“Sit down, please Maria.”
Maria did, nervously. Wendy kept her waiting, sensing her nervousness, and knowing that this would work to her advantage. Finally she looked up, to see Maria perched on the edge of her seat.
“I think the best word to sum up your overall performance since your last appraisal is ‘adequate’. You haven’t made many glaring errors, but there certainly isn’t too much to write home about either. Other aspects of your behaviour though, are less than adequate. Your timekeeping is not good enough, and your general attitude to work leaves a lot to be desired. You seem to be more interested in gossiping and fussing with your hair and makeup than in getting on with your work.
Wendy looked at her, pointedly and continued. “And on that topic, I have to say that I’m extremely disappointed in your appearance today.”
Maria tried to say something, but Wendy cut her off.
“Allow me to explain. I’m still not sure that you appreciate all the reasons for the insistence on such a smart dress code. In my position as office manager, one of the things I do is to conduct customer surveys, on all sorts of matters. Whenever we ask about our employees appearance, we find overwhelming support for maintaining a standard that is smart, traditional, and above all, professional. Like any business, we ignore our customers at our peril. Now the other side of that is the customer complaints. I’m afraid I end up with all of those on my desk too, and I regret to say that rather too many of them concern you.”
Wendy paused, and read from some papers in front of her.
“ ‘I was served today by a young woman, (Maria from her name badge) who really didn’t seem to be appropriately dressed. She was tottering about in stilettos and her skirt was far too short and far too tight. She really didn’t present a professional appearance, and didn’t, I’m afraid to say, reflect well on the bank.’ ”
Wendy flipped over a page as Maria shifted uncomfortably on her chair, wondering whether trying to pull her skirt down would simply draw more attention to it, and wishing, once again, that she’d taken Wendy’s warnings more seriously. Wendy resumed.
“ ‘I feel compelled to write to you to address the appearance of Maria, the member of staff who assisted me yesterday. Her makeup would have been more suitable for a nightclub and her nails were so long that she couldn’t use her keyboard properly. I hope you will speak to her concerning appropriate standards of appearance.’ “
Maria, knowing it was pointless, clasped her hands around each other in an attempt to conceal her long, bright red nails. Another page was flipped.
“ ‘Maria, who dealt with my inquiry today did not, I’m afraid, inspire confidence in me. She was continually distracted by her long, untidy hair, which fell into her face every few seconds, however much she fiddled with it. If she is unable (or unwilling?) to adequately restrain her long hair, then I suggest that a trip to the hairdressers’ for a more sensible (and professional) cut is required.’ “
Maria gulped. She could see where this was heading, but couldn’t see any way out.
“And there are plenty more, in the same vein.” Wendy paused briefly, allowing her point to sink in. “You must appreciate that your appearance affects the way that people treat you, and I’m afraid to say I can understand why some of our customers who, shall we say, have more traditional values, take one look at you and want to put a comb through your hair and take soap and flannel to your face!”
Maria flushed a little as this hit home. Her Aunt Jane said pretty much the same thing to her on a regular basis, and Maria could well remember staying with her as a teenager, and having her carefully-applied makeup scrubbed off, and her untidy hair scraped into tight plaits when her aunt thought she needed to look presentable.
“Now, our relationship with our customers, whilst very important, is not the whole story. There are also our relationships with colleagues. Now I have, on occasion, seen you, Sophie and Sarah working very well together, but I have also seen rather too much gossipping and bickering over petty distractions, usually your hair, nails and makeup. Quite apart from the fact that you are all contractually obliged to comply with the dress code, I am certain that when you do, much of the reason for these distractions will be eliminated, and you will all focus on your work better.
“Finally, I’m sure you’re aware that senior management is looking to cut costs, as always, and I, among others, am required to provide feedback on my team members. I would very much like to keep you all three of you on board, but I must also be honest in my assessments. If I have to report that two of my team have made great efforts to smarten up, buckle down and put work ahead of fashion, whilst one continually flouts the dress code, and is clearly more interested in her hair than her job, well, it makes my position that much harder.”
Wendy raised her eyebrows inquiringly, and waited for Maria’s reaction.
