The clippers’ high-pitched drone sent a shiver racing through Sarah’s slender body.
This was the moment she had been anticipating for the last month. It was the moment she had been dreading for just as long.
Would she be brave enough to go through with her plan? Would she finally give in to the obsession that had hijacked her imagination? Or would she somehow manage to reclaim her sanity and walk out of the shabby shop with her beautiful long hair intact?
Sitting in the hard plastic chair, Sarah watched intently as the swarthy barber clipped his next to last customer. The mound of brown curls scattered on the white tile floor was irrefutable evidence that the handsome young man had begun the day with an abundant head of hair. When he left the shop, however, it would be cropped so closely that only a fraction of an inch remained.
Sarah grew more anxious as his shearing continued—nervous and excited at the same time—as she pictured herself being shorn in the same uncompromising manner.
The hour was growing late. Within a few minutes Sarah’s turn would come. She had arrived at the barbershop ten minutes before six. Now it was five minutes after, and a “closed” sign hung in the window. She would be the barber’s last customer. No gawking spectators would witness her imminent haircut, just as she had planned.
It will be much easier, she thought, if no one is watching while my hair is cut.
Dressed in a conservative navy skirt, a crisp white sleeveless blouse and low-heeled black pumps, in another setting Sarah could have been mistaken for a patient waiting for a doctor’s appointment or even a job seeker reporting for an interview. But a casual passerby looking through the shop’s picture window surely would have wondered why a well-groomed young woman like her was waiting in this shabby barbershop on a street dotted with empty storefronts.
The twenty-seven-year-old graduate student self-consciously fingered the ends of her glossy brown ponytail draped over one shoulder. She adjusted her glasses with their recently acquired Versace frames; the ones she chose to make her look both stylish and intellectual. She obviously didn’t belong in this unlikely setting, yet there she was.
Sarah’s pensive expression marred her otherwise flawless facade. The brooding look hinted at the eleventh-hour debate raging within her brain. Was she willing to sacrifice the silken tresses she had lovingly tended for so many years? Was she prepared to say farewell to the flowing style that had been her trademark for as long as she could remember? Was she ready to submit to a shearing that would radically alter her polished image?
Her presence in the barbershop indicated a readiness to take this fateful step. Still, it was not too late to back out, to flee out the door, an option Sarah had not entirely rejected.
Sarah’s attention shifted from her personal dilemma as the stocky middle-aged barber began the final stage of the young man’s haircut. She held her breath as he deftly maneuvered his clippers back and forth across his customer’s crown. She watched with growing fascination as he carved the hair on top of his head into a short, perfectly flat surface. It was a stunning statement; one that made Sarah squirm with nervous anticipation. She’d seen haircuts like this before, of course, on athletes and military men, but never had she personally witnessed a barber crafting this amazing look.
She couldn’t believe how casually the two men chatted about sports and the weather, as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening, like this was a normal, everyday event. To her mind, this was the most exciting, most extraordinary, most breathtaking haircut imaginable.
How can he remain so nonchalant? she thought as she observed the barber’s victim. How can he stay so calm at a moment like this?
The young man noticed Sarah’s awe-struck gaze and proffered an inviting smile. Under other circumstances, she might have reciprocated. He appeared to be about her age and was the rugged outdoors type she found attractive. Being ogled by strange men was an everyday occurrence for Sarah, but today she felt vulnerable. Instead of returning his friendly gesture, she grabbed a dog-eared sports magazine, and buried her eyes in its pages.
Sarah understood that the presence of an unescorted female in this hyper-masculine environment was unusual; some might even consider it unseemly. That’s why she agonized for so long before working up the nerve to enter this establishment. She would be conspicuous, she knew, but this was the only setting where she could get the haircut she desired.
Give me strength, she fervently prayed. It won’t be much longer.
