From Curlers to Clippers

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Chapter 1: Meant to Be…

 

“Honey, c’mon, hurry up. You’ll be late!”

The words of a mother who knew her daughter well, and a proud mother at that.

“Ugghh, God. I’m coming, I’m coming…” Shouted back at her from upstairs. Lovingly, she knew, but concealed under the voice of angsty still-just-about teenage frustration.

Jane stood by the door expectantly, grinning with excitement on her daughters behalf. A big day for the family, but especially for Melissa, whose arrival by the door was much anticipated. Her beloved, sweet little girl was now 18, and with that came college. Luckily, Melissa wasn’t the academic type, so she wasn’t going to moving hundreds of miles to some university full of strangers.

Just as a wave of nostalgia hit, Melissa bolted down the stairs. “Godddd… Hurry up, Mum. I’m gonna be late.”

The rush commenced, manically working their way through traffic to reach Melissa’s new place of education – beauty school. It was hardly a surprise to Jane; she could’ve told you 10 years ago that her daughter would end up going there. Meant to be… Some things are just meant to be, she thought.

“Have fun, Melissa, Honey. I’ll see you later, you’re gonna be great…” the last few words tapered off as she choked back emotions.

“Ye… Uh yeah, Mum. See ya.” Melissa replied gathering her bag and climbing from the car, not wanting to trigger her own emotions by staying too long.

The induction talk was… Informative. That’s probably the polite way to describe it. Lots of health and safety, and rules, and admin, it pretty much faded into the background. Melissa’s mind began wandering through the room, anticipating getting to play with all the new toys.

Obsessed, that’s how Mum always put it. “Our little stylist. She’ll be doing all our hair someday…” any member of her extended family could’ve recited that from memory by now.

Hair was always Melissa’s favourite thing to play with. A fascination of unknown origin. No hairdressers in the family, no older sister, a mum with a boring mum cut. It was a mystery where this inspiration spawned from, but it was a safe bet for a career, much to her mum’s relief.

A new beginning to test her, she’d had it pretty easy so far. It wasn’t a particularly strict family but there were a few conditions that her parents asked her to follow:

  • Try her absolute best in school
  • No drugs/alcohol/smoking
  • No hairstyles that went against the school dress code

Understandably, as a teenager, those rules felt like overbearing commandments from an unjust God. Though she never caused much trouble, not with the first two anyway. School flew by, Melissa stumbling the entire way. Plenty of time spent stressing over homework and exams, but ultimately, she’d survived and even got a few certificates. The real stress was when she’d pushed her experiments a bit far.

The worst was in year 10, around March. A dead giveaway was when she crept back upstairs wearing a hoodie. One of her friends had smuggled in some bleach and invited Melissa over for a little makeover. Mum marched upstairs behind her. Hood came down, revealing orange-y yellowish tones. Luckily the hair was healthy enough to not be as straw-like as it’s colour, but it meant another lecture. Quickly re-dyed back to black, crisis averted. Jane may as well of hung up a framed copy of the schools coloured hair policy, the number of times she referred to it.

Over the years it was a new colour every time school ended. One summer was Ombre. Red ends for Christmas. Once she got a blue ‘underdye’, which the school was not fond of. Jane had to fight for her daughter on that one, using Melissa’s justification of ‘the outside is natural’. She’d royally pissed her mum off that time, but fixing it would require either an expensive salon re-dye or to cut it all off, and she knew her mum was too soft to do that.

Like most teenage girls, she kept her hair long. Longer than most could ever be bothered to grow out to. Extending nearly to hip length, pin-straight and dark. About as black as black could get for hair, and no shortage of it. Follicular density that would make the earth’s core jealous, each strand was cared for like it was the last in the world.

Her calendar was filled with reminders. Sunday, that was her favourite. A day to relax, unwind, and expertly perform a deep conditioning treatment. The results were nothing to scoff at, either. It was elegant and soft, felt delicate but strong and above all, smooth. Sleek beyond comprehension. The kind of glossy finish that didn’t seem obtainable, reserved for L’Oréal or TRESemmè adverts. Anyone remotely interested in hair was awestruck, and the uninterested impressed.

Melissa could frequently be found at her favourite salon. An upmarket chic-boutique – as their website read – they weren’t cheap. Nor were they convenient, positioned right in the outskirts of town where the countryside began to encroach on civilisation. Like clockwork, Melissa was there every 10 weeks for her usual: the lightest of trims, and a refresh of her layers.

Divine lengths swung heavily down her back. Parted centrally – almost invisibly with how full it was – a closer examination would reveal subtle layers around her face, gently highlighting her natural beauty. Not too noticeable, though. She didn’t want layers interfering with intricate updo’s or a streamlined silhouette.

Easy everyday styles weren’t a Melissa thing. Monday – a slick high pony. Tuesday – big, bouncy curls. Wednesday – half-up in a sock bun, the bottom half wavy. Thursday – half-up again, this time front pieces twisted back. Friday – a thick braid on each side. Each style was perfectly in place, no flyaway’s to be detected, and each week different. ‘The Hair Girl’ immediately identified her to anyone unfamiliar with her name.

 

Chapter 2: Opposites Attract

 

Two months had passed at hair school. It was everything Melissa hoped it to be. Friends for life had been made, all shared the same passion in their own unique ways. They got on like a house on fire.

Melissa thought back to that first day, after all the boring stuff. Assigned a workstation, they were invited to set it up how they felt best. Melissa opted for fairy lights around her mirror, but there wasn’t room for much more. Later, at a group bonding session, Melissa recognised she was with her kind. All the students swapped places, giving each other a fringe trim – or face framing layers – depending on their current style.

