Building bridges

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It had been a couple of weeks since I’d put the phone down after talking to  Caty. There’s nothing worse as a mother than having your daughter crying down the phone at you when she’s hundreds of miles away at university and you can’t do a damn thing about it. I hadn’t really known what to say other than the usual “he wasn’t right for you”, but this time it was different. I had actually thought that the latest boyfriend could be “the one”. He was a nice lad, seemed devoted to Caty and seemed to care. And now it had all gone wrong for what was a very good reason, a charitable act, in fact. All very well so far. The kicker was that she had chosen a scheme that involved her shaving her head. Apparently James had begged her not to do it and when she actually did, he told her that she looked like a freak and it all went downhill from there.

She sent me a link to the video that had been made of her doing it and “freak” isn’t a word that sprang to mind. It was my baby without hair, but she wasn’t a freak. I told her that she was still beautiful, but it didn’t seem to make a difference.

I hated that she was upset and had sent the link to the video to my sister and to a couple of friends to ask what they thought. The responses varied from lukewarm to positive, which saddened me in a way. I’d have thought that they would’ve been more supportive. Not one of them offered a donation to the charity, which was even more disappointing. I just wanted someone to be out and out positive, so that I could relay it to Caty and maybe that would get back to James.

The ultimate test had been the boy who cut the grass. Ever since Bob upped and left a couple of years ago, the son of one of our neighbours has cut the lawns for me. He and Caty had been to junior school together, but had then gone to different senior schools. Now  she was away at university and he was picking up hours at a couple of local jobs. The one thing that I knew was that he held a candle for her and always had.

When he took a rest in between the front lawn and the back, I asked him whether he’d heard what Caty had done. He had, although he got a little evasive and reluctant to say too much, although he did concede that he thought that she looked good, with or without hair. I suggested that he should tell her, but he said that she probably wouldn’t remember him.

He’d been doing odd jobs around my garden for several weeks and had embarked on a piece of lanscaping that I’d thought was probably too much for one young man and a spade. He stuck at it and had made progress. I’d asked him one day whether he shouldn’t be out with his friends doing what young people do instead of slogging away in my back-garden.

‘I’m trying to get away from them for a bit, you know, cut down the gamimg and get out into the world a bit more’ he replied.

‘Good for you’ I replied, although still wondered why he wasn’t out trawling for new friends who managed to get out of their bedrooms. The upside was that I was getting some much needed jobs done in the garden. Despite that, I still couldn’t help thinking that it wasn’t right for him to be round here so much, even though I liked not being alone all the time now that Caty was away. I liked looking out of the kitchen window, seeing him with the wheelbarrow, and on more than one occasion had found myself slipping into literary memories from years ago. Then I reminded myself that I was far from being a Lady, just a divorcee with a teenager away at university, who liked to steal an occasional glance in his direction when he was stripped to the waist and sweaty.

I took him a drink from time to time, offered him tea when I was taking a break from my own work and generally liked having him around. I asked him what his own mother thought and he said that she was pleased that he was out in the fresh air and that he was trying to make something of himself.

He and I were chatting while he took a break and I told him that Caty was coming home for the weekend. His reaction was odd, there was a tiny change in his demeanour before he settled back in to his normal self.

‘I bet you’ll be glad to see her’ he said.

I nodded appreciatively, thinking what it would be like to see the new Caty, the one without the long hair. I knew that she’d have some hair by now, but it wouldn’t be anything that she could do much with. It would be bristles or a little more, but not a young woman’s head of hair by any means. I’d deliberately stayed away from her Facebook page ever since that day, I preferred to think of her the way that I’d left her off at uni that first day, rather than as some sort of skinhead. I’d managed to banish the image from the video she’d sent.

I looked across the garden to see what Paul had done during the morning and wondered how much longer he’d need to get it done. I’d be sad when our little ‘thing’ came to an end.

‘I didn’t think she’d keep her head shaved’ he said. That pulled me out of my reverie.

I saw him looking at me, surprised at my surprise.

‘I didn’t know’ I said. ‘I just thought it was something she did for charity and that was it’ I explained. I could see him wondering what to say, whether to say anything.

‘I’d best get back to work’ he said.

‘You haven’t finished your tea’ I said, pointing to the half full cup in his hand.

‘I’ve had enough, thanks’ he said.

‘Take no notice of me’ I said. ‘It was a shock, that’s all. I thought she’d be growing it again, get back with James or find someone else.’

I could see from his expression that he knew more. I stared at him in that quizzical-motherly look that we all have, letting him know that he was going to tell me everything and it wasn’t an option for him to hold anything back. I watched his inner-struggle play out on his face.

‘She’s got someone else’ he said after a while.

‘So why would she shave her head again?’ I asked, more for my own benefit than his.

‘Her new man likes it’ Paul said.

I raised my eyebrows.

‘It suits her’ he said gingerly.

I stared at him.

‘I like it’ he said, the pressure of my stare clearly too much for him to bear. He was less bashful than when we broached the topic previously.

He was off the fence and into the camp of those who liked my daughter’s new look. SO far, they appeared to number just three that I knew about and one of those was her.

‘Why?’ I asked, not really knowing what else to say.

‘I don’t know. Who knows why you like what you do?’

‘That’s a bit deep isn’t it?’ I asked.

‘Some men like small boobs, some men like big boobs’ he said. I watched the colour rise in his cheeks.

‘Sorry’ he said.

‘For saying “boob”?’ I laughed. It was sweet. He drained his cup nervously and handed it to me.

‘I’d better crack on’ he said. ‘Thanks for the tea.’

He paced self-consciously back to where his spade was was waiting patiently for him. I watched him, his simple logic spinning through my mind. His outlook on complex relationships boiled it all down to a preference for a particular size of boobs. My daughter had found someone who liked her without hair. Who was I to quibble, if she was happy? Wasn’t that what a mother wanted after all? I headed back to my study to pick up where I’d left off. Except that I couldn’t. I ended up looking out of the window at the young man digging my garden. A young man who’d blushed at using the word “boob” in my presence. A young man who was doing his best to make it in the world that existed outside his bedroom. A thought crossed my mind, but I slapped it away as soon as I realised what it was.

I didn’t see Paul again that afternoon, he went without even saying goodbye. He just left everything neat and tidy and headed back to his house, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

It was mid-morning the following day when I realised that Paul hadn’t come round. The shed was still locked and there was no sign of any activity. I wondered whether he was ill, but then thought that maybe he’d made other plans. It wasn’t as if I was his employer after all. He didn’t turn up the following day or the next, which left me wondering whether I should ring him. Then I thought what right I had to ring him and ask why he wasn’t working in my garden. None whatsoever.

I picked up the phone and dialled.

He was hesitant when he answered, probably wondering how I had his number, before realising that he’d given it to me himself the first time he came round, just in case.

‘Hi Paul, I was wondering if everything was okay’ I said, not wanting to ask him straight out if he was ill.

‘Yeah, I’m fine’ he replied, giving nothing away.