Maria took a deep breath, and tried to compose herself.
“I’m really sorry, Wendy. I don’t know what I was thinking when I got ready this morning.” She shook her head. “I knew that I should have been trying to look smarter, but, oh, I don’t know. I suppose I was just hoping that it would all go away.
“I did think about having my hair cut at the weekend, but I just couldn’t face it. My boyfriend really loves my long hair, and well, I don’t know what he’d do if I had it cut short.”
“Well, Maria, I’m afraid that you are in a position where you may have to choose between your vanity and your career, and your boyfriend should understand that. I might suggest that if he only likes you for your hair, then perhaps he isn’t such a great catch in the first place, hmmmm?”
“Um, yes, I suppose so. So, um, will you be writing a really negative assessment on me? Am I going to lose my job?”
“That depends entirely on you, Maria, and your attitude to your appearance at work. Do you really value your hair over your career?
“Um, no, I suppose not, if you put it like that…”
“In that case, I have a proposal for you. We’ll pretend that this appraisal hasn’t happened, and I will reschedule it for 2:00 pm. You take your lunch break now, and get yourself over to ‘Jean’s’, across the road, for a nice, smart, office-appropriate haircut. And I expect you’ll want to go home and get changed, too.
Maria gulped. She walked past Jean’s Hairdressers every day; it was just across the road from the office, but it was the last place that she would choose to have her hair done. It was an extremely traditional ladies’ hairdresser’s, the window covered with faded net curtains with a few old black and white portraits, and a pyramid of Elnett cans. Maria knew that a couple of the older ladies in the bank would visit Jean’s once or twice a week, and return with their hair set into stiff and shiny helmets.
Wendy smiled at her. “I think we’re done here. Obviously what you do is entirely up to you, but don’t spend too much time thinking about it; I’ll expect you back here at 2 o’clock sharp, and I hope you’ll be looking rather smarter than you do now.”
Maria realised that she’d been dismissed, and stood up, still undecided as to what she should do. She walked slowly back to her desk, picked up her bag and carried straight on out of the door. Sarah and Sophie, both busy on phone calls, watched her but couldn’t work out what had happened.
Wendy watched her leave, quietly pleased with how things had gone. She was confident that Maria would feel that she had no choice, and would, however reluctantly, make her way into Jean’s. She recalled the conversation she’d had with Jean a few days before.
“Hello Jean, it’s Wendy, from the bank.I wonder if you could do me a favour.”
“Oh, I expect so, what do you need?”
“Well, there are two of my girls here in the office who really need to smarten themselves up. They can’t – or won’t – keep their long hair tidy, so I’ve told them both that they need it cut short, and I want it done by Monday.”
“Quite right too. I think I know the girls you mean, and they don’t do any credit to the bank looking so scruffy. So you want me to cut their hair, I take it? I’m usually pretty busy on a Saturday, but I expect I could squeeze them in.”
“Ah, no, I’m hoping that they will both have the good sense to have it cut by themselves, but if either of them think that I’m not serious, or that they can fob me off with having a little trim, then they’re in for a shock on Monday. They’ll be told that it needs to be cut properly, and sent straight to you.”
“Oh that’s fine. Mondays are always quiet. How do you want it cut then? I assume they won’t have a say?”
“Certainly not! If they wanted a choice, they should have had it done long ago. I’ve told them enough times. Just make sure that it’s off their ears and collar, and out of their faces. I think of it as a ‘sensible schoolgirl’ cut.“
“Oh I know just what you mean. I always enjoy back-to-school time; I usually get a few stroppy teenagers, desperate to hang on to their messy long hair when their mothers want them neat and tidy. The girls are usually none too happy to be sat in my chair, but Mother knows best! I don’t waste any time in cutting their hair off, and I make sure that they leave looking a lot smarter than when they came in.
“And the funny thing is, that after they’ve had a decent haircut, it really does seem to change them. I tell their mothers to bring them back in a month, and it’s just amazing. No matter how trendy or sassy they were to start with, they come back in proper skirts and blouses, with nice clean faces, and all they sit like perfect little lambs while I cut their hair neatly up over their ears again.
