This story was originally posted on 1HSS.
The clippers’ high pitched drone sent a shiver racing through Sarah’s slim body. This was the moment she’d been anticipating for the last month. This also was the moment she’d been dreading for just as long. Would she have the nerve to go through with her plan? Would she finally give in to the bizarre fixation that had taken control of her imagination? Or would she somehow regain her sanity and walk out of the barber shop with her beautiful long hair unharmed?
Sitting in the hard plastic chair, Sarah’s eyes were fixed on the barber as he expertly clipped his next to last victim. The pile of brown hair scattered on the white tile floor indicated that the young man had begun the day with considerably more hair on his head. When he left the shop he would be cropped close to the scalp. Never before had she witnessed a scene like this.
The hour was growing late. Her turn would come next. According to plan, she had arrived at the barber shop at ten before six. It was now five minutes after. A “closed” sign hung in the window; the shades were drawn. She came at this hour because she hoped to avoid gawking witnesses.
It will be so much easier, she thought, if no one is watching while my hair is being cut.
Dressed in a conservative navy skirt and a crisp sleeveless white blouse, Sarah would not have been out of place waiting for a doctor’s appointment or even at a job interview. But passersby surely would have wondered what such a well-groomed young woman was doing in this nondescript barber shop. The twenty-nine-year-old graduate student unconsciously fingered the ends of the glossy dark brown pony tail. She nervously adjusted her glasses with their recently acquired Versace frames; the ones she chose to make her look both stylish and intellectual. If she went through with this plan, her fashionable image would be radically altered.
Sarah’s face was drawn in anxious deliberation. Her brooding look revealed the last-minute debate raging within her brain. Was she ready to sacrifice the silken mane she had lovingly tended for so many years? Was she prepared to sacrifice the abundant locks that had been her trademark for as long as anyone could remember? Was she willing to submit to a shearing that would permanently alter her elegant image? Her presence in this barber shop indicated a readiness to take this momentous step. Still, it was not too late to change her mind, an option Sarah had not entirely rejected.
Sarah’s attention shifted away from her personal dilemma as the stocky middle aged barber continued buzzing the fellow seated in the chrome and leather barber’s chair. She held her breath as he deftly began guiding his clippers back and forth across his customer’s crown. Within a few minutes the top of his head was mowed down to a stunning, perfectly flat surface. This was a scene that made Sarah squirm with nervous anticipation. She had seen the haircut before on athletes and military men, but never before had she observed firsthand the technique required to create this distinctive look. The conversion from long hair to short took her breath away—it was almost magical. She couldn’t believe how casually the two men talked and joked as if nothing out-of-the-ordinary was happening. To her mind, this was the most exciting, most amazing, most daring haircut imaginable.
How can they be so nonchalant? How can he be so calm at a moment like this? she thought as she excitedly absorbed every detail.
The patron being shorn noticed Sarah’s awestruck gaze and offered a friendly smile. Under other circumstances she might have returned his greeting. He appeared to be about her age and was the ruggedly handsome outdoors type she found attractive. Being ogled by overly friendly guys was an everyday occurrence for Sarah, but today she was acutely self-conscious. Instead of smiling back, she buried her eyes in an outdated sports magazine.
He probably wonders what I’m doing here all alone, without a male escort, she thought.
The presence of a young woman in this masculine environment was out of the ordinary, to say the least. That was one of the reasons she agonized so long before working up the courage to enter this establishment. She knew she would be conspicuous, but this was the best setting for the haircut she desired.
Give me strength, she fervently prayed. It won’t be much longer.
It had taken a month of searching to decide on the proper site for her transformation. The Yellow Pages listings under “Barber Shop” were not much help. She immediately eliminated all those with “unisex” in the title; these trendy places would not be suitable. But that left a dozen shops whose ads all looked pretty much the same. One by one, she drove to the addresses, stealthily inspecting the premises. Only one met all of her criteria—off the beaten path, not too busy, clean, unpretentious, with only one barber. The red, white, and blue barber pole revolving outside the front door marked it as a traditional, old-fashioned barber shop.
It’s probably been there for decades, she noted after driving away. This one looks just right.
