A Lock Of Memory
By: Ryan Donahue
Maxime sat in silence in his seat on the La Quebecoise bus. He was one of only a few passengers on the bus as it sped towards its next destination. Most of the passengers had exited along the way at different places until Maxime was one of the only ones left. Few people wanted to go anywhere east of Trois-Rivieres, Maxime thought. He never wanted to stay in the village when he lived there. It had always been his deepest desire to leave forever and never return. Becancour was small, even by the standards of La Mauricie, which was filled with small villages. Maxime never knew anything else, except for the odd trip to Trois-Rivieres or the school visit to the hydroelectric plant at Shawinigan. Technically, Maxime grew up in Saint-Gregoire, a village between Nicolet and Becancour. His family had lived in the village for at least 200 years, he wasn’t certain how long exactly, but it had been a long time, unlike some other people.
It had been eight years since Maxime had last visited his old hometown of Saint-Gregoire. Throughout the entire ride from Montreal, a total of almost two hours, Maxime stared thoughtfully out the window. He gazed on the rural landscape, lost in memory. That physical symbol of memory, the thing hidden in the long thin package on his lap, was ever on his mind.
The package itself represented nothing to him, a shell encasing and protecting the precious cargo hidden inside. That cargo, as no one could have guessed, was a thick, silky, brunette braid of human hair. Almost three feet in length, the braid represented an important part of Maxime’s past, everything he had cared about. Well, almost, he thought. Maxime still had family who lived in the village. They were still important to him, in a different way at least. He thought back on the memories he held onto of his upbringing in the village.
The braid belonged to his first love, Zoe Billodeau. She had moved to Saint-Gregoire from somewhere by Shawinigan or someplace like that. When Maxime first saw her, he instantly became enamored with her lustrous brown hair that fell all the way to her knees.
She had moved into the neighborhood when Maxime was 12. Her family lived in a nice home at the edge of town, on the other side of the church. Her name was Zoe, and Maxime fell in love with her the moment he laid eyes on her. There were only 25 students at the school Maxime attended, so he noticed her instantly when she came to class the first day of grade 6.
Zoe was small for her age, and poorly dressed in old, used clothes. She was shy, and she rarely talked to anyone unless they spoke to her first. But the first Maxime noticed about her was her hair; it was soft, thick, a beautiful rich brown color, and it hung all the way to her knees, well over 3 feet long. When she sat down at her desk she had to swing her long luscious hair over the back of her chair to sit down. Since that first day of school, Maxime had hardly been able to contain his fascination with her hair. Maxime marvelled at the hair as she sat at the desk in front of him. There were many times when Maxime would surreptitiously touch the silky locks without her knowledge. This became a daily occurrence until the teacher, Madame Tremblay, caught him in the act and yelled at him for a full three minutes. To Maxime’s surprise, Zoe showed no signs of anger or shock, but she smiled sweetly at him during his berating at the hands of the teacher.
He had never noticed an interest in hair before he met Zoe, but it was extremely strong from then on. As they became friends, Maxime noticed he was attracted to Zoe in a strange way. Whenever he went over to her home, he noticed that Zoe’s parents were strict and domineering, although they were polite to Maxime. Zoe explained that they had moved from Sorel after Zoe’s father changed jobs and started to work at the nuclear power plant at Gentilly, some miles from Saint-Gregoire.
After a few months of spending time together, mostly with Maxime’s other friends, he asked her a question. At the time, they were sitting on a bench together in the small park in Saint-Gregoire.
“Why is your hair so long?”
Zoe blushed and went silent for a minute. Maxime, concerned that he had upset her, was about to speak but she spoke first.
“Since I was a little kid, my parents had cut my hair to a bob every few months. I hated it, I always thought it made me look silly. Finally, after years of begging, they let me grow my hair out. That was 3 years ago, and now my hair is almost to my knees.”
