An Extraordinary Customer

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Philip was an ordinary barber in an ordinary shop. In the 30 years since he first began as a barber in the town, he had cut the hair of tens of thousands of clients. Most of these had been male, though a few women and children over the years received haircuts when needed. Still, few of these had been major haircuts, and only ever once in a while did Philip cut more than 6 inches. The most extreme haircut he had ever done was on a young mother who had cut her mid back length hair to her shoulders. It was a great experience, but Philip knew that, as a barber, his experiences of cutting long hair short were very, very limited. 

When he was a kid, around 7 years old, Philip had witnessed Elizabeth, his neighbor a few years older than him, have her waist length brown curls cut short to a pixie. Elizabeth’s mother was something of an amateur stylist, and she often gave her family and friends haircuts in her kitchen, using a pair of cheap scissors. On that occasion, Elizabeth, who previously wished to grow her hair like a princess, had decided to cut it all off short. Philip had come over to play with Elizabeth, but he was told to wait while Elizabeth had her hair cut. Sitting in the living room with a clear view of the kitchen, Philip watched in awe as Elizabeth’s gorgeous long brown hair was cut to just a few inches and thrown onto the floor. Still, after all of those years, Philip could remember the sight of the piles of brown curls on the floor, and the wide grin on Elizabeth’s face as she felt her newly shortened ends. 

From that time, Philip enjoyed cutting long hair short, though he rarely was able to. In his chosen field as a barber, Philip cut hair as his job, but his desire to cut long hair was never strong enough to pull him away. When he got lucky, he enjoyed it, but he didn’t seek it out like some others. Indeed, a few colleagues over the years expressed their desire to shave a woman’s head, some in a forceful way, but Philip wasn’t into that. He preferred the client to willingly, happily get her hair cut shorter to a brand new style. Of course, that wasn’t something that happened every day, or every year, but he was always hoping to have experiences like that. 

The barbershop was empty one morning, after Philip had finished cutting the hair of an elderly gentleman whose snippets of white hair littered the floor around the chair. The shop itself was old fashioned, with wood panelling on one side, complete with waiting bench and cash register, while the other side consisted of a a single long mirror and two barber chairs. Philip switched off use of the chairs every few days, to ensure they both still worked. Over the years, Philip had had several colleagues serve as fellow barbers at the shop, including Jed, Mark, and Bruce, but they had all left or retired. Business had slowed to a steady pace at any rate, so Philip decided he could carry on without assistance. Besides, he didn’t have more business than he could handle. 

The morning was clear and warm, heralding the coming of summer. Usually, his male regular clients took off the required bits of length, unaffected by the season. The few female customers Philip had tended to take off a bit of length, typically a few inches or so, to beat the heat. Philip himself was seated on one of the chairs, reading the newspaper as was his custom. The local paper was always a favorite of his, though the readership had declined somewhat. The town was changing, not for the worse, but it was certainly becoming more modern. A few chain salons had opened up in the neighborhoods, but Philip didn’t mind; they suited the needs of those kinds of clients a lot better than him. The city, once distant, was creeping closer through the constriction of suburbs and strip malls. 

Again, Philip wasn’t unhappy about it, but it made him dwell on the continued need for a barber in the town. His regular clients would be sad to hear of his retirement, but they would find other places to go for haircuts. Philip had a good savings account and relatives in the state who had offered to support him in retirement. Philip wasn’t exactly old, at only 53, but he felt older every day. This morning was no different, and he sat in his barber chair with a forlorn sense of discouragement. It was times like these that Philip regretted not becoming a hairstylist rather than a barber. When he began his work, regulation was more fluid and he could have worked at a salon in the city, cutting long hair to his heart’s content. On the whole, Philip felt satisfaction about his career choice, but sometimes…

As Philip reveled in possibilities that could have been, he heard a soft knock at the door. Turning his head to investigate, Philip did a double take as he saw a woman standing in the open doorway. She wore a purple dress that went to just above her knees. She seemed to be around 40 or so, looking mature but not old. Philip’s eyes were immediately drawn to a massive blonde bun at the back of her head, loosely pulled together by a series of hair bands. 

Philip cocked his head in confusion and curiosity.
“Hi! How can I help you?” Philip asked. The woman looked at him nervously, fidgeting and shifting her gaze around the barbershop. 

“Um, hello. I, uh, I would like a haircut, please. If you’re, um, not too busy?”

Philip scanned the barbershop and laughed. 

“Well, I’m certainly not very busy!” The woman laughed a little too, and she seemed to become more at ease. 

