Claire waited nervously outside Carol’s hair salon. Despite it being not far from the high street, she had never had occasion to walk past it before. It was situated on a largely residential street of victorian terraces, with the ground floor of number 17 presumably having been converted to a hairdressers many years ago. The faded and flaking painted sign simply read ‘Carol’s’. Underneath, smaller lettering spelt out ‘Traditional Hairdressing for Ladies and Girls’. Peering through the yellowing net curtains, Claire could see at least two old-fashioned hood hairdryers, presumably still in regular use for the shampoo-and-set clientele who no doubt kept Carol in business.
Claire had not only followed Sheila’s instructions to the letter this morning, but had, much to her mother’s delight, treated Sunday as a ‘dress rehearsal’. Rather than painstakingly layering on her make-up, she had simply given her face a good wash with plain soap and water, and used the time she saved to snip her long fingernails off nice and short, and remove her usual bright red nail polish.
Getting dressed, rather than her usual tight jeans and designer top, Claire had instead opted for the calf-length pleated skirt and prim tie-neck blouse which her mother usually had to nag her into wearing for formal occasions.
Her mother’s eyes had widened when she had come down for breakfast, but she had restrained herself admirably.
“You look nice today, dear.”
“Thank you, I thought you’d like me to look smart for church today, especially as you asked me to help serving tea and coffee after the service.”
“Well that’s very thoughtful of you, thank you dear. I really appreciate it.”
“And I wondered if you’d like to do something with my hair as well, make it look a bit tidier, and get it out of the way.” Claire offered her mum the hairbrush she had brought down with her.
Mum raised her eyebrows. “Well what I’d like to do is take your bottom down to the hairdresser’s, and have those ‘rat’s tails’ all cut off, short and neat, as you well know. That would get it tidy, and out of the way! I don’t suppose that’s an option though.”
Claire smiled. “I think they’re closed on Sundays, Mum.”
“Well that’s better than the answer I normally get. Maybe I can still hope to see you with a nice, sensible haircut one day. For now, I suppose I’ll have to settle for getting this mess out of your face and looking tidy for a change.”
She took Claire’s hairbrush and motioned her to turn round, before vigorously attacking her hair with the brush. There were a few grimaces from Claire, and a few ‘tut’s from Mum as the brush hit tangles, but before long, Claire’s long hair had been pulled firmly back out of her face and nestled down her back in a neat and tidy plait.
“There!” exclaimed Mum with some satisfaction. “That’s better, at least we can see your face now!”
Claire had gone to church with her mum, with a lovely warm feeling inside, knowing that simply by opting to dress appropriately, wash her face and cut her nails, she had made herself look like a nice, respectable young lady, and had therefore made her mum incredibly proud. This was tinged with a touch of shame, though, that she hadn’t done this before, even though she had always known how much it would mean to her mum.
It wasn’t just her mother who appreciated the effort she had made, though. She lost track of the number of positive comments she received on her appearance, mostly from friends of her mum, but also from the vicar’s wife, who was really only a few years older than her. Together with her feelings earlier, this made her conclude that her ‘dress rehearsal’ had been entirely successful, and renewed her determination to go through with Monday’s hair appointment, and to accept whatever Christine’s mum thought was best for her.
With that in mind, when Monday morning came, Claire waited for her mum to go out to work before scraping her hair back into the tidiest ponytail she could manage and giving her face a thorough soaping. She put on her ‘church’ outfit from Sunday, and set off for Carol’s, hoping that she wouldn’t bump into any of her friends on the way, who would no doubt be puzzled as to why she was looking so smart and formal on her day off.
Looking through the window now, Claire’s eye was again drawn to the hooded dryers, and remembered her resolution of the day before. If she did submit to Mrs. Jones’ requests, would she end up being sat underneath one of those, with a head full of rollers? Would Christine’s mum insist on her hair being permed, just as she had for her own daughter? How would she, Claire, feel if she was told that as well as sacrificing most of her beloved long shiny hair, she was also going to be sent home from the hairdresser’s with the same tightly permed little bubble worn by her mother and most of the older church ladies? She just didn’t know. Perhaps she would be let off more easily, with ‘just’ a short haircut, which would look nice and smart for work and church, but she could at least try to make look fashionable when she was seeing her friends. Perhaps…
She was startled out of her reverie by the arrival of Christine’s mum, who immediately took charge.
