look much different.  Have courage, you’re going to look wonderful when I’m done.”

Then Tonio exchanged his razor for a comb and scissors.  He positioned himself at the back of my chair and began trimming the back.  He ran the comb up my head while snipping with his scissors at a furious pace.  He raced to the top of my head and then returned base of my neck for another course.  It didn’t seem like he was removing that much hair with each passage, but I had no doubt that the cumulative effect of his repeated passes would leave my hair about the same length as Richard’s.  I glanced at my husband out of the corner of my eye.  He was following the progress of my haircut with rapt attention.  I couldn’t tell from where I was sitting, but I was pretty sure that he was fully aroused.

Tonio paused for a moment.  He seemed concerned.  “Mrs. Kelly, the model in the photo you showed me had her hair cut straight across in back, you know, kind of squared off.”

“Yes, I saw that,” I told him.

“But your hair grows differently.  It comes to a point like a triangle in back.  I can cut it like the model, but it would look much better if we followed the natural pattern of your hair.”

“Sure, I have no problem with that,” I told him.

Next I felt the cold steel of his scissors as Tonio trimmed along the sides of my neck.  I knew there would be nothing particularly flattering or feminine about this part of my new hairstyle.  I hoped that Richard would find it provocative.

When Tonio began cutting the hair on the side of my head using the same technique with comb and scissors he had used on the back I noticed that he was leaving my sideburns longer so they extended to my cheeks.  I recognized this as his attempt to retain an element of feminine fashion in this rather masculine haircut.  While I appreciated his consideration, I didn’t want any compromises.  I was determined to make Tonio create the same severe haircut worn by the model in the photo.  When he ceased cutting I let him know.  Pointing to the strands of hair that now curled beneath my cheekbones, I said, “These need to go, Tonio.  I want you to copy the haircut in the picture as closely as possible.”

Tonio reluctantly complied with my order and quickly cut off the offending locks.  All that remained were two auburn darts that stopped above the middle of my ear; a perfect replica of the haircut I had shown him.

My stylist put down his comb and scissors and took a spray bottle from the counter.  By that time my hair had dried from the shampoo and he needed to moisten it again.  Tonio directed a fine mist into the longer hair on my crown and then tousled it to make sure the water had penetrated evenly.   My hair was now in total disarray with strands pointing in all directions, but Tonio quickly corrected that condition by drawing a clean part down the left side of my head and combing the hair across the top.  For most of my adult life I had worn my hair with a center part so this latest development was a bit disconcerting, but I knew the style I desired required a side part.

Tonio placed his hand on top of my head and seized a lock of hair about four inches long along the part and held it between his fingers.  Without fanfare he snipped it in half, tossed the severed remnant to the floor, and reached for a second lock.  As I watched in shock and fascination he methodically cropped the top of my head.  Damp auburn trimmings littered the cape as my crowning glory was further reduced.  I could scarcely believe that I was enduring this brutal shearing without protest.

My stylist continued cutting.  His chatter had stopped as he concentrated intently on his task.  I noticed that Richard was watching him just as closely as I was.  His mouth was half open in an expression of awe and amazement.  I’m sure he never expected to see me having my hair cut in such an extreme style.

After Tonio had removed that last long lock from the top of my head I figured he was done, so I was surprised when he picked up a pair of scissors with strange serrated blades.  “These are thinning shears,” he explained to me.  “Your hair is quite thick and won’t lie properly unless we thin it out a bit.”  He began stabbing the blades into the shortened hair on top of my head.  At first I couldn’t tell that anything had been cut, but when he ran his comb across my head and dragged a bunch of short hairs I saw that the shears had done their job.

One final touch was trimming the hair around my face.  Tonio clipped the hair above my forehead into mini-bangs and then combed them back so they disappeared into the hair on my crown.

A final blow dry and brushing completed my transformation.  I stared into the mirror as I struggled to absorb the magnitude of my conversion.  The woman I saw in the mirror was not unattractive; it’s just that she didn’t look one bit like me.  I had worried that this haircut would make me look too mannish, but that was not the case.  It was a testimonial to Tonio’s skill that I almost perfectly resembled the short-haired model in the photo Richard had selected three days before.