“In fact, a lot of them seem to be relieved that they don’t have to fuss with their long hair any more or try to keep up with the latest fashions. They very quickly adjust to the idea that they are now neat and tidy short-haired girls, and they dress and behave accordingly.”
“Well it sounds like you know just what’s needed, if it comes to it. Of course, they might both come in all neat and tidy on Monday morning, but it’s best to be prepared.”
Maria slowly made her way out of the building and down the street, until she was opposite Jean’s. It didn’t look any more up-to-date than she remembered. She wondered how her hair would end up if she did pluck up the courage to go in. A frumpy bob like Sophie? Surely not a tight little poodle perm like Sarah? No, she thought, shaking her head in an attempt to clear it. Even though Jean clearly specialised in traditional styles for older ladies, she would surely do what the customer asked for. Perhaps she could have it cut to her shoulders, and have the awkward front layers trimmed a bit to make them into more of a long, side swept fringe. She’d go back to work with her hair in a ponytail, and some hairgrips to keep her fringe tidy. Surely Wendy would be satisfied with that? She’d have been to Jean’s, had her hair cut, and it would be tidy and out of her face, just as the dresscode stipulated. She knew from previous comments that Wendy didn’t think much of her chunky dark-red highlights, but the dress code wasn’t explicit on colour, so she would hang on to them if she possibly could.
This plan seemed to settle the two warring factions in her head; the new, sensible and career-minded Maria, who thought that she would keep her hair neatly tied and pinned at work, and might even go shorter when she’d got used to it, and the old, stubborn, vain Maria, who resented having her hair cut at all, and thought that she could let it down and allow her fringe to fall over her eyes as soon as Wendy was sufficiently appeased.
“Right!” she muttered to herself. “Come on my girl, there’s no point wasting time. Get into the hairdresser’s and get yourself smartened up for work!”
Sufficiently inspired by this, she crossed the road and walked straight through the door, not giving herself time to change her mind.
“Hello dear, what can I do for you?”
“Oh, er, I need my hair cut, I wondered if you could fit me in now?”
“No problem dear, you can see I’m not busy.”
The salon was, indeed, empty apart from Maria and the rather matronly lady with the stiff auburn bouffant, who Maria recognised vaguely as a customer of the bank and assumed, correctly, to be Jean.
“Hop up in the chair then, and we’ll see what’s to be done.”
Maria allowed Jean to take her jacket and drape her in a large flowery gown. She sat down and Jean began to briskly drag a comb through the long dark hair.
“Dear me, I don’t see hair this long in my salon very often. You certainly need a good smartening up, my girl.”
“Err, yes, I, err, I do need to have it a bit smarter for work.” She paused and then went on in a rush. “I work in the bank across the road, and my boss is being really strict about the dress code. I thought I could maybe have it cut up to my shoulders, and with a bit of a side swept fringe?”
“And that will make your boss happy will it?”
“Well, I hope so. I need it off my collar and out of my face, so I’ll have to have it tied back, and pin my fringe back, but that’s fine.”
“Well I don’t think you’ll be able to tie it back very well with all these layers in it. Let’s just start by chopping all this mess off, and we’ll see where we go.“
Jean didn’t wait for an answer, just rapidly ran her scissors through Maria’s treasured locks, roughly at shoulder level. Maria gasped.
“Now, dear, don’t you go getting upset on me. You’re a big girl now, and this is just a little haircut.”
She gathered most of Maria’s remaining hair into a stubby ponytail, and used her other hand to fluff up all the short layers, pulling more than a few strands out of the tail.
“See?” She said, triumphantly. “It simply won’t stay tied back. No, we need to find something that works with these layers.”
She picked up a spray bottle from the counter, and began soaking Maria’s hair.
“Er, aren’t you going to shampoo my hair?”
“No time dearie. You need to get back to work, I’m sure, so we’ll just get you tidied up and send you back so your boss can see you looking nice and smart.”