It had taken a month of searching to find the proper site for her conversion. The Yellow Pages listings under “Barber Shop” weren’t much help. She eliminated all those with “unisex” in the title—these trendy places would not be suitable. That left a dozen shops whose ads all looked pretty much the same. One by one, she drove past the addresses, surreptitiously inspecting the premises. Mel’s Barber Shop was off the beaten path, in an area that definitely had seen better days, but it was the only one that met her key criteria. The red, white and blue barber pole revolving outside the front door marked it as a traditional men’s barbershop. It appeared clean and unpretentious, with only one barber. It didn’t seem busy, so there would be no long wait.
It’s probably been here for ages, she noted as she drove away. This one definitely is worth a try.
It took another week before she gathered enough courage to call the shop’s number. “Do you do ladies’ haircuts?” she inquired. The proprietor proved more accommodating than she expected. Yes, he did cut women’s hair, although not very often. She should not expect a high fashion style, he cautioned; he only did basic cuts. No appointment was necessary; she could come any time. It would be helpful if she brought a picture of the hairstyle she wanted. He sounded cordial, professional and, most importantly, not put off by the prospect of a woman invading his domain. His attitude reinforced her earlier observation.
Yes, this seems like the right place, she resolved.
Finally, the barber put down his clippers and began applying shaving cream to his customer’s neck. Sarah sensed they had reached the final stage of his haircut. Her nervousness increased as she realized that in a minute or two she would occupy the throne-like seat where the good-looking fellow now sat. The barber expertly shaved the young man with a straight razor, then wiped away the foam with a small towel. He held a mirror behind his head so the freshly clipped patron could inspect his barbered visage from all angles. The young man nodded his approval. “Now that’s what I call a real flat top,” he exclaimed. The barber removed the striped cape from his pleased customer and released him from the enormous chair. As the handsome fellow reached into his wallet to pay for his shearing, he shot an admiring sidelong glance at Sarah. This time she gave him a coy half-smile in return.
He probably wonders what I’m doing here all alone, without a male escort, she thought. It should be apparent if he has any imagination at all.
He paid and headed for the door, but not before sending a playful wink in her direction as a parting shot. Now Sarah and the barber were alone in the silent shop. He stood behind the vacant chair, peering in her direction, waiting for her to make the first move. She sat motionless, trying to will herself to rise from her seat. For a moment the scene resembled a Mexican standoff—the barber with hands resting on the back of the chair, daring her to step forward; Sarah temporarily paralyzed by fear or indecision. Neither spoke as the tension mounted.
It’s now or never, she told herself. Time to make a fresh start.
Somehow, she mustered the strength to stand on unsteady legs and hesitantly stepped toward her fate. At five-foot-nine, her willowy body cut a graceful figure as she crossed the small room; the classy ponytail hanging half-way down her back swished back and forth as she walked. The barber couldn’t help but admire this undeniably gorgeous woman. He expected someone older; certainly not a woman so lovely. In twenty-five years of barbering he’d never had a customer like this young lady; he’d never cut the hair of anyone so beautiful.
A welcoming smile creased his face. “You must be Sarah,” he said, extending his hand. Since they’d talked over the phone half a dozen times in the past week, he felt like he knew her already. “So, you’re here at last. I feared you might never come.”
He seems happy to see me, she noted as she shook his warm hand. I hope he’s not going to make a big fuss over my haircut.
“Hello Mel,” she replied. “Yes, I finally made up my mind. I hope I’m not too late.”
“Never too late for someone like you, darlin’,” he declared.
Normally, the barber’s easy familiarity would have offended Sarah. Under other circumstances, she might have corrected him, but tonight she supposed he was entitled to assume a personal relationship. After all, she had pestered him with daily phone calls as she weighed her options. Over the phone, Mel had been patient and kind, never trying to pressure her into a premature decision. In the end, his professionalism won her over.
He seems like an understanding guy, she said to herself. He seems like someone I can trust.
Slowly, Sarah eased into the large chair, its leather seat still warm from the previous occupant. Modestly, she pulled her skirt down to cover her bare knees. Mel shook out the cape, white with narrow red stripes, sending a flurry of dark clippings to the floor. She held her two-foot bundle of hair out of his way as he wound a thin tissue around her neck and draped the cloth over her shoulders, snapping tightly it behind her neck. She surrendered her glasses to the barber. “I suppose I won’t be needing these for a while,” she remarked.