Zoe sighed as she recalled those painful memories. Maxime simply stared at the long lengths of hair that draped over the park bench where they sat. He deeply wanted to reach out his hands and run them through her luscious locks. Mustering up all the courage he could, Maxime cleared his throat softly.
“Um, Zoe, could I touch your hair?”
Zoe gazed at him intently, either in curiosity or disgust. Maxime was unsure of what to say, afraid that he had overextended himself. He was about to open his mouth and stammer a response to the effect that he had lost his mind and to forget about it, but to his shock Zoe smiled.
“Yes, Maxime, you may touch my hair.”
Breathing heavily, Maxime extended his hand and his fingers brushed the soft, brown silkiness of her glorious mane. Her hair was incredibly sleek, and it felt like golden brown clouds woven into fibers. The feeling was electrifying, though Maxime had touched her hair many times, it had not been in such an intimate way. From that moment, Maxime and Zoe shared a special bond, over her hair but also in a deeper, more meaningful way. That day in the park, love blossomed in both of them.
Maxime’s thoughts returned to him as the bus slowed to a stop. They had finally arrived at the terminal in Trois-Rivieres. One by one, the passengers shuffled off the bus and into the large open space in front of the terminal. There, as promised, was a waiting car with Maxime’s brother Frederic inside. Dressed in a flannel shirt and puffy vest, Frederic looked every inch the rural Quebecois.
“How was the journey?” Frederic asked as they crossed the Laviolette Bridge to the south side of the river.
“Fine.” Maxime’s response was short and disinterested. As he had done on the bus, Maxime looked out the window, lost in thought. He thought of the package still laying on his knee. Frederic briefly glanced down at the package, then he looked back at the road.
“Zoe Billodeau is still in town,” Frederic said casually. Maxime looked at his brother, frowning.
“Why would you mention that?” he demanded irritably. Frederic shrugged.
“I just remember that she was an old flame of yours for a while.”
Maxime turned his head and looked back out the window. It was technically the truth, although Maxime didn’t appreciate having his brother call him out on it. Maxime had thought of little else besides Zoe since coming back to Saint-Gregoire. He thought of the braid, carefully wrapped in tissue paper with a small note tucked underneath the hair. He could still remember the length and texture of the hair, so soft and silky, smelling sweetly of orange peel.
“Is there anyone else you’ll want to see?” Frederic asked. Maxime shook his head without speaking.
“If you don’t mind, Mom would like you to stop by.”
“Of course,” Maxime mumbled.
“She’ll be so happy to see you, Max. It’s been so long. Eight years, can you believe it?” Frederic’s tone was cautiously cheerful. He knew that his brother Maxime had always been surly and unenthusiastic about almost everything. His return from years in Montreal heralded no parties or visits from friends, just as Maxime wanted. Frederic dared not ask about his brother’s adventures, or lack thereof, in the big city, nor was Maxime willing to divulge anything voluntarily.
The rest of the trip to the village passed in silence. Frederic pulled the car into the driveway of his house. He had done well for himself after settling down and having a family. Frederic co-managed a technology support unit out of nearby Trois-Rivieres which serviced the whole of eastern Canada. Although he had moved out of his parents’ home, Frederic still visited, ever the dutiful son. Maxime had not visited in eight years, as he claimed he had been consumed with his work.
After putting his things in the spare bedroom and carefully depositing the braid, still in the package, under the bed. Maxime went outside for a smoke. He rarely smoked, not even in the nicotine-addicted world of Montreal; they were only for private moments of solitude when no other excuse would do. As he blew the smoke out from his lungs, Maxime’s eyes scanned the fields and tree groves at the edge of the village. He had spent many hours outside, alone, preferring the quiet of nature to the hubbub of school and friends. It was an odd thing, really, that a man who hated too much noise and attention should move to Montreal, a city of over 2 million people.
He had enjoyed Montreal, to be sure. There were plenty of parks to enjoy, which he did on many occasions. His thoughts accidentally strayed to Margot, and Maxime felt his stomach twist into a knot. Part of why he wanted to leave Montreal for good was Margot. They had lived together for almost a year before she moved out. It had been a wonderful relationship while it lasted, but just like so many things, it came to an abrupt end.
