The Keeper

Story Categories:

Story Tags:

Views: 2,976 | Likes: +31

I woke up around second starrise as the filtered light from the nearer brighter star streamed in through our bedroom port.  I was spooning Lesli who could sleep with practically any amount of light on her face.  I was too nervous about the day to feel like falling back to sleep right away, so I didn’t bother to turn over to escape the brightness like I usually would.  I just lay enjoying the feel of her warm body pressed up against mine.

The light streaming in made Lesli’s bobbed red hair sparkle on the pillow next to my own long brown hair that fanned out before me.  Mine sparkled most where I had gotten golden highlights and caramel midtones put into the dark brown bundle.

I lay for ages admiring the curve of Lesli’s neck, and how our hair mingled on the pillow.  I concentrated on memorizing what this moment looked like, knowing that on the next second starrise when the light would beam in, things would look different. I should have told Lesli about what was going to happen later days ago when I found out about it, but I hadn’t.

Lesli’s bob was the shortish style that was common amongst those who had to work in vacuum regularly. Just short enough to clear the seal of the helmet without putting it up, but no shorter. I reached over and gently stroked it, feeling the soft ends against my fingers.

Longer was the more common style, for both men and women, who didn’t need to go into vacuum more than occasionally. Long hair had become the default style of the mining colony as a point of pride when the water reclamation system got good enough that gray water from showers could be cleaned fast enough for everybody to wash and condition their hair every third day or so.  And then it just became the culture after a few generations as the colony grew.  I had only rarely seen anyone with hair shorter than Lesli’s since I had gotten off the ship from earth.

It was kinda seen as pretentious to have hair as short as Lesli’s if you didn’t have to go into vacuum at least twice a week.  Lesli pretty much always worked in vacuum, and even went hiking some weekends out in the vacuum, so she had a reason for the relatively short hair that hung just a little below her chin.

The long hair culture worked for me.  I had always prefered my hair long.  When I booked passage on a ship coming here, I had declined the highly recommended haircut, short enough to keep it from slapping me in my face during zero G to high G maneuvers. I just kept it in the required alternative tight bun for the long journey.  It had been mildly painful when the twisted ball of hair pressed into the back of my head as the force pushed it against the headrest, but not enough that I regretted not cutting it. When I arrived on this rock and wasn’t immediately marked as an off-worlder by my hair I was doubly glad I had said no to the repeated recommendation.

The brightness illuminating us didn’t last terribly long, the starlight shifted and the beam that had been falling on my face and made our hair sparkle, moved to illuminate a spot on the blanket behind my shoulders.  Lesli’s cat, who had been curled up in a ball by my knees, got up stretched and repositioned himself in the spot of starlight. He began to purr softly as his sleek black fur heated up. I wished none of us ever had to get up from this bed, that we could always just lay cuddled together forever, and I wouldn’t have to do what I had to in about 6 hours.

 

——————-

Beep, beep, beep…

I must have drifted back to sleep, at some point. I felt Lesli’s body shift next to me as she reached for the alarm and shut it off.  After shutting it off, She turned to face me, and started stroking my hair into place.

“Good morning, Cath.” She said to me in a gently encouraging tone. “You’re off work today, right? We’re both off, want to share a couple of water credits and take an extra long shower together?”

“We have time to get a little dirtier before we waste all that water.” I said grabbing her around her waist and rolling with her, so I was on top looking down at her.

Up on my hands and knees, I stared down at my lightly freckled lover with sparkling blue eyes. Her hair formed a halo around her head, mine hung down like a curtain around our faces. I bent down to kiss her firmly on her lips. Lesli was perfectly eager for a little morning exercise too, and soon my head was between Lesli’s thighs. I had hoped the activity would take my mind off things, but as we made love, Lesli buried her fingers in and clutched my long hair.

I knew Lesli loved all of me, not just my hair. I knew it shouldn’t matter, I knew Lesli would be reasonable. I knew. Knowing couldn’t make all the lingering fear that Lesli’s feeling for me would change, would go away.

 

—————

After our long shower, I stood in front of the mirror leaning against the sink. I just stared at my long freshly combed out still wet hair. The back of my shirt was drenched. Slicked straight back as it was, the hair clung to my head and then down my back mostly hidden from view. I wonder if this was kinda like how I was going to look.