‘That’s good. I was just wondering, you haven’t been round’ I said.

‘I’ve been busy’ he said.

‘You don’t have to come, if you don’t want to, you know that, don’t you?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Let me know then, otherwise I’ll lock the gate and you won’t be able to get in round the side.’

‘Okay’ he said.

I paused.

‘Is it something I said?’ I asked.

‘No’ he replied tersely. That was the end of that.

My focus switched to Caty and the fact that I missed her. I sent her an email and invited her and her new friend home for the weekend. It was all planned and I looked forward to it more than anything. However,the less said about the visit back home the better. She said that I “looked at her funny” and had “that disapproving look” about her young man. Rather than stay for at least a night, they stayed for a cup of tea and left. She said that they’d been invited to a friend’s party, but I think that it was a tactical withdrawal. I thought that she’d be more understanding, after all it’s a big shock to see your daughter without any hair and it takes a bit of getting used to when the young man she’s chosen to bring home to meet mother had a ring in his lip and those big holes in his ears. And tattoos. I didn’t think that she was being fair, it was a big adjustment to take, but almost before I’d got company, I was alone again. Disappointed. Sad. Most of all, lonely.

A couple of days later, I rang Paul again, under the pretext of not knowing what to do about the big heap of soil he’d left at the end of my garden.

‘How about you come round and we’ll have a cup of tea and sort out whatever it is. I don’t like to think of you not coming back because of something I’ve said that upset you’ I said.

‘I’m not upset’ he replied.

‘Come round anyway, please?’ I said.

‘When?’ he asked.

‘Now, if you want’ I replied.

‘I’ll have to see’ he said churlishy and with that the phone went dead. I’d have to have a word with him about his telephone etiquette.

I wondered what I’d done. Surely he wasn’t embarrassed about using the word “boob” in my presence, but I couldn’t think of any other reason for his odd behaviour. Maybe he’d got drawn back into the Netherworld of internet gaming.

Ten minutes later the doorbell went. I could see that it was Paul through the frosted glass. That was most unexpected after his demeanour on the phone.

‘Hi Paul, come in’ I said in my most welcoming voice. ‘I’ve just put the kettle on.’

I headed for the kitchen where a single cup sat accusingly next to the steaming kettle. I saw him register it.

‘You didn’t think I’d come?’

‘I don’t know what to think’ I replied. ‘You just stopped coming.’ I got a second cup out of the rack.

‘I thought it best’ he replied.

‘Why?’ I asked.

He was silent.

‘Is it something I said?’

‘No, really, no’ he replied.

‘What then?’

‘I…’ he started to say.

‘I was thinking too much about Caty

‘She’s a pretty girl’ I replied.

He looked pensive.

‘I didn’t like her that much before…you know…’ he said.

‘You told me that you liked the way that she looked without hair, but you didn’t say that she didn’t do much for you when she had hair.’

‘She was okay before’ he said, before realising that telling a girl’s mother that she looked okay was probably not the best course of action.

‘I’m sorry, that came out wrong. I’d better go’ he said.

‘You’ve not drunk your tea’ I pointed out. I could see that his innate politeness was keeping him anchored to the spot. He’d been well-brought up. I nodded slowly a couple of times.

‘For one who likes bald girls, you’ve got a fair head of hair yourself’ I observed, looking at his shaggy hair. I wondered how he’d respond to a personal comment like that. I doubt that it was styled that way, he probably didn’t spend the time or money on personal grooming, so I suspected that it was just left to its own devices and managed to look tousled and deliberate all on its own.

‘Yeah, I know. I’ve been thinking about that’ he replied. I took a sip of my tea, leaving him the gap to fill if he wanted to. ‘I’m thinking of cutting it.’ he said, economically.

‘Why don’t you?’

‘I don’t know what it’d look like’ he replied.

‘It would look like you, just with less hair’ I said with a smile.

‘I know, but I don’t know whether I should.’

‘What’s stopping you? Are you afraid of what your parents would say?’

‘They probably wouldn’t notice.’

‘So, what’s stopping you?’ I repeated.

‘I don’t know where to go.’

‘How about a barber’s. They should be able to sort you out’ I observed, annoyed at my sarcastic tone. I thought that he was sweet, all teenage angst and self-doubt.

‘I don’t like barbers. They just talk about football and fishing and stuff. I don’t like that.’

‘Okay’ I said, wondering whether I should say anything about him having a feminine side. ‘Where do you usually go?’

‘The place I went to closed down. It’s been a while’ he said.

‘I go to a unisex place. They’ve never talked to me about football or fishing. You could go there’ I suggested.

‘Would you come with me’ he said, so fast that I wasn’t sure if he’d actually said it.

I looked at him with a “what did you just say?” expression that provoked his blushing again.

‘I’d really better go’ he said, putting his half-full cup down on the counter a little harder than he probably intended. ‘Sorry’ he said, flustered. I touched his arm in a bid to let him know that it was alright, but I only succeeded in flustering him even more. He wouldn’t look at me, he was like a cornered animal. I knew that if he ran, he wouldn’t be back.

‘Okay’ I said, breaking the silence.

He looked at me, not sure whether to stay or go.

‘I’ll come with you if you want’ I confirmed.

‘No, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked’ he replied.

‘It’s fine. I’ll ring them now and see when they can take you, how about that?’ I offered.

‘You don’t have to’ he said.

‘Don’t be silly. I’d like to’ I replied, wondering what I’d done to get myself in this position. I hadn’t been to the hairdressers with Caty for two or three years, she decided that she’d go on her own or with friends, so it was strange to be drawn back into accompanying someone else. I reached for my phone at the end of the counter and started to look up the number.

‘I’ll see if the girl’s free who does mine. You’ll like her’ I said. I paused, deciding that I needed a bit more background first.

‘Why is it such a big thing for you to get your hair cut?’ I asked, disturbing him from the daydream that appeared to have descended on him.

‘I want it cut shorter than I’ve had it before’ he said. This was going well, I thought, amused by my own self-deprecation.

‘How short are you thinking?’ I asked, intrigued.

‘I want to shave it off, but I don’t know if I can’ he replied.

I put a hand over his, trying to comfort him and reward him for actually saying the words. It was clearly difficult for him.

‘Is that because of Caty?’

‘I just thought that if she could do it as a girl, so could I.’

‘But you’re scared of what your parents will say?’

‘I’m scared of what other people will say, not them’ he replied.

‘What girls will say?’

‘Maybe’ he replied.

‘You’re not coming out to me, are you?’ I asked, before regretting it.

‘Fuck no’ he said, before realising it. ‘Jeez, I’m sorry’ he said, grasping that he probably hadn’t improved the situation by much. ‘I’m sorry’ he said simply.

‘Don’t worry about it. I think we know each other well enough, don’t you’ I said, squeezing his hand again before letting it go.

He appeared to have run out of words.

‘Okay, you want to shave your head, but you’re worried about what other people will think. First rule in life, do it for yourself, not for other people. if someone likes you, they like you for what you are’ I said. ‘Sorry, I’m preaching’ I confessed, laughing.