This actually reassured Maria slightly. The suddenness of Jean’s cutting had surprised her, but her hair was, at the moment, roughly at her shoulders. If Jean was just going to ‘tidy her up’ then presumably not too much more hair would be coming off. But then, she thought, how would Wendy react? If she couldn’t tie it back, then she still wouldn’t be in line with the dress code. Could she manage to keep it in the ponytail with lots of grips and hairspray? She was suddenly struck by a thought. Perhaps Jean had heard her statement of ‘off my collar’ and taken that as the required length! She briefly froze as part of her wanted to tell Jean to stop, before she did anything drastic, whilst another part wondered whether actually, having her hair cut up off her collar wouldn’t be so bad.
Before Maria could resolve this inner conflict, she heard a loud <snip> right next to her ear. She stared into the mirror to see Jean triumphantly drop eight inches of hair into her lap. Her eyes widened in shock.
“What are you doing! I don’t want my hair that short!”
Jean carried on snipping the hair neatly around Maria’s left ear. “Well it might not be what you want, Missy, but it’s quite clearly what you need. The only way this hair is staying tidy and out of your face is with a proper short cut. Now keep still and let me do what I need to.”
By this point, both of Maria’s ears were exposed, and Jean began to rapidly work her way across the back of Maria’s head. She would pick up a section of hair with her comb, hold it between her fingers and snip it off, leaving only an inch or so of the treasured locks which had reached halfway down Maria’s back when she walked in.
Maria was transfixed, watching in the mirror as Jean proceeded to reduce her hair into a plain and simple short layered haircut. It was being cut so short that the red highlights she had spent a fortune on a few months ago were all ending up in her lap, and she was back to her uniform natural dark brown. As it gradually became clear that she would be leaving the salon looking not like the sexy, fun-loving party girl she had always been, but instead a sensible, modest, and conservative young lady, she started to sniff, and blink to try to hold back her tears. She was largely successful, but one or two escaped, and she wiped them away with the back of her hand.
“No tears now, Missy. This is just a haircut, and a well overdue one at that. It will be so much easier for you, and you’re going to be far more appropriate for work once you’re in a nice, neat and tidy, short haircut.”
Jean finished the haircut by combing Maria’s long layers down over her face, and then snipping most of them away, leaving her with a perfectly straight fringe a good inch and a half above her eyebrows.
“Much better. You won’t have to be fussing in front of the mirror pinning that back. Now, let’s get you finished off. These waves need taming if you’re to look presentable.”
Jean’s soaking of Maria’s hair had, indeed, undone all of her early-morning work with the straighteners, and her hair was springing up into its natural, somewhat unruly waves. Jean squirted out a big handful of mousse and rubbed it through Maria’s still-damp hair, combed in a clean side parting and used a small round brush to blow dry her hair into a smooth, neat cap. Her short fringe was carefully teased down over her forehead. Jean nodded to herself, picked up an enormous gold can of Elnett and gave Maria a thorough coating, using her hand to shield Maria’s face. She whisked off the floral gown, and Maria felt a pang of regret as a huge pile of her pampered locks fell lifelessly to the floor.
“There you go! All neat and tidy and ready for the office, and much better with all those awful red streaks gone. Now, you may not be feeling as fancy and fashionable as you used to when you had all that hair, but you’re certainly looking far more presentable and respectable now you’re without it.”
Maria had been turned away from the mirror for the final styling, and Jean now turned her back to face it. Maria’s eyes widened as she saw herself properly for the first time. Her ears were fully exposed, with the hair in front of them trimmed into a short, neat point. There was no hair visible below or behind her ears, and her fringe, as Jean had suggested, wasn’t going to be getting in her eyes for some considerable time. Her hair was gleaming from the heavy coating of spray, and the overall effect was smart, tidy and conservative. It was also, though, Maria slowly realised, a very well executed and polished hairstyle. Even though it wasn’t what she had asked for, and despite doing it in double-quick time, Jean had done an excellent job in creating the image of a perfectly professional and competent employee.
With some reluctance, Maria began to wonder whether Jean had actually been right; this certainly wasn’t what she had wanted, but perhaps it was what she had needed. It would definitely keep Wendy happy, and would be perfect for work.