“What’s wrong?” Lesli stood in the doorway waiting for me to respond. When I didn’t she added, “You’ve been doing that for days. Staring at the mirror looking like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Whenever you’re here, you look like you need to say something, but then don’t. Today, it’s even more so. I could tell your mind was wondering the whole time we were making love.  And I don’t believe that the tears earlier were from getting shampoo in your eyes. Please tell me what’s wrong?”

I took a deep breath. “I have an appointment at the salon, in a little bit.”

“So? You didn’t want to tell me because you thought I would be upset you couldn’t spend the whole day with me?” Lesli asked looking confused. “I’m not that clingy, that I can’t find something to do for a couple of hours while you get your roots touched up.”

“I’m not…” I swallowed and gathered my thoughts, and finished the statement quickly. “I’m not getting my roots done. I have to have the highlights removed. I’m sorry.”

I didn’t wait to let Lesli respond, I just walked past Lesli out to the kitchen, and sat down at the table. Lesli followed and calmly made up 2 cups of coffee as her cat wound himself around her legs. She placed one cup in front of me, and sat down across from me sipping the other.

“Why don’t you start at the beginning,” She suggested and waited patiently.

“You know we’re setting up a new exhibit over in the zoo complex, and I am going to get to work in it?” I paused so Lesli could nod, then continued. “It’s a huge deal.  These are the first specimens to come here from anywhere other than Earth. Don’t get me wrong, I love working with the terrestrial species, but this is really exciting. I left Earth because of the chance of a colony allowing extraterrestrial specimens. So I couldn’t say no.”

“Why should you say no?”

“I can’t have colored hair and work with them.” I explain as I stir my coffee slowly. “The way the melanin molecules are changed in the bleaching process makes them smell like a pheromone that makes several of the fauna go completely berserk.  So I have to get rid of the highlights.”

“That’s not so bad.” Lesli said like she was amused by my perceived overreaction. “The highlights are cute, but you’ll look nice with dark hair. I like playing with your hair because it’s long and soft and silky, not because it has blond streaks. It’s not like you have to cut it or something.”

“Actually, I do have to cut it.” I said slowly clarifying things. “Dying over the already bleached hair doesn’t unchange the molecule. It still smells like the pheromone even covered up. I have to get all of the highlighted hair cut off.”

“Oh” Lesli said, lowering her cup slowly. “I’m sorry I stuck my foot in my mouth. I didn’t mean that having to cut it would be terrible. I mean hey, I get haircuts all the time, it’s not that bad, right?”

I sighed and looked at her, I knew that she had meant it exactly the way it sounded and was back peddling now. I think she also had begun to realize it wasn’t going to be like her cute coppery bob.

“How short?” She finally asked, giving up trying to unsay It’s not like you have to cut it.

“I don’t know.” I said with a shrug, even though I had a sinking feeling I did know since I knew how not very long my uncolored roots were. “Probably shorter than yours.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody has hair shorter than mine.”

“People from ship crews always do.”

“Ok, nobody who isn’t from off-world gets haircuts shorter than mine. You live here now.”

“I might have to get at least some of it cut very short though, you need to be prepared for that.”

Lesli sat for several minutes like she was processing.  I think the whole concept of people getting their hair cut very short just felt weirder to her than it did to me, since she’d lived on this rock with it’s long hair culture her whole life.  She’d once confided to me that when she was a little kid she had seen a group of off-worlders with really short haircuts for the first time, it had totally freaked her out to the point of crying.

“And you’re getting it done today?” She finally asked.

“Yeah, 11:00 over at Glam Zone in Dome 7. I’m going to see what Jack can do.”

“Do you want me to come?”

“You don’t have to.”

“I can if you want me to.”

I just shrugged, not totally sure how I felt. I wanted the support, but I was scared she wasn’t going to like what she saw. Of course, I was also scared about what she’d think when I came back after. Would she think I looked like a plucked chicken?

“I’ll come.” Lesli said flatly, ending the discussion.

 

———————

An hour and a half later, I stood in the middle of Dome 7’s shopping promenade frozen with nerves outside my regular salon. The “Glam Zone” sign above the door lit by soft lavender LEDs. It looked the way it always did. The heavy lavender doors, held open by magnets.  

