I pressed my forehead into the warming window as the sun rose over the glistening swamp. When we lived in Ocala, my mom took us to spend every summer in Miami, with my grandparents while my dad worked in the forest. We moved to North Carolina when I was fourteen, and since then the trip to Miami was too far. This past spring I finished college, and my dad wanted to take his daughters on one last trip to see my grandparents before I flew the coop for good.
Last fall I bleached my wavy hair, and its black roots had grown in, nearly reaching my shoulders while the blonde segment of my hair hung halfway down my back. Living outside the sunshine state, I was white passing, even without the blonde hair. Come as You Are by Nirvana played on my walkman, and I frowned at my mom and younger sister, Sabina, who had slept through the night. I wanted to smoke a joint and go to sleep, but neither were possible for me in dad’s Jeep.
When you haven’t slept all night, there’s a certain feeling of emotional depletion, like you have no energy to feel happy. In fact, you feel extra anxious because you are not your normal, sharp-minded self. Feeling like a sad ghost, I watched my grandparents’ neighborhood roll along in the blinding sun. Bars covered all the windows and doors, and the hoods of all the cars were sun-damaged. Same as always were the bodega and the old barbershop, where Sabina and I used to get our summer cuts.
Once a year, we got our hairs cut into short, pageboy styles for the hot summer. My hair being wavy, it didn’t look as goofy as you might imagine, and by the time we started school, our hair was once again brushing our tanned shoulders
After briefly hugging the grandparents, I went up to the scorching guest room and tried to sleep. With my hair in a high bun, I spread out in front of a fan, and dozed until very early the next morning. My family made plans for us to spend the day at the beach, and sent me to the bodega to buy sandwiches. In shorts and a bikini top, I wore my hair down. I didn’t want to swim in my contact lenses, so I wore my old horn-rimmed glasses.
I looked into the barbershop, just to feel the memory, and scanned the poster which showed photographs of a number of short, men’s hairstyles, each with a number next to them. A bell rang as the door opened, causing me to jump, and a young man came out. I was somewhat surprised to recognize Ernesto, whose dad owned the shop. As kids we used to run around the neighborhood and play on his Apple II. Today he looked very sharp in his oxford shirt and black apron.
“Maria!” He said, astonished, “It’s you. I thought I’d never see you again.”
“Yeah. Ernesto!” I said, smiled, and nodded, feeling awkward since I couldn’t imagine we would have much in common these days. “I am here. It’s good to see you.”
Cool air blasted from the empty shop, looking very dark in contrast to the street. Ernesto, noticing this, closed the door behind him and leaned against it. He asked me, “What are you doing here? How long are you in town?”
He bit his lip and gave me a sideways look, just like he used to when we were kids. I peered into his black eyes, noticing for the first time how breathtakingly handsome he was. How did I never see it when we were kids? But I was never interested in flings. Even as a teen, I didn’t want to waste my time on a relationship that wasn’t serious, and would surely end when I went away. That’s probably why I was still single to this day.
I blushed, realizing how I was gawking at him, and answered, “I’m here for the summer, with my family. They wanted to take one last trip together, since I just finished college. I see you’re a barber now?”
“Yes. It’s my shop, now. My dad’s retired. He helps out sometimes, but yeah… Your hair is long. Are you getting a summer cut, like the old days?” Ernesto flashed a grin at the suggestion.
I held out my bleached locks and chuckled, “I probably could use a hair cut. Maybe later, I’m just picking up some sandwiches. You’ll be here, though?”
“Yes,” he nodded, “I will be here. Please do stop by. I’d love to spend some time with you, like the old days-or not like the old days-I’m just happy to see you.”
“Well, that sounds nice. Good seeing you.”
I walked away, and after hearing the chime of the closing door, fanned myself. It was too hot for such long hair, and indeed I did want to spend more time with Ernesto. While I partially suspected he was hounding me for business, it was probably a good time to do something, anything with my hair.
