“Hello Nan, it’s lovely to see you.”
Joan Harrison frowned as she opened the door. “Oh, it’s you dear, come on in, I’ll put the kettle on.”
Rebecca slipped into her Nan’s flat, feeling, as ever, slightly intimidated by the immaculately kept sitting room. Her tatty converse trainers, black leggings and oversized checked shirt seemed rather out of place as she perched on the floral chintz sofa. Her boyfriend, Ryan, slouched in behind her.
“Tea for you both? I’m afraid I haven’t done any baking.” Nan’s voice floated in from the kitchen.
Rebecca smiled. She’d seen a lot more of her Nan since she’d moved away from home. The flat was only a twenty minute bus ride from her university halls, and she knew that she could pop in at any time for a cup of tea and a chat.
“Yes please. And don’t worry about the cake, we’ve eaten.”
Rebecca ran her hands through her wild, near waist length mane. It was thick, heavy, and wavy enough to make it all but impossible to tame, but she loved it long and messy, and hadn’t had anything but the tiniest of trims in her three years at university. She knew that Nan disapproved strongly of her untidy mop, and would frequently nag her to have it cut short. Whilst this was always done in a motherly, caring manner, Rebecca had taken to pulling her hair up into as neat a bun as she could manage when she visited, in order to avoid the subject.
Today though, she had left it loose in all it’s wild glory. She had caught the flash of disapproval from her Nan, as she had opened the door to be met by the unconstrained mass of hair, but for once, Rebecca wanted to provoke as much reaction as she could. She heard teacups being loaded onto a tray, and tousled her hair again, bringing it in front of her shoulders for maximum effect.
“Hello Ryan, dear. One sugar isn’t it?”
“Oh, yes please, Mrs. H.”
“Lost your hairbrush, Rebecca?” Joan enquired acidly. She handed her a cup of tea. “I’m sure I could find one you could borrow.” She shook her head, despairingly. “You know, it would be a lot less fuss if you’d just have it cut to a sensible length, not that you ever listen to me.”
Rebecca smiled at her. “Funny you should mention that. You see, you might just be getting your wish. All of this…“ she paused, spreading her hair out with her hands, as wide as she could. “..will be gone, very soon.”
“Oh, thank heavens! You’ve finally realised that you’re not going to get a job looking like a woolly mammoth?”
“Well, job interviews are part of it, yes, but I thought that since I probably do have to cut it, I might as well do some good. I’ve set up a donation page online, and I’m fundraising for ‘Save the Orangutans’. If I get up to £250, I’m going to shave my head. Will you sponsor me?”
“Gosh.” Nan’s expression was impossible to read. “I wasn’t expecting that. Of course I’ll sponsor you, dear, and heaven knows that you need to get rid of that mess on your head, but shaving it? Really? I hardly think that will impress prospective employers, and what about graduation?”
“Look, I need to do something that’s out of my comfort zone. It’s good to push yourself sometimes. And anyway, my hair will grow back. The orangutan’s habitat is irreplaceable. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. There’s a load of stuff about it on the donation page. We can show you.”
She glanced at Ryan, who pulled a laptop out of his bag and started to boot it up.
“Hmmm…I see what you’re saying” Joan was clearly pondering something. “Tell me, can you set other targets, for if you raise more?”
Rebecca looked at Ryan. He was the one who’d set it all up for her. He looked blankly back for a moment.
“What? Oh, yeah, sure. You mean stretch goals. Easy, just add them to the page. What were you thinking?”
“How about, if you raise £500, then instead of shaving it, you could have it cut short, and put in a nice tight perm. That would be out of your comfort zone, and at least you’d look like a respectable young lady, not a football hooligan.”
“Er, yeah, OK, why not?” Rebecca shrugged. She realised immediately that she could just shave it off anyway. If it brought in more money, what did it matter if she had a poodle perm like her Nan’s for a few hours?
Ryan tapped and clicked for a few seconds. “Done.”
“And then if you get to £750, you could pledge to keep the perm for a year.” Nan smiled innocently.
“Oh, I, er…” Rebecca suddenly felt trapped. Had she really been out-thought so easily by her grandmother? “Oh, is that too far out of your comfort zone?” Joan enquired sarcastically. “That rainforest is irreplaceable, you know.”
“Relax, Becs.” Ryan soothed her. “It’ll pull in more donations, but you’ll never get that much.”
He tapped some more. “I’ve put it on now, anyway. What about something for £1000?”
“I like your thinking, young man. Put her down for weekly shampoo and sets, for the year.”
“Great idea!” He tapped away. “What’s a shampoo and set, anyway?”