I picked my phone up again and scrolled down to a number that I should probably have known by now. I hit “dial”, wondering how best to approach what I wanted.

‘Hi, this is Louise Henderson, I was wondering if Ann had a free slot today’ I asked.

‘I know I’ve got an appointment in a couple of weeks, but this one’s not for me, it’s for my nephew. I’m really not sure why that idea popped into my head, but I suppose it saved trying to explain who Paul was to me. “He’s the young man who tends my garden, don’t you know know” would just sound so weird.

The voice told me the Ann wasn’t in today. Damn. I could see Paul’s curiosity piqued at the change in my tone. I was offered Friday.

‘No, he had his mind set on doing it today’ I explained.

‘I’m sorry, we’re fully booked today’ was the final answer.

For some reason I was disappointed that he wouldn’t get Ann. I ended the call.

‘Never mind, let’s just go into town and see what we can find. How about that?’ I said brightly, thinking that it probably sounded like I was trying to encourage him like a toddler. ‘You’ve got time for a shower, but then we’ve got to go.’ I continued, in maternal vein. He always came to the house in normal clothes and got changed into his work clothes in the shed. Even though he hadn’t been at work long, he’d had time to get warmed up.

‘You don’t have to come’ he said.

‘I don’t mind coming with you, but wouldn’t you rather go on your own than have me sitting there waiting for you?’

Let’s just say that I might need a friendly face to tell me it looks okay’ he replied.

‘If you’re not sure, then maybe you shouldn’t do it’ I cautioned.

‘I do want to do it, it’s just that I’d rather have an independent opinion. The stylist is hardly going to say that it doesn’t suit me or I look awful, is she?’

‘You’re probably right. How do you know it’ll be a “she” who does it though?’ I asked, commenting on his assumption.

‘I won’t do it if it’s a man. I just have this thing about having a man being that close to me, invading my personal space’ he explained.

‘He’d need pretty long arms otherwise’ I chuckled. He had a point though. I would prefer a man to do my hair, but there were few of those about in the salons that I’d been to.

He cracked a polite smile at my rather lame attempt at humour.

‘You’re sure you’re okay to come then?’ he asked.

I gave him an impatient stare as if to ask “How many times do I have to offer?”.

He grabbed his street clothes from the shed and followed me into the house, where I showed him to the guest bathroom. I left him to it and went to get ready myself, enjoying the sound of the shower as I walked down the corridor. It made a change to have the sounds of someone else in the house. It made me realise that I was more than a little lonely without Caty.

I waited for him in the kitchen and smiled at him as he came in, all cherub-like and glowing from his shower. I’d heard the hairdryer, but he hadn’t done a very good job.

‘Ready?’ I asked. He nodded.

‘Let’s go and get that hair cut off, shall we?’ I said, taking the chance to ruffle his hair as I walked past him.

We drove the first part of the journey in silence, until I could take it no more.

‘Okay, how about this?’ I said, pausing to make sure that I had his attention. ‘I’ll take you to the Rainbow Centre. There’s one of those unisex walk-in places there. Whenever I’ve walked past, it’s been pretty quiet. How does that sound?’

‘I wouldn’t normally go there. Bit awkward without a car.’

‘But you know where I mean?’

‘I think so. One of those bright, wide-open, antiseptic-looking places.’

‘I’m not sure they’d be pleased to hear it described like that, but I see where you’re coming from. We chatted a little, but it was stilted, rather like many conversations with young men his age. I did detect more than a little nervousness in his demeanour though. We parked in the centre car park and headed down the fragrant, concrete stairs towards the shops. It wasn’t long before our goal was in sight. The approach confirmed that Paul’s summary had been right. I’d only ever walked past the place before, never approached it head on. The lights were harsh and it did look more than a little clinical. Maybe that was the look they were going for.

‘I’m not going to have to do the talking for you am I?’ I said as we were perilously close to the threshold. It didn’t have a door, just a yawning mouth, wide enough to pull in passers-by, or so they hoped. It was empty as far as I could tell, apart from the receptionist, whose sixth sense told her to look up from her phone as there were signs of life approaching. She was transformed from a bored-stupid entity to the very image of professionalism in an instant. She stood upright, cutting a fine figure in her starched tunic.

‘Good morning’ she said rather formally. I liked her already. I waited for Paul to open his mouth.

‘What can I do for you?’ she asked. looking at me as the guardian of the mute teenager at my side.

‘Paul?’ I said, hoping to prompt him.

‘I wanted to get my hair cut’ he said.

‘You’ve come to the right place’ she said with a smile. I liked her more and more and returned her smile as she turned her attention to him, clearly performing a preliminary assessment of what work may be required. ‘Just let me get you into the system, won’t be a sec’ she said as she went through the basic formalities needed to put someone’s name against a slot in a calendar.

‘Can I get you a coffee, while you wait?’ she asked, looking at me. She appeared to be about to lead Paul away to his fate when she paused pointedly.

‘I’m sorry, I should have asked if you were here to get yours done too’ she said, not looking quite as composed any more.

‘No, it’s okay, it’s just Paul’ I replied.

‘Why don’t you, Auntie Louise, since you’re here?’ Paul piped up. Both of us looked at him and then at each other. I paused while I decided how to negotiate the minefield that Paul had just laid in front of me. How could I say that I had a perfectly good hairdresser in a perfectly nice salon that didn’t have the stark appearance of this one.

‘I need to get home, things to do’ I said, avoiding specifics.

‘There’s no waiting’ the receptionist said with a slow, deliberate look around her. She smiled.

‘No, it’s fine thanks’ I said.

‘Go on, Auntie Lou, seize the moment and all that’ he said.

‘I’ve told you not to call me that’ I said, trying to sound stern.

‘Sorry, Auntie Louise’ he stressed. ‘You could be half way done by the time we’ve finished arguing the toss’ he said. The receptionist held her hands up in a peacemaking gesture.

‘It was only a suggestion guys, I won’ be offended if you say “no”‘ she said, reaching towards Paul in a gesture that told him it was time to get started. I took a seat and watched as Paul was led to the far end of the salon. I wondered about the reception desk being left unattended, but then saw the receptionist put her head round a doorway and another woman appeared, identically dressed, but a blonde rather than a brunette.

There was a brief exchange between the three of them and then I saw the new receptionist start her journey to her post. I looked to the magazine rack for something to while away the time. I wondered what the purpose of me being here was, apart from acting as his chauffeur. He was far enough away as to be beyond my attention. I wondered whether I should go down to him, but then decided that he would’ve asked me if that’s what he wanted.

I was conscious of someone sitting down next to me and looked up to see the “new” receptionist.

‘Sorry about that’ she said.

‘Don’t worry about it. You’d think that he’d be big enough to come on his own, wouldn’t you.’

‘I think he wants a bit of moral support’ the receptionist said.

‘He told you what he’s having done?’