Her station neighbour, Elizabeth, had become a close friend. Liz, as her friends called her, was an attractive oddity. Many features between her and Melissa were similar. Both around 5’7”, with a naturally stunning form, leaving adolescence with everything needed to seduce. They shared deep brown eyes and small, feminine noses. Where Melissa’s cheeks and jaw were fairly defined, Liz’s were positively angular.

Physically similar, their style influence diverged heavily. Melissa maintained a restrained glamorous appeal. It was a reduced red-carpet ready kind of look. In contrast, Liz aligned with alternative fashion. Bold, artistic eyeliner, foundation whitening already pale skin, burgundy lipstick with accompanying eyeshadow, matte-finish everything. Show her to a kid on Halloween and they’d swear they saw the wicked witch herself.

Liz’s natural hair was a brown, lightly caramelised, affair that was worn in a choppy-layered lob complete with side fringe. Currently, however, she rocked a navy colour, with streaks of sky blue to compliment. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t the most outrageous style in the building, but it caught Melissa’s eye. Packing away their equipment, they got to chatting.

“Liz. Those streaks are gorgeous. Did you do them?” Melissa asked, raising the topic of today’s discussion.

“Oh, thanks girl. Yeah, been a while, could do with a refresh y’know…” Liz also a frequent experimenter, recently she’d settled into the streaks, thinking she might keep them a little longer.

“Hey, it’d be good practice if… y’know. I was thinking of doing some colour as well to be honest, and I’d love some help…” Gauging her response, Melissa gave Liz a nudge to go along with the suggestion.

“Ahhh, I see. Deal. What ya thinkin’?” How could Liz have ever turned down an offer like that. Play with someone’s hair, AND get her hair done in return? It was a no-brainer.

“Well… Now that you, uh, mention it. I’m actually in LOVE with those streaks. Not to steal you’re look if you don’t wan…” Melissa was so enthusiastic to spill her plan, her words nearly ran away before they were stopped by Liz.

Babe, I think you’ll look stunning. Do it.” Liz’s cool demeanour helping Melissa not to explode with excitement. It had been decided, colourful streaks for both of these new friends and stylists.

Assessments were really picking up, so their minds were pre-occupied memorising designated hairstyles and cutting techniques. While the girls loved getting to grips with so much hair, the majority conceded it was, at times, tedious. Several days of cutting a handful of different bobs. Nearly a week of just layering. One evening they raided the supply room in search of colour. Cupboards, shelves, drawers, just about every conceivable storage option was filled. Rummaging on, half looking out for the hoarder that must be hiding with all this junk.

“A-ha. Plum crazy purple, and it’s nearly full. Result.” Liz had stumbled across a jewel hidden in the back. “Any good for you?” She turned to Melissa, who was deep in her own treasure hunt.

“Huh… Oh, uhm. Yeah, I’m not seeing much else.” She remained up-beat, though perplexed how there was so much here, yet so little of it useable.

“There’s easily enough for both of us in this, you sure it’s good?” Liz didn’t want to force anything on Melissa, she knew as much as anybody what hair meant.

“A hundred percent. Yes. Monday it is, right?” Melissa confirmed her agreement with an exaggerated nod. It was getting late, and other plans had been made.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Liz shot back. Melissa thought she was the coolest girl in the world. Bold, unique, such a ‘go with the flow’ charm about her. Secretly, she couldn’t sing her praises highly enough. Today was Thursday, so it would be an agonising three day wait.

Another studious day behind the chair followed by a less studious weekend, the day was finally upon them.

Liz and Melissa were noticeably bubbly. Luckily, they were still only working on mannequin heads, so no-ones ears were at risk of being talked off. They blitzed through the work that morning, barely stopping between tasks for a drink. The time had come. At last, a real ‘client’ for each to service from behind their respective chairs.

In truth, it really would serve as valuable practice, making use of professional grade tools and dye. Liz was first up, only needing a top-up, she could walk Melissa through her process. They took it slow, not out of caution, but because they were chatting away about any and all things. Hair, gossip, whatever came up.

Once Liz was foiled up and waiting, the focus turned to the girls’ raven-haired challenge. Melissa, despite all the hair dye trials and tribulations she’d been through, was nervous and starting to show it. It was heavy-duty chemicals they were applying, a bad mix or too long could spell disaster. This was Liz’s wheelhouse, though, and she was a veteran in the art of dyeing.

“So, Mel, why streaks like mine?” Liz asked, suspecting she may have somewhat of an admirer.

“Oh uh I don’t know. They… You look so good with them, and I wanted to try something out.” Melissa hoped she didn’t sound too desperate to sit with the cool kids.

“Huh, maybe you aren’t such a princess after all, eh? Just putting it out there, I brought makeup. If you wanna… y’know, try that too?” She was on to Melissa.

YES. I, uh, I mean sure. I’ve got a few bits in my bag if you want to swap?” Trying to disguise that she’d been caught.

“We’ll see. Let me do yours whilst you wait and then after we’ll see about mine.” Liz had no intention of switching to traditionally girly makeup.

Colour processed and hair rinsed, Liz was finished. Purple integrated nicely with the deep blue, not that she could do much to look unattractive. Retrieving her goodie bag, she waltzed over to an expectant Melissa. By now it was obvious, much as Melissa tried to deny it, she’d fallen for Liz. Not romantically, but for the idea of Liz. The cool, calm sophistication blended with mystery. Melissa wished she oozed that kind of assertive sexiness. With Liz up close, she prayed the blushing wasn’t too obvious.

One hell of a makeover was underway. Lightly blended, metallic-esque polish of eye shadow gone. So too was the candy-cane red lipstick and traditionally bronzed shine. Exchanged for distinct, heavy contrast. Liz automatically reached for her go-to’s: deep burgundy shades with none of the sheen. Matte colour applied liberally around her eyes, which were bordered with precisely placed thick eyeliner. On a much paler foundation Liz gave a surprise gift, dark plum lipstick to pair their freshly dyed hair.