When I had first arrived here from earth about 5 years earlier, the heavy doors everywhere had been intimidating. They looked ready to crush one at any given moment. I had found them scary even before the mandatory presentation for new arrivals about how they would swing closed swiftly with force in the case of a dome suddenly breaching and losing atmosphere and warnings about being clear of them and on the right side if you hear the warning klaxon. The presentation just made them scarier, and added the fear of them closing while I was outside of them.

The fear hadn’t lasted though. I had gotten over the feeling swiftly, and for a few years now walked in and out of them without thinking twice. Constant exposure, and everyone else just acting relaxed around them made me let go of the dread. By the time I became a customer at the salon, about a month after I arrived, the colorful open doors actually seemed inviting.

As I stood in front of them this day, not moving, a whole new dread had grown.  Where once the heavy doors looked ready to trap me outside, now these looked ready to trap me within. I felt Lesli’s petite hand slip around mine, and give me a reassuring squeeze. She stood there with me, looking at the gaping doors. I appreciated the support, I expected that she was about to say something encouraging about how it was going to be fine and the opportunity was worth the minor sacrifice.

“You sure about this?” Lesli asked tentatively. “Is it really necessary?”

So much for the idea that Lesli was going to be supportive of my facing this bravely.  Unfortunately Lesli’s addition to my reluctance changed nothing.  I squeezed her hand back and started walking towards the doors. Inside the doors, I walked up to the reception desk.

“Hi, I have an 11:00 appoinment with Jack, for Cath.”

“Go right on back, he’s expecting you.”

“Do you want to wait up here? Or…” I said, while trying to overcome my reluctance to let go of Lesli’s hand.

“She can go back with you if you want. Tricia, whose station is next to Jack’s, is off today, so she can sit there.” The receptionist volunteered.

“OK?” I asked. Lesli simply smiled reassuringly and we walked back together. 

It was a nice place; brightly lit; mostly decorated in neutral black and white, glass, crystal, and mirror, but with pops or lavendar here and there. I finally released Lesli’s hand when I saw Jack was ready to give me his usual greeting hug. Jack wore all black, except for a lavender ascot. His snowy white hair hung to about 2 inches below his shoulders in a simple blunt cut.

“Hi Jack,” I said without any of the enthusiasm that usually came with the greeting, as Jack gave me a quick hug. “This is my girlfriend Lesli.”

“It’s nice to meet you Lesli, but I hope you’re not here because you don’t trust me with the lovely Cath.” Jack teased. Then turned to me and switched to a more down to business tone. “Cath, darling, you didn’t put in any water credits when you made the appointment, I need 2 to rinse after your roots processes.”

“I actually need you to get rid of the highlights completely not touch up the roots.” I blurted out, as I settle myself into the familiar spinning chair. trying to not think about how he was going to do it.

“I can take you back to your natural color if you want,” Jack said, sounding a little confused, “but I’m still going to have to rinse it.”

A tear started to form in the corner of my eye, I tried to ignore it.  I took a deep breath, and opened my mouth to explain. I guess I was taking too long to actually say anything, because Lesli cleared her throat next to me.

“She thinks she needs the highlights cut out of her hair.” Lesli said. “Something about molecules smelling weird to the new alien critters that are coming to the zoo. I forget exactly the explanation, I’m a mining engineer not a biologist, but her hair can’t smell like it’s ever been dyed. Or something like that. Can you please think of something so you don’t have to cut it, or if she’s right and you do have to cut it try to keep it as long as possible. She has such nice hair.” 

Jack looked confused.

“The altered melanin from bleaching is molecularly similar to certain pheromones.” I sadly confirm. “Unless you know something about organic chemistry that I don’t, you can’t unbleach the molecules and turn them back into normal melanin molecules. So I need the highlighted parts cut off.” 

“So, I have to cut off any hair that’s been colored?” Jack asked looking back and forth between Lesli and me, with an expression that suggested he was having a hard time accepting what he heard.

“Yeah.” I said crisply.

“Wow,” Jack said looking kinda shocked. Then he started running his fingers through my locks. “This is not what I was expecting to be doing today.  Are you sure about this Cath? We could wait and let it grow out a little longer? Your roots aren’t very long.”

“I’ve put it off as long as I could. The new animals from Kepler-186f start arriving in 2 days.” I said as the tear that I had been trying to keep in the corner of my eye escaped down my cheek. “Just do the best you can to preserve some of the length, I won’t blame you if you can’t.”