“Punctual I see. Very good.” She looked Claire up and down. “Properly dressed, and a nice clean face too. Nails?”
Claire held out her hands, feeling relieved that she had followed instructions, and cut her nails short and removed the polish, as she had been told by this rather intimidating figure. She had only met Mrs. Jones once, briefly, when Christine had had her eyes tested, and whilst Sheila never left the house looking anything other than smart, on that day she had been dressed relatively informally, and her collar length hair had relaxed somewhat from the stiff shampoo and set she had worn for Christine’s graduation a few days previously.
Since that day, though, Sheila had first submitted to her mother’s insistence that she should have the same tightly cropped back and sides haircut as she had required for Christine, and she had then asked Carol to take her hair even shorter in order to look as strict as possible for today. As a result, Sheila’s silver hair was now cut extremely short, high over her ears, with the top set in tight, crisp waves. She had also had some fun going through her wardrobe to select the outfit which she thought would be most likely to induce Claire to sit quietly and obediently, whatever Sheila’s instructions were, and had settled on a plain black skirt suit with black boots and a starched white blouse. She had also decided to wear her old, ‘spare’ glasses, which happened to have severely plain wire frames.
Sheila nodded her approval of Claire’s nails, turned and swept in through the scuffed paint of the door.
Claire was feeling extremely nervous, but was determined to put on a brave face, and not appear intimidated by what was going on, so she took a deep breath, stood up straight, and followed Sheila in as confidently as she could.
The interior of the salon, whilst clean, was no smarter looking than the outside. The floor was covered in very shabby, worn linoleum, the hood dryers, unsurprisingly, had clearly seen better days and there was a strong musty smell. Claire had never been in a traditional hairdresser’s before, but she assumed that this was the smell left by all the chemicals which had been used in the salon over the last 50 years. A middle-aged lady was standing behind the tatty beige vinyl salon chair, her dark hair streaked with grey, and cut into a perfectly blunt bob, just below her ears. Claire realised this must be Carol.
“In the chair please, Missy. We haven’t got all day.” Carol had taken her cue from Sheila, and was doing her best to make sure that Claire would be given no choices, and simply accept the hairstyle that the two older ladies had decided on.
Carol’s brisk, no-nonsense attitude worked exactly as she had hoped, and Claire stepped forward smartly and sat down in the chair. Carol quickly snapped a large faded pink nylon cape around her neck and fastened it tightly. She pulled Claire’s hair out of its ponytail and let it cascade down the back of the chair.
Sheila addressed Claire again. “Now Claire, you know that you are here to have your hair cut into a smart, presentable style. I understand that Mrs. McCluskey requires you to have it cut off your collar and off your ears?”
“Yes, Mrs. Jones.”
“And that your mother would also like to see your hair cut up short and tidy?”
“Yes, Mrs. Jones.”
“Very well. If you please, Carol.”
Whilst Sheila had been talking, Carol had combed through Claire’s hair, and immediately slid her scissors in at Claire’s jawline, and snipped. Two feet of chestnut locks fell to the floor, swiftly followed by more, as Carol worked her way around Claire’s head to leave her with a roughly cut, short bob. Claire’s eyes widened as she saw, and felt, her treasured long hair being so ruthlessly removed, but she managed to keep her nerve, and didn’t utter a sound.
Without missing a beat, Carol commenced combing and cutting Claire’s remaining hair, swiftly creating a head full of short, neat, uniform layers. Claire realised that she was, just as she had requested, getting no say at all in how her hair was to be cut and styled. Instead, all the decisions were being taken by these two strict middle-aged ladies, who had no time for youthful vanity, but would see that she left the salon looking like a dutiful daughter or daughter-in-law, with exactly the kind of plain, sensible and fuss-free hairstyle that her mother had always wanted to see her wearing. As Carol was cutting, Sheila once again addressed Claire.