“Well Mrs. Kelly, what do you think?” Tonio anxiously inquired.  I could tell from his tone that he worried I might be upset with the extent of the damage he had inflicted.

“You do excellent work, Tonio,” I told him.  “Jayne was right when she said you were an artist with the scissors.”

“To keep this style looking good you’ll need to come back every five or six weeks,” he reminded me.

I acknowledged that I was now bound to him as long as I felt like keeping my hair short.

Richard rose from his chair and joined Tonio and me in the middle of the small cubicle.  “Claudine, you look amazing,” he gushed.  “I never thought I would see you with such an awesome hairstyle.”  I knew this was a genuine compliment spoken from his heart, and not one of the polite lies Tonio had encouraged him to tell.

“I think my work here is done,” Tonio announced as he removed the cape from around my shoulders.  “You can settle with the receptionist on the way out.”

He left Richard and me alone with a carpet of my severed hair covering the floor.  There was no mistaking my husband’s enthusiastic approval.  I had planned on picking up the boys from the babysitter next, but Richard insisted on going directly home.  “It’s still early.  They can wait for an hour,” he said.  He practically dragged me into the bedroom.  I tried to slow him down, but he couldn’t wait.  He ripped my clothes off and mounted without any of our usual foreplay.  Richard reached out to feel my shortened hair and climaxed almost instantly.  I would have preferred a more controlled and gentle encounter, but was thankful to have some passion back in our relationship.

When our sons came home I had to deal with their reactions.  Of course, they had never seen me with anything but long hair.  Richie, the youngest, wailed, “Put it back Mommy.”  Robbie was puzzled.  “Why did you do it Mom?” he asked.  Only, Tommy, the eldest, was more diplomatic.  “You look real nice Mom,” he said without conviction.

That night I let Richard put the boys to bed.  When he didn’t come downstairs after half an hour I assumed they had put him to sleep with their bedtime stories, as they often did.  That’s when I slipped into the downstairs bathroom to inspect my new hairstyle up close for the first time.  I peered critically at my drastically revised image.  I ran my fingers through my ultra-short locks and was overwhelmed with regret.  Why in the world did I ever get myself into this situation?  What was I thinking when I forced Richard to choose the haircut he preferred?  The tears I had been holding back all day started to flow and they soon were gushing like a river at flood stage.

To say that I hated my new look would be an exaggeration, but I certainly wasn’t thrilled with it.  It took quite a while before I got used to it.  There were days, usually when I was preparing to go out to a charity gala, which happened about once a month, when I really missed having long hair.  It would have been fun to arrange my hair in a glamorous hairdo accentuating my new gown.  Of course, there were days, especially in the middle of the summer, when I enjoyed the comfort and convenience of short hair.

For Richard, however, it was a case of love at first sight.  He couldn’t compliment me enough on my revised appearance, never tired of saying how hot I looked with my hair cut short.  Frankly, it made me wonder what he had been thinking all those years when my hair was long.  Did he hate my long hair?  It must have been hard to repress his desire to see me with short hair.

For months I had to stop every time I passed a mirror and check out the closely cropped woman looking back at me.  Jayne and my other girlfriends said I looked great, but I suspected they were saying that to avoid hurting my feelings.  I watched closely as my hair grew out after that first haircut.  I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly my hair grew.  After five weeks it was beginning to creep over my ears.  I began thinking of alternatives to the super-short cut Tonio had administered, but Richard wouldn’t hear of it.  “It’s time to go back for a trim,” he reminded me.  “You’ve got to keep it looking sharp.”  I knew he would be devastated if I told him how badly I wanted a longer look, so I faithfully returned to Tonio once a month for the first year.  Gradually I got accustomed to my new look.  I must admit it was easy to care for—just a quick shower and blow dry with some gel to keep it in place.  The only problem was the cost.  Tonio charged a hundred dollars for a trim, and then I added a twenty dollar tip.  We were not poor by any means, but we were paying a substantial amount for Grace’s Stanford tuition.  It was around that time that my friend Jayne told me about the unisex shop in the mall.  “You mean you really get your hair cut in that barber shop?” I exclaimed when she told me.  “I thought you went to Tonio at the Chop Shop.”