“Mel… You are looking sexy as fuck…” Liz putting Melissa on the verge of gushing that she maybe, kinda, had a bit of a girl crush going on.

Melissa noted herself changing. Nothing physical, but she acted differently, picking up mannerisms. It was apparent back home. The melodramatic teen disappeared, much to her mum’s delight – and curiosity. Instead she was now ‘too cool for school’, or tried to be. Unphased and taking everything in stride, just like her new friend and role model. Her mum hadn’t met Liz, but she’d probably put two and two together.

Jane could hardly believe what she saw when Melissa got home. ‘This was her daughter, wasn’t it?’ she questioned. Eyes in disbelief, a young lady in full ‘goth’ face, and she didn’t want to spill every detail about her new hair. This was very unlike her Melissa, but she was supportive, nonetheless. After all, it’s a personal quest to find your look, though she hoped this would pass sooner rather than later. She’d surely give away some details when they next went shopping together, she proposed a trip that weekend to do some investigating.

Melissa was distinctly less talkative this time, as they navigated between the city-centre hotspots. Alarmingly, even the clothes she picked out were unusual. Lots of monochrome outfits, tights, a pair of boots. Oh, and a new palette of dark hue pastel makeup.

 

Chapter 3: Big Sis, Big Trouble

 

As time had gone on, Melissa’s style had slowly transitioned into Liz ‘lite’. Trying to imitate her new icon, holding back to not make her replication abundantly clear. Liz found it endearing. She was a year older, and it almost felt like having a little sister to play around with, taking her under her wing.

“Hey, Mel. Me and some other college girls are skipping tomorrow, you up for it?” She gave a cheeky look, daring Melissa to go along with her.

“Oh, no. I, I’m not sure. We’ve got so much work here…” Melissa tried to reason her way out.

“C’mon, it’s one little day. We all gotta take a break some time.” As far as counter offers went, this was pretty weak, but it was Melissa’s ‘big sis’ talking. And that held swaying power.

“… Fine. Ok. But just once, ok? I don’t want to get in trouble.” An agreement was made reluctantly.

Melissa never considered herself a ‘goody-two-shoes’ type, no teacher’s pet or killjoy. She just didn’t want the hassle of either extreme, but she was an adult now, so she could afford to be carefree once in a blue moon. Yet, living at home, household commandments still applied.

There was one extra condition, however. Since she was now an adult, her parents allowed her to stay on the basis she was studying full-time, with full commitment. The devil was in the details, and Melissa had forgotten the fine print.

Melissa feigned some excuse for staying home on the fateful morning. ‘Instructor’s off sick, apparently’, though she promised her mother that, if by chance, it opened up later she’d go in. Jane couldn’t wait any longer, she had her own work.

Mum out of the way, Melissa sat on the end of her bed phone in hand. Bzzt. Finally, Liz texted over the meeting spot. Any remaining time was occupied by the construction of that day’s appearance.

Polished black boots, not worn in yet. Feet covered in blister plasters ready to suffer in the name of fashion. Delicately thin tights gripped her legs. Topping the feature length showing of leg was a short, pleated skirt with deep rouge and noir plaid effect. Pairing that, a double team of sheer top with crop top layered over.

Opting to add a dash of colour to an otherwise lifeless outfit, she used a shade of satin lipstick between plum and grape. Jet black pointed eyeliner escaped outwards from her eye, whilst her brows were shaped to a point, both to absolute precision. Hair styled half-up. Braided from front to back, it was loose. Not hastily thrown together, or falling apart loose, but comfortably casual. It was a look taken straight from high-fantasy movies, evoking images of elven princesses – only with a filter on, altering the ethereal brightness for a grungy, modern alternative presence.

With that, she set off for the town centre. Passing the local shops, restaurants and pub, she rounded the final corner.

“Hey girl. Good to see ya. Come meet the gang” Liz motioned her over, standing next to three other young women. “Meet Ashley, Lucy and Abi.” Each girl introduced themselves, clearly cut from the same cloth as Liz. Despite any negative stereotype, they were quick to embrace Melissa, even instigating a group hug to greet her.

Jane, meanwhile, was interrupted by her phone. An email from the college – Melissa’s instructor.

Dear Miss,
We are writing to confirm Melissa’s absence with you. We have been unable to contact her, and no reason for absence has been provided. It is very important high attendance is prioritised. There is limited instruction time, and failure to attend may result in academic sanctions. This is only the first time, though we stress that there will not be more chances should this continue. Please get in touch if you can provide a valid reason.
Thank you.

Absence. She could’ve exploded on the spot. Of all the things she’s tolerated, all the sacrifices and compromises, Melissa had betrayed the core values expected of her. Jane took a moment to breathe. She’d be home in a few hours, then she’ll get to the bottom of it.

Jane called her husband, warning him of that evening’s upcoming spontaneous family debate night. Melissa’s parents had made a threat that perhaps even they couldn’t follow through with. Their usual parenting repertoire of punishments and reprimands featured nothing cruel, not to this level. They couldn’t just kick her out. Where would she go?

Melissa lay on her bed, reflecting on her day out, on new friends, and stronger bonds. A feeling lingered in the background, though. A sense that she still hadn’t got away with it.

“Melissa. In the kitchen, please.” Jane yelled up the stairs. It was concise and direct, not giving any hint. Melissa waited for footsteps to signal her mother’s departure from the staircase. She didn’t want company for this walk, fearing this unusual request. Called to the gallows, for a crime she didn’t know she’d been caught committing, slowly inching towards the ‘courtroom’.

She entered, feeling like a spotlight was trained on her every move. Sitting at the table, she looked up at face her parents – not fully, but enough to see their discontent. Whilst her mother read the damning email, she looked for fatherly support. He didn’t flinch, a look of jaded disappointment stared back, he’d sat through these all too often. “Speak, Melissa. Explain yourself.” The moment came.

