Elise had been given an address and an appointment time, but no further details. She didn’t know what a ‘company regulated haircut’ looked like, but she had an awful feeling in the pit of her stomach that it would be short enough to reveal her ears. With her lengthy tresses currently stretching to her waist the barbershop in front of her was the last place she wanted to come, but her new boss had insisted that if she wanted to work for them she had to abide by their dress code, which included hairstyles. Of course she had offered her own solution, namely a near-infinite variety of ways to tie her hair up in what she felt was a very professional-looking manner. Her proposals hadn’t been dismissed so much as ignored, and thus she had ended up booked in to get her hair cut.
Given how much she loved her long locks she considered not going at all and dealing with the consequences later, but that would surely mean the end of her career before it had even started. Rejecting the job offer had also crossed her mind, but another month or more of job seeking would be soul-destroying, especially since this particular role sounded like everything she had dreamed of, haircut notwithstanding.
Reluctantly she made her way inside. The door dinged as she pushed it open, but there was no one to disturb; there was only one chair, currently empty, and the counter at the far side of the room was abandoned. The room was small, with only a few plastic chairs to serve as the waiting area and next to nothing else besides the counter and the big leather barber’s chair. After a few seconds of standing awkwardly, a middle-aged woman sporting a short crop made her way into the room through the open doorway at the back of the room. Her nametag read Linda.
“Elise?” she asked.
The barberette looked her up and down. “My, my. I was told I had my work cut out, but I wasn’t expecting… this.” She walked to the empty chair and patted the top of its shoulders. “Come, sit.”
She deliberated for a second before doing as she was told. Her lengthy mane was bundled over the back of the chair and a sleek white cape was swirled around her and tied tight around her neck. Barely after the cape had settled a comb was being run through her hair, a pair of scissors in the hairdresser’s other hand.
“Are you going to cut a lot?” Elise squeaked out, though she already knew the answer.
“Yes, you’re going nice and short today. Something suitably professional for a young lady like yourself.” She tilted Elise’s head towards her lap, then went back to combing her hair again. “Head down.”
Her haircut proceeded without delay. The comb scooped up a thick section at the back of her head, then the scissors swiftly snicked away more than half a metre of brown silk. It crashed loudly to the floor, then the next combful was lined up and similarly hacked off untidily. Every fast snip of the sharp blades made Elise wince, but the barberette continued wordlessly, shearing away the bulk so quickly that the blades practically sparked as they clicked together. Linda was rough, tugging through her hair and constantly pushing her head in different directions as she searched for more unharmed strands to execute. It was unpleasant enough when she was cropping the locks at the back of her head, but it became ten times worse when it came to the sides and the top due to the debris being left in her line of sight. It piled up rapidly, soon leaving a mountain in her lap that only grew with each new snip. She didn’t dare raise her head to look in the mirror for fear of how she would react, but that only made her more and more anxious as her head became lighter and lighter with every passing second.
Snip, snip, snip. Crash. Snip, snip. Crash. Snip, snip, snip. Crash. Snip, snip, snip, snip. Crash.
Within a few minutes the vast majority of her crown had been robbed from her, and she was finally sat up by the barberette to get a good look at her reflection. Elise had to bite her tongue to avoid yelping at the image in front of her, her once pristine mane now crudely cut down to a shaggy crop. The evidence of the crime was strewn across her body and the chair, as well as out of sight on the floor. Before she could mourn, Linda shook out the cape to send the sheared hair down to Elise’s feet. She watched it slide away, then her eyes met the hairdresser’s in the mirror.
Linda exhaled and leaned one hand on the back of the chair. “Well, that’s the best part over with. Chopping off that much hair like that, scissor over comb, watching it pile up all over the cape and the floor…” She sighed again and shook her head. “Easily the best job in the world. I mostly do women, but girls with hair like yours never want it cut.” She flashed her a grin. “Oh, how I wish there were more companies that made short haircuts compulsory.”
Elise said nothing, which Linda took as her cue to continue, and she ran the comb through the uneven mess that had been left. Rather than the usual graceful flow that she found so gratifying, her hair now flopped after it left the comb’s teeth and nothing more.