It took another week to work up the nerve to call the number listed for Mel’s Barber Shop. “Do you do ladies’ haircuts?” was her initial question. 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 needed; 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 offended by the prospect of a woman invading his shop. Their conversation confirmed her earlier observation.
Yes, this definitely 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 anxiety increased as she realized her turn would come in a matter of minutes. She watched the barber shave the good looking guy with a straight razor and wipe away the excess with a small towel. He held a mirror behind his head so the freshly clipped customer could inspect the flawless symmetrical shape of his head. The young man nodded his approval. “Now that’s what I call a real flat top,” he exclaimed with evident satisfaction. At that, the barber released him from the enormous chair. As the handsome fellow reached into his wallet to pay for his shearing he shot a sidelong glance at Sarah. This time she gave him a coy smile indicating her appreciation of his eye-catching haircut.
So that’s how a flat top is done, she thought. I wonder if I’ll be brave enough.
He paid and headed for the door, but not before shooting Sarah a playful wink. “You have fun,” he called as a parting shot. “Mel’s the best in the business.”
Now she and the barber were alone in the silent shop. He stood behind the vacant chair, looking in her direction, patiently waiting for Sarah to make the next move. She sat motionless, trying to summon the courage to rise from her seat. For a moment the scene resembled a Mexican standoff—the barber with hands on hips, challenging her to step forward; the woman, 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 Sarah summoned enough will power to stand on unsteady legs and hesitantly step toward her fate. At five-foot-nine, her slender body cut a graceful figure as she crossed the small room. The elegant pony tail hanging half way down her back swished back and forth as she walked. The barber admired her unanticipated beauty. He had been expecting someone older; certainly not someone this good looking. In twenty-five years of barbering he never had faced a customer like this young woman, had never given a haircut to anyone so attractive. A welcoming smile creased his face. “You must be Sarah,” he said, extending his hand in greeting. “So, you’re here at last. I thought you might never come.” Although the two had never met face-to-face, they had exchanged half a dozen phone calls over the past week as she struggled to make up her mind. He felt like he knew her already.
He seems happy to see me, she noted. I hope he’s not going to make a big deal over my haircut.
“Hello Mel,” she replied as she shook his warm hand. “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 Sarah would have been put off by the easy familiarity of the barber’s comment. Under other circumstances she might have corrected him, but tonight she supposed he was entitled to assume a personal connection. After all, she had pestered him with daily phone calls as he helped her weigh the options. 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. He seems like someone I can trust.
Sarah eased herself into the capacious chair, its red leather seat still warm from its previous occupant. Modestly, she pulled her skirt down to cover her bare knees. Mel shook out the white cape, sending a flurry of dark clippings to the floor. She held her pony tail out of his way as he wrapped a thin tissue around her neck and draped the cloth around her shoulders, snapping it snugly behind her neck. She surrendered her glasses to the barber. “I suppose I won’t be needing these for a while,” she remarked.
“Are you ready?” he asked gravely.
“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 sarcastic irritation in her voice.
Of course I’m ready, mister, and don’t try to talk me out of it, she silently rebuked him.
“So what’s your pleasure today?” he asked. “On the phone we discussed several possibilities.”
Sarah recalled the lengthy discussions in which Mel described the various cuts he could administer. All were basic men’s styles ranging from moderately long to severely short. All week she had vacillated among the various alternatives. “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 my hair 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, I can do that,” he answered. “There’s no one else coming in so we can take our time.”
Sarah wanted no more conversation. “I suppose we should get started,” she not-so-gently encouraged him.
Please begin before I die of nerves, she wordlessly pleaded.
Mel did as she suggested. He took a pair of scissors and snipped the elastic band that bound her deep brown tresses. Sarah shook the thick mane as it cascaded over her shoulders, bouncing to the middle of the chair back. Earlier that morning she thoroughly washed her abundant locks in the shower, enjoying the bountiful lather one last time. There were many things she would miss 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 second admiring whistle. “Good gracious, darlin’, that’s a lot of hair,” he exclaimed. Sarah guessed from his awestruck expression that never before had he seen so much hair waiting to be removed.
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. You can do that, can’t you?” she demanded.