“You ready?” he asked abruptly.
“Well, I’m sitting here in your chair with this cloth tied around my neck. That should tell you something,” she retorted with a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
Of course I’m ready, mister, and don’t you try to talk me out of it, she silently rebuked him.
“So what’s your pleasure? We discussed several possibilities,” he reminded her.
Sarah recalled her lengthy discussions with Mel as he described the various cuts he could administer. All were basic styles ranging from moderately long to severely short. The last option he mentioned was the flat top, the cut he had just finished for his previous customer. “If you’re interested in a really short haircut, this is the one you should choose,” he had recommended. All week she had vacillated among the many alternatives, but it was the flat top that wouldn’t leave her mind. Its bold geometric form both fascinated and terrified her.
“I want you to cut it short,” she told him with false bravado.
There, I said it, she proudly told herself. The genie is out of the bottle, and no one can put it back.
“Did you bring a picture like I told you?” he asked.
“Well, no. I couldn’t really decide,” she replied. “You suggested cutting it in stages—giving me a series of haircuts—and that sounds like a good idea. I’ll let you know when you’ve reached the right length.”
“Sure, we can do that,” he answered cheerfully. “There’s no one else coming, so we can take our time.”
Sarah wanted no more chatter. “I suppose we should get started,” she said, not so gently encouraging him to begin.
Please begin before I die of nerves, she wordlessly pleaded.
Mel did as she suggested, snipping the elastic band that bound her ponytail. Sarah shook out the thick mane so it cascaded over her shoulders and bounced down the chair back. That morning she had washed her abundant locks in the shower, enjoying the generous lather one last time. She would miss many things when her long hair was gone; the luxury of a fragrant, steamy shampoo was at the top of the list.
The barber let out a long, admiring whistle. “Good gracious, darlin’, that’s a lot of hair,” he exclaimed.
Sarah guessed that he had never seen so much hair waiting to be sheared off.
It certainly is a lot of hair; too damn much hair. That’s precisely why I’m sitting here, she thought.
“And I want you to cut it all off,” she demanded. “You can do that, can’t you?”
“Sure thing, darlin’,” he said. “I just don’t understand why you want to get rid of all this lovely hair. Most ladies would die for hair like this.”
How many times have I heard that line? she asked herself. I’m so sick of women envying me. I’m tired of people not being able to see past my hair.
“And that’s exactly why I want you to cut it,” she declared angrily.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand, darlin’.”
I suppose I owe him an explanation, she decided.
“See, my hair is the first thing that everyone notices; many times it’s the only thing. Women hate me because they feel drab and ordinary in comparison; men are always hitting on me because they think I’m some kind of sex goddess.”
“That’s a problem I never had,” joked the balding barber.
But Sarah failed to divulge the main reason that brought her into his shop.
She was nearing the end of graduate school. Her doctoral dissertation in the field of women’s history was nearly complete. She had three job interviews scheduled in the coming months, all at leading research universities. When her advisor learned where Sarah had applied, she invited her for a confidential chat.
“At all of the departments where you will be interviewing, key faculty members are lesbian,” she confided in the privacy of her book-lined office. This hardly came as a surprise to Sarah; she knew a significant number of scholars in her field were lesbians. “Your chances of being hired will be greatly enhanced if they think you share their sexual preference.”
Sarah was shocked to hear that a job offer at a prominent university could be influenced by others’ perception of her sexual orientation. “But you know I’m hopelessly hetero,” she dejectedly replied.
“I know, my dear,” her advisor continued in a kindly but guarded tone. “I’m not suggesting you do anything dishonest, but it wouldn’t hurt your chances if you let them draw the wrong conclusion.”
“I’m not sure what you mean,” Sarah admitted, more than a bit perplexed by the direction their meeting had taken.
“Your hair, my dear, your lovely hair. You really need to do something about your hair,” she pointedly suggested.
“You mean put it up in a bun for the interviews or wear a hat?” she inquired hopefully.
