Bourne Academy 3 – A Cut for the Arts

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Cassandra Potts had been teaching at the prestigious Bourne Academy for eighteen years, and she loved every moment of it. As Head of Arts, she was able to inspire her students, release their creativity and watch them grow into talented artists. But one day that was about to change.

Soon after the new headmistress, Heather Richards, had taken charge of the academy she summoned Cassandra. As she walked down the hallway towards Miss Richards’ office, she could not help but feel a sense of unease. Upon reaching the door, Cassandra took a deep breath and knocked.

One minute later Heather Richards called out and invited her inside. As Cassandra entered the spacious office, she could not help but feel intimidated by the austere and authoritarian aura that Miss Richards projected.

Cassandra grew increasingly nervous as she wondered what the meeting could be about. She stood awkwardly in front of Miss Richard’s desk, feeling like a student called into the principal’s office.

‘Thank you for coming in to see me, Miss Potts,’ smiled the headmistress, sitting authoritatively behind her large desk.

‘Not at all. Thanks for inviting me, Heather,’ Cassandra, still standing, replied. ‘I have a few things I –’

The headmistress frowned, abruptly cutting Cassandra off before she could finish her sentence. ‘Miss Potts! You’re welcome to call me ‘Miss Richards’… or ‘Ma’am’ if you prefer.’

Cassandra was taken aback by the reprimand. First names between staff had always been acceptable when there were no students around. Cassandra even allowed her students to use her first name. Things were clearly going to be different under Miss Richards’ reign.

‘Sorry, er, Miss Richards,’ Cassandra blustered.

‘No matter, Miss Potts,’ Heather accepted, waving her hand dismissively. ‘As you know, we are making steady progress with achieving neatness and uniformity amongst our students. However, we now need to address the staff and, quite frankly Miss Potts, your appearance is unacceptable for a tutor at The Bourne Academy, and it sets an extremely poor example for our students.’

The further reprimand by the headmistress left Cassandra stunned. She had always prided herself on her unique and artsy style, but now it seemed Heather Richards was calling her fashion sense into question.

‘I don’t understand. What’s wrong with my appearance?’ Cassandra asked, with a slight tremor in her voice.

The headmistress looked at Cassandra with a cold gaze. ‘Your clothes, Miss Potts. They are not suitable for a tutor at this academy.’

Cassandra looked down at her calf-length floral dress and ankle boots, her usual attire. She loved to accessorise with plenty of jangling costume jewellery, and she always styled her auburn hair in an unconventional yet artistic half-up and half-down look, messy by design. She could not see anything wrong with her appearance that was befitting her free-spirited and creative personality.

‘I’m sorry, Miss Richards. I didn’t realise there was a dress code for the staff,’ Cassandra said, trying to keep her composure.

Heather Richards stood up from her desk and walked over to Cassandra. ‘No, there is not yet a specific dress code as such, but there is an expectation of professionalism and conformity. And your appearance does not meet that expectation.’

Cassandra felt a knot forming in her stomach. She could not believe that the conservatively dressed headmistress was critiquing her bold and fashionable sense of style.

‘Please don’t be concerned,’ the headmistress said, smiling coldly, ‘as I am here to support and guide the staff, as well as the students.’

Cassandra felt a knot forming in her stomach. ‘I -’

‘Miss Potts, please remove your clothes,’ Heather said, ‘and put on the outfit over there that I have arranged for you.’

‘What, here? In front of you?’ Cassandra questioned disbelievingly.

‘Yes, please, Miss Potts,’ Heather replied sternly, her tone expecting no argument. ‘Quickly now as there is much to do.’

Cassandra, feeling intimidated and humiliated, did as Miss Richards told her with her hands trembling. She removed her jewellery, and she replaced her stunning flowery dress with the drab skirt suit and simple white blouse that the headmistress had neatly laid out. She believed she looked more like a less than successful accountant than the Head of Arts at a prestigious academy.

With tears pricking her eyes, Cassandra stood to attention for inspection, feeling like a student being scolded for breaking a dress code. Miss Richards studied the blouse whose collar splayed out over the jacket of the suit and fastened the buttons all the way up to the neck.

The headmistress took a step backwards to inspect Cassandra Potts and pronounced herself satisfied.

As Cassandra tried to accept her dowdy appearance, she was unaware that Miss Richards was eagerly steering her towards the connecting door that led to the academy barbershop.

= * = * =

‘I’ve been expecting you, Miss Potts,’ said Brenda Shearer, the recently appointed academy barber, when Cassandra found herself inside the barbershop that also served as Brenda’s study. It was where she enjoyed spending time to create uniformity of haircuts throughout the academy. ‘Please take a seat,’ the barber ordered, pointing at the barber’s chair, treating her as if she was an unruly student.

Ms Shearer was a striking figure with her tight-fitting white nylon tunic, accentuating her voluptuous figure and her long legs. She kept her short black hair slicked down and clipped close to her head, giving her an intimidating appearance.

‘What’s going on?’ Cassandra asked, nervously looking around her, but the other women present ignored her question as they shared a brief discussion.

‘Haircut regulations for staff haven’t yet been finalised,’ Ms Shearer said regretfully, leading to a heartfelt sigh of relief from Cassandra.

‘So, in the interim,’ the headmistress joyfully piped up, ‘all staff will receive the same regulation haircut as the students.’

Before Cassandra could get her mind around what she had heard and raise a protest, Ms Shearer had swiftly undone her artfully crafted half-up and half-down messy hairstyle, given her hair a cursory brush, and then secured it all in a plain ponytail at the back of her head.

In a panic, feeling Ms Shearer tugging away at her hair behind her, Cassandra spoke up. ‘Er, hang on, you can’t mean -’

The unmistakable sounds of scissors opening and closing hair interrupted Cassandra’s words. The Head of Arts glanced in the mirror and, to her horror, saw Miss Shearer proudly holding up her severed ponytail with a smirk on her lips. Tears rolled down Cassandra’s cheeks as she felt her individuality was being taken away, piece by piece.

‘Excellent, Ms Shearer,’ Heather Richards declared, taking the ponytail. She added it to the growing collection, hanging from the rail against one wall of the study, that she had taken from the students.

The barber threw a white cape over her and fastened it securely around Cassandra’s neck. As with those students who had already frequented the barbershop, Ms Shearer swiftly fashioned a stark and unforgivingly severe bowlcut on Cassandra’s head. She finished it off by using a foil shaver to make the back and sides of her head, below the bowl, completely smooth.

Cassandra stared at her reflection in horror. Brenda Shearer had stripped her of her identity, her individuality, and it was all because of Heather Richards and her stupidly strict and outdated rules.

The barber removed the white cape, allowing Cassandra to leave which she wanted to do as soon as possible.

‘Good day, Miss Potts,’ the headmistress called out, while Ms Shearer smirked at her departing form.

Cassandra could not help but feel defeated. She had always been proud of her appearance and her unique style, but now she would be just bland and homogenous, like all the other tutors at the academy.

= * = * =

As Cassandra walked down the corridor to her own study, she noticed the students staring at her with a mix of awe and wonder. The informal greetings and comments Cassandra shared with the students were a thing of the past.

In the students’ eyes, Miss Cassandra Potts looked like a model of discipline and conformity. Someone for the students to respect and fear. And that was exactly what the headmistress had wanted.

TO BE CONTINUED

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