‘Yeah. Seems to be the “in thing” at the moment’ she said. ‘I think he’s the fourth this week.’

‘My daughter did it a couple of weeks ago. For charity’ I said.

‘And what did you think about that?’

‘Bit of a shock at first, but she can carry it off. If anything. she’s come out of her shell a bit since she did it. Probably had to stand up for herself now that she stands out from the crowd’ I said.

‘Toni and I did the honours for one of the hospitals last year. It’s surprising how good some women look without their hair. You can see them struggling to hold on to it, but once it’s gone, they realise that they don’t actually need it to look good. They still look feminine, their husbands get used to them. We’ve even had a couple come in and do it again, just for themselves, because they like the way that they don’t have to spend any time on it.’

‘That’s just what Caty said. She said that she felt free and her boyfriend loves it. I think that she’ll be one of the ones who do it again and again.’

‘What do you think about that?’

‘I’m her mum. I like my little girl with her long hair, but it made me realise that she’s not my little girl anymore. I’ve had to lend her to some creature with tattoos and those horrible ring things in his ears, that she thinks is the man that she’s going to live happily ever after with.’

I watched her smile.

‘I’ve got that to look forward to’ she admitted. ‘Got a few more years of the golden-haired princess, but then who knows?’

‘Indeed’ I said, thinking that there wouldn’t be any need for a magazine at this rate.

‘It’ll only take a couple of minutes if you want to give it a go’ she said, taking me completely by surprise.

‘I’m a bit old for it, don’t you think’ I said, unable to think of anything more original.

‘Not at all. You said yourself that it suited your daughter, so there’s no reason why it wouldn’t suit you.’ She adjusted her position so that she was able to look at me front-on and reached up to sweep my hair back off my forehead.

‘Go and stand in front of the mirror there and do that’ she urged. ‘See how good you look with your hair off your face,’

‘There’s a difference between seeing yourself without a fringe and not having any hair’ I observed astutely.

‘True, but it’s the best we can do at the moment.’

She waited expectantly. Out of the corner of my eye I could see movement at the far end of the salon. It looked like Paul’s hair hadn’t put up much of a fight and he was already done.

‘Don’t worry, Toni’s not finished with him yet’ she said, realising where my attention had gone. We were at an impasse. She patted my knee and stood up.

‘Think about it. I’m only over there if you change your mind. We don’t have to do it in one go, we can take you to something much shorter, but very much still there. If it helps, I think you’d look gorgeous’ she said, leaving me to my thoughts.

Those thoughts should have been simple. I should have been sitting there with a gossip magazine wondering how anyone could actually read such trash. Instead my mind was flitting between images of Caty without hair, Paul with hair only minutes ago, but now hairless. Thoughts turned to visits to Ann and discussions about going shorter, befitting my views about women of a certain age not having hair below their shoulders. She’d happily taken me from my bra strap to just brushing my shoulders over the past twelve months or so. We’d made a vague promise to each other to take me to a snazzy collar-length something or other next time I saw her. I wasn’t sure whether it was my resolve or hers that was likely to fail, but a shorter “me” was on the cards in the not too distant future. I had no idea that it was in my immediate future though.

What was stopping me? I had no man at present. Men generally liked women with long hair. They’d managed to resist me for the past couple of years though. A second objection was what my acquaintances would say if I changed my appearance radically. I ran through a list of them and wondered why they would care and why I should care what they thought. They never consulted me and certainly there were some, male and female, who had made some poor fashion choices in my opinion. A third objection would be people who didn’t know me. People in shops. What would they think if I cut my hair. Now I was getting silly. I brought it closer to home. What would Caty think? Had Caty asked my opinion before she did something that she knew was likely to give me pause for thought? No. Had she consulted me before choosing that freak-show as a bed-mate? No, certainly not.

So, the only person who mattered was me. It boiled down to whether I wanted to cut my hair or not. My mind flicked to Paul. What had made him

make that suggestion when we came in. Was he just being mischievous or was his comment made in hope? What did it matter. He was a teenager who did my garden, why should I care what he thought.

The strange thing was that I did care. I stood up and wandered to reception. I saw the girl look up expectantly and smile.

‘I’m just going to see how he’s getting on, if that’s okay’ I said.

‘Sure, no problem’ she replied.

I headed towards the far end of the salon, my heels beating a rhythm on the floor as I went. My eyes were drawn to the pile of Paul’s hair lying discarded around his chair. The stylist turned towards me briefly before returning her attention to what she was doing. It was just as well really, as she was in the process of shaving Paul’s head with old-fashioned shaving cream and a razor. Of the cut-throat variety. Not what I expected. I could see him looking at me in the mirror.

‘How’re you getting on?’ I asked him.

‘It’s pretty short’ he joked.

‘That it is, but it’s what you wanted, isn’t it?’ I asked.

‘A bit late now, if it isn’t’ the stylist whose name I believed to be Toni (with an “i” or a “y” or something similar, no doubt) chipped in. Now that I was close  to the action, I really didn’t want her doing anything except concentrate on what she was doing with that fairly evil-looking blade. She seemed to be doing alright so far. I could see white shaving cream and pristine skin, but no trail of blood.

Paul hadn’t answered the question about whether he liked it or not. I suspect that it was a lot to take in and it was now that I needed to do what he’s ostensibly brought me along for.

‘It looks good on you’ I said, venturing a squeeze of his gown-covered shoulder. I could feel the fruits of his labours in my garden. He was solid. I surprised myself. I liked the way he felt. I hadn’t really got to grips with a firm man for way too long.

‘I don’t think I’ll be much longer Aunt Louise. I know you need to get back’ Paul said. I looked at the stylist with the man’s name.

‘Take your time. There’s nothing that can’t wait’ I said. ‘I’ll leave you to it anyway’ I said and turned back towards reception to wait for him.

I smiled at the receptionist as I got back there.

‘What did you think?’ she asked. I looked at her blankly. ‘Do you think he made the right choice?’ she clarified.

‘It’ll take some getting used to, but it’ll grow back if he doesn’t like it’ I replied, taking the few additional steps back to where I’d been sitting before. I picked up the same magazine that had been serving to reserve my seat in case hordes of customers descended while I was with Paul and sat down. I looked at the page and then looked up, my attention drawn by a slight breeze.

The breeze had been caused by a grey gown, swished by the receptionist in her best imitation of a matador. She couldn’t have startled me more if she’d actually plunged one of those spear things into me in preparation for the dance of death. I looked up at her.

‘You know you want to’ she said.

‘Paul’s nearly done’ I said.

‘Don’t worry, we’ll send him for a coffee or something’ she said, lifting the gown a couple of inches as if that would make the prospect of what she was suggesting a little more enticing.

‘Really, I don’t think I’m ready yet’ I said, sounding like a virgin clamping her knees together at the last moment.

‘Let’s just go over there where I can show you a bit better what I’m talking about’ she said. I looked up at her, feeling vaguely pathetic. I’m a grown woman, a mother who’d fought a rebellious daughter and a dick of a husband. Why should I be fazed by a woman with a bit of shiny material? My hand went to my hair, drawing a tress back from my face. It was defensive, it was protective.