“No, my dear, you need to cut it off.” Sarah sat speechless, struggling to absorb the bombshell that just landed in her lap. “This is not something I say lightly,” her advisor added sympathetically. “I know it’s asking a lot. If men were making the hiring decision, I’d recommend that you flaunt your crowning glory. They would be dazzled by your hair. But that’s not your situation. These women will be more likely to recommend you for the job if your hair is short like theirs, the shorter the better. Of course, there’s no guarantee that a haircut alone will get you a job offer, but without it your chances are very slim indeed.”
Sarah understood that following this advice could help launch her academic career on the right foot. All of her professors stressed the importance of the first academic appointment. If you start at Podunk U., most likely that’s where you’ll remain, they agreed. If you want to rise to the top of your profession, as Sarah certainly did, you had to begin at a big-name school.
She retired to her apartment that evening torn by indecision. Of course, there had been times in past years when she toyed with the idea of adopting a different hairstyle; hair as long as hers could be chore to maintain; a change might be fun. Two years ago, she even made an appointment for a makeover at a trendy salon, only to cancel at the last minute. Since then, she hadn’t entertained these thoughts again. Short haircuts were for middle-aged soccer moms, and she certainly didn’t want to be mistaken for one. Keeping her distinctive hairstyle won out.
What her advisor was asking was an enormous sacrifice, but Sarah had always been ambitious. She spent the last four years researching and writing her dissertation about women directors in the early film industry. She hoped her research would win her national acclaim as an up-and-coming feminist scholar. Without the right initial appointment, however, climbing to the top of her profession would be difficult indeed.
Later that evening, Sarah went on-line researching short hairstyles. It didn’t take long to discover sites featuring the butch styles favored by lesbians. She tried to picture herself wearing one of the androgynous hairstyles sported by lesbian celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Rachel Maddow.
Why do they want to look like men? she pondered. What’s the appeal of such short hair, anyway?
Yet, at random moments she found herself returning to websites displaying these masculine haircuts. Most intriguing were the side-by-side photos of young women before and after their drastic makeovers. In the long-haired “before” photos the models looked serious or sad, as if the prospect of being shorn was weighing on their minds. In the short-haired “after” photos they invariably looked jubilant, like an intolerable burden had been lifted from their shoulders. She repeatedly viewed one video in which a young woman with hair as long as hers beamed at the camera as a stern-looking hairdresser buzzed it down to next to nothing. Sarah tried to imagine the sensation of having her seal-brown tresses sheared so close. Much to her surprise, she found the idea strangely arousing.
She didn’t understand why she was reacting this way, but something about the idea of having her hair cut short was sexually suggestive. Long hair had always been Sarah’s most striking feature; now she was fantasizing about cutting it off.
What’s happening to me? she questioned. Why is this idea turning me on?
With each passing day, Sarah grew more preoccupied with the prospect of having her hair chopped off. For the past month, she could think of little else. At night, she often dreamed about visiting an old-fashioned barbershop, and being mercilessly shorn by a heartless barber. Only, it wasn’t a nightmare, but an erotic fantasy. Gradually, she accepted the idea that a short haircut would help start her career on the right foot and, at the same time, satisfy her surging curiosity.
Sarah told no one about her plan, not even her roommate or major professor. She knew everyone would barrage her with questions the first time she appeared in public with her hair cut short, but before that happened, she needed to summon the will power to execute her disturbing fantasy.
Somehow, unbelievably, she now sat captive, on the verge of a life-changing haircut.
The barber gently ran his black-toothed comb through her luxurious tresses. Sarah closed her eyes, quietly enduring his ministrations. Despite the telephone conversations they’d had, she sensed the barber’s reluctance to begin cutting her hair. Apparently, he didn’t understand her reason for being there, and she couldn’t really blame him. Hers probably would be unlike any haircut he’d previously given.
I doubt he’s ever had a customer with hair as long as mine, she concluded. He must be afraid I’m going to freak out when he starts cutting.
Still, he’d agreed to give her the cut of her choosing. She needed his cooperation to accomplish the radical makeover she sought; she didn’t want to antagonize him by appearing impatient.
Mel continued combing. Sarah knew this was not his normal routine. She sensed he was stalling; trying to avoid amputating her long hair as she requested; providing an opportunity to reconsider and back out at the last minute.
