Charlotte, Part 3 – Enduring Difficulties

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The third part of the Charlotte’s Fresh Beginnings trilogy

Resistance

When “seniors” day came around again, I realised that I had survived at Clippers by Cassie for a whole week.

‘Morning, Cassie,’ said Bill, the sprightly old chap from a week before, as he marched in.

‘Hello, Bill. Good to see you again,’ Cassandra responded, sounding as surprised as I was that a customer from the previous week had returned so quickly. ‘Is everything OK?’

‘I thought it was that Tom Hawkins girl they were taking about. The one with the uppity hair … and the arrogant attitude,’ he chortled. ‘Mates had been in here and said they thought they saw her with a bowl on her head! That sounded strange, but now I see what they mean.’

I recalled the old saying that there is only one thing worse than people talking about you, and that is people not talking about you! It was an adage that I used to live by. But now I was ashamed that people in the town I loved were talking about me because I was working in a lowly job with a humiliating haircut.

I tried to overhear what other things Bill’s mates were saying about me. But Cassandra shushed him, recognising that his mates’ observations were not for my ears.

I pretended not be listening, but I could hear a great deal of what they said as I continued with my morning tasks.

‘Keep it to yourself, Bill,’ Cassandra whispered, ‘but having her under my thumb has been a heaven-sent opportunity to put that snob in her place. Not just payback for all those times she ignored me when I went in that awful snobby store, but for all my friends that she looked down on as well.’

‘It’s always been known that she is arrogant and needed taking down a peg or two, Cassie,’ Bill chuckled quietly, ‘and you’re doing a great job.’

‘Thanks, Bill. As I said to you last time you were here, I am treating her exactly the way she deserves,’ my boss sneered.

Stunned, I wondered how people could be talking about me in such a degrading way. I was biting my lip, struggling to hold back my tears.

To my mind, it was irrelevant that what they said was true. It was only natural to ignore those prospective customers who dressed badly. Those who looked less affluent hanging around my counter at the department store. Why would I have wanted to waste time on uninteresting, ungrateful and, most importantly, unprofitable people? My opinion was not arrogance.

‘Hey, pudding bowl girl, be on your best behaviour with our Cassie and do all she says,’ Bill taunted, as he spun around to leave.

‘Yes, sir,’ I responded deferentially, ignoring his mockery, ‘I will.’

That set the tone for another relentlessly busy and humiliating day. All the old guys in town had heard the “pudding bowl” jibe and teased me shamelessly much to Cassandra’s undisguised amusement.

I asked myself why she was allowing my torment to continue unhindered. It had even reached the point that I was wondering if she was deliberately initiating it. But, if that was so, then why?

At the end of a particularly exhausting day, I considered asking Cassandra if I could forego my daily trim so that I could catch the earlier bus. After completing my chores, I reached for my coat when I heard a delicate cough from behind me. Without looking, I walked back to Cassandra’s chair, sat down, and bowed my head.

What she said next took me by surprise.

Reprieve

‘I’ve decided that you won’t be having your usual trim today, Charlie,’ she announced, and I felt relieved. She smirked as I started to rise from the chair. ‘No, don’t get up.’

I looked at her quizzically, my anxiety returning, as I contemplated what she had in mind.

‘I had thought your lovely haircut would not only improve your efficiency at work but also serve to promote my skills to my customers,’ my boss explained. ‘But I was wrong.’

I breathed another huge sigh of relief at the thought of my tormentor allowing me to grow my hair once more.

‘After all, apart from the boys whose parents I have convinced that I should give them a bowlcut, there are few of my regular customers who are likely to want the same,’ she rationalised.

I imagined that I could feel my hair growing as she spoke. It was the best news for lightening the mood of the day.

‘So, after giving it some thought, I -’

‘Yes, Cassandra,’ I interrupted excitedly, ‘I was wondering …’

Cassandra shut down my suggestion with an admonishing glare. My willingness to share promptly faded away.

‘So, after giving it some thought,’ Cassandra repeated, ‘I have decided to cut your hair shorter, to promote a style that might be chosen by some of my more discerning customers.’

My reprieve had been short lived, and I bowed my head glumly as she secured her cape around my neck. I did not have the energy or inclination to ask how much shorter she intended to cut it.

‘I imagine that shorter hair will make it more comfortable for you when you are driving that lovely red sports car of yours when the hood is down,’ Cassandra suggested.

I gulped. ‘I had to sell it,’ I grumbled under my breath.

‘Really? Oh, what a shame,’ she said without any feeling, her amusement at my misfortune obvious.

I heard Cassandra’s clippers burst into life. Immediately, I felt them shaving off the last vestiges of my longer hair as the blade obliterated my bowlcut. Wearily, I saw her reduce the back and sides of my head to bare skin. The only hair remaining was that on the crown that she layered to a uniform length of just one inch.

Cassandra picked up a large comb with long teeth. Having seen her use it on the men, I knew exactly which haircut I was destined to receive. She diligently positioned my head so that it was perfectly level, forcing me to look straight ahead.

‘Do not move!’ she ordered. I froze, and I remained silent.

My boss drove the long teeth of her wide-toothed comb into the hair on my crown and held it horizontally so that it was parallel to the floor. With practiced ease, she ran the hairclippers over the top of the comb, the motion accompanied by the staccato sound of metal against plastic. The sharp and shining blade severed all the hair that had the temerity to rise above the level of the comb, falling in a cloud of fine snippets around my face and gathering on the cape.

Repositioning the comb slightly, Cassandra repeated the exercise. She moved herself and the comb and performed it again, and again, always punctuated by the loud clattering of the clippers over the comb. Each motion severed fewer and shorter snippets of hair. Eventually she stood back to examine her work with a satisfied smile. I, on the other hand, stared in disbelief.