Apologies, hand in hand with timid excuses, were presented only to be shot down. The bargaining table was tipped immensely, not in Melissa’s favour. Negotiations were brief, even with the uncomfortable silences. Both sides strained not to launch into a war of shouting matches. Each attack was direct, suppressed by equally so defence. A natural conclusion was reached when silence hung for over a full minute.

“Tomorrow, you go in early. Apologise to your instructor and start catching up. I’ll decide your punishment, and there will most definitely be one, then.

Melissa messaged Liz back, saying she’d been caught, but should be fine. Details were limited, even to Melissa, at this stage. Meanwhile, downstairs, her parents brainstormed a plan of action. Many ideas crossed their mind. Anything to not act on their eviction threat.

“… What about… Hair, make her cut her hair?” Jane blurted out.

“Oh honey, she loves that hair. I mean, bloody hell, she’s a hairdresser in training.” Her husband retorted, trying to play the diplomat. “She’d disown this family.”

“Exactly. It’s her thing, but she needs to learn. It’s not permanent. It’ll grow back, might teach her a bit of patience, even some discipline.” She set out her case, thinking she’d struck gold.

“Alright… I suppose you girls know hair…” He rubbed his head, hair shortly buzzed to disguise its current stage of balding. “If you think it’s suitable, go for it…”

Melissa, if she knew, would be crushed. Anything but an unwanted haircut. Yet to come across inspiration, Jane was torn. Time to step up, to take the ruthless punisher role, in the name of teaching a well-deserved lesson. Maybe, like, 2 or 3 inches, it’d be back to her usual length by the summer. More? 6 inches? That’d take nearly a year. She’d sleep on it, for Melissa’s sake, hopefully that extinguished the fire.

At college, Melissa was making up for lost time. Powering through her lunch break to finish the notes she’d been left – ‘Intro to cutting curls’ next on her list. Her phone rattled on the countertop – ‘Be ready for a trip into town tomorrow, 10am’ – a text from Mum. Scarce processing power was left in her brain, so she focused solely on schoolwork to avoid overthinking. The day ended and she waited out front to be picked-up.

“Mel, I’m sorry. I hope she’s not too pissed…” Liz tried comforting her friend, guilt apparent in her soft tone.

“Well… me too. I’m going into town with her tomorrow, so I’ll find out then I guess…” She sighed back, knowing this whole mess was avoidable.

“Hey, you smoke?” Liz offered her a cigarette. “Something to calm the nerves…”

“Only once, secretly at a party… Does it work?” Melissa hesitated.

“Oh yeah… Just don’t get hooked, they’re fuckin’ awful for you.” Once again, the ‘big sis’ persuasion was faultless in convincing Melissa. She grabbed it, leaned into Liz’s lighter ready for some relief.

“MELISSA… GET. IN.” Jane had arrived at precisely the wrong moment, catching Melissa ‘puffing one of those death sticks’ as she thought of them. Shock, then defeat rippled across Melissa’s face, there went any hope she might’ve clung on to. She dropped it and hustled into the car, too embarrassed to look back at Liz. Many things could be tolerated by Jane. She wouldn’t consider herself ‘judgemental’, but there were things that grinded her gears. One of them dishonesty, the other drugs. The rules were clear, no excuses. ‘Now she’ll get a fucking punishment’, Jane was livid.

 

Chapter 4: A Fateful Ruling

 

‘10:07’, Melissa read the clock in the car. Afraid to breath wrong, she clamped her mouth, conscious of every decibel she emitted. Jane’s mouth was clamped too, grinding her teeth in an effort to redirect rage before it spilled out. They came to a stop, parked at the opposite end of the high street than usual, Jane’s hand strangling the life out of the steering wheel.

“This won’t be nice. But you have pushed it too far this time.” Jane’s words starting to scare Melissa. “Walk with me, don’t speak until I give your instructions.” She waited for a nod before exiting the vehicle.

Movement was glacial along the high street, each step agonising. Melissa wanted so desperately to enquire, ’what is happening?’, but she’d done too much damage already. They arrived. Walking ceased and mother turned to daughter. “I’ll give you a choice. Only once. Go in, ask for a bob, with a fringe.” Jane laid out her deal.

“W… What? No, like… like yours? Where?” Melissa had a million questions rushing, but the suggestion of a bob took her mind to DEFCON 2.

“Behind you. Yes, exactly like mine.” Jane motioned to the shop she’d carefully positioned in front of.

“… Wha… No, I. No, you can’t. I won’t.” Melissa had unknowingly made things a whole lot tougher. Pushing back would only result in nuclear level retaliation.

“Ok, chance gone.” With that Jane nodded toward the shop, signalling the owner to open the door.

“Ahhh, you must be the absentee I heard about. Come in, I hear we’ve got some work to do…”

Before a word could evade her lips, Melissa was wrapped up by her mother’s arms and marched inside. Jane had taken the liberty of arranging a contingency plan, expecting Melissa’s resistance. ‘Cut & Shine Barbers’ was the location selected, plenty of good reviews. A brief call to the owner, who expressed sympathy and experience of solving such problems, agreeing to clear the shop for a special appointment.

Locking the door behind the girls, the barber spoke up to let them know they could take any chair. Of course, ‘what would a punishment cut be without an audience’, Jane opted for the one by the window.

“So miss, what will it be?” The barber spoke loudly, an excited effervescence in his voice. “Oh, I’m Mike by the way.” He shook off one of his prized pinstripe capes and wrapped it tightly around Melissa’s throat. It swallowed her, already way out of proportion with the chair, extending well past her feet.

“Hmmm. Short. Maybe a bit shorter than mine…” Jane suggested, willing to entertain proposals. Melissa was about to have a meltdown. ‘Shorter than Mum’s’ meant a chin length bob at minimum.