‘Don’t worry, we won’t do anything you don’t want to do’ she assured me.

‘That’s part of the problem. I don’t know what I want to do’ I confessed.

She held the gown out, arm holes positioned in welcome. I listened to the rustle as I followed her into the salon. I felt like a chicken ready for the oven. She had her hands on the back of the seat, angling it to receive me. This was all too easy and not at all what I wanted. I put my bag at my feet and looked at myself in the mirror. Looked at my hair, turned my head to the left and the right, partly looking at myself and partly looking at the once-shaven Paul who was being lathered up for another go. I wondered if he’d seen me. What would he think?

‘I’m Gilly, by the way, the receptionist-turned-stylist informed me, as she gathered my hair at the back of my head, scraping it back off my face.

‘See how much brighter your eyes look without the distraction of all this’ she said.

‘I don’t want to be bald. I can’t be bald’ I said meekly.

‘You don’t have to be, if you don’t want to. You can still get rid of this and show the world just how beautiful you are underneath’ she enticed.

‘It’s been a long time since anyone used that word about me and then it was only with one aim in mind’ I chuckled.

‘Nonsense, just let me show you’ she said.

‘Haven’t you got style book you could show me?’

‘Not one that has what I have in mind for you’ she replied.

‘So we’re not talking mainstream then’ I chuckled.

‘How about if I promise not to shave your head, will you let me play a little?’

I was just about to answer her when I sensed movement. Paul was done and was heading towards me, accompanied by his stylist.

‘So you are getting yours done then’ he observed.

‘We’re just having a chat’ Gilly told him, saving me from having to say anything. I looked at him, bald, different, older-looking.

‘Like it?’ he asked, lowering his head towards me so that I could see it in all its glory. I reached from under the gown and patted it. It felt weird.

‘How about you go and have a wander round the shops for a bit. Your Aunt can text you when we’re done’ she said.

‘Will you be long?’

‘Maybe, maybe not’ she said, toying with him.

She paused while he took in what she’d said and then we listened to his footsteps become more distant as he left the salon.

‘Right, where were we?’ Gilly said, turning her full attention to me.

She was animated as she ran through a gamut of options with me, lifting my hair to various points, gathering it in her hands, combing it. I could be bobbed, pixied, clippered, undercut, coloured, bleached. She appeared to be considering all options, but all she did was increase my indecision.

‘I’ll have a think’ I informed her eventually, her disappointment palpable in the same way as a waiter who’s just reeled off a long list of the day’s specials, only to be told that you’ll just have a burger. She unfastened the cape, trying to stay professional, saying that it was fine.

We said our goodbyes after I’d paid for Paul’s haircut and given her a large tip for her help. For some reason I just needed to put some distance between me and her chair. I dug my phone out of my bag, ready to text Paul, but then decided that I wouldn’t mind a look round the shops while I was there. He wasn’t expecting anything from me for a while, so I didn’t feel too guilty. I headed for the big department store and meandered round the racks of dresses, looking disinterestedly. My mind was just full of the conversation with Gilly, images of Paul with his bald head. The conversation with Gilly had excited me more than I realised, there was something erotic about putting yourself in someone else’s hands like that, even though I had got up and walked away. I was curious to know what she was really thinking, which of the styles she would have actually plumped for if I’d stayed. My hand went to my phone again and I scrolled down until I found Paul’s number. “Where are you?” I wrote. My thumb hovered over the “send” button, but didn’t press it. I needed a bit more time. Phone returned to my bag, I headed towards the escalator and the ground floor.

I looked in shop windows as I walked past slowly, but there was nothing to delay my arrival at where I wanted to be. What did I want to do? I realised that I just wanted to sit down and let Gilly make a choice for me.

I walked through the opening and looked at the empty reception desk. I popped my head round the partition and saw Toni with an “i”.

‘Hello again, is Gilly free?’ I asked.

‘She’s just on her lunch’ she replied, walking towards me.

‘Will she be long?’ I asked.

‘Probably not, but she’s only just gone’ Toni replied.

‘Could you book me in with her?’ I asked.

‘I can take you now, it’s no problem’ she replied with a smile.

‘It’s probably best I wait for Gilly. We had quite a long chat, I’m sure you know. I just needed to think through some things that she was suggesting, I’m not sure what conclusion she came to.’

‘She told me all about it. You and Paul brightened up our day no end’ she said.

‘Pleased to hear it. Did she tell you what she had in mind?’

She nodded. ‘Were you going to let her do it?’

‘I think so.’

‘Even though you don’t know what it is?’

‘I told her that I don’t want to be bald, but apart from that, I think I’m up for anything’ I replied.

‘Do you want me to tell you what she was going to do?’

‘That’d spoil the surprise’ I replied.

‘She was going to take you very short and then bleach you, sort of white-hot blonde.’ she said.

My hand went up to my hair again, as if that gesture could give me any guidance as to what Gilly’s proposed re-style would be like.

‘Bit drastic, but intriguing’ I replied.

‘She changed her mind though’ Toni said tantalisingly.

‘Why’s that?’

‘Partly because she’d need to do a skin test, which takes time and partly because you left without doing anything.’

I nodded. ‘So what was she intending to do?’

Toni paused.

‘Shave your head’ she said, her expression serious.

‘I told her that was the one thing I didn’t want to do’ I said, my heart fluttering. I’d been excited at the prospect of coming in for something new, a  surprise and now it wasn’t going to happen. If Gilly was going to do my hair, we’d have to have another chat and set out the ground rules.

‘Just like that? Even though I’d told her I didn’t want to?’

‘Would you like a coffee?’ she asked.

‘I suppose I could’ I replied. ‘Thank you.’ I wondered whether I actually wanted to wait around for Gilly to come back. The moment had passed. I should’ve let her do her thing while I was in the chair, while the excitement was fresh.

Toni went away and came back with a coffee for me, nothing for her. She set the small tray down on the shelf in front of one of the styling stations, the one where she’d cut Paul’s hair. She looked at me.

Aren’t you even a little bit curious?’ she asked.

‘About?’

‘What it’d be like.’

‘Not really’ I replied. Her expression changed ever so slightly as if to acknowledge what I’d said.

‘Why don’t you make yourself comfortable while you wait for Gilly’ she said, swivelling the seat towards me. I sat down, grateful not to feel like a spare part standing in the middle of the salon. I watched the steam rise from the cup, swirling mysteriously, fogging up the bottom edge

of the mirror. I looked at myself,  blonde bob untouched despite the amount of time I’d spent in a hair salon today.

‘What did you think about Paul without hair?’ she asked.

‘It was very different’ I replied.

‘I thought that he looked lovely. I told him that I’m going to shave my husband’s head when I get home.’

‘Does he usually have it shaved?’ I asked, still looking at my cup of too-hot coffee.

‘He’s never had it shaved. Pretty short, but not shaved.’

