Don’t React

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You’re committed now, Iona told herself as she marched along the quiet street. You signed that waiver; you can’t chicken out. Maybe it’ll be fun, even.

She knew that much was a stretch, but it was true that she no longer had a choice. She’d been the one to send the enquiry, she’d negotiated a fee, she’d signed a contract to agree to the terms. Backing out might have been an option three weeks ago, but it certainly wasn’t now. Her legs knew as much, and they carried her briskly in the right direction even while her brain argued with itself.

A bell chimed as Iona pushed the door open. The lone occupant’s head turned towards her, a pretty woman who couldn’t have been older than thirty. Her chestnut locks sat slightly below her shoulders, impeccably styled in thick, bouncy curls. Iona found it hard to believe that this was the lady she was looking for, but she grinned upon sight of the girl who had just set foot in her shop.

“You must be Iona! I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”

Iona couldn’t quite say the same, having fretted for the past week over the commitments she’d made in a prolonged burst of spontaneity. Nonetheless, she exchanged pleasantries and followed her to the chair at the end of the room. It was far removed from the bulky barber chair she had anticipated, a simple salon seat like the ones she was used to. The familiarity didn’t settle her nerves, but at least it didn’t amplify her unease. Sitting in a proper barber chair would have conjured thoughts of clippers running across her head long before they actually got the chance to do so.

Her butt had barely touched the seat before a black cape swirled around her and tied tight around her neck, hiding a third of her armpit-length hair underneath it.

“Blonde always looks good against black,” Laura explained. She patted both Iona’s shoulders. “So, you know the deal. Are you ready?”

Iona nodded.

“Good girl. I’m going to start with just an ordinary trim and keep going until it’s shoulder-length. Then the fun begins. I don’t want you reacting when it happens, alright? Just keep looking in the mirror like everything’s entirely normal. Neither of us is going to say a word; we want all the sounds of the haircut and nothing else. Try not to look at the cameras either.”

She went to set up the devices in question, a total of four different angles for the video. Once she was done with that, Laura tugged the thick collection of blonde waves out from their hiding spot, sending them splashing against the top of the chair. Despite their relatively unimpressive length, they had weight to them. Being so thick and glossy, Laura couldn’t resist dipping her fingers beneath the surface to test the waves for herself. She then produced a brush and spent a good five minutes stroking through Iona’s gorgeous hair despite it already being perfect.

Eventually, she swapped the brush for a fine-toothed plastic comb. Again, she entertained herself to start with, judging how well the teeth could slide through the golden silk. Finally, she swiped a set of scissors from the counter, snicking them together a couple of times in anticipation. Iona’s heart thumped loud against her ribcage, but she focussed on her reflection and held her best poker face as Laura got to work.

Laura pulled Iona’s hair straight besides an inch at the bottom of the comb. The scissors carved straight across the face of the comb, and the cuttings dropped to the black cape. The surviving length jumped free of the comb, springing back into position. Laura waited for the waves to finish bouncing before collecting the locks next-door in the comb. Another gentle snip and the next inch-long section slid down the front of the cape. Iona quickly learned that Laura made it happen on purpose, as even the locks at the back of her head were manoeuvred to let the snippets of gold fall the same way.

Upon reaching the end of the other side of Iona’s hair and trimming it like the rest, Laura repeated the process with a further inch, bringing it just shy of the top of her shoulder. The stylist worked carefully, taking her time to gather the right amount of that thick, blonde mane between the fine teeth of the plastic comb. She always ensured she didn’t tug too hard or cut too much at once; always that same prescribed margin of one inch.

Snip.

One swift but controlled close of the blades, and another section of Iona’s hair was reduced. Another passage of combing, then another snip. The same again. And again. And again. In a way it was soothing, and Iona somewhat enjoyed being continually preened and refined. Watching the girl who stared back in the mirror have her immaculate tresses slowly cut shorter and shorter rather intrigued her too. Once she disconnected from her position in the chair and began to spectate, she suddenly understood the appeal of watching such pretty hair be cut. Soon, her hair barely brushed the top of either shoulder, mere millimetres too long to be considered a lob.

