Earning Her Keep

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Emily let out an exasperated sigh and blew one of her mahogany ringlets out of her face. She had been walking for hours and seemed to be no closer to civilisation. The early morning sun was starting to beat down on her and the arid air had left her dusty and her long locks a tangled mess.

“I guess I got my wish” she noted forlornly. She had wanted to escape the stress of everyday 21st century life and now she was lost in this god-forsaken part of the country without two cents to rub together. She had not seen another human being since her makeshift supper at a mostly abandoned petrol station the night before. From the customer service of the attendant, she surmised that they rarely had patrons.

Her parents had been incandescent with rage when she announced she was dropping out of university. Both of them being two highly successful lawyers had high expectations of their daughter, but Emily had enough. She was tired of trying to be the perfect daughter, get perfect grades, then get a perfect job and have a perfect family of her own. These were ideas placed in her head by her parents. She didn’t want that. So she collected all the cash she could find in the house, almost two thousand dollars and left under the cover of darkness. That was four days ago now. She made her way to a less respectable part of the city and traded a thousand dollars for an old, beat-up car. Then she just drove. Soon she left the bustling metropolis behind and was careening down country roads. She quickly realised that her frequent stops for fuel meant her meagre funds would not last long.

Then last night her car had overheated. She had left the petrol station at hour before and was driving down roads surrounded by farmland. The noise from her engine was the only unnatural sound for miles. And then suddenly it stopped. Steam began to pour from under the bonnet and the car stuttered to an ungraceful stop. Her phone battery was long dead and even so she doubted there was signal here. Emily spent the night huddled in the backseat. After an uneasy night’s rest she rose early that morning and set off with her paltry belongings. A few items of clothing, her unusable phone, a hairbrush and the leftovers from her meal the previous night. She had hoped to encounter another living soul that could help her with her predicament but so far she had no luck.

A few hours and several miles later her situation had not improved. The sun was now high in the sky. The heat and physical exertion left her drenched in sweat. Her clothes was stuck to her body and her hair matted to her head. She paused under the shade of a large tree and sank to her knees. She was well and truly screwed. Night would soon begin to fall and she had nowhere to go. Just as she was about to lose all hope she heard a distinct sound approaching. The sound of dust and the drone of an engine could only meet one thing.

Emily jumped into the road and desperately waved her arms in a bid to get the vehicle to stop. An old pickup truck possibly several decades old came to a stop in front of her. The driver door swung open and a face appeared above it. The women was ancient, her face wizened with age. She had what could only be described as stereotypically old lady hair short, grey curls covered in a headscarf and was clothed in a pair of worn overalls.

“What are you doing out here girl?” she called out over the dull roar of her truck. Emily was so relieved she almost burst into tears. She took a few moments to calm herself and then launched into her tale.

The old woman eyed her speculatively, “I can’t bring you to the nearest town girl. It is almost a full day’s drive. I only go once a month for the market and as you can see” she said gesturing to the bed of her truck “I am just returning”.

Tears welled in Emily’s eyes and she let out a choked sob. She was going to die out here. The old woman clearly uncomfortable with her display of emotion sighed and grumbled “If you want you can stay with me until my next trip to the market”.

Emily squealed in delight, nearly throwing her arms around the woman in an excited hug but she managed to stop herself at the last second. “Yes, oh yes. That would be amazing. I can’t thank you enough”.

“However, I expect you to earn your keep” stated the elderly woman.

“Of course” nodded Emily enthusiastically “I am a very hard worker. I will give you no trouble”.

Emily retrieved her bag containing her belongings and climbed into the passenger side of the truck. The pair set off and Emily discovered the woman was named Dolores. She lived and worked on a farm in the area for over sixty years. Unfortunately, she had spent the last five alone as her husband had passed away and the couple never had any children. She had a mostly self-sufficient lifestyle apart from the monthly trips to her nearest market for some essential supplies.

After half an hour Dolores pulled up in front of an old wooden farmhouse and jumped out of the truck. “Well let’s get to work, girlie” exclaimed Dolores “Help me with these bags”. Emily quickly grabbed some and followed the old woman inside.