“Sure thing, darlin’,” he said. “I just don’t understand why you want to get rid of all this lovely hair. Most women would die for hair like this.”
How many times have I heard that line? she silently exclaimed. I’m so sick of women envying me. I’m tired of men 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 do owe him an explanation, she decided.
“See, my hair is the first thing that people notice; 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 did not divulge the other reason that brought her to 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 month, all at leading universities. When her major 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. This hardly came as a surprise to Sarah; a significant number of scholars in her field were homosexual women. “Your chances of being hired will be greatly enhanced if they think you share their sexual preference.”
Sarah was shocked to think that a job offer at a major university could be influenced by others’ perception of her sexual orientation. “But you know I’m hopelessly hetero,” she replied.
“I know, my dear,” her advisor continued in a kindly but confidential tone. “I’m not suggesting you do anything dishonest exactly, but it wouldn’t hurt 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 conversation was taking.
“Your hair, my dear, your lovely hair. You really need to do something about your hair,” she pointedly suggested.
“What do you mean? Shall I put it up in a bun for the interviews or hide it under a hat?” she inquired hopefully.
“No, my dear, you need to cut it off.” Sarah sat in stunned disbelief, trying to absorb the bombshell that just landed in her lap. “Believe me, this is not something I say lightly,” her advisor added sympathetically. “I know this is asking a lot. If men were making the hiring decision I would tell you to flaunt your crowning glory; dazzle them with your glorious hair; let it flow for all the world to see. But that’s not the case. These women will be more likely to recommend you if your hair is short like theirs. Of course, there’s no guarantee that a haircut alone will win the job, but without it your chances are very slim indeed.”
Sarah realized that following this advice could start her academic career on the right foot. All of her grad school professors stressed the importance of the first academic appointment. If you start at Podunk U., that’s most likely where you will wind up. If you want to rise to the top of your profession, you have to begin at a big-name school.
Sarah went to her apartment that evening torn by indecision. Of course, there had been times in past dozen years when she toyed with the idea of trying a different hairstyle; hair as long as hers could be chore to maintain. A change might be fun. But she never entertained those thoughts for long. Her mother’s voice always came back to haunt her: “Tall girls like you should never wear short hair.” Besides, weren’t short haircuts for middle-aged soccer moms who drove minivans? She definitely didn’t want to be mistaken for that species. Keeping her long-established hairstyle always won out.
What her advisor was asking was a drastic step, but Sarah had always been ambitious. She spent four years researching and writing her dissertation on women directors in the early film industry. This topic had the potential to win her national acclaim as an up-and-coming young scholar. Without the right position, however, the path to the top would be difficult indeed.
Almost immediately Sarah went online and began researching short hairstyles. It didn’t take long to discover sites featuring the butch hairstyles favored by lesbians—the shorter, the better. She tried to picture herself wearing one of the androgynous hairdos sported by prominent queer activists. It was a state of mind she couldn’t fathom.
Why do they want to look like men? she wondered. What’s the appeal of such short hair, anyway?
Yet, at random moments Sarah found herself returning to websites displaying these masculine haircuts. Most intriguing were the photos of young women before and after their radical makeovers. In the long-haired “before” photos” most of the models looked solemn or sad, as if the prospect of being shorn was weighing on their minds. In the short-haired “after” photos they invariably looked jubilant, as if they had been relieved of an intolerable burden. She tried to imagine the sensation of having her seal brown locks cropped so close. To her surprise, she found the idea strangely exhilarating.
Long hair had always been Sarah’s trademark, but now the thought of cutting it off was a compulsion she could not shake. She didn’t understand why she was reacting this way, but something about the prospect of receiving a very short haircut was sexually arousing.
What’s happening to me? she wondered. Why is this turning me on? Does this mean I’m a latent lesbian?
With each passing day Sarah grew increasingly preoccupied with the urge to have her hair cut very short. For the past week she could think of little else. At night she dreamed about visiting a barber shop and being mercilessly shorn by a stern, uncompromising barber. It wasn’t a nightmare, but an erotic fantasy. Finally, she decided that a short haircut would help start her career on the right foot and, at the same time, satisfy her overpowering curiosity.