Margot represented the spirit of Montreal itself, at least for Maxime. She was passionate, carefree, and ultimately self-centered. The title “student” that she proudly bore referenced a lifestyle and a mindset, rather than an occupation. Maxime’s tedious line of work, education administration, yielded a decent enough salary to keep Maxime in the city. Maxime had met Margot at a friend’s party, a party that, aside from meeting his future girlfriend, turned out to be a complete wash.
Maxime never understood why Margot had been attracted to him. Modesty aside, Maxime had always been described as brooding, even by friends and family. Her carefree, adventurous spirit clashed with his serious demeanour, but they somehow hit it off. Margot always wore stylish outfits, preferring short shorts and tank tops during the summer. Her long black hair hung all the way down her back, resting comfortably past her butt. Most of the time, Margot let her long locks fall freely, or in a simple ponytail. Margot approached her hair the way she did everything: easy and not much thought.
There were many nights when Maxime and Margot would lounge around their apartment, wearing little and saying nothing, or the other way around. Maxime admired Margot’s long hair, which fell over her like a curtain. She loved her hair, but she complained about it a lot. In some ways, she was unchanging, but she often spoke of changing. On one particular evening, Maxime recalled as he stubbed out his cigarette, he had asked Margot about her hair. She was laying on the bed, looking at her phone, and she looked up at him with a quizzical look on her face.
“Yes, your hair. How long have you had it like this?” Maxime asked.
Margot sat up and lit a cigarette. It was only after Margot had introduced them to Maxime that he began smoking.
“I don’t know, forever it seems like. Since I was a kid, at least. I guess I’ve just never changed it.”
Maxime cocked his head as he gazed on the beauty of her hair. His feelings for Margot were…complicated. In the back of his mind, he thought of Zoe and her gorgeous hair, but he never spoke of her to anyone, especially Margot.
“Would you change it if you could?” Maxime pressed. He wasn’t a manipulative person at all, in fact quite the opposite, and he wouldn’t have asked if he didn’t suspect that she would at least consider it. Unsurprisingly, Margot smiled to herself as stroked a lock of hair and said:
“Yeah, I think I would. How about now?”
Maxime raised an eyebrow and his lips came apart. He hadn’t expected that, although by now he should have come to expect the unexpected from Margot. In a matter of a few minutes, Margot, dressed only in a bra and short shorts, had sat herself on a wooden stool with her black hair cascading around her and ending past the seat of the stool. Maxime wore a pair of shorts, exposing his unremarkably shaped body. Margot assured him that she liked his less-than-muscular physique, even though Maximeno longer felt self-conscious about it. He had retrieved a comb and a pair of shears from the washroom and, to Margot’s growing delight, Maxime snipped off her long hair with a speed that surprised even himself.
Like so many other things in that relationship, it was over so quickly. Snip after snip brought more raven tresses to the floor. Margot bent down and played with some of her shorn hair before gleefully tossing it on the floor. The entire ordeal was over in a flash. Margot had a long bob which swung past her jaw. After gazing into a nearby mirror, she threw herself onto her boyfriend, leaving the piles of cut hair on the floor where the hair had fallen.
Maxime shook his head at the memory as he turned away from the direction of the woods. Being with Margot had caused him to fast forward through memories, never taking things in properly. After the haircut and a fairly wild night, Maxime had gathered the several feet of shorn locks and deposited them in a canvas bag, which he still kept among his things. It had been a thrill to cut Margot’s hair, and yet…
The experience was incredible but oddly fleeting. It hadn’t lasted, and still Maxime remembered only bits and pieces from the night he cut Margot’s hair. The relationship had lasted for a couple more months, but eventually she changed, as she always did, and they ended things mutually, although she had brought it up in the first place. His last memory of her was when they had gotten coffee at a cafe in the Plateau. Margot had walked away from him, waving her last goodbye before they parted ways, her lob swinging freely above her shoulders. As quickly as it had happened, it was over.
