It had only been six weeks since her last haircut, but Jane was already over it.
She had walked into the salon the day of the cut with thick, center-parted dark brown hair hair that fell almost to her waist. She had been growing it out to donate to a charity that made wigs for children with cancer and alopecia, and that day was donation day. Being relatively new to town since she had just moved there for grad school, Jane didn’t have a regular stylist yet, but she had driven past the salon a few times and thought it looked trendy enough, and that the clients who emerged always looked polished, so she figured she’d give it a shot.
When Jane called to make her appointment, the receptionist asked if there was anyone in particular she’d like to see, but because Jane didn’t have a preference for a stylist, she took the first available appointment, for later that same day.
The stylist, Monica, seemed pleasant. She chatted with Jane while shampooing her hair and blowing it dry, then she parted Jane’s hair into four ponytails across her back. “How long did you say the donation has to be?” Monica asked.
“It’s a fourteen-inch minimum but they recommend cutting a few extra inches if possible,” Jane answered.
Monica examined the ponytails. “You have a few split ends so I’d recommend going at least an inch longer than that,” she said, grabbing a measuring tape from her drawer and holding it along the length of one of the ponytails. “So fifteen inches takes you to right here,” she said, pointing at a spot just below Jane’s shoulders. “But for what it’s worth, I think you could totally pull off shorter hair, and then you’d have more to donate, too.”
“How short are you thinking?” Jane asked her.
Monica raised both hands to Jane’s chin. “Right about here. Which would give you…” she looked at her tape measure again, “…almost eighteen inches to donate.”
Jane hadn’t intended to leave the salon with hair above her shoulders, but after all, Monica was the expert. “Okay,” she said. “If you’re sure it will look good, let’s do it.”
Monica slid the rubber bands in Jane’s hair up to just below Jane’s chin and, without another word, picked up her clippers.
“Whoa!” said Jane. “What are those for?”
“Don’t worry. I’m just going to use them to cut the ponytails off. It’s much faster than shears would be.”
“Oh. Okay. Sorry.”
Monica turned the clippers on with a loud pop and then brought the humming machine close to Jane’s left ear. “Ready?” she asked, but she didn’t wait for a reply. She touched her clippers to the hair just above the hair elastic and within seconds, she was holding a foot and a half of Jane’s hair in her hand. Jane gasped at the short hair that was hanging just to her chin as Monica laid the first ponytail on her counter, to be bagged up with the rest before Jane left. Then she returned to her work. She placed the clippers near Jane’s right ear and repeated the process, just barely touching the vibrating blades to Jane’s hair before the ponytail was completely severed.
Though the hair on the back of Jane’s head was long, now that the hair on both sides had been reduced she was beginning to imagine what her new haircut would look like. Monica put the second ponytail down and stood behind Jane’s chair, again holding her clippers above the elastic holding a ponytail in place and again liberating the hair within seconds. Rather than pausing to put this ponytail on her counter, she draped it over Jane’s shoulders while she busied herself with severing the last bit of long hair from the back of Jane’s head.
Jane turned her head quickly from side to side. It felt so strange having it swish around her face like that. “Kind of fun, right?” Monica asked. Jane blushed a little, embarrassed at having been caught. “It’s okay,” the stylist assured her, “you’re not the first person who’s done that in my chair.” The stylist still held her clippers in her hand. “I’m thinking that you’ll look really stunning if we keep your bob really blunt, so I’m going to cut it with the clippers instead of with scissors, if that’s okay with you.”
“Won’t it be very short?”
“Not at all. I’m just going to use them to cut a straight line around your head, slightly shorter than where your hair is now, so it’s all even.”
“Do whatever you think is going to look best,” Jane told her after a moment’s hesitation.
Monica sectioned up the top half of Jane’s hair and then combed one strand at a time down, running her unguarded clippers along the teeth of her comb so that a perfectly straight line of hair began to encircle Jane’s head. Then she let the rest of her hair down and repeated the process, leaving Jane with an absolutely perfect, chin-length blunt bob, parted in the center the same way Jane had come in with it. “I need to clean your neck up a bit. Don’t be scared.” Monica tilted Jane’s head down so her chin was nearly at her chest and used the unguarded clippers she still had in her hand to clean up any hair that poked out from below the blunt line of brown hair. “Okay, you can look up now. What do you think?”
