Eleanor without the cape

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In the dim light of an elegant salon, 15-year-old Eleanor, felt the weight of her new reality sinking into her shoulders. She was encased in a full-sleeved white silk shirt with a stiff mandarin collar that felt almost like a neck brace. The pearl button at the top was tightly done, adhering to her mother’s strict aesthetic code. Her outfit was completed with a stiff, pleated brown skirt, black stockings that clung to her legs like second skin, and black patent leather shoes that offered no comfort. The ensemble was so carefully chosen that it might as well have been a uniform for an army of poised, obedient daughters. Just an hour ago, Eleanor was made to try on dozens of different shirts and blouses before her mother, Vanessa, approved this one. A shopping experience turned into a formality.

Eleanor nervously walked ahead of her imposing mother into the salon, as if entering the premises before her would lessen the impact of what was to come. The air was perfumed with a mixture of essential oils and the palpable aura of affluence. An elegantly dressed receptionist guided them to a waiting area, assuring that Eleanor’s stylist, Clarissa, would be with them shortly.

Vanessa seemed almost serene as she sipped her cup of artisan coffee, looking around the posh salon approvingly. Eleanor, on the other hand, twirled her long blonde hair—soft as silk and adorned with sun-kissed highlights—around her fingers as her legs fidgeted. Her mind drifted to the conversation she had with her mother a week ago, which played out like a monologue.

“Eleanor, you’re 15 now. It’s time to take on adult responsibilities. I’ve decided you’ll start working part-time in my office after school,” Vanessa had declared.

“Mom, do I really have to?” Eleanor had protested, her voice barely above a whisper.

“It’s not a matter for discussion,” Vanessa continued, dismissing her. “You will also get a haircut and a new wardrobe to look professional. We’re doing this for your own growth.”

The word “professional” had seemed so foreign to Eleanor then, and it felt even more so now.

Clarissa appeared, impeccably dressed, and signaled for Eleanor to follow her. Her eyes were warm, but her lipstick screamed business. She directed Eleanor to a plush chair in front of a large mirror. As Eleanor sat, the stiffness of her mandarin collar seemed to increase, pressing into her neck. The cape that was meant to shield her clothes couldn’t be fastened around her neck due to the high collar of her shirt. Her mother insisted she keep the shirt on, so Clarissa skipped the cape altogether. Eleanor placed her hands gently on her lap, the silk of her sleeves feeling colder than before.

With a fine mist of water, Clarissa began the ceremony, wetting Eleanor’s long locks. A stray droplet trickled down Eleanor’s cheek, its coldness piercing her like an omen. Her tears mingled with the water as Clarissa combed her hair, sectioned it, and pinned it to the top of her head. Her mother watched with an air of detachment.

As Clarissa began the scissor-over-comb method, the atmosphere in the room felt electric. The snipping was rhythmic but to Eleanor, it sounded like a metronome ticking down the moments of her old self. Pieces of blonde hair began to fall onto her lap, soft as feathers but heavy as lead. Her shirt collar seemed to tighten even more with each falling strand. The room was filled with the discordant music of her transformation—the biting sound of scissors and the softer, almost apologetic hum of the clippers.

Clarissa pushed Eleanor’s head forward, almost forcing her chin into her chest, to work on the nape. Eleanor felt the clippers going higher and higher, and her breathing turned shallow. She was nearly choking on her own anxiety and the stiff collar that caged her. Small tufts of hair snuck into her shirt collar, irritating her skin. The moment she tried to reach back to scratch, her mother’s voice sliced through the room: “Eleanor, behave.”

By the time Clarissa paused to comb Eleanor’s remaining bangs over her face, Eleanor had reached a point of emotional numbness. The stylist cut in a straight line, and Eleanor’s bangs fell, lifeless, onto her lap, lying there like a discarded memory. The clippers resumed their duty, reshaping the sides of her head. Eleanor felt like a piece of art being relentlessly edited by an unsatisfied artist.

When Clarissa finally stepped back to survey her work, Eleanor’s hair had been reduced to a short, edgy pixie cut. The back and sides were buzzed almost to the skin, and what remained on top was merely a suggestion of her former self. Her once-flowing locks now lay scattered on her white silk shirt, brown skirt, and even on the floor where her shiny leather shoes stood.

Clarissa, in a considerate gesture, brushed down Eleanor’s shirt and skirt, dislodging most of the cut hair. Vanessa picked up a stray strand that had clung to her daughter’s shirt and casually discarded it onto the salon floor. She smiled and handed Clarissa a generous tip, setting an appointment for a weekly touch-up before Eleanor could protest.

As Eleanor stood up, for a moment she felt like she was standing on a grave, her feet covered in her own cut hair. She looked at herself in the mirror, her new hairstyle sharply contrasting her formal, stiff attire. The girl who stared back at her seemed older, almost unrecognizable—a stark vision of what her life was becoming under her mother’s meticulous guidance. Vanessa looked ecstatic, as if she had just won an important battle. Eleanor realized, with a sinking feeling, that this was just the beginning of her journey into the world of adult responsibilities and rigid formalities. In her heart, she knew this pixie cut and these uncomfortable, formal clothes were a glimpse into the life that had been meticulously planned for her.

As mother and daughter exited the high-profile salon, Vanessa was visibly pleased, her steps full of purpose. Eleanor walked beside her, a reluctant soldier in polished armor, bracing herself for the new world she was being forced to inhabit.

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