“Ok. It’ll be ok.” Jack said firmly, and gave my shoulder a squeeze. I wasn’t sure if the reassurance was meant for me or him. “I’ll cut out the bleached hair then see what we have left to work with.”

Jack, twisted my long hair up into a messy bun and clipped it in place. He took a crepe paper cape off the pile on the counter, and unfolded it. He shook out the wrinkles for longer than usual, before swinging it over me. As he fastened it around my neck, I noticed that the customer in the next chair over, who was having her own long layered black hair trimmed, was watching with a slightly horrified expression.  The stylist working on her at what seemed a slower than normal pace, kept glancing over with her own look of morbid curiosity. Between them to the one side, and Lesli staring intensely from the other side, I felt very very on display as I was about to be stripped of god only knew how much of my long hair.

Jack undid the clip that held my hair up, so the long locks tumbled down around me.  the ends dangled down to my lap.  

Jack spent what seemed like forever combing and examining. Eventually parting it in the middle. Finally, he let out a deep sigh and picked up a pair of scissors. He stood behind me for a couple of more moments, looking me in the eye through the mirror. It was like he was trying to think of what he should say, but just couldn’t come up with the right thing. Eventually he gave up and looked down to simply focus on my hair.

Usually the salon was a noisy place. Jack and I would chat about whatever. Other stylists and clients would be chatting with each other. Sometimes, we would even have salon wide group discussions. Today, not a sole had uttered a single word since Jack had draped the cape on me. The only sounds were the footsteps as Jack walked around; the occasional snip from the other stylist; and the loudest sound, the pounding of my own heart.

Jack hooked a particularly blond lock of hair with his finger and lifted it up.  He pulled a few browner strands out from it.  He spent ages looking at the root while holding it straight up. He finally decided where he thought the highlight ended and started to snip at it with the tip of his scissors.  

Click, click, click, click, click…

It was different from the way he usually trimmed my split ends. He wasn’t slicing it straight across, he seemed to be trying to leave the ends soft, I hoped he was going to be able to blend it in with the longer brown hair. He also wasn’t going as short as I thought he would have to. I was relieved, but I suspected he was leaving some of the highlight behind still on my head.

The long blond lock dangled from his hand.  He dropped it to the floor next to the chair. I leaned over and looked down at it. The long pale lock formed a squiggle on the polished grey floor like a snake. I had the most ridiculous thought about it being just about the same length as the garter snakes I used to catch when I was a kid back on Earth.

Next to my long lock, lay the short little snippets of black hair from the other customer. She must have lost less than an inch.

Shh, shh. Jack made the soothing sound as his hands on my shoulders guided me back up to a sitting position facing the mirror. He stroked my shoulders a couple of times, then started ruffling the short lock slightly

“Look see, it doesn’t even really show,” he said as he smoothed the short tuft into the longer darker hair. 

All I could think was *YET, it doesn’t show YET.*  That had only been the first small lock of many.  Looking at the mirror, I could see how much more there was to go.  There were a bunch more locks that were just as bright, some in very obvious places right by my face. Plus there were the locks that were only lightened to a midtone color, I wasn’t sure if they had been done with peroxide too. Jack had an awful lot more cutting to do.

It was also really difficult to tell where the highlights ended and the roots began. Jack always blended the color up, so there was no distinct line.  The ends of my hair were obviously lighter than the top, but there was no distinct line anywhere, it was a seamless gradation.  Up until I needed the highlights gone, the way they blended in and all the gradual midtones had been a good thing, now it just seemed confusing.  How were we going to make sure he got it all?

Jack was separating out another thin blond lock, the same way he had before. He held it straight up above my head.

Click, click, click, click, click…

And again, he was dropping it to the floor. I watch it sail down fluttering like a feather.  He snipped off 3 more locks from the crown of my head leaving the blond locks near my face alone, and reparted my hair about an inch to the left.  He started working faster. I watched as 5 more very blond locks dropped down to the floor next to me.  

He kept reparting my hair an inch further to the left each time, and snipping off 5 or 6 very blond locks each time.  He never worked all the way to the front though, So I wasn’t really sure how much it showed.  I wasn’t sure what he was planning to do about the midtones either.