Sarah told no one about her plan, not even her roommates or major professor. She knew everyone would barrage her with questions the first time she appeared in public with short hair; before that she had dig deep to find the nerve to realize her vision.
The barber began running his black-toothed comb through her luxurious dark tresses. Sarah closed her eyes and quietly endured his ministrations.
He’s probably never had a customer with hair as long as mine, she concluded. He’s afraid I’m going to freak out when he starts cutting.
She sensed his reluctance to begin her haircut despite the telephone conversations they’d had leading up to this evening. Apparently he did not understand her reasons for being there and she couldn’t really blame him for that—hers undoubtedly would be unlike any haircut he had ever given. Still, he had agreed to give her the cut of her choosing. She needed his cooperation to accomplish the transformation she sought; she didn’t want to antagonize him by appearing impatient.
Mel continued combing. Sarah knew from viewing the previous customer’s haircut that this was not the normal routine. She sensed he was stalling; trying to avoid giving her the drastic makeover she requested. He was providing one last opportunity to reconsider and back out.
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 was not concern for the barber that prompted Sarah’s impatience. She couldn’t wait any longer; she was more than ready for her haircut to commence.
Mel selected a pair of silver scissors and held them at a point slightly below Sarah’s ear. “We’ll start with a basic bob and full bangs,” he announced. Sarah recognized this as one of the styles she had considered and rejected. She was certain that this would not be short enough to suit her, yet it was a good beginning.
The barber paused, waiting for her final consent.
Sarah sat rigidly upright, her eyes staring straight ahead at the mirror mounted on the wall. A barely perceptible nod was her signal to begin. She held her breath and swallowed hard as Mel slowly closed the blades. She trembled slightly as a two-foot section of severed hair silently slid to the floor. She gasped in disbelief at the gap left by the missing lock. For nearly twenty years her hair had hung past her shoulders. Now that stage of her life was coming to an end.
There, it’s begun, she thought. There can be no turning back now. I’m destined to be a short-haired woman.
The barber selected a second lock, slightly behind the first, and cut again. Slowly, deliberately, Mel worked his way around her head, effortlessly shearing off the mane she had lovingly cultivated for so many years. Mel concentrated on the task at hand, carefully measuring each slice. Sarah studied his every move, 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, a chill shot down Sarah’s spine as she felt the cold steel of his scissors grazing the bare skin on the back of her neck. 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 wanted, remember? She forced an uncertain smile across her lips.
With a few more slices Mel reached the other side of her head. A final cut amputated the last long strand. Sarah breathed a sigh of relief.
Thank God that’s over, she silently declared.
Next Mel moved in front of Sarah and combed a section of dark hair down across her forehead until her eyes were completely covered. He inserted his scissors slightly below her eyebrow and cut in a straight line, creating a generous fringe. Then he circled her head a second time, meticulously combing, snipping, and trimming, making sure the ends were perfectly straight. Finally, the barber used a small clipper to remove the wispy hairs covering her neck.
Mel stepped back to let Sarah absorb the magnitude of the change he had just inflicted. She asked for her glasses and critically inspected the chin-length bob she now wore. She turned her head from side to side, examining the blunt-cut ends of her new hairdo as they lightly brushed against her cheeks. The barber held a small mirror behind her head so she could view the shortened back. Sarah saw that Mel had done an excellent job, much better than she expected. It was a classic look, one she had seen and admired in fashion magazines. Sarah was both surprised and pleased at the result of Mel’s efforts.
It’s not a bad look, she observed to herself, not bad at all. This guy really knows how to cut hair.
For a brief moment Sarah contemplated halting her 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, yet she realized the fringe imparted a sultry, sexy appeal. On another occasion she might have been delighted 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.
“Shall we continue?” she evenly intoned as she handed back her glasses. It was less a question than a command, and the barber responded promptly.
“You’re the boss,” he replied, although she sensed his regret at destroying the sleek bob he had just created. “Next we’ll try a boy’s cut. It’s a good bit shorter,” he explained.