Maxime sighed. It was a ride, but what of it? What was the point? Everything was temporary in some way, what was the point in pretending otherwise?
Maxime’s therapist in Montreal had advised that his brooding demeanor and social withdrawal were classic signs of depression. The illness was common in young Quebecois, either genetically or as a result of their lack of social and economic opportunities outside of the major urban centers. Even Saint-Gregoire, a stone’s throw from the small city of Trois-Rivieres, held little in the way of advancement, let alone adventure. Maxime didn’t really care about the label because it would lead to more expectation from others to improve. He preferred to be alone when he wanted to be alone, and engage on those rare occasions when he felt well enough to do so.
Frederic called Maxime into the house after a while as the former cooked dinner and prepared the table. Though Maxime was surly, he did participate in the preparation and cleanup of the simple pate Chinois with a few beers to round things off. Frederic talked little, and Maxime not at all. After everyone was washed and stowed away, Frederic turned on a hockey game while Maxime went for a walk in the small, cobblestone “downtown” of Saint-Gregoire.
Maxime had many memories, most of which he preferred to forget. But he couldn’t forget anything. As a child, he was examined by psychologists, who concluded that Maxime had intense memory storage capacity, to the point that he could ace any test she studied for. Of course, he didn’t always study as much as he should have. Maxime had plenty of painful and terrible memories, and his way of coping was to withdraw and ignore. Margot hadn’t been an awful experience, but he would rather move on and forget about her. Then why did he hold onto her hair? Better yet, why did he still have Zoe’s hair after all these years?
Maxime recalled the circumstances of how he came into possession of the braid. A few months after that magical day in the park, Maxime and Zoe were spending time in her bedroom. They enjoyed hanging out, especially when Maxime got to run his hands through Zoe’s incredible hair. They both loved hair play, as it was fun and something they could both get something out of. That day, however, Zoe was quiet and ashen faced. Maxime sensed that something was wrong.
“What is it, Zoe?” Maxime asked. Without looking at him, Zoe spoke in a flat, emotionless tone.
“My parents want me to cut my hair short again. Like it used to be.”
Maxime’s heart sank into his stomach. All that beautiful hair gone? It wasn’t fair! Aside from his obvious self-interested desires, he was genuinely concerned with how Zoe was taking the news.
“What? That’s so stupid! Why would they do that?”
“Max…” Zoe said slowly, as if from a great distance. She turned her head and locked eyes with him intently. “I want to get my hair cut short again.”
Maxime blinked, unable to comprehend what he had just heard.
“I…I don’t understand, Zoe.”
“I can’t explain it, Maxime. I just…I want to. But I want you to have something.”
Maxime cocked his head in confusion. He was reeling with emotions on the inside, but he tried to focus his mind on the moment and catalog these memories.
“What is it?”
“My hair.” Zoe touched her long, loose hair that fell onto her braid. Maxime gasped in realization.
“After it’s cut, you mean?”
“Yes, Max. I am going to the salon de coiffure in Trois-Rivières tomorrow while my mother runs her errands. I will ask them to cut the braid and save it for you. Would you like that?”
Maxime stared at Zoe, into her sincere brown eyes, before swallowing and nodding.
The next evening, after hours of anxiousness, Maxime heard a knock at the door and opened it to reveal a brown paper package. Quickly snatching the package and dashing to his room, Maxime opened the wrapping to find Zoe’s braid, feet of rich brown silkiness woven together and tied off on the end with a pink ribbon. Immediately, Maxime savored the memory of Zoe’s long hair before it was cut, and now this magnificent souvenir of his first love.