Rebecca stared, eyes wide, as her boyfriend blithely committed her to a year of looking like an old woman. She couldn’t believe how quickly this had spiralled out of her control.
“OMG, look at that!” Rebecca pointed to the donation box on the table in the reception area of the flats.
Ryan had spent the last couple of weeks trying to make up for his enthusiasm in setting the stretch goals for Rebecca’s challenge, and had eventually persuaded her that there wasn’t going to be an issue. They probably wouldn’t even get to £500, never mind the higher amounts. He had, briefly, attempted to convince her that she could carry off the traditional hairstyle that her Nan had in mind, and that it might even be good for job interviews, but her withering look had rapidly persuaded him to change tack.
They were both slightly unsettled, then, by the huge, colourful sign on the table, announcing ‘Save the Orangutans – Donate here’ in eye-catching lettering. Underneath, in only slightly smaller writing it offered the incentive ‘And see my granddaughter get permed and set!’.
“Yeah,” Ryan said, a little uneasily. “She’s obviously keen to see you get your hair curled.”
“You’re not kidding. Good job we’re only up to, what was it?”
“Just short of £300. Don’t panic.” He smiled, reassuringly.
“Er, Ryan?” He turned to her. “Are you OK with me shaving my head? I mean, I never asked you.”
“Oh, er, yeah babe. It’s a good cause, right? And you’ll rock it. You’ll look like a supermodel.”
“Yeah, sure.” She smiled back.
“Hello dear, how are you? I’ve been collecting for your fundraiser, you know. We’ve done rather well.” “Yes, we saw the box in reception.” Rebecca didn’t know whether she should start feeling nervous. Surely her Nan couldn’t have raised that much money. “How much? £50, £100?”
“Oh, no, nothing like that.”
Rebecca exhaled in relief.
“I make it just over £700.” Joan smiled innocently and handed over an envelope stuffed with notes.
“Oh my god.”
“Yes, everyone’s been very generous. I’ve been keeping an eye on your donation page. I think this should take us over the £1000 mark. Wednesday is the big day isn’t it? I can book you into the salon here. Mary will be very happy to give you one of her pensioner’s specials.”
“Oh yes, dear, That’s much better. Now just pop those tights on, and I’ll find you a pair of shoes. You are a size six, aren’t you?”
Rebecca’s head felt like it had been spinning for days. She’d paid in the money her Nan had given her, but hadn’t been able to get her head around the idea that she was not just losing her huge, wild mane, which she’d been more or less prepared for, but that she was going to be given a short, tight perm that would make her look like a little old lady. On top of that, Nan had delighted in telling her that she had already booked her in for a regular weekly shampoo and set, and that she was looking forward to them having their hair done together.
She really couldn’t see any way out of it, and had turned up at her Nan’s retirement flats this morning with a feeling somewhere between acceptance and dread. She’d left Ryan downstairs, setting up some lights and a tripod for his phone. A video to post on social media would pull in even more donations, he insisted.
She’d gone up to her Nan’s flat, only to be met with a disappointed look, and instructed to go and wash her face with soap and flannel, just like when she’d been a teenager. Stunned, she had complied, and was then ushered into the bedroom and told to take off ‘those awful scruffy things’ and put on the dress that was hanging up.
Rebecca pulled on the thick, tan tights and looked in the mirror. The dress that she had been given was extremely conservative, with a pastel floral print. The pleated skirt fell to mid-calf, it had a high neck and a large white collar and sleeves that buttoned at the wrist. She hardly ever went without makeup, so it was a shock to see her natural complexion. The one jarring note was, of course, her long, wild hair, which looked thoroughly out of place.
Nan came back in with a pair of navy blue, low heeled court shoes and a large hairbrush.
“Sit down.” She instructed, brusquely.
The hard brush was dragged firmly through Rebecca’s hair. She let out a few squeals of pain as it fought through the tangles.
“Well if you kept it properly brushed, it wouldn’t hurt, would it? But you won’t have to worry about that after today.”
Rebecca’s hair was pulled back tightly with the brush, twisted firmly up, and secured with half a dozen large metal grips.
“Right, pop the shoes on, and you’re ready.”
Rebecca stood up and slipped on the shoes.
“Oh, don’t you look lovely and smart!” Joan was beaming. “You’ll have to get used to wearing nice dresses, dear. You’ll find that scruffy clothes like those…” she gestured at the discarded pile on the bed “…really don’t go with a traditional ladies’ hairstyle.”