“That sounds good,” she agreed, although she doubted this would be her final destination. Using his comb, Mel lifted a hank of hair from the back of her head and snipped off a three-inch section. Working more rapidly than previously, he moved up her head, steadily clipping away more hair with each slice. He went over the back several times, cutting it slightly shorter with each pass. His scissors clicked together, sending a steady rhythm into the otherwise quiet shop. The barber spent ten minutes sculpting a gradual, tapered look. The hair at the base of Sarah’s neck was now half an inch long; closer to the crown it was little more than an inch in length—far shorter than she had ever worn it. While she could not see what Mel was doing, she felt his comb grazing her scalp. She realized that her hair now was shorter than many of the men she dated. She wondered what they would say if they could see her now. Would they still be attracted to her?
This is it, she admonished herself. This is what you asked for. You must be prepared to accept the consequences.
When the back was entirely cropped, Mel turned his attention to the right side of her head. With a few deft strokes he cut away the dark shield protecting her delicate ear. He carved the hair into a sharply pointed sideburn. He trimmed the hair above her ear to the same length he had reduced the back and did the same to the left side of her head. When both were equally shortened, he rested his scissors and sprayed a fine mist of water over her 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 continued cutting. Finally, he drew a clean part down the left side of her head and combed the damp hair over her head, sweeping her newly fashioned bangs across her brow.
Once again he paused and returned her glasses. Shards of dark hair littered the white cape that enveloped her slender frame. Sarah glanced at the floor where piles of her discarded tresses lay trampled beneath the soles of the barber’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 longish boy’s haircut.
Now I look like Justin Bieber, she decided. This was a far cry from the look she desired. Still, she had to smile at the 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 his offer, not even for a moment. Her mind was set. “Continue,” she ordered.
The barber shrugged. “You’re the boss,” he repeated.
Mel took her glasses and began attacking the hair on top of her head. He started with her bangs, snipping them so only two inches remained. Instead of cutting evenly, this time he fashioned a jagged, feathered fringe. Pieces of hair tumbled down Sarah’s face, coming to rest in her lap. The barber grasped another piece, slightly above her forehead and cut again. Mel 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, creating an uneven carpet of dark tufts. By the time Mel reached the back of her head the length had been reduced by half. He tousled her hair to erase the part and applied a dose of styling gel. With a stiff brush he coaxed the freshly cropped locks upward 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. It was astonishing to see this exotic cut atop her head, but it was a gratifying sight.
Yes, this is much better. Now we’re getting somewhere, she silently declared.
Once again Mel stopped. “This is a good look for you,” he suggested hopefully.
Sarah thought 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 dynamism of her serial haircuts. A compulsion had seized her and would not release its grip. She had to see it through to its inescapable finish.
“I like it,” she agreed, “but it’s not short enough.”
“So you want to go all the way?” he asked.
“What exactly do you mean by going all the way?” she asked. “You’re not going to shave me. I don’t want to wind up bald.”
“No, I would never shave you, darlin’. To my mind the flat top is the ultimate short haircut. You know, like I did for the guy who just left,” he reminded her. “I saw how you were watching his haircut. You looked like kid yearning for a cool Popsicle on a hot summer’s day. I think that’s where you want to go, isn’t it?””
“Yes, that’s exactly what I want,” Sarah announced with undisguised eagerness. At last she had admitted this was her ultimate fantasy.
This is it, she told herself. This is what you’ve been waiting for.
“Okay, one flat top coming up, darlin’,” Mel confirmed.
Sarah felt another shiver of excitement sweep over her body. Mel reclaimed her glasses. She grasped the arms of the barber chair to keep from shaking as he prepared for her next haircut. This was the moment of truth. She had willingly placed her fate into the hands of this stranger whom she had met only thirty minutes before. Already he had transformed her into a person she hardly recognized, but a more radical alteration was yet to come. Never in her life had she done anything so astonishing, so impulsive, yet she felt strangely exhilarated as she anticipated the final stage of her transformation. Somehow, it seemed right.
This time Mel exchanged his scissors for an electric clipper. He fastened a steel 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 laid the clippers on her bare neck. Sarah felt the cold metal pressing against her skin. Mel guided his clippers up into the dark pelt covering the back of her head. Sarah sat transfixed as she experienced the clipper’s hungry blades chewing through her thick hair. The sensation was frightening and liberating at the same time. Had she been able to view the back of her head, she would have seen the clippers peeling away the last protective covering of shortened hair, leaving only a brief stubble in their wake.