At last, she spoke up. “Okay, Mel. It’s time to get started,” she encouraged him. “I don’t want to keep you here all night.” It wasn’t concern for the barber that prompted Sarah’s impatience. She simply couldn’t wait any longer; she was ready for her haircut to commence.
Mel selected a pair of silver scissors and held them two inches below Sarah’s jaw. “We’ll start with a basic bob and full bangs,” he announced. Sarah recognized this as one of the popular styles she once had seriously considered. She was certain this would not be short enough, yet it was a good beginning.
The barber paused, waiting for her final consent.
Sarah sat rigidly upright, her eyes staring straight ahead. A barely perceptible nod was her signal to begin. She held her breath and swallowed hard as Mel slowly closed the blades. She shuddered slightly at the sight of a two-foot section of her hair sliding to the floor without a sound. She gazed into the large mirror mounted on the wall in front of her, startled by the gap left by the missing lock. For nearly twenty years, her hair had hung past her shoulders. Now her tenure as a long-haired woman was coming to an end.
There, it’s begun, she thought. I can’t turn back. I’m committed.
The barber selected a second segment, slightly behind the first, and cut again. Slowly, deliberately, Mel worked his way around her head, decisively shortening the mane she had lovingly tended for so many years. Mel concentrated on the task at hand, precisely measuring each slice. Sarah studied his moves, a solemn expression on her expectant face. Only the harsh grating of the blades closing on her hair disturbed the silence in the shop. When Mel reached the back of her head, the cold steel of his scissors grazing the bare skin on her neck sent an electric jolt down Sarah’s spine. She felt a lump swelling in her throat as she visualized more silky tresses falling to the ground.
Don’t let him see you cry, she admonished herself. This is what you want, remember? She forced a feeble smile across her lips.
With a few more slices, Mel reached the other side of her head. With a final cut, he removed the last long strand. Sarah breathed a sigh of relief.
For better or worse, I’m a short-haired woman now, she reflected.
Mel moved in front of Sarah and combed a curtain of dark hair down across her forehead, completely covering her eyes. He inserted his scissors slightly below her left eyebrow and cut in a straight line, creating a generous fringe. Then he circled her head a second time, meticulously combing and trimming, making sure the ends were perfectly even.
The barber stepped back to let Sarah absorb the magnitude of the alteration he had just inflicted. She asked for her glasses and critically examined the collar-length bob she now wore. She turned her head from side to side, examining the blunt-cut ends of her new coiffure as they gently swished across her cheeks. Mel held a mirror behind her head so she could view the abbreviated back.
He had done an excellent job, she decided, far better than she expected. Sarah was both surprised and pleased at the outcome.
Not a bad look, she observed, not bad at all. This guy really knows how to cut hair.
“We could stop here,” Mel suggested hopefully.
Sarah briefly considered halting the haircut at this point. She loved the timeless look of the bob; it was classic yet contemporary. For years, she had avoided bangs, considering them something for little girls only, yet now she realized they called attention to her blue-grey eyes, imparting a strong, sexy appeal. On any other occasion, she might have decided to stick with this style, but tonight it was not an option. If she wanted to make an impression on the lesbian professors, she would have to go shorter. She was determined to press on.
“It looks terrific, Mel, but that’s not what I want. Shall we continue?” she evenly intoned as she handed back her glasses. It was less a question than a command, and her barber responded promptly.
“You’re the boss,” he replied, although she detected a note of regret at the prospect of destroying the fashionable bob he had just created. “What shall we do next?”
Over the phone, Sarah and Mel had reviewed several styles that were shorter, yet still feminine, but she decided to skip those intermediate lengths and go directly to one of the shortest. “You mentioned a boy’s cut when we talked last,” she said.
“That’s a good bit shorter,” he reminded her.
“Yes, and that’s what I want,” she insisted.
“Okay,” he reluctantly agreed although Sarah could tell he wasn’t happy about her choice.