Rebecca reluctantly stepped through the big double doors into the lounge area. She felt extremely uncomfortable in the matronly floral dress. The only saving grace was that with her trademark mane scraped back in a bun, and all her makeup scrubbed off, she felt almost unrecognisable. Sure enough, she attracted barely a glance as she walked across the room.
She took in the scene; a chair was set up in the middle of the room, with a table next to it holding what seemed like an entire salon’s worth of supplies. A middle aged woman wheeled over an old fashioned hood dryer. She had a short, dark bob, streaked with grey and was wearing a pink nylon smock. Rebecca assumed this was Mary, the resident hairdresser, who would be responsible for her ordeal today.
Ryan was nearby, still fiddling with the tripod. Rebecca walked slowly over to him, still unnoticed in the gentle hum of conversation from the couple of dozen residents and visitors scattered around the room. She was glad that she couldn’t see anyone she recognized.
“Hey.” Her voice was uncertain.
Ryan looked around, and almost did a double take.
“Hey. Uh. Nice, er, dress.” He stumbled over the words.
“Yeah, thanks.” There was more than a touch of sarcasm in Rebecca’s tone, even though she still felt a little dazed. “Nan made me put it on. That was after she had me scrub all my makeup off. I feel like I’m fourteen again.”
Ryan privately thought that she looked like a frumpy forty, rather than fourteen, but wisely chose not to mention it. Rebecca, meanwhile, was wondering about what Joan had said about ‘getting used’ to wearing dresses like this. Was she right? Would she really have to give up her t-shirts and leggings?
“Er, excuse me, er, ladies and gentlemen… Thank you.” Joan had found herself a small platform to stand on, and was addressing the room.
“Yes, thank you everybody. I just wanted to welcome you all to this occasion, and thank you for your generosity in sponsoring Rebecca.”
There was a ripple of applause, and Rebecca found everyone suddenly looking at her as Nan gestured in her direction.
“For those that don’t know, we raised over a thousand pounds,” she paused for another ripple of applause, “to save the orangutan’s habitat.” She paused again, smiling. “Which, of course, means that Rebecca is not only going to be having her absurdly long and scruffy hair cut up short and tidy, but she will also be having it permed into a neat little head of curls. In other words, she’ll be getting one of Mary’s ‘pensioner’s specials’.”
There was now some cheering mixed in with the applause. Mary waved, acknowledging the crowd. Rebecca swallowed, as she felt her heart sinking. There really was no way out of this. Even Ryan seemed to be smiling. She glared at him.
“And finally, Rebecca has committed to not just maintaining her short, curly perm for a full year, but she will also be joining me in the salon every week for a traditional shampoo and set.
“Now I’m sure she’s feeling a little bit nervous about this, so please give her a big, warm welcome and make sure she knows how much we all appreciate the sacrifice that she’s making.”
Nan led the applause, and there were cheers and whoops as Rebecca dragged herself towards the waiting chair, where Mary was beaming at her. She looked at Ryan, with a despairing ‘get me out of here’ plea in her eyes, but he just smiled, and gave her an encouraging thumbs up.
“Right, let’s show everyone this ridiculous mop before it’s all chopped off.” Mary spun her around, and yanked the pins out of Rebecca’s tight bun. Her mane tumbled down her back, and there was a chorus of oohs and aahs from their audience.
“My, you’re a proper little Rapunzel, aren’t you!” Mary teased her. “Well, we all know what happened to her, don’t we? Sit down, Missy. It’s time for a long overdue haircut.”
Rebecca sat down, still unable to quite believe that this was actually happening. Surely it was all a bad dream, and she’d wake up soon?
Mary wrapped a pink nylon cape tightly around Rebecca’s neck, and gathered her unruly mane into a rough, low ponytail. “No point wasting time trying to get scissors through this mess.” she announced cheerfully.
There was a loud pop followed by a shrill buzzing as Mary flicked on her electric clippers. Rebecca flinched as her hair was pulled taut and gasped as she felt the vibrating blades bite into her mane. She reminded herself that this had been, at least to start with, her idea, and that if Nan hadn’t intervened, she’d be feeling the clippers running over the top of her head right now.
She shivered at the thought. The bravado she’d felt when she’d suggested shaving her head had completely vanished. What could she have been thinking? It had seemed like a cool, edgy thing to do, but now she was actually faced with the remorseless clippers, she found herself petrified, and desperate to hang on to any hair that she could.
Why on earth hadn’t she just pledged to have her hair cut into a neat and tidy bob, like her Mum and Nan had always wanted? She might not have raised quite so much money, but people would surely still have sponsored her for cutting off two feet of her hair?