‘Doesn’t he get a say in the matter?’ I asked, watching what she was doing.

‘He’ll love it she replied, taking a grey gown from the rack as her chuckle at the thought of what she planned for later on subsided. She swirled it round me and must have seen my expression.

‘Just getting you ready for Gilly’ she replied.

‘But you said that she told you she was going to shave my head’ I replied.

‘We won’t let her’ she replied.

‘How can you be sure that she won’t want to?’

‘Because I’m going to do it for you, before she gets back.’

I turned my head to look at her, feeling the strain in my neck, as I had to turn slightly too far.

‘And why do you think I’d let you do it when I’ve already told her that I don’t want to be bald?’

‘Something tells me that you want to do it. Want to share the experience with Paul, now that he’s done his. You’ll look lovely together.’

I looked at her. She knew, but didn’t want to say anything. The deception about me being Paul’s aunt hadn’t fooled her. ‘We’re not, you know, we’re not a couple’ I protested.

‘I didn’t say you were, but maybe you should be. I hope I’m in good enough nick in a few years’ time so that I can get some of what you might be getting’ she laughed.  I’d been caught in a lie and didn’t want to sit and explain myself. I could feel myself blush.

‘It’s still a leap from him doing something to me wanting to copy it. It’s easy enough for a guy to do it. A bit different for a middle-aged woman to get away with it.’

‘Who cares what other people think. When it’s just the two of you and a bottle of baby oil, you won’t care about what some old woman in the supermarket thinks, will you?’

‘You’re going to make me blush’ I objected.

‘Sorry, probably shouldn’t have said that out loud’ she laughed. I reached for my coffee and took a sip before putting the cup back down.

‘Don’t worry about it’ I told her, feeling a little silly at being so coy. Paul and I weren’t an item. I didn’t know if that’s what he thought would happen, I’m not sure if it’s what I was thinking. I’m not sure if it’s what I wanted, even.

The momentary distraction acted as a cover for her, which was only clear to me when I heard a small popping sound, followed by an electrical humming noise.

‘Just pop your head down for me’ she said, while she was still re-positioning herself behind me.

I caught her eye in the mirror. The frisson of wondering exactly what was in store for me had brought me back to the salon. That had been based on the rapport that Gilly and I had built up while Paul was getting his head shaved. I’d pondered coming back and had done so deliberately in the knowledge that I’d probably have little control over what she planned. If I’d wanted control, I’d have just waited until my next appointment with my usual stylist in my usual salon. I’d been enticed by the transformation of a haircut into something exciting. It was like the prospect of being blindfolded by a lover, not that I’d ever had the pleasure.

Now here I was with the anticipated surprise transformed into a different surprise. It was like having that hypothetical blindfold removed, only to find that you’re not with the person you thought you were. I wanted a surprise haircut and I was on the verge of getting one. It wasn’t the one that I wanted, but it was still someone else’s choice. Was Toni just playing with me, was she planning on ignoring my wishes all along. I felt butterflies. I felt turned on. I lowered my chin.

Almost before my brain had transmitted the signal to make my chin lower, Toni had run the clippers up the back of my head. I didn’t know what to think, part of me was horrified, part of me was wet. All manner of things were tumbling through my mind, accompanied by the gentle hum of the machine hat was stripping me of my hair. I barely heard the request to lift my chin again, but complied nonetheless. I looked at myself in the mirror, watched the clippers approach my forehead and prepared for the first glimpse of me without hair. The clippers moved across my scalp, but the expected bare skin didn’t appear. The clippers had done what clippers do, but I still had hair. Bristly hair, but still something that covered my scalp.

Toni paused and looked at me. ‘It’s a number three, don’t worry’ she said.

I never thought that I would have felt relief that someone would have just cut off most of my hair! Toni started moving the clippers again, her movements smooth and rhythmic. I watched, fascinated, as hair tumbled to my shoulders and into my lap. She was giving me a man’s haircut, but I could see that there was something feminine there too. It was still me, but it was a very different me.

‘You’re very quiet’ Toni said as she was coming to the end.

‘It’s a lot to take in. I thought you were going to shave me like Paul, but you’ve still cut most of my hair off and I’m almost grateful’ I said.

‘Do you want to finish your coffee, take a breath?’ she asked. The clippers went quiet and she rubbed her had lightly over my bristly scalp. I could see bits of hair jumping as she moved. She stood back to let me reach for my cup, my eyes fixed on my reflection.

‘I look so different’ I said as I put my cup back on the shelf.

‘Much better, if I may say so. We’ve just got rid of suburban mom, now we’re looking at someone altogether more interesting’ she said.

‘Can I touch it?’

She nodded and I reached up to touch my man hair. It felt soft, despite its bristly appearance. I still couldn’t believe that it was my head that I was touching. I turned my head so that I could see the sides.

‘Is this it?’

‘Not yet.’

‘What now?’ I asked.

‘That’s up to you’ she replied, looking at me.

‘I thought you were the one calling the shots’ I replied.

‘I just wanted to get you over the first hurdle.’

‘But you said you were going to shave my head.’

‘Is that what you want?’

‘No, I don’t know.’

‘You told Gilly that you didn’t want to be bald.’

‘What can you do now you’ve done this?’ I asked, reaching up to rub my shorn head once more.

‘There’s plenty we can do. You could still go with Gilly’s idea of bleaching it white if you want, but we couldn’t do that part today. I’d need to do the skin test and make sure that you’ll be okay with it.’

‘I’d don’t really want to go home half-finished.’

‘Of course’ she replied. She was waiting. I wasn’t helping.

‘I don’t know what to do, you’ll have to help me’ I said eventually.

‘If you won’t tell me what you want, are you telling me that I can do what I want?’

‘If I leave it up to you, you’re going to shave me, aren’t you?’

‘You said you didn’t want to be bald.’

‘I know.’

‘But you’re not going to tell me what to do?’

Everything was tumbling through my mind again. I’d started down a path, but did I have the courage to turn back?

‘Your decision’ I told her, looking round at her.

The clippers that had been held at her side came back to life.

‘Chin down again’ she said.

I felt the vibration at my neckline again and then felt it move. The tiny vibrations travelled somewhere else, somewhere much more pleasurable.

She repeated her movement, slightly to one side of where she’d been before, bringing the clippers up smoothly, and then lifting them away. Before I knew it, it was time to lift my chin and look into the mirror. I couldn’t see what she’d done at the back of my head, but the clippers were at the side of my head now, in front of my ear. I watched to see what they’d do. They moved slowly upwards, leaving my fresh bristles to move rapidly downwards and on to my shoulder. There was a patch of bare skin where only a handful of minutes ago, I’d had several inches of hair. The clippers moved over and round my ear, extending the barren expanse. There was more fluttering.

‘So much for me saying that I didn’t want to be bald’ I said with a wry smile as the clippers made a dash for the crown of my head.

‘I think we both know that’s why you came back really, you just didn’t want to admit it’ she replied.

‘I came back because I was curious about what Gilly would do if I let her’ I said, fascinated rather than shocked.