Years later, Maxime still felt the same exultation at the thought of both Zoe and the braid. That was why he had kept it for so long, even after he had moved away and pushed Zoe from his mind. He hadn’t spoken to her in years, though Frederic’s offer was tempting. Part of Maxime did want to reconnect with her, but he wasn’t sure. He had spent so many years repressing the urge to dwell on those memories with her. In that way, the braid became a surrogate for those feelings, something tangible to see and feel, to fill the void left by Zoe. Was it enough, though?
Maxime’s struggles had led him to reject love and affection, but was it worth it? Could he repress memories at all? Sometimes he felt like he was buying time, that the way to remove bad memories was to not think about them. Should he fill the holes with good memories? Maxime felt that it was too late in his life to make a firm paradigm shift, but he wanted to do something about it. Feeling brave, Maxime marched home and immediately picked up the phone. Sifting through the directory, Maxime found Zoe Billodeau’s number. His hands shaking slightly, Maxime dialed the number and listened to the tone. After three rings, the connection was made and the voice he had not heard in years spoke with an air of calm.
“This is Zoe.”
Maxime froze for a moment, unsure of what to say. He tried to speak, but choked on his words, so he began again.
“Zoe? It’s Maxime.”
There was a pause, then a sound of tentative happiness.
“Max? Is it really you? It’s been such a long time! How are you?”
Maxime breathed a sigh of relief, suddenly filled with elation rather than bitterness.
“I am very well, thank you. And yourself?”
“Very well! Are you in town?”
“Yes, actually, I arrived earlier today. Frederic gave me a ride from the bus depot.”
“That’s wonderful! I would love to see you again. Would you like to come by my place tonight? We could have a few drinks.”
Maxime’s breathing quickened. Even after all of these years, after thinking of Zoe and her braid he carried, he still felt nervous around her. After he left Saint-Gregoire, Zoe went from being a close friend to an idealized figure in Maxime’s mind. Despite his visible apathy toward the town and everyone in it, Maxime was hesitant about actually seeing Zoe again. He couldn’t explain it, but something told him that he needed to go, at the very least to satisfy his long-held desire to see her again. If Maxime didn’t take the opportunity, he knew that he would regret it for a long, long time.
“I would love that, thanks!” Maxime finally said.
“Excellent! You can come by anytime, I’ll be here. See you soon, Max!” Zoe responded brightly before hanging up. Stunned, Maxime hung up in return and collapsed on the couch. This evening was going to be very interesting.
After pacing for several minutes, talking himself through his options, Maxime decided to bite the bullet and just get it over with. It’s not like he wouldn’t enjoy it, but the internal struggle tore him apart. Why was he like this? Why did ignore and downplay every memory in his life, and yet the thought of catching up with an old friend filled him with anxious dread? Maxime already knew life wasn’t fair, and this reinforced that notion for him. By all rights he should be excited. He wasn’t even this nervous when he had sex for the first time. Leaving home was a breeze, moving to Montreal was no sweat, but meeting with Zoe seemed like crawling up a mountain. Before he consciously knew what he was doing, Maxime had already put on his jacket and was out the door.
Saint-Gregoire was not a large place by any means, so walking to Zoe’s home wouldn’t have taken very long. As a result, and because of his current mood, Maxime dithered, taking the long way plus a few detours. While the wait was getting to him, the thought of actually being at Zoe’s place was stupefying. Still, he was already on his way. This was going to happen, one way or another.
After meandering for a while, Maxime finally stood in front of Zoe’s door. Her apartment, part of a complex of six apartments built into one building, was on the other side of town from her parents’ place. The apartment looked simple but comfortable enough. Maxime tried to control his breathing as he raised a fist to knock. Dusk had settled, casting a strange lighting over the apartment, light without the sun. Maxime closed his eyes, and knocked five tims.
It seemed like only a moment before the door opened and Maxime caught his breath. Zoe stood in the doorway, smiling and looking like a dream. She wore leggings and an old Nordiques sweatshirt, with her lovely brown hair tied behind her. She was beautiful, in a humble, natural sort of way, her strong features highlighting the Metis connections on her mother’s side. Maxime blinked a few times, trying to process where he was.