I could just sort of see the growing pile of blond hair off to my side. I glanced to my other side where Lesli was, she was biting her lip nervously. I knew she couldn’t see much since Jack was working on the side that faced away from her. I looked back over to the other stylist, and her client. The client faced straight ahead, pretending to look at herself in the mirror, but her eyes were focused on me. When she caught my eye, she looked away, embarrassed. The stylist wasn’t being as bashful about stealing glances over to what Jack was doing, and gave me a tight lipped smile.

Finally after cutting off several locks around my left ear, Jack went back and parted my hair down the center again. I turned my head to the side, trying to see the damage so far in the mirror. It looked darker and thinner, and there were a few short tufts that stuck out slightly. Jack turned my head gently, so I was facing forward again.

He started working on the right side, where Lesli could see. I watched Lesli’s face as I felt Jack hook a lock, hold it straight up, and start to make little snips. Lesli’s hands went to her mouth as she saw how short he was cutting off the locks. I watched as her eyes followed the lock to the floor. Then she just stared down at it. She looked kinda pale, ok she always looked pale, but she looked even paler than normal.  

When the next lock dropped, Lesli looked back up at the top of my head. Her forehead wrinkled, when she watched Jack start snipping again.

“Do you think you can blend it in?” Lesli finally asked. “It’s kinda obvious.”

“I don’t know. I was thinking I could just do short bangs in the front.” Jack admitted when he dropped the lock he was holding. “I’m not even getting it all so far, just the easiest to find blondest bits. Cath, do I have to get everything? You said highlights, but what about the midtones?”

“It depends. If you used peroxide on the midtones, they have to go.” I state plainly. “If any of the melanin oxidized it has to be cut out.”

Jack stood there frowning, slowly rustling my hair back and forth examining it.  He pulled a little this way and that, lifting bits up and looking.  Contemplating.

“What happens if just a little bit gets left behind?” Jack finally asked.

“You need to get it all, Jack. I don’t think anyone knows the exact amount that triggers a response, and how strongly an animal will react to something is unpredictable. Sometimes they go really berserk though, they’ve attacked each other and humans researchers a few times. I really don’t want to take any chances.” I said.

Jack frowned some more and kept examining my hair.

“Jack, you’re just dragging out the inevitable.” The other stylist interrupted. “The only safe thing to do is buzz it.”

Jack took in a deep breath, and let it out. “It’s your call Cath.”

“When you say buzz it you mean?”

“One very very short length with clippers.”

“Do you even have clippers?”

“Yeah. Crews members from docked ships will stop in for haircuts more often than you’d expect.” Jack explained. “I have experience cutting really short hair, maybe not as much as stylists in places that ships dock more frequently, but I can do it. So, you want me to buzz it?”

“Just do it.” I say, as another tear runs down my cheek, I’d had a feeling this was going to be how it was going to end up all along. “Go ahead and get it over with.”

Jack nodded. Lesli looked like it took every ounce of self control she could muster to not intervene and try to stop what was about to happen. The other customer just continued to look a little horrified but morbidly curious.

Jack seemed to want to get rid of the bulk with his scissors since he was holding them anyway, and lifted a large chunk of hair above and in front of my left ear up and started slicing it off.

Shhl, shhl, shhl, snap.

Jack dropped the bundle of long tresses to the floor. It was a big enough chunk, it made a very faint thud as it landed. The shortened ends fell at the side of my face in choppy layers. He grabbed a similar bundle of hair from behind my ear and started hacking through it.

Crunch, shhl, shhl, shhl, click. Soft thud.

The severed ends brushed my neck, not even reaching my shoulders. Jack swiftly picked up another bundle at the back. The slight pressure made me tilt my head down slightly as I felt the cold metal brush briefly against my neck.

Crunch, crunch, shhl, click. Soft thud.

Jack picked up another bunch behind my right ear. I heard Lesli make a sound that was a cross between a gasp and a whimper as Jack dropped another handful of smooth tresses to the floor to become part of the tangled mess of blond locks already littering it.  

Jack picked up the last section of long hair that draped over my shoulder. The last bit that still looked perfect, with perfectly placed blond that framed my face. He audibly sighed as he raised the scissors to it and began to chop off the remnant of what had been one of his masterpieces. 

Crunch, shhl, shhl, shhl, click. Soft thud.

Deep sigh.

I turned my head back and forth looking at the ragged mop. The shorter length actually emphasized the darker color and thinner ends of the hair on the left side of my head. It looked awful. Maybe that had been part of Jack’s plan, make it such a mess that I actually wanted it buzzed down to something neat and even.

