The Arrangement (Part 1)


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She knelt before me, her auburn hair shining, flowing down her back and onto the floor behind her bare buttocks and feet. Her head was bowed, letting some of her long mane fall forward, hiding her face, but it was not enough to conceal the puddles of tears that were forming on the floor. Her arms were stretched in front of her, palms up, cradling a glorious and shining pair of scissors. I looked, enjoying the scene, and waited.

***

The time had come. I had laughed when he had suggested this day might ever happen, when he described the ritual he wished me to conduct. But now, the day was here, and I was as he had requested – I remembered every word, even 10 years later – naked, hair washed, brushed dry, shining down my back, trailing on the floor, kneeling with my head bowed, offering him scissors, and about to beg him to do the unthinkable.

I knew it had to be this way. But it hadn’t always.

***

I felt her hesitation, even as far into this process as she had come. And I wondered, too. Would she go through with it? I remembered her high, sharp laugh when I had proposed to her the arrangement that had governed both our lives for the past decade. I recalled smiling quietly when she assured me, then, and repeatedly through the years, that this day would never come. I would have been happy if that had been true – if the next decades had passed as wonderfully and passionately and as happily as the last 10 years. But I was absolutely thrilled – and working hard not to show it in this hour of her utmost distress – to think that perhaps I had been right after all. She had done everything perfectly up until now – the hair freshly washed and clearly brushed dry, the nakedness, the kneeling, the upraised palms offering scissors.

Would she remember the correct words? I had only said them once. If she failed to, I would have to decide a punishment. But if she did utter them properly, I would grant her request – in a way I had been planning since we first met.

***

He had seen me on the street – stopped me, actually, one cool fall day. My hair was down – rare before that day, and rarely since, it’s true – and just swinging below my earlobes. I had literally just left the salon, having asked the stylist – not my usual one because she never would have agreed – to chop my average-looking shoulder-length auburn locks into a short bob with a little tiny angle to it – so just an inch of my nape was exposed, scissored shorter than I’d ever had my hair. This stylist had done exactly that, giving me a sharp left-side part and bangs that were just right – not thin, not heavy, and a strong, blunt line to match the rest of the bob. I had played with it a bit at the salon, including rubbing my short nape hairs, and loved how it felt. I thought it looked absolutely fantastic, and I was walking on air when I left to head home.

And only moments later, this man stopped me – a solid, tall man with dark hair cut short and glasses. He stopped dead in his tracks on the sidewalk, staring at me. We locked eyes. I stopped too, staring at him staring at me. After a moment, he gathered himself and said, “I’m Jon. And you have the most amazing hair I have ever seen in my life.” I smiled shyly, and batted my lashes at him as I thanked him and prepared to keep walking.

“No, wait – wait!” he said, more urgently. Let me buy you a coffee, or” – he checked the clock at the bank across the road – “a drink. Please. There’s a cafe with outdoor seating right over there.”

I smiled, unsure. He raised his open hands. “No ulterior motives, nothing suspicious up my sleeves” – he went so far as to tug at his shirt cuffs. “Just a coffee or a drink. Please.”

He was so earnest, his face so open, his eyes so focused, that I found it hard to refuse. I checked the bank clock myself and told him, “I’ve got 20 minutes before the next bus. Take it or leave it.”

“I’ll take it!” he nearly shouted, and took my hand and led me rapidly to the cafe and ushered me smoothly to a table, selecting for himself the seat opposite me.

***

I hadn’t thought she would agree so easily, and I’d been prepared to be more convincing, but suddenly we were sitting across from each other at a small outdoor table, with her hair and face in the light so I could see every strand’s glorious shine. She was smiling pleasantly, but guardedly. I caught a waiter’s attention and asked for a glass of beer. She ordered one too – which surprised me a bit, because I had for some reason expected her to have wine.

The waiter was quick, and I had not even asked her name when the beers were set in front of us. I raised mine, and she hers, and we clinked glasses without a word, and took our first sips. And even though I’d thought about having this kind of moment with this kind of woman for years, I still wasn’t sure exactly how to begin.

***

As we put our glasses down, slightly emptier than when we’d raised them, he looked hesitant for a split second before recovering his composure. I waited, expectantly. He’d asked me to accompany him – he could break the ice. I wasn’t at all prepared for what he was about to say.

***

“I’m Jon. I said that. And you are…?” he began, waiting long enough to hear “Bridget” in reply. “Bridget. Look. You have the most amazing hair I have seen in my entire life. Not just the style – your hair itself. Would you like someone to help you with it?”