“Hey Max, long time no see.” Zoe’s voice was clear and quiet. Maxime’s mind raced with poetic imagery, but he quickly dismissed it all. He wasn’t a sentimental guy at all, just a guy filled with memories. Against his better judgement, he had very strong emotions tied with Zoe, so the sight of her after all of these years left him stunned.
“Hi. Zoe.” Maxime said woodenly, unable to articulate his thoughts. Zoe raised an eyebrow.
“It’s good to see you again, Max. Come on in.” Zoe beckoned him inside, and Maxime nodded lamely and entered the apartment. It was small but well kept. Zoe lived alone, which wasn’t too common around here, but her work with the La Mauricie tourism companies paid well. Maxime stood in the apartment awkwardly, unsure of what to do with himself.
“Make yourself at home,” Zoe said, turning to address him. Maxime drank in her presence, eagerly looking into her lovely green eyes. “Here, I’ll take your jacket.”
“Thanks.” Maxime handed over his coat to her, and she hung it on a nearby rack. As she did so, Maxime caught a glimpse of her hair. It had been difficult to see from behind, but now he could plainly see that although it was in a ponytail, her hair reached her past her butt to her thighs. It was thick and well-trimmed at the ends. Zoe noticed Maxime staring at her hair.
“The last time you saw me, my hair was to my shoulders, wasn’t it?”
“I think so.” Maxime said slowly. Since Zoe had had it cut when she gave him the braid, she had kept her hair shorter for years. When Maxime and Zoe graduated secondary school, her hair went to just past her shoulders, and after Maxime left, he lost track. Clearly, she had been busy growing her hair since then.
“Yeah, it’s certainly grown a lot since then,” Zoe said, running her hand through her super long hair. Maxime’s eyes followed the path of her fingers. Even after keeping her braid all these years, Maxime never consciously realized how beautiful her hair was, how silky and soft it was. Sure, he had felt the braid many times before, but it had always been a memento for him. Now, with Zoe and her hair in front of him, it all seemed…different.
“Why did you cut it, Zoe?” Maxime blurted, unable to control his words. “Why did you grow it so long after?” Zoe smiled and lowered herself onto the nearby couch. After looking at the ground for a few moments, Zoe began:
“All those years ago, I told you my parents wanted me to cut my hair short. That was only half true. In reality, I had wanted to cut it for a long time. I love my hair long, but I just felt the desire to cut it. I hesitated, because I knew that you loved my long hair so much. So, when I decided to get it cut, like my parents advised, I resolved to give you the braid. I figured that you would enjoy my hair more than I would.”
Zoe gave Maxime a teasing look. Maxime blushed, and Zoe continued.
“Well, that was that. After I got it cut short, I kept it that way. When it was my decision to cut it, it was far more enjoyable. Did you think about my hair often, Max?”
“Every day,” Maxime whispered. Zoe smiled, her face reddening slightly.
“Well, after I graduated and you went away, I eventually decided to let my hair grow again. I had boyfriends who loved my long hair, and one even wanted me to cut it shorter. But I wasn’t sure what I wanted, so I let it grow.”
“I had a girlfriend who wanted me to cut her hair.” Maxime said, trying his best to sound casual.
“Really? Tell me about her.”
Maxime swallowed before bringing back those memories.
“It was in Montreal. Her name was Margot, and she was a free spirit. She wanted me to cut off her long dark hair.”
“What was it like?” Zoe asked with genuine interest.
“It was…intimate. I mean, we were already dating, but she was very excited to cut it all off. She had super long hair, and I cut it to a bob.”
“That sounds amazing,” Zoe said in awe. “I bet that was a fun experience.”
Maxime looked into Zoe’s eyes and nodded. He felt uneasy discussing cutting hair with Zoe, especially because of their history and how personal her old braid was to him.
“What made you come back to Saint-Gregoire?” Zoe inquired, grabbing two Molsons from a pack near the couch and handing one to Maxime.