Her displeasure must have shown, because Linda once more jabbed at her. “Don’t worry, there’s plenty more cutting to do yet. I’ll get you looking prim and proper in no time.”
With her head pointed back at her lap, the comb ran from her neck up to her crown. The first couple of passages it was unaccompanied, but by the third the scissors started to click over the top of the plastic. They chopped through her hair so easily it was as though it was liquid, and the debris rained down to pitter-patter against the cape. This part of the process seemed to take much longer than the brutal shearing that had started the experience, as Linda trimmed the hair at the back of Elise’s head shorter and shorter, the continuous open and close of the blades as a backing track.
Snip, snip, snip, snip, snip. Snip, snip, snip, snip, snip. Snip, snip, snip, snip, snip.
It was seven minutes until the back and sides had been cropped suitably short, by which point the cape was more brown than white. Linda dusted her off again, then moved onto trimming what length was left at the top of Elise’s head. Thankfully she was merciful enough to leave it a little longer than the rest, though it was still a shock to see her hair so short when the hairdresser eventually called it quits.
She examined her model for a while, occasionally brushing through the pixie cut she had shaped. Her expression was not entirely satisfied, and eventually she ran one hand up the back of Elise’s new, short hairdo and caught her eye in the mirror. “You know what, I’d better go shorter. Don’t want your boss thinking I was too soft on you.”
Shorter than this? she thought. How much shorter can it get?
Her silent question was immediately answered with a click that activated a continuous hum. Once more her head was pushed down, then the set of clippers scraped up the back of her head with a loud buzz. The motion repeated over and over, leaving more and more short chocolate clippings on the white cape as the clippers wandered around her head. Just as she sat up when they had been clicked off for a few seconds they came back to life, now with an even shorter guard, and she was forced to endure the same unpleasant sensation of being shorn like a sheep.
Finally it stopped, for good this time, and her head was tilted back to examine herself in the mirror again. Christ, that’s short, she thought. Any closer cut than that and she would have been scalped entirely.
“Shorter on top too?” Linda asked.
The question couldn’t have been meant for Elise as she returned to cutting before she could say otherwise. She scooped up the hair at the top of her head with the comb and brought it between her fingers, then snicked them together as close to the roots as her fingers would allow. By this point Elise knew she could do nothing anyway; another few inches shorter would barely make any difference given how much had been taken from her already.
Snip, snip. Snip, snip. Snip. Snip, snip. Snip, snip.
As she had become accustomed to, the pile of cuttings grew in size as her feminine pixie cut became a masculine short back and sides. It was not a change that she was particularly happy about, but she didn’t protest as the hair continued to fall. What good would it have done anyway? Linda was firmly set on cutting her hair as short as possible without giving her a buzzcut.
Snip, snip. Snip. Pause. Snip. Snip, snip. Snip. Longer pause. Snip. Snip.
Finally, the scissors and comb were put back where they had started. “And we’re done.” Linda shook the cuttings away once more, then undid the cape and finally let Elise go free. “Ta-da! One very smart young lady.”
Elise brought her fingers to her short back and sides. The prickly feel of the clippered sections made her flinch, and the marginally longer top was no consolation. For now she sucked the tears back into their ducts, but the lump in her throat was enough to stop her speaking. No doubt when she got home the first thing she would do would be to tear down the dam and cry for hours.
“You’ll get used to it,” Linda said as she started to sweep up the mess she had made. “Once you do, you’ll never go back to long hair.”
Elise offered a nod, which was about all she could do without blubbing. As the bell on the door dinged again she finally got to her feet and made her way to the counter.
Linda continued to sweep up rather than meet her there, and she shook her head. “Your haircut was pre-paid.” Again she grinned. “Even if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have charged you. That was my pleasure.”
With that, Elise made her way back out of the small barbershop into cold air outside. Two nervous girls of similar age to her were sat in the plastic chairs as she headed out, both with hair past their shoulders. Having witnessed Elise’s final hairstyle and the sea of cropped hair on the floor, they must have been second-guessing their decision to be there.
Elise had a feeling Linda would enjoy her afternoon’s work.