Seeing her confusion, I plunged onward. “I’ve been looking for some time for a woman who could use my help caring for her hair. I know, I know, you don’t have much – and based on the way your hand crept to your nape just now, it might be a new short look for you, which I love, I love. But, okay, um, so tell me, when you go to the salon, don’t you love how they treat you, and your hair? Shampooing, conditioning, combing and brushing, trimming just perfectly, styling it, blowing it dry and into its best look ever?”

She nodded, still silent.

“Would you like to feel that way every single day – in the morning before work, in the evening afterward, as you went to bed, and even on weekends?”

She nodded, but her eyes narrowed, so I knew I was making headway.

“You probably just calculated how much that would cost you, and nobody can afford that, right?” I smiled, knowing she’d nod and maybe even crack a smile. “I’m offering to do it for free.”

***

I paused. He was offering – what? Was this a proposition? Was this some sort of bet, a dare from a friend, a performance-art act? His eyes suggested total earnestness and honesty, though, so I waited. And while I waited, I thought about how much I do love going to the salon, how much I do love how I look when I leave – but he was right, I absolutely went for the experience, the pampering, the nobody-can-bother-me-here feeling, the relaxation. I paid dearly for it, certainly, but the feeling couldn’t be beat. Was he serious?

What he said next sealed the deal: “Tomorrow afternoon, meet me here – just tell me what time. We’ll go back into the salon – the one you just left – I’ll give you a shampoo, condition, blowout, and style. If you enjoy the experience, agree to have another drink with me here and talk some more. If you don’t, I’ll pay your bus fare both ways. Heck, here’s the money for the bus fare right now.” And he tossed a $5 onto the table – enough to cover a round trip to anywhere in the city.

I looked at it, and looked at him, and took another sip of beer. I ran my fingers through my hair a bit, and watched his eyes widen with interest. I felt my soft fuzzy nape and got a warm feeling inside. “Sure, why not. Meet me here at 2.”

***

I couldn’t believe it. She’d accepted. My heart was thumping inside my chest. The next 19 hours would be almost too much to bear. And then, would she show?

***

I showed. And he was amazing. His nimble fingers massaging my scalp, restoring circulation where I hadn’t known it was missing, caressing my nape and not neglecting it despite its near-hairlessness. The water was the perfect temperature, the timing was perfect – I was so relaxed I almost fell asleep once, but he brought me back with the perfect touch to my forehead, lathering my bangs separately from the rest of my hair. And then the brushing, blowout, and styling – it was, if possible, even better feeling, and looking, than it had been yesterday, when freshly cut.

He clearly knew the folks in the salon too – not well, but they were friendly to him and treated me the same professional, cordial way they treated all their customers.

I’d agreed to have a drink with him afterward, and I intended to keep that promise. But even if I hadn’t promised before, I had to know more about him. Who was he? How did he learn this stuff? What made him stop me? What did this offer he made mean?

***

Over the drink, and the other drinks, and the snacks, and, ultimately, the dinner we shared that afternoon and evening, I explained everything. I answered all her questions, and asked a few of my own. It seemed honesty was something we both treasured and lived.

We didn’t talk much about the offer from the previous day – just our backgrounds, my hair interest, her different styles – I got her to show me her Facebook page and we looked through the different styles she’d had – her current one by far the shortest ever. We laughed at her attempts to grow out her bangs, which ultimately succeeded just in time for her to get the, cut short again to complement the bob she was wearing now. She told me how other people’s fingers felt on her scalp, and what happened inside her when they ran up and down her nape. And she told me how much more powerful that feeling was since her nape was clipped short yesterday.

And then it came around to the offer. She wanted to know more, so I laid it out for her, very clearly, very specifically, just like this:

If she agreed, I would take the most devoted and doting care of her hair that had ever happened – daily shampoos and conditioning, with no work by her. Just sit back and relax. Daily styling sessions so she looked a knockout first thing in the morning and again going out in the evening. Weekends would be highlighted by deep treatments and pampering beyond her wildest imaginations.

This would go on indefinitely – as long as she wanted. There were only three catches – two very small, and the other somewhat larger, but which would only come into play if she wanted our arrangement to stop.