It was like stepping into a time machine. The interior of the house seemed stuck in the period in was built. Flowered wallpaper, lace curtains, old wooden furniture. Even the light fittings seemed to be half a century old. Copying Dolores she placed the bags on an ancient looking table in the centre of the kitchen.

“Come with me” Dolores ordered and Emily followed her deeper into the house. Dolores led her to a small room at the end of the hall. The furnishings were modest and old-fashioned but utilitarian. The room consisted of a small single bed, a dresser and mirror. A small window looked out on the farmyard and the beautiful natural scenery beyond. “You can stay here”

Emily smiled brightly at the woman “Again I can’t thank you enough. I really appreciate everything you are doing for me”.

Dolores just nodded curly and said “Leave your belongings on the dresser and come help me in the kitchen”. Emily quickly followed the woman’s orders. She put Dolores’ purchases away as directed and then accompanied her outside to the farmyard. Dolores showed her all the tasks she would be expected to perform. Feed the cows and chickens, collect the eggs, clear out the stalls, tend to the small vegetable patch and collect fruit from the orchard.

After a hard day’s work Emily was exhausted. She had never experienced such strenuous work in her pampered city life and she was surprised by how unfazed Dolores was. Dolores had barely broken a sweat whereas Emily was drenched in it.

Dolores directed Emily back inside and began to examine her clothes. Her jeans were obviously ill-suited for the job. “What other items of clothing have you got with you girlie?” she inquired. Emily fetched her backpack. She lay her two other pairs of jeans, a few crop tops and a sequined dress out on the table.

Dolores tutted in disapproval, “These are not suitable at all. You won’t be able to work properly wearing them”. She stood and disappeared down the hall, returning moments later with a pile of fabric. “Here are some old items of mine. They no longer fit me but they should be ideal for you”. Emily thanked her profusely but the woman mostly ignored her and ordered her to bathe in the outhouse before supper.

Emily let out a content moan and sank deeper into the wooden tub. The warm water was soothing her sore muscles and she mused about her current situation. “I guess I really did get my wish” she laughed to herself. She set to work washing and detangling her hair. Then she stepped out of the tub and sat before the mirror in the outhouse. Emily gazed at her reflection as she pulled her hairbrush through her hair. Using a towel she carefully dried her curls until they fell in a beautiful waterfall of ringlets to the small of her back. She thoughtfully perused the pile of clothing before deciding on a powder blue button-up dress that went to just below her knees. Emily turned to look at her appearance in the mirror. She giggled as she realised she looked like someone from the Sound of Music. Suddenly she was pulled from her train of thought when she heard Dolores shouting for her from the house.

She hurriedly gathered her stuff and returned to the house, quickly darting into her room to place her new clothes in the dresser and then headed to the kitchen. A wonderful aroma filled the room and Emily’s mouth watered when she saw the meal placed on the table. A delicious looking stew of vegetables and some sort of meat with slices of homemade bread on the side. The two women enjoyed their meal over pleasant small talk and Emily jumped to clear the table when they finished. Wanting to prove her usefulness to her host she worked on cleaning the plates. Dolores rose from the table and retreated down the dark hallway. Emily was drying the dishes when she returned with a folded-up towel. She placed this on the table before taking one of the kitchen chairs and moving it parallel to the table. She then gestured for Emily to sit down as she turned to a kitchen drawer, pulling out a pair of scissors.

Emily tilted her head in confusion, “What are you doing?”

Dolores clasped Emily around her wrist and began guiding her to the chair. “You need a haircut” Dolores announced gruffly. Emily opened her mouth to protest but the old woman shushed her. “The heat nearly killed you out there today. I’m three times your age and ran rings around you”. Emily tried to interject but again she was ignored. “Plus I can sell some of this hair. You need to pay for your bedsheets, clothes and your travel to town next month somehow. I should be able to fetch a good price for such shiny, well-groomed hair at the market.”

Emily felt faint but also feeling like she had no other option sat down gingerly on the chair. Dolores threw an old bedsheet around her shoulders and then pulled her long locks out from underneath it.

“A haircut won’t be too bad” she thought to herself, “I haven’t had one in ages and my hair is so long I will probably barely notice a difference”. While Emily was lost in thought, Dolores was pulling a hairbrush through her lengthy curls. She then set the brush down and picked up the scissors she had retrieved from the drawer. Dolores carefully selected a ringlet from the front of the girl’s head and pulled in taut, placing it between the blades.

