‘Mrs O’Sullivan, how high do you want the lad’s fringe?’ piped Tom.
‘About so high,’ she said putting her fingers high across her brow.
‘Very well.’ Tom put the clippers down and pick up the scissors. Chris and Anna exchanged pained glances through the mirror. Chris had had most of his hair reduced to a quarter inch all round, except towards the front, where his fringe reached his brow. ‘Oh sis!’ ‘Oh bro!’
Anna looked back at herself in the mirror. Her hair was now sitting between her shoulders and ears. ‘Why can’t this do? It’s bad enough…’ The barber didn’t muck around though: she started cutting away at her sides, taking them to the bottom of her ears in a straight, precise line.
Without stopping she moved behind Anna and pushed her head forward, lifting the length away from her neck with a comb and cutting another few inches away. Anna could feel the cold air on her neckline: she drew a deep breath and closed her eyes. ‘And this is even badder…’
Clippers started up next to her, jolting her upright in her seat and startling her into opening her eyes. But it was in the next seat where they were having their effect, on Chris’s neck, buzzing any remaining hair away, up and down, up and down. Anna was torn between sympathy for her brother and relief the clippers weren’t being used on herself.
The clippers died. ‘Mrs O’Sullivan? Short enough?’
She looked up from her magazine, studying Chris in the chair. ‘Mmmm, that’s much better. Very good, Tom.’
‘Cut your son’s hair for nigh on fifteen years so I should remember how you like your young men to look.’
‘Indeed you do, Tom.’ They exchanged a smile through the mirror. Tom went to the bench and lathered up a soap brush and picked up a cutthroat razor.
‘Just need to clean up around the neck and above the ears.’ He undid the cape around Chris’s neck and loosened the tissue paper.
Anna’s face was now veiled by her hair combed forward. Through the fine mass she could still make herself out in the mirror…until a white coat stepped in front of her view.
‘Auntie said she wants a high fringe.’ Anna discerned a hint of pleasure in the barber’s voice and gripped the huge arms of the chair tightly, conscious of how tight the cape was around her neck and how hot she felt under it, magnified by the layers of clothing she wore. She thought she might burst into tears again, until she remembered how Auntie had reacted to her earlier.
Anna felt the edge of the scissors against her forehead, perhaps half an inch above her eyebrows: in seconds her veil was gone. The barber stepped back to judge her work then just as quickly moved in with the scissors once more. Right-to-left in one deft cut, another line of her fine hair flaked and fluttering down before her eyes. Instinctively she started opening and closing her lids rapidly, trying to dislodge the little flecks of shorn hair from her lashes and eyes. The barber stepped to the side and Anna brought a hand up to brush away what she could. She caught her new look in the mirror. ‘Oh…god no!’
‘Sides back to the ears, said Auntie.’ The barber started in at the edge of the fringe, cutting one side and then the other right back about 3 or 4 inches to the front of her ears in a sharp line.
Meantime in the next seat the barber had finished razoring Chris. He picked up a spray bottle and covered Chris’s head with its sickly sweet scent, using his comb and hand to straighten and pat the fringe as he went. ‘There.’
The cape swirled off him and Chris got out of the chair as quickly as he could, sliding onto the bench next to Auntie in a few short strides. She looked at his hair and said with a smile, ‘Now that’s a far more appropriate hair style for a boy.’ Chris blushed – Auntie had a way of making you feel so inconsequential, so ‘young’.
He looked over at the mirror in despair; what a sight he made, his hair cut in a shockingly cropped manner, the cut’s dreadful effect made worse by the length of retained fringe. He put his hand to his head and felt the stiffened effects of the hairspray on his fringe, now ‘styled’ with enough chemical firmness to withstand gale force winds. His Auntie’s curt, ‘Don’t mess it up’, stopped him in his tracks. He slumped back on the bench numbed.
Anna looked over at her brother, relieved she didn’t have to stare back at her own predicament, at least for a little while. His beautiful shoulder length hair reduced to nothing more than a mass on the floor next to her. ‘Oh Chris…’
The barber tilted her head to the right, the firm hand on her head pulling her back to her own situation. The scissors came in for another straight run, this time cutting away the last of the hair below her ears. Her head was titled back up – the hairline was now a good half-inch up the side of her left ear. The barber trimmed the line carefully then went to the other side and cut the hair there to the same length. She moved to the back and evened up the neckline with the sides.
The barber turned around. ‘Mrs O’Sullivan, the nape. I can trim it to blend in with the neckline or remove the lot. What would you like?’
‘I leave it up to you, whatever you think looks best.’
The barber nodded and moved across to the bench, picking up a set of clippers and taking off one guard and replacing it with a smaller one. Anna was horrified. ‘Please no, not clippers,’ pleaded Anna.
The barber stopped and looked at Heather. ‘Anna, do you want an even shorter haircut?’
‘But Auntie, please…’
‘Anna, I’m warning you, one more word young lady and you’ll be sporting a considerably shorter look.’