Mel assumed his position behind the chair, and using his comb, lifted a hank of hair from the back of Sarah’s head and snipped off a four-inch piece. Working more rapidly than before, he moved up her head, steadily chopping away more hair with each slice. He went over the back several times, cutting it shorter with each pass. His scissors clicked together sending a steady rhythm into the otherwise quiet shop. The barber spent four or five minutes sculpting a gradual, tapered look. The hair at the base of Sarah’s neck was now half an inch long; at the crown it was little more than an inch. While she couldn’t see what Mel was doing, she could feel his comb pressing against her scalp. She realized that her hair now was shorter than many of the men she dated. She speculated whether any of them would be willing to be seen with her wearing the extreme haircut she was receiving.
This is it, she admonished herself. This is what you asked for. You’ve got to be prepared to accept the consequences.
When the back was finished, Mel turned his attention to the right side of her head. With a few deft strokes he snipped away the flap of dark hair covering her delicate ear. He carved the hair in front of the ear into a sharply pointed sideburn. He trimmed the hair above her ear to the same brief length he had reduced the back, then did the same to the left side of her head.
Sarah now could see how short the final cut was going to be. Part of her felt regret, wishing she could go back to the stylish bob she wore just a few minutes earlier. Another part was impatient, wanting Mel to hurry and get her ordeal over quickly.
When both sides were equally short, her barber rested his scissors and sprayed a fine mist of water over Sarah’s head. Then he repeatedly inserted serrated thinning shears into the longer hair on top. “This will help your thick hair lie down more evenly,” Mel explained as he cut. Next, he drew a sharp part down the left side of her head and combed the damp hair over her head, sweeping her newly formed bangs across her forehead. Finally, he switched on the power to a small clipper to remove the wispy hairs from the back of her neck.
Once again he paused and returned her glasses. Shards of dark hair littered the cape that enveloped her slender frame. Sarah glanced at the floor where piles of discarded tresses lay trampled beneath Mel’s sturdy black shoes. Her eyes moved back to the mirror, absorbing the latest alteration to her appearance. She studied the unfamiliar figure seated in the big chair sporting a standard boy’s haircut.
Now I look like Justin Bieber, she decided. This was far from the look she desired. Still, she had to laugh at her incongruous juvenile image.
“You like?” the barber inquired.
“It’s kinda cute,” she acknowledged.
“We can stop here,” he offered hopefully.
Sarah didn’t consider this offer, not even for a moment. Her verdict was clear. “Continue,” she ordered.
The barber shrugged. “You’re the boss,” he repeated.
Mel took her glasses and began hacking at the hair on top of her head. He grasped her bangs between his fingers and snipped away until only two inches remained. Severed hair tumbled down Sarah’s face, coming to rest in her lap. Instead of cutting evenly, the barber produced a jagged, feathery fringe. When he completed altering the bangs, he went to work shortening the hair on the top of her head. Mel methodically worked his way back along her crown, discarding the remnants with a casual flick of his wrist. Instead of cutting uniformly, he chopped seemingly at random, crafting an uneven carpet of dark tufts. By the time he reached the back, the length of Sarah’s remaining tresses had been reduced by half. He tousled what remained to remove the part, and massaged a dollop of styling gel into her closely cropped hair. Using a round styling brush, he teased her short hair until a thicket of dark brown spikes sprouted from her scalp.
When Mel returned her glasses, Sarah grinned approvingly. She recognized the trendy punk style worn by some of her more daring fellow grad students.
Yes, this is much better. Now we’re getting somewhere, she privately declared.
Once again Mel paused. “This is a good look for you,” he suggested.
Sarah hesitated for a moment. Mel’s most recent creation was an appealing style. It probably was short enough to satisfy the lesbian professors who would be interviewing her, but she was caught up in the momentum of her successive haircuts. “I like it,” she agreed, “but it’s not short enough.”
“So you want to go all the way?” he asked.
“And what exactly do you mean by going all the way?” she asked, fearing that he intended to shave her bald.
“To my mind the flat top is the ultimate short haircut,” he reminded her. “You know, like I did for the fellow who just left. I saw how you were watching him. You looked like kid hungry for a Popsicle on a hot summer’s day. That’s where you want to go, isn’t it?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I want,” she announced with enthusiasm. “Let’s go all the way!”