The first catch, the smallest one, would be that I would choose her style – the length of her hair, the way it was done each day, and so on. I would not change her hair color under any circumstances, and I would agree never to shave her head or give her a crew cut. In fact, I would seek her permission to take her hair any shorter than it was on the day we settled the agreement. I told her – truthfully – that it was my intention to have her grow her hair longer and longer and longer over time. I would trim it regularly to keep it healthy, but never more than was necessary to bring out its best. But when I declared she was ready to go out, whatever style her hair was in, she would wear without complaint.

The second catch was that I would cover every mirror in her home, and forbid her from ever touching her hair in any way – whether I was around or not. She might go days – weeks, even months – without seeing her hair but in a passing window reflection or a mirrored elevator. And she would never touch her hair, no matter what might befall it.

The third catch, the most serious one, she could avoid by continuing our arrangement forever. But if she ever wanted to end our arrangement – which was, at the outset at least, strictly platonic, though admittedly quite mutually intimate – there was a ritual she needed to conduct. I told her I was going to tell her just once what that ritual was, in precise detail, and that if she agreed to enter our arrangement, she would need to remember it exactly. If she failed, I could do anything I wished with her hair – anything at all.

But if she remembered, the ritual was this: Because I was caring for her hair, and choosing its style, and doing so much work, I considered it to be as much my hair as hers. On her, of course, but also my hair. She nodded, and told me that made sense to her.

If she wished to terminate our arrangement, I would not object or complain. But I would require compensation for all my work. The compensation would be in the form of cutting her hair into a style of my choosing. She would not know in advance what style I might choose, but I promised to not shave her head clean.

It would have to be the early morning that she conducted this ritual, and the first step was for her to call us both out sick from work that day. The second was for her to strip and shower twice, in full – shampoo, conditioner, and all – first with cold water to ensure she was in her right mind, and then with hot water to ensure everything was perfectly clean.

She was to pay special attention to her hair, shampooing it and conditioning it more than usual. And then she was to step out of the shower, towel off, and – still naked – brush her hair until it was dry from root to tip, however long that took and however long her hair was. Then she was to await my arrival in the entry of her home, hair brushed gleaming, its length out straight behind her, as far as it would reach. She was to be kneeling with her head bowed – still naked – and her arms upstretched, holding a shining pair of scissors, the scissors I would use to trim her hair as often as needed.

When I arrived, I would acknowledge her signal by touching her lightly on the top of her head. At that point, she would have to utter the fateful words.

***

My tongue caught in my mouth, my throat was dry, but when he touched my whorl, I was able to say it clearly enough, the memory of him reciting it to me that day as sharp as any memory from any time in my life: “Sir, you have been most kind to me, and to my most prized and precious mane. I kneel before you today to offer my hair to you. Please, sir, do as you wish with these scissors and my hair. I am kneeling before you, begging you to please remove as much of my hair as you wish.”

His response came but slowly. “You have remembered the words so far. But there is a further sentence you must utter.”

I took a deep breath. “Sir, I surrender my hair to you.”

***

She had remembered, even all these years later. I reached down and lifted the scissors from her outstretched hands. They felt different somehow, heavier, more solid, than when I normally used them to lightly trim the ends of her hair, which by now reached to her knees, with strong strands and no split ends.

I put my fingers under her chin and lifted her face up to me. It was streaked with tears, but her eyes were clear. I signaled her to rise and precede me down the hall. At the end, she stopped, awaiting my instruction on which way to turn. Before she looked back at me, she paused, realizing that behind this painting was something she had not seen in 10 years: a mirror.

I stepped beside her and lifted the painting off the wall, allowing her to see her naked self and her gorgeous shining hair for real for the first time in a decade. I noticed as she eyed her skin carefully, seeking evidence of aging – or reassurance that its effects had not yet become visible. Her eyes widened as she saw the luster of her mane. I stood beside her and lifted a comb from a nearby side table. I combed through her forelock and held it out to the side, so she could see the mirror clearly, and appreciate the quality of the hair we had grown together.

I held the scissors out to her, and looked her in the eye in the mirror. “You must make the first cut.” I watched tears fill her eyes once more, and she began to shake her head, but stilled herself. She raised her quivering hand and took the scissors and raised them to her hair out where my hand was holding it. I held her eyes in the mirror and shook my head. She moved the scissors closer to her face. I shook my head again. Closer still, she moved the scissors, eyes streaming with tears now as she contemplated the truly unthinkable.

I stopped her when the scissors were an inch from her forehead. “There. Cut now.” She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “No. You will watch.” She opened them again, and slowly closed the blades of the scissors.

The sound it made was deafening in that quiet hall – sharp metal slicing through strong hair.

To be continued…

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