“It’s…short,” Jane answered. “I don’t know. It’s different.”
“Does it maybe seem like it’s a little unfinished to you?” Monica asked
“I’m not sure, maybe?”
Monica created a section of hair at the front of Jane’s head and combed it forward. “Don’t move,” she instructed her client. This time taking up scissors instead of continuing with her clippers, she began to cut upward toward her comb. Four inch locks of hair rained down onto the cape covering Jane’s lap. Soon, Jane was left with a long, blunt fringe that covered her eyebrows. “What do you think now?”
Jane inspected herself in the mirror once more. “It’s still very different. And very short. But I think once I get used to it I’ll think it’s cute! Thank you, Monica.”
Monica helped Jane gather her severed ponytails into a bag and walked her to the reception area, where Jane paid for the cut plus a generous tip for Monica, but declined to make a follow-up appointment. The cut had not been cheap, and she figured she’d start growing her hair out right away anyway. She was sure she could get decent enough maintenance cuts at the cheaper chain salon near campus.
Jane was right in that once she got used to the cut she did like it. Washing and drying took almost no time compared to before, and all she really ever had to do was tuck her hair behind her ears to get it out of her face. Plus, her roommates had been very complimentary about it.
But six weeks later, the bangs kept getting caught in Jane’s eyelashes, the back of her neck was feeling scruffy, and the chin-length locks she had been able to easily tuck out of the way kept trying to escape from behind her ears. Even though she still planned to let her hair grow long again, she knew it was time for at least a little haircut to get herself back into some semblance of tidiness. But it was a Sunday, and all the salons she knew of were closed today and would be closed tomorrow, too. “I have to at least do something about these bangs,” she said.
She ran out to the local drugstore and bought a cheap pair of haircutting shears and a comb. As an afterthought she also picked up a pair of hair clippers in hopes that one of her roommates could help her tidy her neck. “How hard can this be?” she asked herself as she returned home and set herself up in front of the bathroom mirror. Very carefully pulling the rest of her hair back behind a headband, Jane combed her bangs forward and began to make small upward cuts like she had watched Jane do. Only something must have happened that caused her to shift the comb while she was cutting, because the bangs on the left side of her face were significantly shorter than the bangs on the right. She combed the hair down again, this time trying only to even the two sides. She was successful in getting them even in this second attempt, but the bangs now seemed awfully short, stopping well above her eyebrows instead of below them. When she removed her headband so the rest of her hair fell forward, the bangs did not seem to match the rest of her hair at all.
“Oh well,” she thought to herself. “Maybe if I can trim the rest of my hair a bit they won’t look so bad.” She ran to her bedroom and grabbed her standing mirror so she could see the back of her head as well as the front and carefully, one tiny segment at a time, tried to cut her bob back to the level of her chin. She knew she’d never be able to replicate Monica’s clippers-over-comb method, so she was taking small snips with her scissors, looking after each cut to make sure she was keeping her line straight. She had almost made it the full way around her bob when someone knocked on the bathroom door and, without waiting for a reply, swung it open, hitting Jane in the elbow as she was closing her scissors on a lock of hair. The scissors shot upward and instead of continuing along their straight path, there was now a diagonal line on the left side of Jane’s hair, fully exposing her ear. The cut was also very close to her scalp.
“Oh shit. Oh shit, Jane, I’m so sorry.” It was her roommate, Holly. “I didn’t know what you were doing in here and it had been so long that I was worried about you.”
Jane was staring at herself in the mirror, frantically trying to pull the hair back down over her ear as if she could will it to grow. “What am I going to do now?” she said halfway to her reflection and halfway to Holly.
Holly walked fully into the bathroom and gently took Jane by the shoulders, pulling her away from the mirror. “I’m so sorry, roomie. It looks like we’re going to have to find someone to fix this.”
“But who?” Jane sobbed. “I can’t walk around like this until the salons open on Tuesday.”
“Well,” said Holly, looking a the hair clippers sitting unopened in their box on the bathroom counter. “There’s one easy solution.”
Jane gasped. “You think I have to shave my head?”