‘But you’re pleased that I’ve done it, aren’t you?’

‘Maybe’ I admitted with a smile. I watched as she made a few finishing passes to make sure that she’d got everything that she could. The clippers went quiet, their work done. I looked at myself. Was this what I wanted, was it why I came back? I wasn’t sure.

I watched her put the clippers down and reach for the can.

‘We could skip this part, I think’ I told her.

‘You’re not getting off that easily’ she said. ‘In fact, I’m going to shave you twice to make sure that you’re as smooth as can be’ she said. I raised my eyebrows.

‘What have I done to deserve that?’ I asked.

‘I just want to make you perfect for Paul’ she said, making sure that she caught my eye.

‘That’s quite an assumption’ I said.

‘If you haven’t, you should. Not that it’s anything to do with me’ she said, spreading the first application of shaving cream over my scalp. Her touch was wonderfully light, but I wasn’t sure if that was because there was nothing between her fingertips and my scalp or whether she just had a wonderful touch. I decided to say nothing. I just settled back in my seat to watch what she was doing. What difference would it make whether she shaved me once or twice. I was bald. Middle-aged and bald. Jeez! I closed my eyes.

When Toni told me that she was finished, I heard myself sigh gently. I opened my eyes and looked at myself without hair. Without the slightest trace of hair. Toni stood at my side, waiting for my reaction.

‘You’re not giving much away, are you?’ she said eventually.

‘Well, I’m bald. I didn’t want to be bald’ I said. After a pause, I added what she probably knew all along. ‘I think I like it.’ I said.

‘You should, you’re gorgeous’ she said, a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

‘It might be a bit much for today, but if I were you, I’d lose the eyebrows’ she said.

I looked at her, surprised.

‘They’re a bit over-powering, you certainly need to thin them out, change the balance a bit.’

‘They’re all I’ve got left!’ I objected.

‘They’ve got to go’ she said.

‘I’ll think about it, maybe’ I replied. It was getting curiouser and curiouser.

‘Close your eyes and tip your head back for me’ she said.

I looked at her.

‘I can’t believe I’m doing this’ I said, doing as she asked. I opened my eyes again. ‘You’re just going to thin them, right?’ I said.

‘I think you want me to do more than that’ she replied. I closed my eyes.

I felt the lightest touch above my left eye. I knew that I’d regret it, but couldn’t help myself. The touch switched to the other side. I must be mad.

It was all over in a minute or so. I opened my eyes when she told me to and couldn’t quite stifle a laugh. ‘You really think that looks better?’

I asked.

‘You can draw them back on when you get home, but if I were you, I’d leave them. Get used to them for a while.’

‘I’m not sure’ I replied, knowing that the eyebrow-pencil would be out the moment I got home.

‘If you say so’ she replied with a smile. She reached behind me and unfastened the gown. I was back in my dress, me, no gown, no hair, no eyebrows.

I walked back to reception with her, pausing to pay her.

‘Thank you, I think’ I said and walked out of the salon and into who knew what. I walked briskly away from the salon, not really too bothered about which direction I was heading in. I just didn’t want people to think that I’d only just come out. I found a bench and sat to gather my thoughts. I looked at my watch, realising how long it had been since I’d sent Paul away. I dug in my bag for my phone and rang him.

‘Hi Paul. Where are you?’

‘By the car park entrance. I’ve looked at everything’ he said, sounding somewhat dejected.

‘I’m sorry, I’m on my way’ I said.

‘Did you get your hair cut?’ he asked.

‘A bit off the ends, nothing drastic’ I replied and ended the call. I took a deep breath and headed towards him.

I could see the surprise on his face as soon as I turned the corner.

‘You can breathe you know’ I said as I got close to him.

He said nothing. I reached up and stroked his scalp. ‘Snap!’ I said with a smile. He carried on looking at me.

‘Nothing to say?’

‘Stunning’ he said.

‘You too’ I replied, turning away from him to walk to the car.

We got into the car and sat in silence for a few seconds.

‘I was thinking about getting a wig’ I said.

‘No, don’t’ he said quickly, almost before I’d finished uttering those few words.

‘You really think it’s okay for a woman my age to walk around like this?’ I asked seriously.

‘Why not?’ he asked. I started the engine and drove home, sneaking a look at myself in the mirror whenever I could. I prayed that none of the neighbours would see Paul and I get out of the car together, both freshly bald. We were in luck.

I let Paul lead the way to the front door. I examined him as he walked, strong shoulders and neck leading to that hairless head. He looked older from the front and certainly older from the back. I hoped that the same wasn’t true for me.

‘I’ll be down in a sec, put the kettle on would you?’ I asked as I closed the front door.

‘I’d ought to be going’ he said, surprising me.

‘Won’t you stay for a coffee?’ I asked, my foot resting on the first tread. I saw him look at himself in the hall mirror.

‘I’d ought to go and get it over with.’

‘What?’

‘Letting them see.’

‘I thought you said they wouldn’t mind.’

‘Here’s hoping’ he said, and reached to open the door.

‘Good luck’ I said, the sound of the door closing emphasising the emptiness of the house. I went upstairs, mulling over the events of the past hour.

I did some housework, wondering how to break the news to Caty, wondering whether I should make a little video the way that she had. It was a thought.

Late afternoon, I looked through the kitchen window and say Paul in the garden. He’d left without putting his things in the shed and had come back to tidy up. I opened the patio door and went out.

‘Well?’ I asked.

‘Not quite as bad as I thought. Told me that I was old enough to make my own decisions. Still said that they couldn’t understand why I’d want to though.’

‘Just wait until they see me’ I laughed.

He smiled. It was nice to see.

‘Fancy that coffee?’ I asked.

‘I need to tidy up’ he said evasively.

‘Come in when you’re ready then’ I said, and turned back to the house.

The coffee had almost finished brewing when he came in.

‘Glad you did it?’ I asked, looking up.

‘Yeah, are you?

‘I think so’ I said, realising that I hadn’t actually told him how I’d come to be bald. We sat with our coffees at the breakfast bar while I told him. He looked rapt as I relayed what had happened.

‘You haven’t drunk you coffee’ I told him.

‘Sorry’ he said, picking up the mug and taking a long swallow. He looked at me.

‘So you didn’t mean to shave your head?’ he asked.

‘I didn’t mean to get my hair cut when we walked in. I was there for you, that was all.

‘So why did you?’

‘It was exciting’ I replied after a pause.

‘I wish I’d been there’ he said tentatively.

‘I don’t think it would’ve happened if you’d been there’ I replied.

‘I’m glad I wasn’t then’ he replied, picking up our cups and heading for the sink. He smiled a goodbye and left me to my thoughts.

I decided that the most important thing was to patch things up with Caty. What better way than for  her to see that she’d been wrong about me disapproving of her and her choices. I decided to surprise her by driving up to uni and taking her for a nice lunch. The boyfriend too if it came to it, but I hoped that it would be just the two of us. I was pretty sure that she only had one lecture on a Tuesday, so I drew my eyebrows on and took a leisurely drive up, giving her time to surface.