Jack walked over to the cabinet under the mirror.  He opened the drawer and pulled out a set of clippers that was almost identical to the ones the vets used.

“Remind me how long it’s been since the last time I colored your hair?” Jack asked while looking down into the drawer.

“6 weeks,” I answered.

“On average, hair grows about ½ inch per month,” Jack said while pulling out a couple of plastic things and holding them out for me to look at. “¾ of an inch should get almost all of it, but hair doesn’t grow completely evenly, at any given time some strands are even completely dormant and not growing at all.  ⅜ of an inch would be safer, should get it all. The difference is just about 3 weeks of growth, but visually it’s a lot more severe looking. It’s the difference between fully covered scalp and slightly visible scalp. What do you think?”

“Let’s play it safe,” I said at the exact same time Lesli said, “preserve as much length as you can.”

I looked over at Lesli. “Please,” she said with tears in her pleading eyes.

I shook my head. “The tiny bit extra isn’t worth the risk. It’s only going to add a few weeks onto what’s frankly going to take years to grow back anyway.”

Lesli looked sadder than me as she shrugged assent even while still shaking her head no. I kind of resented that Lesli was acting like this was more about her than me. I was the one who was about to have my hair cropped into a style that hasn’t been in fashion anywhere since the 21st century. I was the one who would have to walk around looking funny for months. I was the one that was having my hair cut so drastically that it horrified the other customer, who was still sitting next to me watching even though her trim seemed to be done. It was MY hair. 

A tear rolled down my cheek, not because of my hair, but because I was scared this was going to break the relationship between Lesli and me.

“Do the ⅜ Jack,” I said firmly.

He put the larger attachment back in the drawer and closed it with his hip as he pushed the smaller one onto the end of the clippers with a click. He pressed the button and they hummed to life.

Jack came behind me and combed my hair above my right eye back off my forehead. He placed the humming clippers on the empty spot and started guiding them into my hairline slowly. As Jack lifted the comb away from my head, the loose hair stuck in the teeth of the comb went with it. Soon loose hair started sliding down the side of my head, spilling onto my shoulder, then tumbling into my lap.

When Jack finally pulled the clippers all the way back and off my head, the path left behind was brutally short. The tiny dark hairs stood straight up, the 0.87 G of this rock obviously not strong enough to make them lay down against my head. It was super short even by ship crew standards.

I didn’t get to contemplate it for too long before Jack had shook the hairs free from his comb and started mowing a second path next to the first. The blond strands that had framed my face now slid down my face and into my lap. A few short strands clung to my cheek, stuck in my tears.

I sat there as Jack buzzed the hair off my whole damned head. He went around my ear, folding it down. He tilted my head forward and ran the clippers up my neck to the back of my head and over the top. 

Hair kept falling, on my shoulders, on my neck, down my back, in front of my face.  Some piled up in my lap. It felt like there was hair everywhere.

When Jack finally hit the button and the clippers fell silent, I could suddenly hear how hard my heart was pounding as I looked at the mirror. I no longer had my long golden highlights and caramel midtones, the short carpet of hair left was mostly uniformly dark. My pale scalp was just visible where the angle made it so I could look directly down through the hairs. Jack gently pushed the loose hair off my shoulders with his comb.

“I’m just going to trim around the edges a tiny bit and shape it slightly,” Jack said. “It’s going to take off a completely negligible amount of length. Ok?”

I just nodded in a slight daze. I couldn’t see that I had enough hair to shape, but I was too overwhelmed to want to discuss it, so I just went along with Jack.

Jack took the little attachment off the clippers and turned them back on. He gently tilted my head down exposing the back of my neck to him. I felt the vibrating blades of the clipper directly on my skin. Then the blades stroked down my neck. He stroked them along my neck several times before finally turning them off again.

When Jack moved away, I slipped my hand out from under the cape and felt my hair.  It was a soft plush. It reminded me of the rex rabbits we kept in the domestics dome at the zoo complex. I hoped Lesli might forgive the way it looked and not being able to grab it, since it still felt nice.

As Jack put the clippers away in his drawer, I hoped that the ordeal was over, but he returned behind me with his scissors and comb. He started combing up the back of my head and snapping the scissors against the comb. He did this for a bit, then paused and started rustling a spot with his fingers. Then he used both hands to tilt my head back and forth while looking very intently.