At this point all Sarah could do was concentrate on the weird and wonderful sensations pulsing through her body. Mel pretended not to notice as he continued buzzing around her ears until the hair on the sides of was as short as the back. The shoulders of the white cape were now coated with a layer of fine dark brown clippings that had recently been attached to her head.
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 only a quarter inch long. The hair on top of her head, still spiked, remained roughly two inches in length. It was a severe look, but one she found pleasing. Still, she knew her barber was not done. One step remained before her haircut was finished. In only a few minutes more her conversion would be complete.
“Now do the top,” she commanded. This time there was no hesitation, no doubt in her voice. She could not wait to see the final outcome.
This is it; this is what you’ve been obsessing over, she said to herself. Just try to keep your composure.
“You’re the boss,” the barber said once again.
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 his horizontal comb, slicing away everything above its black teeth. Sarah froze as she heard the blades bite into her upright locks. Mel moved his comb forward and repeated the motion on the next section. Step by step, he reduced the hair on top of her head to a perfectly level plane barely half an inch long. Sarah sat rigidly in place, scarcely breathing, intently following every detail of the barber’s deliberate actions. She watched with growing fascination as he stripped away the last traces of femininity. She felt his comb resting on top of her crown and realized her hair was now as short as the young man who had preceded her. As Mel moved toward the front of her head he left the hair slightly longer. Above her forehead he carved an upright brown bumper half an inch high. Sarah blinked as the clippings landed on her forehead and nose, but made no effort to brush them away.
Next Mel trimmed the sides. Sarah watched as he held his comb straight up and used the clippers to create two vertical walls intersecting with the flattened top at a sharp angle. He concentrated all of his attention on his task, sculpting an exact replica of the cut he had administered to the young man thirty minutes before.
When he finished the sides, Mel returned his attention to the top of Sarah’s head. He skillfully guided his clippers across her severely cropped head a second time, this time without the aid of his comb, clipping another fraction of an inch from the level surface of her hair. He peered closely to make sure everything was absolutely level. Sarah gripped the chair with all of her strength. Never in her life had she felt anything so thrilling. The drop at the top of a roller coaster ride was tame by comparison.
At last Mel switched off the power to his clippers and attacked her shortened hair with his brush, forcing every shaft to stand upright in perfect order.
“Well, there you go, darlin’,” he said with finality. “One flat top just like you asked for.”
Sarah sat in dazed silence, trying to absorb the magnitude of her makeover. Mel handed her glasses back so she could view her haircut more clearly. He held a small mirror behind her head so she could inspect every detail of her extreme new style. No trace of her swinging pony tail remained, replaced by a severe military-style flat top. It was an exceptional statement, an extreme departure from her previous glamorous look, but Sarah was elated with the result. Her face was now fully exposed; her cobalt blue 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 scowl was replaced by a broad satisfied smile.
“Is this what you wanted?” the barber asked hesitantly. “What do you think?”
“Mel, this is one awesome haircut. It’s exactly what I wanted. It’s perfect,” she announced with obvious delight. “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 are the first girl 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 insisted.
Mel did as he was told, applying the shaving cream to her neck. With a few deft strokes he drew a sharp diagonal line down each side and squared the back. After wiping off the excess foam, he dusted her face and ears, released the cape from around her neck, and shook the excess hair to the floor.
Sarah stepped down from the chair, took her glasses and marched up to the large mirror on the wall so she could observe her haircut more closely. The more she looked, the more convinced she became that she had made the right decision.
I can’t believe I did it, she exclaimed to herself. It’s like a whole new me was waiting to emerge from beneath all that long hair.
After another minute she tore herself away from the mirror and stood in front of the cash register.
“That will be fifteen bucks, darlin’,” Mel said.
She handed him two twenties. “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, when I saw you giving the flat top to the guy ahead of me and saw how cool he looked I realized that was the best haircut for me too,” she explained.
“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 at the pile of dark tresses scattered around the chair. “It feels so wonderful 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 she had found the courage 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 long hair from the floor. He shook his head in amazement. “And I thought I’d seen everything,” he said to no one in particular.