Emily gasped in horror when she realised that the scissors were pressed directly against her scalp. “What are you doing?” she cried, “That is too short”. Emily tried to stand up, but Dolores tightened her grip and yanked her backwards with her hair.

“Don’t be stupid girlie” Dolores scolded. “This hair of yours it far too long. It will only get in the way of your work and as I said before you have to earn your keep somehow”. Dolores forced Emily back down into the chair and without hesitation snipped the lock close to the girl’s scalp.

Emily was in shock as Dolores set the severed curl on the towel and began selecting another curl for the slaughter. She realised her resistance was futile. There was no way she would be able to hide the short tuft of hair at her forehead. Everyone had always admired her brunette ringlets and now this old lady was cropping them close to her head, reducing them to nothing but uneven stubble. Dolores was meticulous in her work. First clasping a lock of hair between her fingers, then cutting it as close to her scalp as possible before placing it with the other fallen curls on the towel. Emily was subjected to the horrid crunch of her hair relenting to the sharp blades and Dolores continued until all her beautiful locks were crudely separated from her scalp and lying on the counter.

The flickering lamps and the darkness outside allowed Emily to see a distorted view of herself in the kitchen window. She had almost no hair left. Her beautiful mane had been hacked off at the scalp. She was left with an extremely short uneven crop. She was too dismayed to pay attention to Dolores who used the distraction to lather some shaving cream into a thick foam.

“I don’t have any clippers so the easiest way to even it out is to shave it off. I used to shave my husband with his straight razor so don’t worry you are in safe hands”. Dolores set about applying the lather in a thick coating to Emily’s denuded scalp with a shaving brush. She tilted the girl’s head forward slightly. Then placing the straight razor at her forehead, she dragged it back through the foam. Dolores completely shaved the top and crown of her head before moving to the sides. She bent her ears to get the closest shave possible and finally she forced the girls head down towards her chest and pulled the razor up across her nape.

Emily shivered at the sensation. Although she was unhappy to lose her glorious head of hair, she had to admit she enjoyed the feeling of the razor gliding over her scalp. Dolores set the straight razor aside and picked up another cloth, she roughly towelled her head down before massaging a cooling balm into her scalp.

“Now girlie, that should help you with the heat. I don’t want to hear any complaining from you tomorrow”. Dolores whisked the bedsheet from around Emily’s shoulders and set about tidying up the kitchen. Emily still too shocked to say or do anything remained seated. What would her parents and friends from university think of her now, sitting in an old farmhouse with a completely bald head.

The old woman produced a headscarf and wrapped it around the girl’s exposed scalp. “You’ll need this tomorrow, we don’t want your pretty little head to get sunburned”. Dolores carefully bundled her severed locks in the towel and set it into a kitchen drawer, “That should be enough to cover your expenses. But remember you have to be up bright and early tomorrow morning to earn your supper”. With her parting remark she left the kitchen, leaving Emily alone.

Emily managed to get to her feet and stagger down the hall to her room. She turned on the dim lights and made her way over to the mirror. With shaking hands, she reached up and removed the headscarf. Emily stared at her dramatically altered appearance. No more long curling locks for her instead she had a glistening bald dome. She tilted her head side to side feeling the cool air on her scalp before tentatively raising a hand to her hairless pate. She lay her palm flat against her scalp and moaned at the marvellous sensation. The balm Dolores had used left her scalp smooth to the touch and so shiny she could she the reflection of the light bulb on her head.  With her fingertips she stroked from her forehead to the nape of her neck, jerking slightly at the tenderness of the newly exposed skin. She gazed at her reflection again. Without her hair her blue eyes sparkled, and the delicate features of her face were no longer hidden by a curtain of hair.

Emily dressed for bed and once under the covers began to fondle her naked head once more. Dolores had done an excellent job, her head was completely devoid of hair. Emily’s magnificent crown was truly gone. In its place a slick, shiny bald head. Yet Emily no longer cared about what she had lost. Only about the amazing feeling of rubbing her hairless scalp. As she drifted off to sleep she could only wonder if Dolores will keep her bald for the rest of her stay at the farm.

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