“Not necessarily. Remember a few years ago when lots of girls just shaved the sides of their heads? I don’t think it’s as popular anymore, but you still see it around sometimes. We can try that. The only thing…”
“Well. It’s just that you cut your bangs so short. It might look weird.”
“It would still be better than not having any hair at all, right? Can you help me?”
“I don’t know how to cut hair, Jane.”
“I think you kind of owe me, Holly.”
Holly helped Jane separate a large section of hair on the left side of her head from the hair on the right, which was subsequently pinned up. Then she unboxed the clippers and looked a at the instructions. “Let’s start with the number eight guard and see where that gets us. That will leave you with one inch of hair on this side.”
Holly attached the guide to the clippers and switched them on. Both girls jumped at how loud they were. “Are you sure you want me to do this?” Holly asked.
“I don’t see that we have any choice.”
Holly carefully placed the clippers at Jane’s left temple and pulled them upward. It was surprising how little resistance her roommate’s thick hair gave to the spinning blades. A clump of hair about an inch in length fell to the floor as Holly readied herself for another pass.
“Would it be weird if I said this was kind of fun?” Holly asked.
“Would it be weird if I told you it kind of felt good?” Jane replied.
Holly continued her work, but when she got about halfway through the area they had designated to fall to the clippers she stopped and turned off the machine. “This isn’t going to work,” she said. “The place where the scissors cut in is still really visible, so you have a stripe in your hair here. We’re going to have to go shorter.”
“How much shorter?”
Holly looked at the instructions again and picked up the number three attachment. “I think this much shorter? It’s 3/8 of an inch. It should be enough.”
Jane sighed. What other choice did she have?
Holly switched the guards and again returned to Jane’s left temple. “I’m really, really sorry,” she said as she turned the clippers on and pushed them up the side of Jane’s head. Clearly more comfortable wielding the machine now, she made quicker work of it this time. When she got to the spot where she had previously stopped, she paused for a minute and turned the clippers off. “There might still be the slightest trace of a stripe here but I think we’re good. I’m going to finish now, okay?” The clippers went back on, and Holly returned to her work, now buzzing longer locks—three to five inches—from the left side of her roommate’s head as she headed toward her nape. After she had mown the whole section down, she went over the area a second time with her clippers, watching for any straggling long hairs. She ran her left hand over Jane’s head as she worked, in case her hand felt a hair that her eyes did not see. “I think we’re all done,” she finally said. “Shall we unclip the rest of your hair and see what we’ve got going on?”
Jane nodded and reached up to release the hair on the right side of her head, then looked in the mirror. She was now sporting an asymmetrical bob with a deep side parting. A third of her head had been buzzed to a soft brown carpet, and the rest of her hair fell just to her chin. It might not have been so bad, but…Holly was right. The bangs did not work at all. Jane tried changing her part so the sidecut was covered, but with a center part the hair on her left side was noticeably thinner than the hair on the right and her hair was now too short to stay in place if she tried to cover the buzzed area by parting her hair on the right.
“So now what?” Holly asked, watching Jane play with her hair in the mirror. “Do you live with this for a few days or…”
“It just looks so bad, Hol,” Jane said. “What do I do?”
“You either hope you can find someone to fix it or…”
“Or I buzz it all off.”
“You said it, roomie. Not me.”
Jane stared at herself in the mirror for a few moments longer. Then, without saying anything because she was afraid her resolve might waver, she picked up the clippers from where Holly had left them on the bathroom counter, switched them on, and ran them right down the center of her head, from her widow’s peak to her crown. Pieces of hair varying from two to six inches landed in the sink.
“Okay, I see we’re really going for it,” Holly said.
Jane said nothing, raising the clippers to her forehead again and making another pass to the left of the last, so the new path nearly connected with the attempted sidecut. There wasn’t enough hair left on her head for a stylist to salvage even if they tried.
Holly sat on the edge of the tub as she watched Jane bring the clippers back to her forehead, this time slightly to the right of center, and further widen the buzzed section. A few more passes and the top of her hair was completely shorn. Jane stared at her reflection unblinkingly, absolutely resolutely, as she started on the right side of her head, shearing her chin-length locks to near nothingness but leaving a thick, dark carpet of hair still covering her scalp. Finally, when only the back of her head was left, she turned the clippers off and looked back to Holly. “Can you help me finish?” she asked. “I don’t want to miss a spot.”