“It’s complicated, Zoe. I’ve been gone so long that I forgot what it was like here.” That was a lie. Maxime remembered almost everything, he just chose to ignore his memories of his hometown for so long. Zoe didn’t seem to believe him.
“I don’t buy that, Max. Your memory is infinite. That’s one thing I know for sure from our childhood.”
Maxime bit his lip, and sipped his beer.
“I guess the reason I was gone for so long was because I didn’t want to be here anymore. The memories were too strong. Not bad, necessarily, but I couldn’t take it. It was too much for me. But now…now, it’s been so long that I felt I needed to be back. I can’t explain it.”
Zoe nodded slowly, seeming to understand him. She began to stroke a thick lock of her golden brown hair, which she had pulled in front of her. As her fingers touched the smooth surface of the hair, Maxime’s were drawn to the motion. Seeing Zoe’s hair in person, after all these years, was intoxicating, far more than the beer in his hand. Her hair had gotten darker over the years, a few shades darker than the braid from years ago. Maxime loved both shades, in a way that he had never felt about anyone else’s hair, not even Margot’s. Zoe noticed Maxime staring, but she didn’t mind. Instead, she continued stroking her hair, as she said abruptly:
“Maxime, I cut my hair for you.”
Maxime gulped his beer and focused on Maxime. Her expression was sincere, though her words didn’t make any sense.
“I don’t, uh…” Maxime began, but Zoe cut him off.
“I knew you were obsessed with my hair, Max, I knew it from the first time we met. I loved it, I loved the attention, but only from you. When my boyfriends and others would fawn over my hair, it felt different. For them, it was my main feature, something they were in love with. But with you, Max, it was different. I knew you cared about me as a person, not just as an object of desire. And you adored my hair because it was part of me, not my main asset or anything like that. I knew that you would love my hair, on or off my head, so when I cut it off, I gave my braid to you. I wanted to be happy, and I wanted you to be happy.”
She met his gaze, her eyes reflecting earnestness. Maxime bit his lip, and managed a smile.
“It was all of that, Zoe, and more. I can’t articulate my thoughts well, especially not with this. But…I guess I loved you and your hair, in different ways but seemingly connected. You represented the best of home, and your hair reminded me of that. Wherever I moved to, I made sure to remember that braid. That lovely braid…”
Maxime trailed off, lost in thought. Zoe looked thoughtfully into the middle distance, stroking her hair all the while. After a few moments, she stood up and set her beer down on the table.
“Max, I want you to cut my hair.”
Maxime wasn’t surprised this time. He didn’t do a double take or give her a questioning look; he merely blinked and nodded.
“I would love to, Zoe.”
“It’s been too long, Max. I used to love my long hair, but now it’s a reminder of the past. I don’t want it anymore.” Walking to the bathroom, Zoe retrieved a comb, a spray bottle, and a pair of scissors. She returned to the main room, spreading a sheet on the floor and putting a stool in the middle. Then, without pausing, she grabbed her Nordiques sweatshirt with two hands and pulled up. She wore nothing but a black bra underneath. Next, she peeled off her leggings, revealing matching panties. Maxime froze, unsure of what to do.
“I don’t have a styling cape, so I would rather not get hair on my clothes,” Zoe explained. She winked, making Maxime’s stomach flutter. She sat down on the stool in only her underwear, her expression calm and casual. Maxime slowly stood up and made his way to the table where Zoe had put the tools. He fingered the grip of the scissors, imagining what was about to happen. Zoe’s amazing hair dangled past the seat, brushing the bare skin of her thighs.
“Are you sure about this, Zoe?” Maxime asked, holding the comb in one hand and the scissors in the other.
“Max, I am 100% sure. I invited you over here to talk and to cut my hair. I’ve thought about this, and I want you to do it.”