Then it happened.

Laura turned the comb the wrong way and scooped up an entire mouthful of gold silk. Without a moment’s hesitation, the scissors moved into position, one blade on either side of the collected hair. Time moved in slow motion, and suddenly Iona wished she’d never let this happen. But it was too late to stop it. All she could do was watch as the scissors clacked together and cropped that perfect head of hair in the mirror.

Snip, snip, snip.

Her not-quite-lob was shorn to the length of a not-quite-pixie in one swift motion. Twelve inches of blonde crashed to the black canvas, immediately drowning the collection of trimmings that had seemed impressive only seconds ago. Iona forced herself not to react, clamping her teeth together beneath what she hoped was a passive expression.

Snip, snip, snip. Thud. Snip, snip, snip. Thud.

The previously careful hairdresser changed her approach to match the sudden brutality of Iona’s haircut, no longer concerned with being gentle. She tilted Iona’s head down towards her lap as she hacked at the locks at the back of her head. Every strand still had to drip onto the cape rather than the floor, gathered in one big pile for the watchers to see.

When Iona was dragged back upright, it took all her remaining willpower not to gasp at the hack job her reflection sported. One side of her hair was still perfect – though Laura was rapidly correcting that – but the rest was an uneven mess, cropped to different lengths with occasional unexecuted strands still dangling at their initial length.

Snip, snip, snip. Thud. Snip, snip, snip. Thud.

Finally, Laura put the scissors and comb to one side. Iona knew what was next, but she wasn’t ready. Even if the hair she had left was a mess, she knew it was better than how she would look in ten minutes.

Laura snapped a plastic guard onto her clippers, then clicked them on. They hummed aggressively, sensing an unwilling and appetising victim. Laura swiftly moved them in the right direction, holding Iona in place with her free hand as she dragged the shears across the top of Iona’s head. The tone of the buzz morphed from intrigue to delight, a satisfied purr as the blade ventured across her head. Blonde clippings spat everywhere, coating any uncovered sections of the cape with a fine mist of tiny hairs.

Don’t react, Iona told herself. Imagine it’s not you, it’s someone else. Just don’t react.

But it was her. Her head was being shaved. The black cape was coated top-to-bottom with her hair.

Finished with the top and either side, Laura tilted Iona in the direction of her lap again and scraped the clippers up the back of her head. The floral scent of her shampoo still emanated from the shorn hair. At least she’d be saving money on that for the foreseeable future.

The buzzing stopped, and Laura smoothed her free hand across Iona’s new buzzcut. Each strand was barely long enough to even bristle at the touch of the barberette’s hand.

With the clippers put back where they’d come from, Laura dusted the clippings off Iona’s shoulders, then shook the huge collection of blonde hair to the floor. At long last, the cameras were switched off and the cape was unbuttoned. Her shearing was complete.

“There we go,” Laura said as she released her victim. “Lovely and short, just the way I like it. I’ll get your money, then we’re all done.”

She marched to the backroom while Iona remained in the chair, not out of choice but because her legs needed to stop shaking before she could stand. The girl in the mirror stared back as she tried to breathe and calm herself. She didn’t look quite as pretty after her haircut.

Iona managed to get to her feet just as Laura returned with a bulging envelope, which she handed to her. “I added a little extra, since you were so well-behaved.”

“Oh. Thank you.”

“My pleasure. I haven’t had that much fun in quite a while.” She grinned again. What Iona had once imagined was pleasantness she now thought to be just a tiny hint of malice. “If you ever grow your hair out, you know where to find me.”

Don’t react, she told herself again. Instead, she forced a smile. “We’ll see.”

With that, she went on her way. Though the money did dull the pain of losing her hair, she still considered the entire ordeal a mistake. She wouldn’t be back, of that she was absolutely certain.

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