On the downside, she knew that with her hair cut this short, her styling options were minimal. She could allow her natural waves to do what they wanted, but she suspected that would just result in a mess, so she would probably have no choice but to style her hair into the same neat and tidy blow-dry that Jean had just given her. This would still take far less time than she had routinely spent straightening her long mane, and she was surprised to realize that this made her feel more relief than anything else. Now she had finally submitted to a sensible short haircut, she suddenly felt no pressure to look like a sexy, sassy party girl, and no need to meet the expectation that she always had to be perfectly dressed, styled and made up.
As her eyes finally left her new immaculate cap of hair, she realised that wiping away her tears had left her makeup heavily smudged. She pawed at it, trying to make it look better, but quickly realised it was fruitless. Jean had been watching her.
“Soap and water is what you need, my girl. Go and wash all that slap off.”
She gestured to a sink in the corner. Maria obediently went to the sink and started to work up a lather with the old-fashioned carbolic soap. She scrubbed her face thoroughly, smiling as she remembered all the times she’d been sent to wash off her makeup by teachers and parents. She had always resented it at the time, but now it felt entirely appropriate. She put her face down to the basin to rinse the suds away, and was struck by how nice it was not to have her long hair falling down and getting in the way.
She looked in the mirror over the basin and couldn’t quite believe what she saw. It was her face, sure enough, but she never voluntarily went without makeup and normally hated the sight of her bare face. Like many young women, she had been seduced by airbrushed magazine images and filtered social media posts to believe that she, too, should always live up to this artificial and unrealistic standard.
Even last week, when she and Sophie had foregone makeup for a day to appease Wendy she had felt nervous and unsure about allowing the world to see her unadorned. Today though, she seemed to be looking with new eyes. Her conversations with Sarah and Sophie, the lecture from Wendy, and her own acceptance that it was time for her to change meant that rather than thinking that she looked unfashionable and out of touch, she instead saw a smart and professional looking young woman. The short but well-groomed and still feminine hair went perfectly with the no-nonsense scrubbed face and left her looking and feeling like a new woman.
“There! Isn’t that better.” Jean was beaming. “I really don’t know why you young girls insist on wearing so much makeup, but you certainly look much more presentable with a nice clean face. Now, you’ll be needing it cut again in four weeks, so I’ll book you in for the 19th, yes? Same sort of time?”
“Er, yes, that’s fine.” Maria nodded hesitantly. She had had absolutely no chance to think about whether she wanted to keep her hair short or not. In the back of her mind she knew that if she came back to Jean’s, she would have little or no choice about how her hair was cut. It would be short, tidy, off her ears and out of her face. No choices, no questions, just Jean making sure that she was smart and presentable.
This was a monumental change for the fashion-conscious Maria, but there was something strangely appealing about it. Not just that she wouldn’t constantly be agonizing about how to style her hair that day, and whether she was keeping up with this season’s ‘in’ look, but knowing that she had been given a plain and simple short haircut, and had no choice but to look neat and tidy actually felt like a relief. She surprised herself by thanking Jean enthusiastically, and realising that she actually meant it.
As she walked back to her car, she thought of all the people who would be pleased that she had cut her hair. Wendy, obviously, but also her mother, who would frequently express her exasperation at the amount of time Maria spent in front of the mirror, and her Aunt Jane, who had thoroughly disapproved of Maria‘s glaring red highlights, not to mention her matching red nails and the short, tight skirts she habitually wore. Well, Aunt Jane would certainly approve next time they met. The highlights had been left on Jean’s floor, along with most of her hair, the nails would be next, and Maria had already realised that her wardrobe would have to be toned down to match her new image.
She suddenly remembered that there was one person who had loved those short skirts, bright red nails, and especially her long hair; her boyfriend, Andy. A wave of panic flooded through her as she pictured his reaction the next time he saw her. She decided that she’d better call him, sooner rather than later.
“Hello Babe. It’s me.”
“Hi, you ok?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Well, sort of. I thought I should let you know, I’ve just had my hair cut, and it’s.. Well.. it’s..” She took a deep breath. “It’s really short.” She hurried on. “I know you really liked my long hair, but it’s gone now.” She found that tears were forcing their way out of her eyes again, and she blinked to clear them.