“Come on in! It’s cooler inside than out.” Philip left his chair and motioned for the woman to be seated on the other. The woman hesitated, then slowly stepped over the threshold and sat herself in the chair. She seemed to be unfamiliar with the sensation of the red leather on her legs, or the straight backed configuration of the chair. Indeed, by the sheer thickness of the bun, Philip suspected she had had very few haircuts in her entire life. Before inspecting the hair, Philip stood behind the chair and addressed the woman through the mirror. 

“I’m Philip, the owner.” The woman opened her mouth to speak, but closed it and began again. 

“I’m Susan.” 

“It’s nice to meet you Susan! You’re not the only female customer I have, but one of the few.” Philip’s heart was racing as he stared at the bun, imagining the long length draped behind the chair. The woman began to fidget again as she stared at the floor in front of her. 

“That’s nice, I guess.” Her voice was soft and timid. Philip smiled, trying to reassure her without revealing his secret excitement. 

“Well, seeing as this is a barbershop, what kind of haircut would you like?” 

The question hung in the air for a moment, as if the woman was too nervous even to address the issue. She continued to gaze at the floor before she answered, not looking at Philip. 

“Something shorter, please. My hair is very long at the moment.”

“May I?” Philip inquired, indicating the substantial bun. Susan nodded her consent, and Philip began to work at the mass of hair, slowly finding weaknesses to exploit. After several moments and carefully pulling out hair ties, the bun finally came loose and spilled over the back of the chair. Philip’s jaw dropped as the huge bun unfurled like a magnificent blonde flag, falling behind the chair and settling on the floor, where it coiled somewhat. 

“My goodness, that’s quite a lot of hair!” Philip exclaimed, running his hands over the softness of the blonde waves. The texture was almost straight, on the wavy side, and the feeling was amazing. As someone who loved long hair, Philip was in awe. However, as someone who longed to cut long hair short, he noticed that the last foot of hair at least was thin and composed almost entirely of split ends. If she asked, he could recommend a hefty trim, at least a foot if not more. 

“Yes, it is very long.” Susan conceded. No, long was to mid back, or waist length, Philip thought. This was absurd. Had this woman ever had a proper haircut?

“When was your last trim, if you don’t mind me asking?” 

“22 years ago, though I’ve only ever cut the ends off since then.”

Philip raised his eyebrows. That was a huge amount of time. Evidently, she had been busy. The hair was marvelous, but far too much to deal with. 

“Something shorter, you said,” Philip continued, feeling the weight of the hair in his hands. “How much are we talking?”

Susan bit her lip, evidently reluctant to reveal her true intentions. 

“Well, um, actually, something like around here.” With her hand, Susan indicated a spot just at her shoulders. Philip’s eyes nearly bulged out of his head. What??? Shoulder length?

“I’m sorry?” Philip couldn’t believe it. 

“Shoulder length, please. All one length.” Susan spoke with more confidence now, as if the point of no return had been reached and passed. Philip scratched his head, trying to puzzle it out in his mind. Susan’s hair would reach to at least to her ankles and probably the floor. That would mean cutting off at least four, maybe even five feet of hair. That was more hair than Philip probably cut in a whole year!

“I see…” Philip trailed off, touching the hair at shoulder level. Susan was less nervous now, and she smiled as she imagined her hair stopping at her shoulders, where Philip’s hands rested. 

“I’ve had long hair for most of my life,” Susan explained, sensing Philip’s unease. “I’ve only had a few haircuts before, so this is a new experience for me.”

Same here, Philip thought, as this was the longest hair he had ever seen, let alone worked with. And now Susan was asking him to cut it all off. 

“If I may ask, what made you decide to cut it short?” Philip asked. Susan thought about it for a moment before answering. 

“You see, my long hair has been part of my identity for so long. My peers in school called me Rapunzel, even then. My hair at the time reached my butt. I’d cut a few inches, here and there, but my only major haircut was right after college, when I cut a foot and a half off. That was a wild day!” For a moment, Susan seemed lost in reverie. Philip too tried to imagine Susan, fresh out of university, having her lovely blonde hair chopped off. 

“But I haven’t really had it cut since then,” Susan went on. “I don’t know why, I guess I just assumed I liked long hair and didn’t want to change. But the other day, I realized that I have never had short hair. And I am not getting any younger. So, after a lot of thinking and plenty of frayed nerves, I resolved to get it shorn.”

Susan finished her story with finality, emphasizing the word shorn. The word sent a tingle down Philip’s spine. Oh, how he longed to seize her long blonde locks and cut them off, shorter than she’d had it in years. Realizing his heart was racing, Philip took a couple of deep breaths to calm himself down. He would play this cool, but on the inside, he was wigging out big time, to use an expression from his era. 