“Now, I believe that Mrs. McCluskey has told you that she would like you to have your hair permed. Is that correct?”
Claire gulped. “Yes, Mrs. Jones.”
“And I imagine that your mother would also be pleased to see you with a neat little head of curls?”
“Yes, Mrs. Jones.”
“Very good. When Carol has finished cutting your hair to a suitable length, she will give you a perm. Whilst I appreciate that is not necessarily something that you would have chosen, I hope you will understand that it is the best way of ensuring that your hair looks neat, tidy and presentable at all times.
“If you are serious about smartening yourself up, and making a commitment to your job, and your family, then I’m sure that you can be trusted to behave properly, and sit quietly whilst Carol does what she needs to.”
Claire immediately realised two things. Firstly, Mrs. Jones wasn’t going to take no for an answer, and that short of leaping out of the chair and making a run for it, she wasn’t going to be leaving here without having her hair permed. Secondly, that she didn’t actually mind! She knew that Mrs. McCluskey would be delighted that her hair would always be neat and tidy, no matter what, and she got a lovely warm feeling when she realised how proud her mother would be when her daughter was seen attending church next Sunday with her hair cut and permed into a smart, traditional, ladies’ hairstyle. And besides, her hair had already been cut off; short, plain, practical and conservative; why not finish the job, and make herself into the prim and proper young lady that her mother had always wanted to see? Claire had, after all, said that she wanted someone else to take charge, and not leave her any options, and Sheila was certainly doing that! Having reached these conclusions in a matter of seconds, there was only one thing for her to say.
“Yes, Mrs. Jones.”
Sheila smiled reassuringly. “Well done Claire. I realise this isn’t easy for you, but I hope you understand that it’s for the best. Very soon we’ll have you looking all neat and tidy for Mum, and you can start to enjoy the benefits of wearing your hair in a nice short perm. Not only will you be sure that you will always look smart and respectable, but you will find that it’s so much easier and more practical for you. If you wash it and let it dry naturally, it will just curl up all by itself into a lovely little poodle style. If your mother wants you to look more formal, then she can have your hair set, and you will then present a more traditional and conservative appearance. Either way, there’s very little day-to-day styling required, but you will still look perfectly presentable all the time. Once you adopt a nice sensible hairstyle, you won’t ever want to go back to a fussy long mane. Trust me; it won’t be long before you forget that you ever had all that silly long hair.”
Sheila’s speech, while it was supposed to be reassuring, was only partly successful. Claire did very much want to make her mum happy and proud, and she knew that keeping her hair in a neat little perm would show Mum that she was ready to be the sensible, dutiful daughter that she had always wanted. Her experiment on Sunday made her sure that their relationship would be so much closer and happier if she simply fell into line with her mother’s wishes for her to maintain a suitably smart and modest appearance, rather than having to be nagged into tidying her hair, toning down her makeup, and putting on a respectable outfit. Or even worse, refusing to do so, as she had recently when she had, somewhat reluctantly, accompanied her parents to a church social evening, and shown her mother up by insisting on wearing a short, tight skirt, covering her face with makeup and refusing to have her hair put up, or even tied back, so that she was continually having to flick it back out of her face.
Sheila did, however, make it sound terribly final, and whilst Claire was under no illusions about how long it would take to grow her hair back to anything like its former length, she wasn’t sure she was entirely ready to forget that she had ever had long hair, or to commit to the lifelong short curly perm that seemed ubiquitous in her mother’s generation. She was also starting to wonder about Frank, her boyfriend’s reaction. He had been very positive about her needing her hair cut short and smart, and hopefully he would welcome the fact that she would be spending much less time fussing with it, but he probably hadn’t been expecting her to turn into a clone of her mother! How would he feel about having a girlfriend whose only hairstyling choices were a neat and tidy little poodle cut, or a conservative and formal shampoo and set?
END OF PART TWO
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