At last, she thought. This is what you’ve been waiting for.
“Okay, one flat top coming up, darlin’,” Mel confirmed.
Sarah felt a new tremor of excitement sweeping over her body as Mel reclaimed her glasses. She grasped the arms of the barber chair to keep from quivering as he resumed her haircut. This time he exchanged his scissors for an electric clipper. He fastened an attachment over the blades and switched on the power. Holding the buzzing instrument in his right hand, he placed his left on top of her head, forcing her chin down toward her chest. He placed the clippers on her bare neck. Sarah felt the cold metal pressing against her skin. This was the moment of truth. Her fate rested in the hands of a man whom she had met only thirty minutes before. Already he had transformed her into a person she hardly recognized, and the most dramatic alteration was yet to come. Never in her life had she done anything so unconventional, so impulsive, yet she felt strangely exhilarated as she awaited the final stage of her conversion.
Hold tight and enjoy the ride, she told herself.
Mel inserted his clippers into the dark pelt covering the back of her head, and ran them half way toward the top. Sarah sat riveted to her seat savoring the feel of the clipper’s hungry blades chewing through her thick hair. If she had been able to view the back, she would have seen them peeling away the last protective layer of hair, leaving only a sparse covering of stubble in their wake.
Sarah closed her eyes, concentrating on the weird and exhilarating sensations pulsing through her body. She prayed that her barber would not detect the intense erotic arousal she was experiencing. Mel continued buzzing the hair around her ears to the same barely perceptible length as the back. A shower of minute dark brown clippings rained down on the shoulders of the striped cape. Soon both the back and sides of Sarah’s head were nearly bare.
Sarah scrutinized the latest alteration in her image as best she could without her glasses. It was an arresting vision. Where Mel’s clippers had passed, her hair was scarcely an eighth of an inch. The hair on top of her head, still spiked, remained two inches long. It was an austere look, but one she found pleasing. Still, she knew he was not done. One final step remained before her conversion would be complete.
“Now do the top,” she commanded. This time there was no hesitation, no doubt, in her voice. She couldn’t wait to see how this final stage would turn out.
This is it; this is what you’ve been obsessing over, she admonished herself. Just try to keep your composure. Don’t let him see your reaction.
“You’re the boss,” the barber said once more.
Mel removed the guard from his clippers and inserted his comb into the upright hair at the back of her crown. Sarah braced herself for the final assault. The barber ran the buzzing instrument across the horizontal comb, slicing away everything protruding above its black teeth. Sarah froze as she heard the blades bite into her upright locks. Mel moved his comb forward and repeated his motions on the next section. Step by step, he reduced the hair on top of her head to a level plane barely half an inch long. Sarah sat rigidly in place, scarcely breathing, as she intently followed every detail of the barber’s measured actions. She felt his comb resting on top of her crown, and realized her hair was now every bit as short as the young man who had preceded her. She watched with growing fascination as he stripped away the last trace of her femininity. As Mel moved toward the front of her head he left the hair slightly longer. Above her forehead, he formed an upright bumper half an inch high. Sarah blinked as the clippings landed on her forehead and nose, but made no move to brush them away.
Next, her barber trimmed the hair on the sides. He held his comb vertically, and used his clippers to create two parallel walls of dark hair that intersected with the flattened top at right angles. He concentrated his attention on this task, determined to create an exact replica of the cut he had delivered to the young man thirty minutes earlier.
When he finished the sides, Mel returned his attention to the top of Sarah’s head. After brushing the hair that remained on the top of her head, he deftly steered his clippers across the severely shortened surface once again. This time he worked without the aid of his comb, removing another fraction of an inch. Sarah held onto the chair with all of her might; never in her life had she felt anything so terrifying or so thrilling. The steep drop at the top of a roller coaster was tame by comparison.
At last, Mel switched off the power to his clippers and attacked her crown with a stiff brush one final time, forcing every shaft of hair to stand upright in perfect order.
He stepped back, and said with finality, “Well, there you go. The flat top you requested.”