“I did for a while, but he’s so expensive.  He does an excellent haircut, that’s for sure, but the barbers at the unisex shop are nearly as good and only charge twenty dollars.  You should give it a try, Claudine.”

It took me a month to work up the nerve to go to the mall for my haircut.  It was a very public space with none of the privacy of the high-priced salon.  That bothered me at first.  Jayne held my hand and practically dragged me into the shop.  “This is my friend, Mrs. Kelly,” she announced to the staff.  “She’s looking for a good haircut.”

A blonde woman about my age, wearing a white barber’s smock stepped forward.  “Hi, my name’s Francine.  I’ll be happy to cut your hair.”  I meekly followed to her big upholstered chair and let her wrap a white tissue around my neck.  That was followed by a maroon synthetic cape.  “So what are we doing today Mrs. Kelly?” she inquired.

“Just a trim,” I nervously replied.  “Shorter, but not too short.”

“Sure, I can do that,” Francine assured me as she sorted through the assortment of instruments on a shelf behind the chair.  I cringed when I saw the electric clippers in her hand.  Tonio had always used a razor or scissors on my hair, never the clippers, but I was too intimidated to object.  I didn’t want to insult Francine by telling her how to do her job.  She stood behind me, switched on the power, placed ominous looking black clippers on my bare neck, and, without giving any warning, began mowing the hair on the back of my head.  It was the strangest sensation.  I could feel her clippers cutting my hair shorter than Tonio ever had, but somehow I didn’t mind.  Having my hair cut very short no longer brought the same panicked reaction it once did.  I suppose I had finally become accustomed to being a short-haired woman.

When Francine started clipping around my ears I could see that my hair would soon be no more than half an inch all the way around my head.  I imagined Richard’s reaction when he saw me with this super-short haircut.  I was pretty sure he’d be delighted.

After my barber finished with the back and sides she didn’t put down her clippers as I had expected.  Instead, she asked if I wanted her to buzz the top of my head.  “No way,” I replied without thinking.  “That would be much too short.”

“I won’t cut it as short as I did on the back and sides,” she assured me.  “I’ll use a longer guide, number four or number six, instead of the number two I used to cut the sides.  Then I’ll blend the two lengths.  It will look really good.”  For a moment I considered her offer.  I thought about Richard and how he would react if I came home with my hair clipped down to a furry pelt.  I figured he would go for it, but I also knew he would want to be present to witness my shearing.  I couldn’t believe that I was actually contemplating such a radical step, yet there I was sitting in a barber shop with half of my hair buzzed down to nearly nothing.

“No buzzing today,” I informed Francine.  “Leave the top long enough so I can style it.  I want to be able to comb it across.”  She seemed disappointed, but didn’t try to talk me into the buzz cut.  Instead, she laid her hand on top of my head, grasped three inches of hair between her fingers and cut half of it off.  She continued reducing the length until no hair on my head was longer than an inch and a half.  The haircut Francine gave me was shorter by far than any cut Tonio had administered, but it didn’t look half bad.  In fact, I kind of liked my bold new image.  As I left the mall I began hatching a plot.

Richard noticed right away.  “Your hair is shorter,” he observed.  “I like it,” he added almost in the same breath.  I explained that I had gone to the unisex shop instead of the Chop Shop.  I thought Richard might be upset at my abandoning Tonio’s classy cuts, but the opposite was true.  “You got a great haircut.  Next time you go let me know.  I’ll come along and we can get our hair cut together.”  I knew the real reason he wanted to accompany me was to watch my hair being cut short, but I saw no need to call him out.  If he wanted to watch me being scalped I was okay with that.