Every hair that remained on my crown stood perfectly erect, creating a brush-like level surface that rose little more than half an inch from my head. The back and sides quickly faded in length to blend with the shaved skin, squaring off the curved shape of my head, giving a much more angular appearance.

‘I much prefer you like this,’ she asserted, uncaring of my opinion. Using the electric shaver, she ensured the clippered skin was completely smooth. ‘A perfect advertisement for the more stylish services I can offer my customers,’ she added with a note of professional pride.

I simply sat in the chair, totally stunned from the experience and my drastically transformed appearance.

Then, unexpectedly, she burst out laughing. ‘And, with that flattop haircut, you would also look good on the army recruitment posters.’

Reflection

Cassandra’s words and laughter concerning the ridiculous haircut she had foisted on me, felt cruel and unnecessary. As she whisked away the cape, I tentatively examined the smoothness of my skin on the back and sides, and the stiff brush of the erect bristles on my crown. I shivered with anxious disbelief, wondering how I could face the world with such an extreme and unfeminine haircut.

The original bob had been an acceptable, if plain, hairstyle for ladies. More daring women might even consider the bowlcut as a suitable avant garde look. But would any female want to have her hair cut so savagely, with her only remaining hair standing up on her crown like a brush?

As I continued to ponder my reflection in Cassandra barber’s chair, her unpleasant mocking laughter finally subsided.

‘Charlie, from tomorrow I want you to persuade customers to ask for the same hairstyle as I have given you. It requires much more time to cut and needs more regular trims, so it is a great money-making opportunity,’ Cassandra explained.

I responded with a curt, ambiguous nod. My mind was churning with competing thoughts.

She continued. ‘And no need for you worry, Charlie, as I will be giving you a trim every day – at least once – to keep you looking neat and smooth.’

I slowly stood, turning to face Cassandra.

‘I imagine that in a few days you will be shaving me completely bald, won’t you?’ I stated evenly but adding venom to every word as my temper rose.

‘I am considering it actually,’ she smirked. ‘But first -’

‘Well, you will be considering it without me,’ I spat. ‘I quit.’

‘Is that all the thanks I get, Charlie,’ Cassandra chortled, showing no surprise or remorse, ‘after giving you a job when no one else -’

‘And deliberately humiliating me and making me feel ashamed,’ I interjected brashly, ‘because, in your deluded mind, you believe I did the same to you when I served in the department store.’

Realisation

As each day had passed, I had absorbed increased evidence from Cassandra and from her customers. It became apparent that her offer of employment was the start of a savage game of her making.

Increasingly, I realised that she was revelling in her constant, and ever more demeaning, acts of cruel revenge. She was punishing me for the perceived snubs I had granted her in the department store when she had been a lowly customer with limited spending power.

I had failed to recognise her as one of the hordes of faceless women who browsed the expensive wares on my stand and wasted my time by asking for advice. One of the irritating women who sampled countless expensive products, but then bought far cheaper goods. Their miserly purchases had not meaningfully contributed to my large monthly bonus that I had required to keep me in the style to which I had become accustomed.

I was thrilled that I had revealed my tormentor for what she was. I was excited to tell her that I could no longer put up with her reprehensible treatment. I was delighted that I would be free to grow my hair. I was relieved to tell her what I really felt.

‘Feeling better now?’ Cassandra cooed, demonstrating a little uncharacteristic concern.

Yes, a great deal better, thank you, Cassie,’ I confirmed, nodding assertively, and deliberately shortening her name.

‘Excellent,’ she acknowledged brightly. ‘Oh, I meant to say, I was in town the other day with my mates, and we walked past your place. I remarked to them about Lady Charlotte having such a lovely looking flat. In such a pleasant location by the river too. You are extremely fortunate.’

Following the launch of that devastating bombshell, my entire world came crashing down once more.

I had quit my job and sold my car. With no other prospects of employment on the horizon, I would have no choice other than to move home. Everything I had worked for would be gone.

‘Are you sure you are feeling better?’ Cassandra cooed again, amusement now tempering her concern.

I contemplated her words. All her words. I took deep breath. ‘Cassandra?’ I ventured meekly.

‘Yes, Charlie,’ she drawled, but unable to disguise her grin.

‘Er, I’m sorry about earlier,’ I murmured, humbly forcing out an apology, ‘but when I said that I quit, all I meant was just for this evening as I am a bit tired … and all that …’

Cassandra remained quiet, staring at me with those unforgiving piercing eyes of hers, with the grin still playing on her lips.

I felt obliged to fill the silence. ‘I’ll return tomorrow, of course, as I do so enjoy working for you, Cassandra,’ I gushed.

Again, she held her pose and did not speak.

‘I mean, er … is that okay with you?’ I pressed.

To my great relief, she finally answered. ‘Yes, but we will have no more of those lamentable outbursts,’ she ordered.

‘No, none at all,’ I agreed meekly.

‘Good,’ Cassandra acknowledged.

I sat back in the chair, lowered my head, and took a deep breath. ‘And you may shave me bald if you wish, Cassandra,’ I timidly conceded.

She tapped a finger against her chin and examined me pointedly. ‘We will see, Charlie. We will see.’

Epilogue

As the days turned to weeks, I continued to undertake all the menial tasks foisted up on me, wearing my humiliating nylon uniform and sporting my signature flattop haircut. When the old men of the town entered the barbershop and ridiculed me, I – Charlotte Hawkins, the former senior beauty consultant at the prestigious department store – lamented my former arrogance.

I had become Charlie, the servile assistant with the weird masculine haircut. Cassandra, the vengeful barber, had enjoyed reducing me to slaving away in her rundown barbershop.

Forever haunted by the consequences of my past actions, I acquiesced, without complaint, to the heartless and relentless torment of Cassandra.

THE END

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