“Tell ya what, miss. We’ll start taking off some bulk and decide as we go.” Mike was potentially losing money closing for this; he may as well have some fun. He got the go ahead and started. Spraying the excessive black locks down, and combing it, Teasing Melissa with each swipe. She was helpless. Engulfed by nylon sheet, surrounded by enemies, her eyes called out in distress as they observed via the spotless mirror.

In Melissa’s mind, the room looked more like a prison than a salon. Chequered tiled flooring and off-white – possibly just stained – walls. Decoration was… limited. Old pictures of classic men’s styles hung wearily up high. They only had maybe five or six truly different hairstyles between the 20 or so images. Serious doubt crossed Melissa, doubting they even know how to cut long hair.

A faint odour of chemicals hit Melissa’s nose as she scoured the room for more distractions. It was a bare-bones establishment. No knick-knacks, no lamps, no fancy products on display. Just three chairs, all fixed to the floor, dominated the space. Overbearing maroon coloured synthetic leather padding, accented with chrome armrests and frame. If Melissa was alone, it’d be like exploring a room built for giants. She adjusted herself, chair squeaking as a section of exposed back rubbed against the leatherette.

“Alright, ready little lady…” Mike mocked, knowing she’d never be ready for what would come. He tensioned the hair, bring the comb down to only just above her shoulders.

POP. Clippers roared in Melissa’s presence, sending a shockwave through her body, causing her to shrink down in her throne of exhibition. Jane looked on, half-horrified imagining herself in that position, and half-excited to witness tough justice.

She was tempted to film the ordeal, but unable to look away for even a split-second. Sheets of hair fell like the curtain at a theatre. Mike took it slow, running his clippers across the comb. A wall of hair that covered the entire back of the chair was being torn down. 18 inches, a foot and a half, of silky tresses came crashing down to the old, polished floor tiles. The floor was a crime scene, the deceased victim a mound of obsidian black locks. Each strand, once meticulously conditioned, cared for and styled, lay lifeless at the base of the chair. Mike reached halfway along, releasing to re-position his comb for the next section.

Melissa’s hair sprung up, settling between chin and shoulder in a harsh blunt cut. Both Mike and Jane could see Melissa’s eyes were trapped staring at the cut. Her head started to sway gently, vision narrowing as she began to pass out. Mike rested a hand on her shoulder, immediately waking her back to reality.

“Halfway there, already looks better…” Mike offered a quick update to Melissa. Tears had begun flowing, with no stop in sight. She wanted to hiss insults back, cry foul about how he was destroying her life, but her throat locked shut like an airlock. Not that protesting, no matter how vicious, would fix this.

Clippers thundered onwards, powering through masses of hair without complaint. Within minutes, the machine came to a halt. Now the left side was released to join the right. Melissa had been left with a bob, any more than two inches below her chin was a generous estimate, cut like an experimental fashion model’s statement piece. ‘Hideous’ was her initial diagnosis.

“What do we think then, eh, ‘Mum’?” Mike communicated directly with Jane, excluding Melissa from the fate of her own hair. He tugged and pulled at it with his comb whilst they deliberated.

“That’s good.” Jane answered. Melissa felt a swell of emotions as she interpreted the signal to end her torture. “… For a start, anyway.” ‘So much for that’, heart rate only just beginning to sink before being launched to Mach 5.

“Please… Please, no more…” Like a mouse already trapped, Melissa pleaded, her voice struggled to permeate the room between sniffles and sobs. Jane shot daggers through the mirror, indicating displeasure at Melissa’s feedback.

“I think we can do a bit better. What do you suggest, Mike?” She’d left the door open, giving the executor free range.

“OK. Let’s take it up a tad shorter and cut the back and sides down. In between a bob and a, uh, a pixie? Is that what you ladies call it?” Barber’s voice upbeat and casual, but each syllable struck Melissa like a blade. Her stomach wringing itself out, eyes split open in terror even contemplating it. ‘A Pixie…’ this was too far; her mother would be putting a stop to this any second.

“Yeah, let’s try that.” Still staring each other in the eyes, Jane still unsatisfied. Indecision absent from her voice, appearing to take pleasure from the suffering.

Mike crudely piled the top section of Melissa’s hair and fastened it tightly – a treat for later. All the while, Melissa sat rigid, tensing at every movement around her. Watching dumbfounded at her reflection, the sorry sight of her downfall. ‘The hair girl’ was no more, she might as well be ‘the no-hair girl’ as far as she was concerned. She was outraged, so internally white hot with anger, fighting to keep the spirit inside.

Disregarding any psychological devastation, Mike began once again. POP. Wielding his trusty, well-oiled clippers, he tackled the back and sides. The droning sound changed dramatically this time. First a somewhat gentle hum, the clippers let out their banshee cry as they duelled furiously with the dense forest.

Scraping upwards from her neckline, the clippers were only pulled away just below the top section, leaving room for blending. The repeated motion chipped away at Melissa’s psyche like some kind of CIA interrogation tactic.

Whittling away emotions, a mountain of emotion, there was a conflict deep within. Below the rage, the sadness and fear. Past the regret and anxiety. SatisfactionWas that it? Vibrations, a rumbling, just something about this was pleasant in some way. It made up for nothing, not whilst she was forced to see this sick, perverted act performed.

Thick clumps joined the sheets of hair already blanketing the floor. Heavy, conditioned chunks of darkness flicked away from her scalp, bouncing down the cape and chair. Some hit her shoulder. Her heightened senses amplified the weight, making each feel like a stranger tapping to get her attention, only to say goodbye as they get propelled towards their resting place. Strip by strip, it was coming off.