‘Hi Caty’ I said when she answered her phone.

Hi mum’ she said, less enthusiastically than I’d have liked. We chatted for a minute or so and then I broke the news that I was sitting in a coffee shop round the corner from where she lived. Once she’d got over the shock, she agreed to come round. I waited anxiously. I wasn’t sure how much to tell her, I’d just have to play it by ear. I sipped my coffee, my gaze on the door, even though I was sitting at a table toward the back of the shop.I saw her through the plate-glass window. She was alone. She peered in, but then opened the door, the image of someone looking for a  friend who she knew was already there. Her gaze landed on me for a split second, but moved on without pausing. She carried on looking for me and it was only on the second pass that the “mummy wave” told her that the bald woman in the gloomy corner was indeed her mother. She paused at the counter to order something and then headed for me, a look of bemusement on her face.

‘Hello love’ I said, half standing up so that I could hug her.

‘What’ve you done?’ she asked. Not as much as a “hello”.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked innocently.

‘Your hair!’ she exclaimed.

‘I thought that I’d get it cut. You looked so good with yours done, I wanted to give it a go.’

‘Wow’ she said, dumb-struck.

‘How are you anyway? We didn’t have much time to chat last time’ I said, hoping that it just sounded factual rather than an accusation of any kind.

We chatted for a while, the tension reducing progressively and then she said that she needed to go. She put her hand over mine and told me that she was pleased that I looked happy.

‘We should be happy for each other’ I replied. She picked up he back, getting ready to get up.

‘There must be something in the water back home’ she said.

I looked at her.

‘There was a bit of an exchange on what you old fogeys call “social media” over the past couple of days. Apparently Paul Mason shaved his head recently. Is he doing your garden?’ she asked, trying to keep a straight face.

‘Now then, young lady…’ I started to say. She laughed. ‘Haven’t you got a lecture to be at?’

‘I can skip it. I’d rather hear about my mum shaving her head.’

‘What’s there to tell about shaving my head? I sat down, someone shaved my hair off, same as you.’

‘So why the shaved head? At least I did mine for charity.’

‘Paul saw your video. Turns out he likes women with short hair or no hair. He’d wanted to do it himself and it seems that you triggered the decision for him.’

‘So let’s get this straight. Gamer boy decides to join real life, sees me without hair, decides to shave his head and enlists you to help him. You decide it’s a good idea and you really go for it, eyebrows and all.’

‘That’s about it. Do you think I’m silly?’

‘Not at all. I think it’s great. I can just imagine what the neighbours are saying.’

‘Who cares?’ I’m past caring now, and pleased that I am. As long as you’re okay with it.’

‘I can hardly object now, can I?’ she laughed, reaching up to touch her bare scalp. ‘Is there going to be a next time?’ she asked after a moment.

‘Maybe.’

‘You must. You absolutely must. I’m so proud of you.’

‘So that’s all it takes for you not to think I’m an “uptight bitch”, I think it was you called me.’

‘I’m really sorry. That was a terrible thing to say.’

‘Well, at least we’ve got something in common now. We could get shaved together’ I chuckled.

She put her hand over mine and squeezed again.

Caty said that she had to go and as a parting comment she thanked me for not saying anything about the stud through her tongue.

‘Whatever turns you on, isn’t that what we’re saying’ I replied.

She started to explain the benefits of a tongue piercing until I held my hand up and said that I didn’t want to know.

‘Doesn’t sound like you’re going to copy that the way that you copied my head shave’ she said.

‘I think you’re pretty safe with that’ I replied.

‘You could always think about getting your nipples done. They look so sexy…’

Maternal disapproval clashed with natural inquisitiveness, which resulted in a gentle shake of the head and a hug. ‘Really?’ I asked as we separated.

‘Get rings and string a chain between them’. Looks fabulous. I know mine do’ she said with a knowing wink. I tutted, the way that a mother should when hearing such comments from her daughter.

I replied that it really was time to go. I left for the drive home, thinking about what Caty had said about me looking happier, being fun again.

The divorce had knocked it out of me and it probably was true that I’d been too serious for too long. Now I’d let my hair down by shaving it off!

Less than a week ago, I’d had a full head of hair. Now I was almost used to not having any. I’d toyed with the idea of buying a wig, but that hadn’t lasted long, even though I was still concerned about local gossips seeing both Paul and I waith bare scalps. I decided to stick to the “Caty solidarity” story if it came up.

I willed the days away until I could go back to the salon. I’d thought about doing it myself, but the memory of the experience with Toni pushed that notion right out of my head.

I walked towards the salon door as confidently as could and looked for any trace of recognition on the receptionist’s face.

‘Hi Louise, nice to see you again’ she said, surprising me that she was ready with my name. ‘I was worried that I might’ve scared you off.’

‘Quite the opposite. The past week has opened my eyes to so much. I’m open to trying new things.’

‘Well, let’s get started shall we?’

I sat down in the chair and let her wrap me in a gown.

Now, what are we doing for you today?’

‘I don’t think there’s too many options’ I chuckled. I let her shave my head again as if it were the most normal thing in the world and in no time, I was back to being smooth again. It was how I was going to be from now on.

A few days later, I had a message from Caty saying that she was coming home. I so wanted the visit to go better than the previous one. I asked whether it was just her, hoping against hope that it would be, so that we could carry on building bridges. She said that she would be alone. I was delighted.

When she arrived, she was more relaxed than the last time she was home. Something had changed. Something had changed with her and between us. She was more relaxed and I loved just sitting there chatting, drinking wine. She was cagey about he young man, which I took to be defensive, a sign of her not wanting us to fight. Over the course of the day, he didn’t get a mention, even though I could see her texting on a regular basis.

That evening, she said that she was going out for a drink. I was curious, but she just told me that it was an old school friend. She went, leaving me feeling more alone than I had for a while. I’d really enjoyed her company, and knew that I’d really miss having her around when she went back. I told myself that I really had to get myself someone, rather than rattling round in the house on my own.

I was just about to go to bed when I heard the door go. It wasn’t that late, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to hear that she wasn’t alone. What was a surprise, was that I could make out a male voice. I hadn’t got undressed yet, so I went downstairs too say hello. As I got closer to the foot of the stairs, I was starting to think that it was a bad idea. It had gone quiet. Too quiet. I tip-toed to the lounge door, only to be stopped in my tracks. Caty was entwined in a passionate embrace, fully clothed, I might add! Her equally enthusiastic partner was bald. It was Paul!

I drew back from the door, surprised, pleased, confused. That contact on Facebook had obviously developed, but what had become of the tattooed, pierced creature that Caty had brought home previously? Was Paul a fling or a replacement?

I went upstairs, feeling a little foolish that I’d ever remotely thought that a little dalliance with Paul might have been  on the cards, but delighted at what I’d just seen. I went to sleep with a new resolve: it was time to find myself a man, one who liked his women bald!

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