Sarah sat in stunned silence, trying to absorb the magnitude of the makeover she had just experienced. Mel handed back her glasses back so she could view her haircut more closely. He held a small mirror behind her head as she scrutinized every detail of her stark new style. Sarah saw a completely new image, one she scarcely recognized. The swinging pony tail was gone, replaced by a no-nonsense military-style flat top. It was an incredible transformation; a radical departure from her former stylish image, but Sarah was elated with the result. Her face was fully exposed; her blue-grey eyes shone with a fierce intensity, daring anyone to disparage her new look.
Sarah extended a hand from beneath the cape and tentatively fingered the bristles on the back of her head. Then she ran her palm across the flattened top. It was a strange, velvety sensation, something she had tried in vain to imagine in the weeks leading up to this moment. Her solemn gaze was replaced by a broad satisfied smile.
“You like?” the barber asked hesitantly.
“This is one awesome haircut. It’s perfect, exactly what I wanted,” she announced with obvious satisfaction. “Mel, you’ve done a marvelous job. I’m so glad I came here.”
The barber beamed with professional pride. “I’ve done lots of flat tops for guys, but you’re the first woman who asked for one.”
“Are you going to shave my neck like you did for the guy?” she asked.
“If that’s what you want,” he replied.
“Yes, I want the full treatment,” she instructed.
Mel did as he was told, applying the shaving cream to her neck. With a few deft strokes he drew a sharp diagonal line behind each ear and squared the back. After wiping off the excess foam, he dusted her face and ears with a soft brush, released the cape from around her neck, and shook the bits of severed hair to the floor.
Sarah stepped down from the chair and walked up to the large mirror on the wall to observe her haircut close up. The more she looked, the more convinced she became that she had made the right decision.
I can’t believe I did it, she marveled. It’s like a whole new person was waiting to emerge from beneath that long hair.
After another minute of self-admiration, she tore herself away from the mirror and stood in front of the cash register.
“That’ll be twenty-five bucks, darlin’,” Mel said.
She handed him two twenties and a ten. “That’s way too much,” he protested.
“Take it; you earned it,” she insisted. “That was an awful lot of hair you cut.”
As Sarah prepared to leave his shop, Mel spoke up. “If it’s not too personal, can you tell me why you chose this particular haircut?”
“Well, I saw you giving a flat top to the guy ahead of me and saw how cool he looked. I figured that would be the best haircut for me too.”
“Aren’t you concerned what the fellows will think?” he asked.
“They’ll probably think I’m a lesbian, and that’s alright with me,” she informed him. She glanced down at the mass of dark brown remnants of her once magnificent hairdo now resting around the base of the chair. “It feels so marvelous to be relieved of that burden,” she said with genuine conviction. “I can’t believe I carried that mop around for so many years. I’m never going back to long hair.”
Sarah turned and strode out of the shop with her head held high, proud that she had found the gumption to make the change, and eager to face her future as a short-haired woman.
Mel walked over to his chair and picked a handful of Sarah’s hair from the floor. He shook his head in amazement. “And I thought I’d seen everything,” he said to no one in particular.
Three weeks later, Sarah was back in Mel’s shop. This time it was the middle of the day.
“Still in love with your haircut, darlin’?” he asked.
“You bet,” she answered gleefully. “You know, I learned something surprising over the past few weeks.”
“What’s that?” Mel inquired.
“Well, I thought guys would be turned off by this haircut, and some of them are. But I discovered that others are attracted to a woman with short hair.”
“Is that so?” her barber replied.
“You remember the guy who was getting his hair cut ahead of me?” she asked.
“Sure do. You said his haircut convinced you to go all the way,” he answered.
“Yes, he’s the one. Well I ran into him last week, and we’ve got a date tonight. I want to look my best for him.”
“Well hop up, Missy, and we’ll get started.”
Sarah mounted the waiting chair with no trace of the anxiety she felt on her first visit. Her face was all smiles as she waited for the drone of the clippers and the delicious sensation of Mel guiding the hungry blades across her scalp.
She was hooked, a short-haired woman for life.