It’s a Date
In the sun that day, Sabina’s skin turned several shades darker, and I assumed mine had done the same. It was fun to bond with my parents and sister, but I was sad to see that my grandparents were no longer strong enough to walk into the waves of the ocean. I wondered how they were going to take care of themselves in the years to come, but such concerns quickly subsided to recurring thoughts of Ernesto. He wanted to cut my hair, and I wondered if there was any way I could get him interested in other aspects of me. Miami was so far out of the way from everything else in my life, and it was such a part of my roots, a part of me I often forgot about as a pot-smoking grunge girl.
That night Grandma made ropa vieja for the whole family. As we were clearing the table for dessert, the phone rang. Grandpa answered and gave me the receiver. It was Ernesto, asking me to dinner tomorrow night, and I did indeed want to see him, and agreet to meet at his barber shop, at seven.
I didn’t bring anything nice to wear, so grandma let me borrow one of her old party dresses, among a closet and chest full of vintage outfits that were all my size, a small-boned fourteen. Most of the mall’s clothes weren’t made for our sensuous curvature, and did nothing for me in comparison to grandma’s old collection. I wore plastic, moon-shaped earrings that matched the robin’s egg blue of the dress, and baby pink of the clutch purse which tied it together. I wore my hair in a pony tail that swayed when I walked.
As I dressed my grandma spoke volumes about what a nice, respectable man Ernesto had grown up to be, and wasn’t he handsome? So handsome.
Haircut before dinner
Drawn shades hid the inside of the barber shop, so I knocked on the door. Immediately Ernesto opened it, wearing a grey blazer over his shirt, half un-buttoned.
“Come on in.” his voice was hushed and sexy.
I couldn’t help but notice his eyes widen as I stalked into the shop.
“Are you wearing contacts?” He asked, squinting as if to check. I nodded, and he said, “You look amazing. Would you like to have your hair cut before dinner?”
I was taken by surprise, and not starving. Odd as his suggestion was to me, I had no excuse, and I wanted Ernesto to have a good time with me. So I said, “Sure. Let’s do it.”
“All right, great. Why don’t you take this chair?” He indicated the back one of the two, leather barber chairs.
An antique radio played a local pirate station which specialized in smooth bosa nova. I sat in the chair, feeling the groove as Ernesto shook out a large, striped cape and draped it around me.
Pumping up the chair, he asked, “So what will it be? A regular summer cut?”
I chuckled and raised an eyebrow at him. “You mean like I used to get when I was a kid?”
He began wetting my hair with an old-fashioned, glass spray bottle. “Well, why not? If I’m going to get rid of this blonde, I’m going to have to cut it almost that short. And if you don’t like it, I can cut you a different style.”
“Well, okay.” I agreed, and took a deep breath.
He gently removed my earrings and placed them on the counter, then undid my ponytail. Blonde and black hair fell around me. To remove the blonde, he didn’t really need to cut my hair so short as my old summer style, but I was happy to let him do as he wished. Through the mirror, I met Ernesto’s eye, and he said, “You know, whenever I visualize you, it’s with that cute haircut you used to get. So with that haircut, I can get a better feel for how you’ve grown into yourself.”
“I see. So you’ve thought of me a lot?”
Ernesto blushed and looked at his shoes. “Maybe,” he breathed, and put on his apron, and started running a wide-toothed comb through my hair. “Are you ready?”
“Sure,” I sighed and put my hands on my knees, wondering if Ernesto could sense my nervous energy, as if I had reason to be nervous. His dad had given me this same haircut at least ten times, and I didn’t have to worry about my love interest not liking it. I only had my eye on Ernesto.
“Just relax,” he crooned, and produced his largest scissors, and placed them at the back of my neck. We shared a smile when I shivered, at the touch of cold steel.
Through the mirror, I watched his smile widen as he sliced through my long hair. It took nearly two minutes of slow, deliberate cuts to remove the length. Blonde and black hair piled in my lap. As instructed, I put my head down and noticed long strands of hair stuck to Ernesto’s feet. On my neck, I felt the cool air blowing down from the old ceiling fans. The feeling left me swimming in nostalgia, amplified even moreso by the bosa nova radio.
Ernesto stepped around and started trimming my fringe. As anticipated, my head felt so much lighter than before. I was really happy with my decision to cut off so much, and Ernesto seemed to be thoroughly enjoying himself. Not once did he stop smiling.