As the clippers’ destructive overlord brought them to the side, the extent of their effectiveness came into view. Where she once would’ve seen well over a foot of hair stood not even an inch. A #4 guard on the clippers had left her with, hypothetically, exactly half an inch to play with.

Tears sailed like white-water rapids, her state deteriorating from soft sobs to utter hysterics. Mike stepped up his control, fixing her head firmly in place. He sustained the assault, levelling every hair around her now 360 degree undercut. Attack over, Melissa used the brief ceasefire to examine her surroundings once more.

 

Chapter 5: Shorn Beyond Recognition

 

The classic red and blue pinstriped white cape now claimed small piles of hair that clung on randomly. Noir shards and splinters disrupted the pattern. She released her white-knuckle grip on the armrests, in doing so thrusting clippings that lay on the cape. Her eyes instinctively closed as they slowly tumbled down, some reaching the floor, most collecting in her lap.

From Jane’s perspective the wreckage was of titanic proportions. Overwhelming quantities lay strewn across the floor, threatening to climb back up the chair. An impenetrable heap of dulled onyx, lifelessly occupying the ground. Brief glimpses of purple shone through in patches, the dying embers of locks which once shone intensely under the lights. Twinges of shame hit, imploring her to reconsider – ‘Leave her with something, for God’s sake’.

Melissa’s heavy locks twisted as they fell, released from the clip. Mike wet the hair haphazardly, catching Melissa’s face in the mist several times. He did as expected of a local men’s barber, cutting with ruthless efficiency. Schnick. Sharpened shears sliced, making short work of the now, relatively, short hair. ‘Timeless’ was how he envisaged the cut, working from a reference of loose memories. Something of a short bob-wedge-pixie hybrid, with his unfamiliar hand, it landed deep into ‘dated’ territory. Schnick. Melissa wanted to scream, she could’ve taken the scissors and done a better job right now, lest she end up with the ‘grandma’ cut her barber seemed to be inflicting.

Actions repeated robotically: comb tight, align length, chop. Schnick. With each close of the scissors extra damp clusters dropped, clinging to whatever surface they found first. Schnick. Precision strikes rung out around Melissa’s lightened head, her heavy shield yielding under the force. Schnick. She was discovering an entirely new dimension of hairdressing – if it could be called that. By now, her tear ducts ran on fumes. Reservoirs running dry, her frantic outpour subsided into a ghostly jaded look. Equal parts demoralised, angry, and intrigued by her senses. The reflection showed a broken woman, makeup streaking down cheeks as her identity morphed.

‘Cut & Shine Barbers’ had seen plenty of action over the nearly two decades Mike had been running the place. Trends came and went, but a handful of classic styles endured to form the bulk of his daily duties. Short back-and-sides, crew cuts, ‘ivy leagues’, all consisted of the same core elements distinguished only by trivial differences. He didn’t hate it, though days like this were a blessing reset.

Punishment, or at least unwanted, cuts are much more prevalent within the ‘young lads’ section of his client-base. Often in the form of early teen rebellion, hair grown out without care over summer, before being dragged in with straggly, knotted ropes dangling around their face. Ensuing arguments cut short, like their matted mess, as they realise the lack of power a 14-year-old wields. ‘Clean him up for school’ the typical instruction. Or the opposite, the dreaded summer cut. ‘Old faithful’, Mike dubbed it, a #2 all over buzzcut – although he’d gladly oblige if asked to take it down to #1 or #0 – frequently topped up fortnightly from late June to early September.

True punishments, however, went case by case. The underlying stories varied. One time a kid tricked his sister into letting him cut her hair at home. Mike took him down to a foil shave for that, on orders from the parents, to make sure he ended up with less than the wronged sibling. It was fun, in a purely ‘different from the usual’ sense, a big uninvited change a secretly wicked thrill for a bored barber. Melissa’s case was the most severe by astronomical distances, a biblical shearing, a twisted dream.

He brushed clippings off Melissa’s shoulders, neck and face, duster tickling her in the process. His middle-aged hands messily ruffled her new coiffure, arranging pieces to complete the ‘style’. Vision blurred from drained eyes and stress, Melissa herself couldn’t confirm her identity. Mike took a step back, encouraging Melissa’s mum to perform a thorough examination.

She cautiously approached the chair like it held a loosely restrained apex predator. ‘Fuck… That’s… That’s short…’ her mind now started to comprehend the show she’d seen. A floppy mess of choppy ends was suspended from atop Melissa, but Jane’s eyes were drawn lower. Creeping out from underneath was the undercut. Around her head was a pitch-black coat of paint with jagged, prickly texture. Standing back up, the gleam of deep plum crazy streaks flashed into sight. Jane was struck with a flashback, all this because she tried copying that ‘emo’ girl. A revelation delivered to the wrong address, Melissa needed to be herself, needed to escape from this influence. ‘If she wants to be ‘alternative’, may as well take her to the extreme’.

“Very nice work, Mike…” Melissa had learned not to expect a release until she was already free. “… But. I don’t want to see any of those purple bits. Get rid of them, how you do is up to you, you are the expert after all…” There it was. Jane had sent one final crushing tidal wave in Melissa’s direction. ‘Is tha… does that mean… all of it?’ her inner volcano showing signs of imminent eruption.

Melissa’s eyes darted around the room via the imposing mirror, cold sweat forming on her brow. In spite of her weak, trembling limbs, she laboured to rise out of her seat. Without a sound, barber turned into hydraulic press, she was compressed into position. He was beginning to feel sorry for her. When the mother had called, the suggestion was something of a short bob, but it was too late to turn back now. In his own way of sparing this young woman, he opted to go above and beyond just simply buzzing it.

Having been figuratively and literally brought down, she was prepared to accept she wasn’t saving anything. Her hairdressing instincts forcing her to observe and de-construct every interaction between hair and blade. Mike’s smile had dissipated, reluctantly re-prepping his clippers for their glorious return. POP. Buzzing echoed off the walls unchallenged, all three parties dead silent.