“I had to have it done for work, you see.” She rushed on, not letting Andy get a word in. “My boss has suddenly decided to be really strict about the dress code, and it was basically get it cut or else. And then the hairdresser cut it really short, even though I didn’t ask her to, and, and…” she paused, and continued, more slowly. “And the weird thing is that I actually think I like it. Or at least, I could get used to it. I hope you’ll like it, too, I know you loved my long hair, but I couldn’t keep it. So I hope you can get used to having a short-haired girlfriend.”
There was an agonizing pause as Andy took all this in. “Woah, I wasn’t expecting that! I don’t know what to say, except that I’m sure your hair looks lovely. And if you like it, then I’m sure I will. It’s you that I love, not just your hair!”
Maria felt relief wash over her. “Oh Andy, thank you! I was really nervous about what you’d say. You’re the best! I’ve got to dash now, but I’ll speak to you later on, OK?”
“Sure. Love you!”
“Love you too!”
Maria stood nervously outside the office door she had left such a short time before. As Wendy had suggested, she had quickly popped back home, and she was now wearing her long pleated uniform skirt and plain low-heeled court shoes. She checked her watch and caught sight of her fingernails, now snipped short and stripped of their bright red polish, and again reprimanded herself for the money she had wasted at the nail bar on Saturday. She sighed. It was nearly two o‘clock, and she didn’t want to be late for her re-scheduled appraisal. She stood up straight, pushed her shoulders back and opened the door.
Kevin, the tactless security guard glanced up from his desk but completely failed to recognise Maria as she walked past.
“Er, excuse me!” he called out, aware that he shouldn’t let complete strangers wander in, even if they did appear to be wearing the company uniform. Maria turned, and recognition dawned.
“Not another one.” Kevin groaned. “What is it with all you girls cutting off your lovely long hair? Don’t tell me that you’ve been dumped by your boyfriend?”
Maria wavered for a moment, but then decided that she wasn’t going to be intimidated by Kevin.
“Hello Kevin,” she replied calmly. “Thank you for noticing my new haircut. As it happens, I decided that it was time that I looked a bit smarter and more professional. I’m not a teenager any more, and I’m not here just to make the place look pretty. And my boyfriend, since you ask, has been very supportive. He pointed out that our relationship was based on more than just the length of my hair!”
She turned her back and swept away, leaving Kevin shaking his head and muttering to himself.
“O. M. G.” Stephanie, the receptionist with a habitual full face of makeup and long, peroxide hair teased up as big as possible, wasn’t going to let Maria pass without comment. “What happened to you? I know your ‘new best friend’ went and had a mumsy little perm, but I didn’t think you’d give up on looking good just because of her. I can’t see Andy taking you clubbing with a frumpy haircut like that.”
Maria was a little shocked by Stephanie’s rudeness, but kept her cool.
“Well Stephanie, as I just told Kevin, we’re here to do a job, not just to make the place look pretty, and Andy isn’t with me just for my hair.” She made to leave, but then turned back. “Oh, and I’m sure you’re aware that senior management are cracking down on the dress code, so you might want to try coming to work with tidy hair and a clean face yourself. You might even find that people take you a bit more seriously.”
She walked off without waiting for Stephanie to respond and pushed through the office door before she had the chance to get nervous again. Once through, she headed straight for Wendy’s office, keeping her eyes straight ahead. Sarah saw her from the corner of her eye, looked up, and nudged Sophie.
“Well, that explains it. She was told to go and have her hair cut. And she didn’t hold back!” Despite her excitement, Sarah kept her voice down.
“Wow, Yes.” Sophie whispered back. “I have to say that’s a bit of a relief. I was worried that she’d just walked out.”
“Yes, or been sacked. I guess Wendy must have given her an ultimatum, but she actually looks really nice. I hope she’s not too upset.”
“Hmmm… hard to tell. I guess we’ll have to wait until she comes out.”
Wendy looked up from her desk and smiled.
“Goodness me!” She exclaimed. “What a change! It’s amazing what a difference comb, scissors and a bar of soap can make. You look so much smarter, more grown-up, and most important, more professional. Well done.”