“You’re having fun, aren’t you?” I asked.
“Oh yeah. I’ve always wanted to do this.”
After blending my fringe with the sides, he ruffled my hair, and asked, “How do you like it, beautiful Maria?”
The natural wave of my hair made it feather out a bit where it hung about my ears, revealing my neck, so much longer than when I was young. I tried to tuck a strand behind my ear, but it didn’t stay very well. There was only one way to really wear this style.
“I guess it’s fine,” I answered, and he looked so hurt, so quickly, I explained, “You did a great job. This is just kind of a dorky, old-fashioned style. Isn’t it?”
“Oh, but it looks so cute on you. And you know, since not a lot of girls wear this style right now, it’s chic.”
“I guess you would know. You’re the barber.”
Ernesto lowered my chair, and said, “Let’s just look at it.”
He removed my cape and returned my earrings. I put them on and looked at myself. My curves stood out more, without the hair on my back and shoulders, and my pointed, feminine features were enhanced by their contrast to the round shape of my coif. Even more than I, Ernesto seemed to like what he saw.
He asked me, “If you want me to do something else with it, would you mind if we had dinner first? I would just like a little longer to look at you.”
“Of course,” I answered, realizing he was standing very close to me. I could feel his breath on the space where my neck met my shoulder, and his eyes looked different when peering so closely into mine. At that moment I knew that if he wanted to cut more of my hair, I would let him do anything he wanted. Trying to sound casual, I said, “Whatever you want to do, Ernesto. It was very kind of you to go out of your way to do my hair.”
He made a shy face to his shoes and took my hand, leading me to the door. “The pleasure was all mine,” he said, holding the door for me.
“I don’t know about that,” I admitted, leading him onto the sidewalk. “I really enjoyed that. It was cool to see you work, and to be a part of your realm of expertise.”
He locked the door and lead me to a stairway in the back, which lead to his apartment. For some reason I’d been expecting to go out to a restaurant, but it was much more intimate to eat at his place. Ernesto’s parents used to rent out the apartment above the shop, but now it was Ernesto’s. It was one huge room, and from the kitchen I could see his bed. It was king-sized with a striped velour blanket tucked neatly into the sides. Two windows overlooked the street; between them hummed a little air conditioner. Like at my grandparent’s house, I could see the skyline from his window. The little radio on his counter played the bosa nova station, and I thought it must be nice to never have to worry about what to listen to, to always be surrounded with such sexy, commercial-free music.
“I have to say. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in your bedroom,” I teased, taking a seat at his little dining table. He used old newspapers for a table cloth, which I thought was clever.
From his oven, he pulled two steaming plates of carnitas and moros, and set them on the table. From his fridge, he pulled a pitcher of Horchatas, and poured himself a glass, and asked me if I’d like some. Happily, I obliged and took a huge, cooling gulp.
Halfway through our meal, he asked, “So what do you think, beautiful Maria? Do you like me?”
He looked so cute, I couldn’t help but smile. “Yes, sweet Ernesto. I’m glad we ran into each other again, after all these years. You seem to have really blossomed.”
“It’s always been a dream of mine, to cut your hair. That’s part of why I became a barber, but I wondered if I’d ever see you again.”
“You’re kidding me. You expect me to believe I’m the reason you became a barber?”
“Maria. When we were kids, remember, I used to watch you and your sister get your hair cuts, every year. To me it was like getting to see two sides of you. It was like seeing you become undressed, showing the parts of you that were before hidden by your hair.”
“I see. So to you, it’s sexy for me to cut my hair cut short. What about your other clients?”
He quickly chewed the food in his mouth, and answered, “As you see, my barber shop is a place for men, mostly. You and Sabina were the only girls who ever got their hair cut by my grandpa. Besides, I’m not so turned on by hair cuts in general. The, um, arousal has always been just for you.”
“Honestly, I’m a little surprised that you’d been thinking of me all this time. You haven’t had other girlfriends?”
He shrugged, “I have a little bit, but mostly not. I don’t really want to spend my time on anything that isn’t made to last.”