“Interesting.” Philip responded to the incredible story with a massive understatement. This was the most incredible thing he had ever heard in his life. Susan looked at him through the mirror, her face full of anxious anticipation. 

“Well, Susan, if you’d like to get started, I suggest that we do this soon.” Susan nodded eagerly, and Philip took that as a sign to continue. Letting the hair remain where it was for now, Philip grabbed a plain dark red cape from the station and threw it over Susan’s body, letting the fabric settle and drape over her frame. The caped client looked ready, but still a little tense. Philip couldn’t blame Susan for feeling nervous, and it would take some time to get rid of the length before trimming the rest. Philip struggled to snap the cape under the mass of blonde hair that fell to the tiled floor. At long last, he succeeded in clasping the cape in place, ensuring that it was snug enough to keep Susan in her seat. 

“So, Susan, let’s begin.” Philip announced, and Susan grinned in response. Holding the hair in his hands, Philip pursed his lips in thought. 

“Would you like to keep any of the hair, Susan? As a souvenir?” Susan shook her head, looking serious all of a sudden. 

“No.” Susan said forcefully, then she continued in a softer tone: “No, thank you, Philip. I don’t want any more memories of my hair. Keeping it would just remind me of everything I told you. I want you to throw it all away.”

Philip raised his eyebrows in surprise. Over four feet of hair, blonde, silky, and lustrous, all tossed in the trash like threadbare rags. There wouldn’t be enough room in the can in the shop, so Philip figured he would have to take it all at once to the dumpster in the back. It would be a shame to waste all of Susan’s lovely hair, but those were the breaks. Resigning himself to it, Philip sighed and nodded. 

“Alright then, let’s cut off this length.” Philip retrieved a pair of scissors from the station and snipped them a few times. Susan flinched a little, but her face looked resolved. Philip picked up a section of hair, holding it up in the air; the length under his fist dangled to the floor. Taking another deep breath, Philip slipped the open scissors between the hair just above his fingers. After an agonizing half second, Philip closed the blades. 

SCRUNCH. The scissors made a small dent into the hair, leaving some of the strands loose in Philip’s hand. He went at it again. SCRUNCH SCRUNCH SCRUNCH. The thick hair put up a good fight, but Philip was determined. Susan looked calm, but as the hair was cut, her mouth slowly curled into a slight smile. Philip finished off the thick section, and with a final SCRUNCH the hair came loose in his hand. 

Philip held up the long tress of hair higher, marveling at the length. Dutifully, Philip dropped the magnificent hair onto the floor. The hair coiled on the ground as it fell, making a thick spiraling pile that contrasted with the black and white tile of the floor. Susan’s smile remained after seeing her long hair cut off and held up in the air like a trophy on display. Philip blew out his breath and began the process again. Another section was grasped, shorn, and deposited swiftly on the floor. 

“Have you told anyone that you’re doing this?” Philip asked as he seized another swath of blonde locks and began to saw into them at shoulder level. 

“No one, actually. Not even my sister knows, and she lives just a few blocks from me.” The scissors continued their grim work, shortening Susan’s hair by quite a bit. “If anyone knew, they’d probably try to talk me out of it. Everyone else has.”

Philip paused slightly before slicing the last little hank of the section he was working on. More lovely blonde locks fell to earth. 

“I’m sorry about that, Susan.”

“I hate it. I am more than ready to have all my hair cut off short, Philip. I’ve never wanted anything more in my whole life.” 

Philip had heard something like that before. Many women were choked with expectations from others, especially those close to them, about their hair. Each snip of the scissors was more severing of Susan’s obligations to others and one step closer to being free. Philip clipped the portion of hair in his hand, and threw it on the ground close to Susan’s feet. By this point, half of Susan’s hair was cut to her shoulders, the ends already curling slightly. Philip moved onto the next section. Piles of hair lay strewn on the floor, covering Philip’s shoes in strands of sunshine. 

SCRUNCH SCRUNCH SCRUNCH. Susan’s hair was no match for Philip’s sharp shears, and they made quick work of long blonde locks. The piles grew in size and thickness, and Susan became even more happy with each snip of the scissors. Philip was wading in thick hair before he finally reached the last section still left untouched. Philip paused again, savoring the moment. It was far too late to go back, so the pause was not due to indecision, but rather Philip relishing what had just occurred. He had finally fulfilled his dream of shearing a woman of her long luxurious hair, and he was going to enjoy the last bit. Susan sensed his anticipation, and said: “Cut it all. Finish it.”