Five weeks later the lengthening hairs on the back of my neck were beginning to bother me.  I decided it was time for another haircut.  This time I invited Richard to come.  It was a Saturday and the unisex shop was crowded with customers.  I spotted Francine and waved to her.  “Hi Claudine, it’ll be half an hour before I can take you.”  I didn’t mind waiting and neither did Richard.

I let Richard go first because I knew he wouldn’t want to wait around after my haircut was done.  He was nearly finished when Francine dismissed her customer and indicated it was my turn.  I eagerly hopped into the waiting chair.  “Just a trim today?” she inquired.

“I’ve been thinking about what you said last time I was here,” I told her.  “I’ve been thinking about letting you buzz me all over.”

“Wow!  You’re gonna look so great,” she said.  My barber could scarcely restrain her enthusiasm.  “How short are we going?”

“Short, but not too short,” I told her.  “Short enough so it stands up all over, but not so short that I look like G.I. Jane.”

“That sounds like a number four to me.  Number two on the sides and number four on top.”

“And how short is a number four?”

“About half an inch.  If you don’t like it that length we can take it down to number two, but you can never go in the opposite direction.”

“Okay.  Let’s try number four.”

Francine wasted no time.  She stood beside me and placed her clippers on my forehead.  She paused for a moment, as if to say, “Are you ready for this?”  I nodded my consent and she plunged the ominous blades back into my neatly combed hair.  At first I didn’t notice any difference, but as she returned for a second and third pass I saw the shortened patch emerging on the top of my head.  It was such a strange sensation seeing my hair being shorn so short.  Once in a great while I had seen a woman with her hair cut to this length, usually at the medical center.  I always assumed she was a cancer patient receiving chemotherapy.  I never knew anyone who had voluntarily submitted to a shearing like this.  Yet there I was, sitting in a crowded unisex shop, letting this barber buzz my hair nearly completely off.  Richard’s haircut was done and he sat behind me in the row of chairs where customers waited.  I couldn’t see him from where I sat, but I could feel his eyes following every move Francine made.  I knew he would want to have sex as soon as we arrived home.  He had cleverly arranged for his mother to take the boys on a field trip to the science museum for the day.  I wondered what would happen if I ever decided to let my hair grow to its former length.  Would our love life disappear completely?  Would Richard start flirting with short haired nurses or receptionists?  I wasn’t willing to take that chance.

In next to no time Francine completely mowed the top of my head so that it now resembled a red velvet fleece.  She brushed it back so all the hairs were standing erect, then buzzed again to make sure it the same length all over.  After changing the attachment, she resumed clipping the sides and back even shorter.  Using a smaller battery powered clipper she trimmed around my ears and down my neck along the hairline.  Finally she paused, swept the fine clippings from my face with a soft brush, and stood back with her hands on her hips.  “Well, what do you think, Claudine?  We can go shorter if you like.”

“Not today, thank you,” I said.  “This length looks just fine.”

Richard came up close to inspect my radical new hairdo.  He raised his hand and gently stroked my freshly cropped head.  “You look so damn sexy,” he whispered softly so only I could hear.  After leaving a generous tip for my barber we sprinted to the parking lot, jumped in the car, and sped straight home.  I knew some hot sex was in store as soon as we got to the bedroom.

So that’s my story.  I’ve kept my hair at the same length ever since.  It’s become my trademark.  I’ve learned to enjoy the freedom that comes from having short hair, but every once in a while, especially when I see a photo of me from days gone by, I get nostalgic for a minute.  I can’t say that Richard misses my long hair, at least he’s never mentioned it.

About a year after Francine administered my first buzz cut, I purchased a home haircutting kit and gave it to my husband as a surprise birthday gift.  Since then, every four weeks without fail, Richard sets up a stool in the middle of our kitchen, pours me a glass of wine, and clips my hair to the desired length.  Especially now that the boys are away at college, it’s a time for intimacy.  Richard never seems to tire of caressing my shortened locks.  Every time he casts an admiring glance my way I thank Maria for tipping me off to the secret that has enhanced our relationship so greatly.

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