Holly stood and took the clippers from Jane’s hand, turning them back on. “Point your chin down,” she instructed. Jane complied and Holly placed the blades at the base of Jane’s neck, running them upward toward her crown again and again until the whole back of her head was covered in that same soft fur that the top and sides were. As before, she ran the clippers all over the buzzed area—this time Jane’s whole head—once again, watching out for any stray hairs. When she was finally satisfied, she switched the machine off and gave her roommate a soft pat on top of her newly shorn head. “If it’s any consolation,” she said, “you have a really nice head.” Staring at their reflections in the mirror—her own strawberry blonde hair falling below her shoulders and her roommate’s super short brown buzz—Holly heard the words coming out of her mouth before she had fully thought them through. “This is my fault. I should have to shave my head, too.”
Jane looked at her roommate. “Don’t be stupid. This is my fault. I was the dummy who decided to try cutting my own hair and I didn’t even lock the bathroom door.”
“Still,” Holly said. “I just barged in on you. I could have waited until you answered. So do it. Shave my head. I believe you said I owed you.”
“No,” Jane said.
“If you don’t, I will,” Holly said, reaching toward the clippers that were still sitting on the bathroom counter.
“And make it one guard shorter than yours,” Holly said, picking up the number two guard and swapping it for the number three that she had just used on her roommate. “You deserve to have more hair than me, even if it’s only a little.”
“Holly…” Jane repeated, sounding exasperated.
“Jane.” Holly met her roommate’s eyes in the mirror. It was clear she was not to be dissuaded.
“Fine. Sit back down on the edge of the tub, though. You’re taller than me.” Jane grabbed the clippers and switched them on. She turned to her roommate. “Do you want me to start at the side or something, in case you change your mind?”
Quick as lightning, Holly grabbed the buzzing clippers out of Jane’s hand and placed them at her forehead, a wide strip of reddish-blonde hair emerging while twelve inches of hair tumbled to the floor. She held the machine toward her roommate, who was standing there with her mouth agape. “Does that answer your question?”
Jane took the still-humming clippers back from Holly and let out a deep sigh. “I guess there’s no going back now.” She held the buzzing machine to Holly’s forehead right next to where her roommate had made her own initial pass, and pushed them back, past her crown, all the way over her head and to her nape. She hadn’t realized how long Holly’s hair was—or how thick—until she saw it peeling off her head. What remained was so light it almost looked as though there was nothing there at all.
But Holly had been right about something she said earlier. This was kind of fun. As Jane made another pass, and then another, over her roommate’s head, she couldn’t believe how easy it was to destroy something that had been so beautiful, so quickly. For as long as she had known her—admittedly, only a few months, since her graduate program had started—Holly had taken exceptional care of her hair. And now Jane got to strip it from her completely. When the last long lengths of strawberry blonde were peeled from her roommate’s head, Jane did as Holly had done and ran the clippers over the entire area again, using her hand to feel for any long hairs that had escaped the hungry blades. Then she turned the machine off.
Because Holly had been sitting on the edge of the bathtub during the whole process, she couldn’t watch the slow denuding of her skull. But now she stood and walked to the sink. She looked at her face in the mirror before her, and could also see the back of her head in the mirror Jane had brought in from her room. “Oh my god,” she said, running a hand over the top of her head.
Jane came up next to Holly and stood on her tiptoes to kiss her roommate’s buzzed scalp, as her roommate had previously done for her, also echoing Holly’s words. “If it’s any consolation,” she said, “you have a really nice head.”
Holly laughed at her. “I suppose I deserve that.”
“You didn’t have to do this.”
“I did. I owed you, remember? But also…”
“Yeah?” Jane asked.
“I kind of always wanted an excuse to do this?”
Jane punched her in the arm. “You opportunist!”
“Not at all! I really did do this because I hated that it was my fault you had to. But I’m not too upset about it.”
Jane looked at herself in the mirror again, rubbing the side of her head. “You know,” she said, “neither am I.”
From down the hall, Jane and Holly heard the keys turning in their front door. Their third roommate, Kate, was must have been returning from her study session a the library, and they were going to have some explaining to do.