“It’s been the same for me. By the way, this dinner is amazing.”
“Thanks, it’s an old family recipe. So what do you think, beautiful Maria. What are you doing now that you’re done with school?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t made any plans.” I spoke softly, sensing where this was going.
“Will you stay in Miami for a while? I’d like to see if you and I have a chance to be happy together. I don’t want to miss my chance with you.”
“I feel the same way.” I stared into his eyes, trying to memorize the moment. Just yesterday, I didn’t know where my life was going, but I wanted to fall in love. I always wanted to fall in love, but I just hadn’t found the right guy, and Ernesto, so far, by far, was so right. I wanted him so bad, I wanted him to undress me.
Watching him, I asked, “So you want to cut more of my hair after dinner?”
He swallowed and said, “Yes.”
Sensing his arousal, I pressed, “How do you want to cut it? You can cut it as short as you want.”
Ernesto’s eyes went wide. “Really?”
“Yeah, I know how you want to see me undressed.” He looked at me with so much want, it made me so excited, and I whispered, “I’m starting to think of what I might want to do afterwards, so maybe we should go do this thing.”
“Yes,” he breathed, staring off, as if imagining the things we might be doing later.
More than a Haircut
From the poster of hair cuts, Ernesto showed me that I was going to get a number four. It was a crew cut with a high fade. The top, instead of being cut to an even quarter inch, tapered out a bit like a flat top. Outwardly calm, inwardly scared, I accepted his suggestion.
Perhaps this is how it was meant to be, I thought to myself, sitting in the big leather chair. If anything, I was fulfilling Ernesto’s boyhood fantasy, I reminded myself as he draped the heavy cape around me. Long hairs still covered the floor. Once in clumps, they were now scattered in a mess of directions. In one day, I was losing at least four years of hair growth, all the hair I’d grown in college. But that part of my life was gone now. Ernesto pumped the chair and grabbed his comb and scissors.
“Beautiful Maria. May I tell you something?” Ernesto asked.
“I’ve always thought of you, getting your hair cut like this. Since I was a boy, I’ve always wanted to do this.”
“I’m glad we are doing it, then.” I tried not to look scared.
Without mercy, he hacked at my mop of hair, just about as short as the scissors would take it.
He explained, “It will be easier to buzz to precision, if I go ahead and take off most of the length.”
“Yes sir,” I said, there was something about letting him master me that gave me such release. Something sexual and new, was coming awake in me. My head appeared to be so much more narrow, as my little ear poked out of the side of my head, uncovered. Beneath the cape, I touched myself, and I was very wet. His hands moved quickly, but I couldn’t wait for it to be done. He snipped quickly, cutting away at the top of my hair, leaving no fringe. My mouth suddenly appeared so wide, seeing myself with almost no hair to hide the shape of my head. And my eyes were so big, and alive. Ernesto was making me into a new creature.
Briefly he noticed the lust with which I was staring at him, and clicked on the clippers. They were loud in my ears, and tickled, mercilessly mowing through my short crop of shining black hair, adding tiny clippings to the mess all over the floor of his little shop. I felt so hot when his warm hand touched my scalp where he’d shaved all the hair from the back of my head, behind my ears. He used a comb to glide the clippers over the top of my head, reducing it to a fuzz, shorter than we’d agreed, but I didn’t mind. My black fuzz looked silver when combined with my now visible scalp. I salivated as Ernesto used a straight razor, removing the hairline on my neck and side burns. We met eyes as he brushed me off and wiped away any stray clippings. He could have kept cutting, I wouldn’t have minded, but I was so ready for us to be done.
Through the mirror, I stared at him, waiting for him to remove the cape. Gently he pulled it off me, and I put my earrings back in. As I noticed how long my neck was, Ernesto grabbed me from behind and nuzzled the fuzz behind my ear, fuzz so short it was invisible. I turned into him and we shared a long kiss, and ran upstairs, where Ernesto showed me a very nice time. He took the next morning off. My mom called to check on me, and to keep her from being too shocked, I told her I got my hair cut, and I was doing fine, and Ernesto was being a gentleman.