After the firm reply, Maxime began to comb Zoe’s thick hair. The texture was rich and soft, silky but not too stiff. It was even thicker than the braid from her childhood. Clearly, her hair had only increased in quality over the years. Maxime spotted a hair tie on the table, so he put the scissors down and began to weave Zoe’s hair into a crude braid. His fingers shook as he plaited the hair. Maxime had seen the braid many times, so he knew what a braid should look like, but making it a reality was a different matter. After a while, Zoe took the hair in exasperation and continued the process.
“Let me, Max.” In no time, the braid was completed, ready to be shorn. Zoe sat still, resting her hands in her exposed lap. Maxime took the scissors again and, without asking again, he began to cut. Maxime cut just at the level of Zoe’s nape. After years of imagining Zoe having her hair cut so long ago, Maxime was actually doing it himself. Zoe smiled a little as Maxime pumped the scissors as the braid became detached from her head. The sound of the cutting was music to Maxime’s ears.
Maxime continued with determination, quickening his pace. Zoe’s hair was very thick, so the job was taking longer than he would have imagined. Loud crunching sounds followed the meeting of hair and scissors. Zoe closed her eyes, enjoying the pleasant tugging and cutting. Maxime became lost in a reverie as he immersed himself in his memories, all the while continuing to slice through the braid.
Maxime thought back on the time he cut Margot’s hair, and how she enjoyed the process as well. He thought back to the many times he had passed by a salon and seen hair being cut, sometimes in great quantities. He thought back on his fantasies of Zoe having her hair cut off many years ago. Even now, in the act, Maxime couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by his memories. But it didn’t bother him one bit. Maxime savored the feeling as he cut the last few strands still connecting the braid. Finally, after putting up a good fight, the braid was severed, a victim to the sharp blades of the scissors.
Zoe looked back at Maxime, who held the braid in his hand.
“Thank you, Max. I needed that.” Clutching the braid in his hand, Maxime managed a smile.
“Thank you, Zoe, for asking me to do it for you.” Maxime didn’t know what style Zoe wanted, but he understood that she would let him decide. Maxime opted to trim the remaining length, creating a shoulder length style similar to the one she wore when they were younger. Maxime set the magnificent braid on the table, letting it rest heavily on the wood surface. Wetting the hair with the spray bottle, Maxime combed and trimmed the remaining hair to the desired length. It was a very good style, and it suited Zoe well. She ran her fingers along the clean line of the long bob, smiling slightly in contentment.
“I like it, Max.”
“It looks good on you, Zoe. It reminds me of when you cut it years ago.”
“It fits, I guess.”
After several minutes, Maxime was finished. A small pile of brown hair formed on the floor beneath the chair, made up of small snippets. Maxime brushed some of the stray hairs from Zoe’s shoulders. Zoe tilted her head and blew out her breath, sending a shower of tiny hairs to the ground. Maxime committed the sight in front of him to memory: Zoe, partially clothed, sitting on a stool with a lovely long bob, her gorgeous braid laying on the table like a silky rope of woven chocolate.
“It’s done, Zoe.”
Zoe turned around, once again fingering her new haircut with delight. Her eyes moved to the braid on the table, then to Maxime.
“Do you…?” Zoe began, but Maxime cut her off.
“You keep it, Zoe. I have the other one to remember you by. This haircut was for you, and you should keep the braid as a memento of this experience.”
Zoe’s eyes glistened with sentimental tears. She dashed out of the stool and hugged her friend tightly. Maxime reciprocated, feeling the emotion wash over him. She looked into his eyes earnestly and smiled.
“Thank you, Max. For everything.”
“Thank you, Zoe. I’ll always have that braid to remember, and we will always have each other.”
Then, after many years of being apart, the two friends kissed, feeling the time was right. In that embrace, Maxime felt all those memories swirl in his head, but he could only feel this moment, and nothing else. Being with Zoe now meant that at long last, he could live in the present, and nothing from the past would stop him. That braid back home, and the braid on the table, they both symbolized the past, but also the future; it was a future of Zoe and Maxime together.
Who would have thought that cutting hair would bring two people together.