Philip almost yank the last section of hair and SCRUNCH it came off in one savage blow. Susan grinned with delight as Philip tossed the hair into her lap, where it settled heavily. The four foot length lay draped over the cape like a golden brocade. Susan moved her hand underneath the cape and the hair fell to the floor, joining its comrades on the tile. Philip exhaled, tired after the effort. 

“There! Now that’s the length gone.” 

“I love it already!” Susan looked delighted with the results. Philip looked down at the floor, and his mouth fell open. Mountains of blonde hair littered the floor, surrounding the chair like an archipelago of gold. Susan looked down at the hair and laughed a little. 

“That all used to be mine.” Susan seemed nonchalant about the loss of her tremendous hair. Philip decided to take care of the hair first, to make sure he wouldn’t trip. 

Philip bent down and began to gather Susan’s shorn locks into a more manageable pile. Susan didn’t even seem to notice Philip picking up armfuls of incredibly thick, shiny blonde hair. Health regulations aside, there was no good way to dispose of the hair cleanly, so Philip had to do his best. After a few moments, Philip’s arms were filled with hair. Susan gave a quick glance at the remnants of her once long tresses, before sighing and looking back into the mirror with her new hair. Philip shrugged and began to heft the hair toward the back door. 

The load wasn’t too heavy, but it was bulky for sure. One long blonde lock curled upward and caressed Philip’s face, giving him a momentary feeling of pleasure before it tickled him. It was surreal to be lifting such a huge mass of hair towards its  imminent doom in the dumpster behind the shop. Philip opened the door with a free hand and slid through the space to the alley behind the barbershop. The alley was deserted except for Philip, who hefted the huge package of hair in his arms into the open dumpster. The mass of golden locks rested heavily on top of several trash bags already in the container. 

Philip shook his head in disbelief. For years, he had dreamed of cutting off that much hair. Now, it lay in a heap in front of him. He knew that Susan didn’t want to save any of her hair, but Philip was tempted to take some for himself. He reached out his hand, hesitated, then laid hold on a long, thick tress of hair almost four feet long. Philip pulled it free, clutching it in his hand. He admired the incredible texture, as he had done when he was cutting it all off. Momentarily transfixed by the sight of it, Philip snapped out of his reverie and stepped to the door, where he reached and grabbed a length of twine. He fastened the hair together, making sure it was tight. The result was a thin, incredibly long golden blonde ponytail, long enough to make anyone do a double take. 

Stowing it safely in the back, Philip walked back inside to Susan. The woman beamed at herself in the mirror, and she looked over at Philip as he walked back in. 

“Clean me up, Phil!” Susan declared. Philip’s face reddened a little as he got his scissors and comb and began to clean up the length. Despite her abundance of hair, Susan’s new shoulder length hair was nice and blunt, but too thick or boxy. She seemed to love it, and Philip did as well. The next several minutes passed uneventfully as Philip trimmed, snipped, and adjusted the length as necessary, all while Susan smiled broadly. The transformation from timid to jubilant was astounding to Philip, who was used to the casual monotony of his male clientele. 

At long last, the fantastic haircut came to an end. Small snippets of hair littered the floor, a far cry from the mountains of long locks from before. With the bulk of the hair already disposed of, the cleanup was fast and simple. Philip dusted Susan’s shoulders with a brush to do the final clean up. He unsnapped the cape and threw it off Susan’s body. She tossed her head back and forth, enjoying the swinging of the hair. 

“Thank you so much, Philip. I absolutely love it!” Susan jumped up, running her fingers through the freshly cut hair. She turned around and hugged Philip, taking the barber by surprise. He patted her shoulder awkwardly, unsure of how to approach the issue. 

“Um, my pleasure. I’m sorry…” He gingerly extracted himself from the embrace, and Susan giggled a little. 

“Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. You don’t know how much this means to me.”

Philip led Susan to the till, where she paid and left a generous tip. After a final thank you, Susan skipped out of the shop like a schoolgirl a fraction of her age. Her purple dress fluttered in the breeze, and her adorable long bob swung from side to side with every movement. Philip looked on after her, following her movements until she rounded a corner out of sight. 

Turning back to his shop, Philip exhaled for what seemed like the first time in a while. He replayed the whole haircut in his head, going over every amazing detail. He thought of the hair in the dumpster, and the ponytail he had rescued. It had all been amazing, almost unbelievable. Susan was truly an extraordinary customer, and one Philip would never in his entire life forget. 

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