 

Chapter 6: Feminine Edge

 

Callous shearing commenced, Mike dragging a #5 guard across the top of Melissa’s scalp. He didn’t speak up, not even to let her know it was the best he could do. With fast swipes, the top was soon reduced to a soft brush-like form. Melissa really couldn’t see any hope on the horizon. Here she sat, practically restrained, having her precious hair sheared like a farm animal. She could’ve lived with a bob, or a pixie bob, at least that would be feminine and cute. But no, buzzed, she felt like she was joining the army.

It’s tough for a barber – for anyone in the hairstyling trade – to see someone upset by their actions. Mike truly considered stopping to tell Melissa his plan, but deep-down he knew there’d be no convincing her. He pushed on; top clear it was time to deal with the sides. Another vicious instructional video for Melissa to watch, the clippers pointed into her skull with no attachment. She watched as the clippers were wielded with super-human accuracy, creating a guideline around her entire head. Midway up the sides, dipping lower in the back. Once complete, he repeated his motion, this time clearing everything below.

Pulling the clippers down, on each pass, Melissa’s prize the sight of an expanding section of bare scalp. In fact, it was a welcome distraction. She was unfamiliar at best with this kind of clipper work, and it had a strange appeal to it. The precision, the power to cut so close, it enthralled her. She already couldn’t look away, but now she didn’t want to. Mike restarted, this time with the clippers set slightly longer. Captivated onlooker witnessing this barber masterclass, such directed violence and force as he shook up and over his previously set border, yet there was no physical pain – if anything, a pleasing pulsation intensified by the proximity to the bone beneath.

Meticulous clipper work ensued like Mike was in a trance, not breaking focus for a femtosecond. Blades venturing further with each adjustment. First just the blade, lever closed, then open, then process copied with each of his guards from #0.5 up to #2. Held at every angle conceivable, the clippers left behind no trace of the harsh lines from before. Melissa was in awe, even her once dependable lightest of layers weren’t this hidden. Even her brand-new shears, courtesy of the college, couldn’t cut like this.

Duty complete, and more, the clippers returned to their countertop holster. In their place emerged comb and shears – familiar foes for Melissa’s tresses. Her unfamiliarity with this side of the hairdressing sphere leading to great conflict within. It didn’t make sense. Her love, her defining characteristic, cruelly being stripped away from her. And yet, she was enamoured with the techniques used to remove it. Mike used another method curiously odd to Melissa. Lifting the comb up through the bulk along the edge of the crown, blades closing in rapid fire as they drift across the exposed ends. Tiny needles flew in every direction, peppering cape, floor, Melissa and barber’s hands with shadowy sprinkles.

Mike worked with relentless pace, creating a seamless blend between top and sides. Melissa was lucky, she hadn’t dyed fully up to the root, so she was able to keep a little over a half inch on top. Delving into his pockets full of experience and abilities, Mike utilised a point-cutting approach to add texture to the plainly buzzed hair, his efforts resulting in a messy layered effect. Normally the words ‘choppy’ or ‘messy’ from her hairstylist would send chills down Melissa’s spine, but so caught up in the movie she was watching it didn’t occur to her.

One final touch, the foil shaver – a specialist tool, reserved only for the closest of non-razor cuts – was hoisted from its stand. He took his time with this, delicately touching up the hairline, ensuring this skin fade was true to name. After a concise but complete once over, the shaver was ordered to stop, compliant to its owner. Reality hit Melissa like she’d crossed dimensions.

Entering the shop a young, rebellious just-older-than-teen, she wouldn’t be leaving that way. The cape unceremoniously unfastened and ripped away, spilling the remnants it carried of a once mythical mane. Melissa’s gaze drawn to the floor, viewing a burial complex, all-encompassing from under counter to far beyond the back of the chair.

Free from the deceptively heavy cape, she intuitively tried to stand. Each muscle and joint resisted mechanically. She was off balance, her head too light, no counterweight to swing below. A roadblock stopped her, not allowing full extension, she couldn’t let her image drift out of the mirror. She stared intensely. This woman she was seeing, Melissa, she wanted to uncover her secrets.

Minor head movements mimicked her own, it really must be her. Despite being physically identical in every way – other than hair – to the girl that sat down maybe 40 minutes ago, the image shifted her self-perception radically. Ultra-feminine, cute and girly didn’t seem within the same realm. This woman, and she was most definitely now a woman, was fierce. Metamorphosis compelling Melissa to begin absorbing character traits.

In an instant, she snapped out of the ascension, taken aback by the substantial transformation. Her monument to Goddess-esque locks torn down to its foundations. What remained barely able to be gripped between fingertips, even at the longest point. Mike had worked barbershop witchcraft to form this.

Melissa’s head a flawless example in ultra-short feminine edge, displaying a crew cut – #5 length texturised on top – with a flawless bald fade wrapping around the back and sides. It screamed its presence to the world with purpose.

There’d be some familiarising to do. How do you even style this? Can you? However, in the moment, there was no sense of a ‘coming-to-terms’ period. It pretty much just settled on her. Freeing her. She’d been ‘the long hair girl’ for her entire life. Maybe it was time to be… Melissa.

In the background, Jane and Mike concluded their deal. Jane sounded distant, evidently guilt-ridden to an extent.

“… Well. I, uh, thanks. Sorry if it was a bit uncomfortable. Here…” She handed over the cash from her purse, a hefty transaction compared to the usual bargain trims conducted here.

“No worries. I think, ah. I think she kinda likes it…” Mike responded cheerily, keeping his voice low not to disturb Melissa’s moment, happy to see the deal fulfilled.

“Uhmm. Melissa… Let, uh. Let’s make a move, yeah.” Jane tenderly approached unsettling her daughter, her soft-spoken voice wandering into the distance. It was met with silence.