“Cath, I hate to say this, but I’m seeing slightly lighter strands here and there still. I’m not even sure whether they are remnants of the highlights, or just variations in your natural color, It’s been years since I saw you with the really grown out color you came in with. I don’t remember if there were lighter strands in the natural part.” Jack said in a deadly serious tone.  “I can try to get them all individually with the points of my scissors, or I can take off another ⅛ inch all over, or I can ignore them and hope.  What do you want me to do?”

The customer in the next chair gasped. I looked over at Lesli, she just stared at the side of my head looking pained. I looked down at the pile of hair in my lap. I couldn’t think.

“I’m not up to making anymore choices Jack, you need to figure this one out for me.” I said flatly, but then thought to add. “I remember my natural color being just dark all over, but maybe… I don’t know, I have been getting it highlighted for a decade.”

Jack didn’t look happy about having to make the call. He ran his fingers over my scalp and sighed. He walked back over to the drawers, put down the scissor and comb and opened the drawer he had stuck the clippers in.

“I will feel guilty as hell if something were to happen to you, one of the other zoo keepers, or even one of the animals. It’s just not worth the risk, is it?”

“No, it’s not worth the risk.” I agreed numbly.

Jack picked up an attachment slightly smaller than the only he had used before and looked at it for a minute, then put it down and picked up an even smaller one. He snapped the even smaller attachment to the end of the clippers and came back behind me. He pressed the button, they once again began humming. He placed them in the same spot on my forehead he had before. This time there was no need to lift any hair up with the comb since it already stood up on it’s own.

The hair that rained down was more like dust than locks. The strands didn’t hold together at all. They spread apart falling like salt out of a shaker.

He moved the clippers across my head faster than he had before, I guess there was nothing for them to get tangled in this time. He pressed them more firmly against my skull too. As much as I didn’t want it to be happening, it actually felt kinda good.  

I closed my eyes, since the sprinkles of hair threatened to fall into them. It was good having my eyes closed, I could almost pretend the humming clippers pressing into my scalp were there to massage me and not steal more of my hair.

When the clippers pulled away, and the humming ended, I slowly opened my eyes.  The carpet of hair was now reduced to barley more than stubble. I had never seen hair this short in person, just in old historic photos and videos. I turned my head side to side, it had gone from my scalp being slightly visible through the hair, to the dark hair looking like a shadow on the scalp.

“Sorry Cath, I took a little more than another ⅛ off.” Jack said as he took a towel and started wiping my neck. “It was the only way I could be really sure I got it all. Give it 2 or 3 weeks and it’ll be back to the 3/8 length.”

 I just nodded as Jack finished wiping me off, then he unfastened the cape.  Everyone was silent for a bit as I sat there, trying to gather the composure to stand.  

I lifted my hand up to my head, and touched it. It was slightly fuzzy but also slightly prickly, like an unpeeled kiwi fruit, but softer. I saw Lesli cringe as I stroked my hand back.

“It’s ok Jack,” I said, giving him a resigned smile. “Do you want to feel it, Lesli?”

Lesli looked repulsed as she responded. “Uhm, I guess when we get home. I need to get used to it a little first.”

Then she stood up quickly, looking like she really wanted to escape this entire experience.

“Don’t worry honey,” the other stylist offered, “you have a really pretty face.”

“Yeah, you have great eyes,” her curious client added.

I gave them a half hearted smile as I stood up. I stood still for a moment, making sure I was steady enough to walk. Jack, who’s just that kind of guy, interpreted it as me waiting for a hug, which I hadn’t realized I wanted till it happened. It was good to know that I wasn’t too repulsive to touch for him at least. After a few moments, he pulled away just a little so he could smile and look into my eyes, while still resting his hands on my arms.

“I know it’s going to be a really long time before you want a trim, but don’t feel like you have to be a stranger,” he said warmly. “Feel free to just stop in and visit. And as it grows out, there are things I can do to give it a little shape without sacrificing much length. Ok? I even have some peroxide free color options once you have a little length.”

“Thanks Jack,” I said, really meaning it. As Jack released me 

“You ready to go, Cath?” Lesli asked, I nodded. “I wish we’d thought to bring you something with a hood.”