“Thank you. Yes, Jean didn’t give me much choice, but…” Maria took a deep breath. “I think it probably was what I needed. So thank you, and I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you before.”
“And the boyfriend…?” Wendy asked gently.
Maria smiled. “He was fine. He might get a bit of a shock when he sees me, but he seemed really positive about it.”
“Excellent. Now I very much hope that this marks a turning point for you. I want to be absolutely clear that this is the standard of appearance that I expect from you every day; a clean face, sensible fingernails, appropriate skirt and shoes, and most important of all, your hair is kept short and tidy. Am I understood?”
“Yes Wendy. Don’t worry. I really have changed. You’ll be seeing the new smart and professional Maria from now on. High heels, long nails and hair in my face are all in the past now.”
“Well I’m very pleased to hear that. And with that attitude, I’m quite sure that your performance at work will be much improved too.”
“Oh Maria, your hair looks lovely. It really suits you, you know?”
“Yes, it’s really smart. You were very brave, having it cut so short.” Sophie fingered her own hair, slightly incredulous that with her earlobe-length bob she now had the longest hair of the three of them. “Tell us all about it!”
Maria smiled. “Well, let’s just say that I wasn’t really that brave, and I would never have done it without, well, quite a lot of help. But I have to say, I’m ready to embrace it. It might shock a few people when they first see me, but they’ll just have to get used to it. Short haired Maria is here to stay.
Epilogue: Six Months Later
Wendy looked out of her office door with satisfaction. Across the office three short, tight, curly poodle perms were bent over their desks, indicating that their respective owners were hard at work. Sarah, Sophie and Maria had become firm friends, as well as forming an excellent working relationship since the staff appraisals, with no petty jealousy or bickering. Wendy congratulated herself that her strategy had worked out exactly as she had hoped, though far better than she had expected; she never thought she would end up with all three girls in matching poodle cuts. She smiled to herself as she remembered the genesis of her plan.
It had started when Sarah had shown some of her colleagues a rather conservative floral dress she’d bought. Wendy thought it was not at all the kind of thing she’d expect Sarah to wear, but when she found out it had been bought for meeting the new boyfriend’s parents, and that Sarah was clearly nervous about this, she thought that this might provide some leverage in her continual quest to get the girls to smarten themselves up.
After enthusing about the dress, she played on Sarah’s nerves by casually suggesting that to make the best impression, Sarah really should visit the hairdressers for a good tidy up. She had hoped that her desire to impress the parents would result in a short, neat haircut, and perhaps Sarah might even tone down her makeup and nails accordingly. If Sarah did get tidied up, then Wendy could use her example to try to persuade the other girls to follow suit.
Sarah had told everyone when the ‘big day’ was, so Wendy had been disappointed when Monday came and Sarah’s hair was as long and messy as ever. That changed though, as Sarah’s desk phone rang at just before 4 o’clock. Most of the staff were in one of the meeting rooms, leaving the office nearly empty. Wendy fielded the call, and took the message that Sarah’s stylist had gone home ill and so her appointment was cancelled.
As she hung up, thoughts tumbled through her mind. She was pleased that Sarah had, clearly, taken her advice and booked a haircut, but then immediately frustrated that it now wasn’t going to happen, with no time for Sarah to make another appointment before meeting the parents. Slowly, a smile spread across her face as an idea grew in her mind. She quickly dialled a number she knew well.
“Maureen? It’s Wendy Burrows. I wonder if you can do me a favour. I want to send one of my girls from the office down to you. She’s very much in need of tidying up. Her hair isn’t that long, but it always looks such a mess. Please can you give her a nice plain little short layered cut, off her ears, and collar, neat side parting? I’m sure you know what I mean.
“Now she knows that she needs smartening up, so she shouldn’t kick up a fuss, but, er, don’t mention that I phoned, eh? Just keep it between us….” She reached for the pad of sticky notes and began to write.
This final chapter brings ‘A Good Tidy Up (To Meet The Parents)’ to an end, at least for now. If you’ve stuck with us all the way through, thank you; I hope you enjoyed it!
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