Melissa stroked the back of her head. The interaction provoking a deep, sharp intake of breath, stoking her internal flame. Invigorated, she spun around to face her mother, delivering an assertive nod and strolling towards the door. Walking back to the car, the two women acted virtually like strangers. No words, no looks, no communication of any kind. Melissa, though, was smiling away. Returning every gawk and ogle that flew her direction.

“Mel… I’m sorry. I. I got carried away… If you’re angry… I understand.” Jane tried desperately to reconcile once they entered the privacy of the car.

“Mum. Shut up… I… think I needed this. I really did take the piss before, plenty of times. Although maybe you should be up next, eh?” She taunted her mother, admitting her faults and clearing the air.

“… You… What?” Jane had no response, completely blindsided.

“Don’t worry about it… Let’s get home for now, yeah.” Melissa was transfixed on getting to grips with her new identity, and new hair. A fresh cut was never going to not excite her.

 

Chapter 7: A Barberette-to-Be

 

They reached home, Melissa blasting her way inside and up to her room. Unable to resist, she eagerly rubbed every square millimetre with a soft, tender touch. Every sensation struck to her core. Starting low, the smooth nothingness of her hairline area tricked her brain, especially as she followed it around the perimeter. Stubble took over, like sandpaper, but satisfying. Fingers lingering, she practiced moving from smooth to rough.

Her extremities tingled, toes curling with delight as she experienced the fade getting longer. Perplexed by the lack of any discernible point between lengths. It was ‘harmonious’ as her instructor would say. Fitting together with no trace of the components that assembled it, only revealing a complete final form. As she moved up the guard lengths her mind recorded the differences. Starting sharp and prickly, rapidly progressing to a gentler, fuzzy feeling. Blended into the slightly longer hairs on top, the continuous transition ended with soft bristles, long enough – just – to retain the delicacy instilled by her conditioning regimen.

Startling’, she thought. A startling change indeed. She’d been kicking herself for years. So many examples rang through her memory. Memories of sinking into the persona she’d adopted. Any and all attention she received was due to her ‘pretty, long hair’. The moment she showed an ounce of character, ignored. So, time and time again, she resorted to imitation to correct anything the masses deemed uncool. Her confidence shot down too many times by the ‘it’ girls, and boys who’d move on the instant a ‘better’ girl was available.

A haircut, especially this haircut, wasn’t exactly what she longed for. But, by proxy, it granted her a way out. An invitation to reinvention. She had the weekend to consider the plan simmering inside, and to get intimately familiar with this power generating cut. Dwelling on the expertise she witnessed earlier, passing through hundreds of websites and articles in research, her conclusion became clear. To be sure, a call was needed.

She keyed the number in, her breathing becoming heavy with anticipation. She paused. Closing her eyes and slowly filling her lungs. Her finger snapped to her phone, dialling the number.

“Ahem. It. It’s Mike, right?” Melissa spoke swiftly and clearly, like a businesswoman making her pitch.

“Yes, it is. How can I help you today then Miss?” Mike’s familiar voice bellowed out of the speaker.

“Great. Hi. It’s Melissa… from earlier…” She’d made the leap, now to stick the landing. “I wanted to… Well, first, thanks. You’ve helped me a lot today, and the cut feels great.” Mike was stunned into silence. “How you cut, or buzzed, or whatever… I want to learn. I’m doing a hairdressing course, but I’ve never seen skill like that before.” Melissa waited for a response, realising she’d spilled a word-salad with no actual question.

“… Well… umm. Glad you like it, I was half-tempted to a phone up and apologise myself, hehe.” He gave himself time to think of something constructive to say. “Look, Melissa. If you really want to do this.” He lingered, stuck between giving the obvious answer or going further.

“I do, Mike.” Melissa’s sincerity hit the old barber in his heart.

“OK, great. Good. The local college, the one you’re at, they do a barber course. I’d start there… And, Melissa, come and see me if you need help or work. I’ve always got room for an apprentice…”

“Mike… You’re a gem. I’ll see you soon, eh, for a tidy up?” Melissa’s sage had provided their wisdom. Her response revealing the inner suave of a woman who cared not for façades.

Monday came and she arrived at college. For a brief eternity the grand hall of hairdressing students rang silent. Fearful to speak out about the absurd sight. Melissa paraded around the stations, drinking in the stares, playfully prolonging the discomfort.

“New cut, huh, feels so good. So sexy…” She told Liz, no words of the ordeal. Laughing at Liz’s comically shocked expression, she lifted her friends hand to touch it, welcoming conversation to start.

“Wh… Is… Did your mum make you do this…?” Liz could only speculate on the past events.

“Ugh, yeah. Backfired, though, lol. I think it suits me; way more distinctive.” Melissa’s response, like everything else about her today, left Liz shaking her head in disbelief. “Can’t hang around too long, I’m switching to barbering. At least for now. I’m sure I’ll finish up this course down the road, maybe collect the whole set of hair certificates.” Another shock sent to her soon to be former station-mate.

Before class officially began, Melissa spoke with the instructor. Comments flew back and forth about her fresh look – exclusively kind – ahead of her declaring the switch to barber school and discussing arrangements. She’d finish out the remaining few weeks of term, then begin fresh on the other side. Perfect to have a farewell with the girls, and just in time to quiz Mike for tips at her next trim before starting.

 

 

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed.

Melissa also features in my other story ‘Interview Prep’ (https://www.hairstorynetwork.com/stories/interview-prep/), so feel free to check it out. More stories to come…

2 responses to “From Curlers to Clippers

  1. It took me a long time to get to this one, but there’s some really fantastic detail throughout. I really made sure to take my time to appreciate all of the effort you put into it — thank you for writing and sharing it!

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