“Yeah, it’s kinda chilly,” I responded, as the breeze from the air vents blew over my mostly bare scalp.

“Oh that hadn’t even occurred to me.” 

It took me just a moment to figure out why Lesli would have suggested something with a hood if she didn’t realize I was probably chilly. When I figured it out, I just sighed and wished I could shrink down.

 

———————

Walking along the promenade towards the air lock down to the tunnels, people stared at me frequently. I could even hear some murmured voices and gasps as we passed by.  “Mommy is that an off-worlder?” I tried to distance myself a bit from Lesli, hoping to spare her some of the embarrassment of being seen with me.

I was used to people knowing I was an off-worlder when I spoke to them because of my Earth accent, but this felt different. It wasn’t so much the being spotted from a distance, it felt much less friendly.

When we got to the fork where we had to decide, who was going to the tube that led to my apartment in Dome 8, and who was going to the tube to Dome 12 where Lesli’s apartment was, Lesli turned to me. “Do you want me to take you home, or do you want to come to my place?”

“I guess your place.” I said, glad she hadn’t just said goodbye to me here. If I was right and she was about to break up with me, I could get my stuff and say goodbye to the cat.

“I’ll get us a private cab back to dome 12, so we don’t have to wait for the crowded shuttle. My treat.” Lesli offered.

“Thanks”

In the cab, Lesli sat across from me, looking conflicted. I just looked out the window as the cab zipped along the track. Sometimes when the light dimmed I saw my reflection. I sat scrunched up, feeling vulnerable, feeling ugly.

“Cath, I know this is the wrong time for this, but I have to.” Leslie said carefully.

I had thought Lesli would wait till we got back before breaking up with me at least.  But I guess that’s why she sprung for the private cad.

“I realized how much I loved your hair as I watched it being cut off.” She continued, while playing with the hem of her tunic. “It was just heartbreaking watching that. I loved the way your hair felt running through my fingers when we made love.”

Lesli wiped a tear from her cheek and continued. “I know it’s stupid, for me to be so extremely attached to someone else’s hair, but I can’t help it. And I’m sorry I couldn’t be more supportive of you today, since I know it wasn’t exactly fun for you.”

“It’s ok” I muttered under my breath, and braced myself for the breakup, I wished she would stop dragging out.

“I just realized that I love every single little bit of you so much, that I couldn’t handle losing even the most insignificant part of you, that I know is going to grow back anyway. It made me think about the possibility of losing the rest of you. Which I couldn’t handle.”

Wait, what?  This didn’t quite sound like a breakup.

“Come live with me in my apartment. I’d offer to move to your place, but the cat doesn’t deal with change well. Ok, I don’t deal with change all that well either. Besides, my apartment’s nicer. Marry me, so I never have to think about losing you again.” Lesli looked at me through teary eyes, with a quivering lip.

“I thought you were going to break up with me.” I said as tears of relief streamed down my own face.

“Oh, honey, no. Never.” Lesli sighed out as she moved from the bench that faced me to sit next to me and gathered me into her arms. “Why, why would you think that.”

“I know you find me repulsive with my hair all gone.”

“Oh, Cath. I think you are gorgeous. It was a bit of a shock, but you are still absolutely beautiful. I really don’t handle change well, but that doesn’t mean I find you repulsive.”

“You didn’t want to touch it?”

“That’s just because it seemed too intimate. It’s almost like you are sort of naked. I really did just want privacy.”

“What about my putting my work life above your desire for me to keep some length.”

“I’m really sorry about that. I wasn’t really thinking in the heat of the moment. I would never want you to not do the job you love. In the back of my mind, I just kept thinking there might be other options.” Lesli said in a low voice. “Looking back on it, I’m rather embarrassed I was such an asshole about it. I should have been thinking of safety, it just was hard to think clearly in the moment. You did the absolutely right thing. Can you forgive me for being a jerk in the heat of the moment?”

“Of course I forgive you.”

“Marry me, be mine forever. Will you please.”

I nodded and sunk into Lesli’s arms.  The rest of the way to Dome 12, I rested my head on her lap as she gently stroked my fuzzy scalp.  My tears had changed to tears of joy.

3 responses to “The Keeper

  1. Slightly different than your usual stuff, but it still has every bit the charm that your stories always have. Loved the sci-if world you’ve made for it. Really enjoyed this one! Keep up the great work 🙂

Leave a Reply