Overwhelmed, Anna slumped down in the chair. The barber prodded her shoulder with a finger. ‘Sit up.’ Anna automatically obeyed. The firm grip returned, pushing her head down and holding it there. The clippers came to life, Anna giving an involuntary shudder as she felt the powerful buzzing against her skin for the first time.
Suddenly she felt like she was going to wet herself and contracted her abdomen muscles in panic. Several rapid movements of the clippers up and down her nape followed. The barber released her grip and moved to the bench.
Anna lifted her head up and watched in horror as the small guard came off the clippers. Her head was titled forward once more. ‘A smooth, clean nape goes well with a blunt cut like yours’ said the barber but before Anna could react, the clippers burst back into tormenting life.
The pressure in her lower stomach intensified. Anna’s hands dropped off the arms of the chair to her thighs and making tight balls of her fists, she stared numbly at the hair lying bunched on the cape, hating the dreadful feel of the naked blade edge marking a straight line across the edge of her hair. ‘Please don’t let me wet myself!’
Her head was pushed lower as the clippers started up and down her nape again. She didn’t want to think about what her neck must now be looking like. The heat under the cape and the cardigan’s cloying scratchiness over her arms grew worse.
The clippers stopped; the hand came off her head. Anna lifted her head but when she saw the barber soap up a brush and pick up a cutthroat razor, she dropped her gaze back on to her cape, trying not to think about the little wet patch she could feel in her panties. The soothing warmth of the brush somewhat surprised her but when the razor started scrapping across her nape, any comforting thoughts evaporated. In less than a minute her nape was shaved smooth, ending along the blunt edge of her cut, an inch higher than the bottom of her ears.
‘Almost done,’ said the barber returning the razor and brush to the bench. ‘Almost done? What else!?’ thought Anna, pained.
The barber picked up her scissors, moved back in front of Anna and started snipping away at her fringe. ‘Not anymore, please not anymore’ screamed Anna to herself, feeling the wetness between her legs spreading.
The scissors touched her forehead and Anna cringed and closed her eyes again. A minute passed then the barber trimmed the bottom edges of first one side, then the other. Anna opened her eyes and realised in horror that her fringe and sides had lost another quarter inch or so, the line as blunt and precise as the last. She clamped her stomach muscles tighter.
The barber put her scissors aside and reached for the hair spray bottle. Anna felt like retching as its awful chemical scent drenched her hair and face, the barbers comb and fingers smoothing her hair dead flat. She knew not a single hair on her head was going to move for hours. ‘I’m a Helmet Head…’
‘Mrs O’Sullivan?’ said the barber.
‘Oh, that’s much better, much, much better. Thank you, it’s so simple. No distracting length.’
The cape was unclipped and swept away in one movement. Anna got out of the chair slowly, shocked by her new appearance. Anna turned away from the mirror and stared mutely at her Aunt.
Her Aunt stood up and turned Anna around, running her fingers slowly across her niece’s nape. Anna broke out in goose-bumps and then a hot flush. The woolly itchiness on her arms and little bits of shorn hair down her neck started irritating her. She began fiddling with the collar of her blouse and cardigan but her Aunt brushed her hand aside.
‘I like what you’ve done with the nape – it looks and feels sensational.’
‘Yes, I thought it would work best with this length.’ said the barber.
‘Well, we’ll have to keep it like this.’
‘Happy to oblige whenever you like, Mrs O’Sullivan.’
Anna was desperate for the toilet. She turned to the barber. ‘Please Miss, may I use the lavatory?’ The barber sent her through to the back of the shop.
Anna made it just in time, her gushing stream lasting well over a minute. Relief, of one sort, at least. After finishing and drying her panties as best she could, she washed her hands, then stared at her reflection in the mirror above the sink. She shook her head slowly, from side to side.
‘I feel ridiculous…a helmet head…and with these clothes! I look like a six-year-old…or like those orphan girls in those photos of fifty or sixty years ago or something…’
Her hand ran up her nape, pulling a face as her fingers felt the smooth, nakedness for the first time.
‘It’s terrible…thank heavens Amy and Helen and Sarah won’t see me like this.’ And then she realised that moving north to Aunt Heather’s meant a new school.
‘I’m about to start at a new school. Oh god, what will the girls there think of me, looking like this?!’ Her bottom lip started to tremble; tears welled up in her eyes.
‘No Anna, best not, not now.’ She drew a deep breath, dabbed her reddened eyes with tissue paper and walked slowly back into the shop.
The barber and Aunt Heather were chatting away as Anna came towards them. Aunt Heather turned and studied Anna’s hair. ‘By the way, the hairspray that you use. I like the finish it creates. What brand is it?’
‘Hair-Firm. We sell it if you’d like a bottle.’
‘I think their haircuts suit a daily application. I’ll take one.’
Chris and Anna exchanged sad glances, sharing the same sad thoughts. While Aunt Heather paid for the haircuts and spray, the two of them gazed at each other in the mirror. ‘He looks like I feel / she looks like I feel.’
As they left the barbers, Auntie’s final comment magnified their shared despondency.
‘We’ll see you for their trims in a fortnight.’
Chris took hold of his sister’s hand, squeezing it gently…they clasped their hands together.