She suddenly felt grateful to her Nan who, as ever, had her best interests at heart. She would, at least have some hair left at the end of this, even if she would be looking like a pensioner.
“Ta-da!” Mary exclaimed. The ponytail was finally severed, and she triumphantly dropped it into Rebecca’s lap. There was more applause. Rebecca’s head felt absurdly light, almost as though it would float away. Part of her wondered whether she could somehow get away with simply having Mary trim her hair up from here into a bob, but she knew that wasn’t fair; everyone here had pledged money expecting to see her hair cropped short and permed. She couldn’t back out now.
In any case, Mary wasn’t giving her the chance. She saw no point in washing hair that was coming off, and had wasted no time starting to take Rebecca’s hair down to a uniform two inches all over. She had given this cut to countless clients over the years, older ladies who just wanted a no fuss, all over tight perm, and she knew that precision wasn’t important. She lifted section after section of hair with her comb and quickly snipped it off. In no time at all, Rebecca’s previously wild mane had been thoroughly tamed into a plain and tidy layered crop.
Despite all the salon paraphernalia, no-one had thought to provide a mirror for Rebecca, but she could feel that her head was lighter than ever. An open window behind her allowed a faint breeze to brush her newly exposed neck and ears. The cheering had turned into a subdued hum around the room, as most of the occupants turned back to their tea, now that the drama was over.
The chair was abruptly reclined, and Rebecca was leant backwards over a portable washbasin. Warm water was sloshed over her head, and Mary gave her a quick, but thorough shampoo.
“I expect you’ve never had your hair rolled up, have you? You’ll probably find it a bit uncomfortable, but I’m afraid that’s the price you have to pay to get a nice neat head of curls.”
Rebecca didn’t find this terribly reassuring, not least because she didn’t really want the ‘nice neat head of curls’ that was promised, but she didn’t really know what to say. Mary wasn’t waiting for a reply anyway, but handed her a stack of white perm papers.
“Pass me those up, one at a time, when I ask you.” She rolled the first section of Rebecca’s curtailed tresses tightly around the slim plastic perm rod and snapped the rubber fastener shut.
“Next!” Rebecca passed up the paper, and sat compliantly as the rest of her hair was twisted firmly into rows. It was, as she had been warned, rather uncomfortable, but she felt as though that was the least of her problems. A strip of cotton wool was wound around her head, and Mary carefully squeezed perm solution along each roller.
“You’re going to look very smart with a proper hairstyle; I’m so glad you’re finally rid of that terrible scruffy mop. I can’t wait to have a nice, neat and tidy granddaughter.”
Nan had come over to either lend moral support, or gloat. Rebecca couldn’t tell which. Not that it really mattered at this point. Her treasured mane was gone, and she was slowly coming to terms with the idea that she was going to be a girl with neat and tidy, short curly hair from now on.
Joan handed her a cup of tea. “There you go, dear. I always like a nice cuppa when I’m having my hair done.”
“Thanks, Nan.” she replied, faintly.
“Mary does a lovely job for all the ladies here. We all feel so much better with a fresh shampoo and set, knowing that we’ll stay tidy for another week. You’ll be the same in no time, I’m sure, starting to feel scruffy by the end of the week, and desperate to have it looking neat again.”
Rebecca wasn’t at all convinced that her Nan was correct, but didn’t see any point in arguing. Mary returned, and bent her back over the basin again.
“Time to get you neutralised, dear.”
The rods were rinsed of the perm solution, and the neutraliser applied. Rebecca was suddenly aware of how much the lounge now smelled like a traditional ladies’ hairdressers.
“Just a little while longer, and you’ll be all nice and curly. Just like your grandma, and all my other ladies.”
Rebecca resumed sipping her cup of tea and looked around the room. Sure enough, there were a great many short, curly hairstyles on view. Most of them were on ladies at least 30 years older than her, but it still made her feel a little better, that she was in good company here, if nowhere else. She spotted Ryan, awkwardly chatting to one of the residents, whilst trying to balance several biscuits on the edge of his cup and saucer. Typical! she thought. I’m going through torture, and he’s just thinking of his stomach!
Rebecca finished her tea just as Mary returned. She was once again rinsed, and her new curls carefully blotted dry. She wasn’t given any chance to see them though, as Mary began rolling her hair up again, this time on slightly larger spiky plastic rollers.
“What are you doing?” Rebecca demanded. “Isn’t the perm done?”
“Oh, yes, your perm is done, dear. You’re a curly girl now, there’s no going back.” Mary smiled. “What I’m doing now is giving you a nice firm set, so that you look really smart. That’s what your grandma wanted, so that’s what you’re getting.”
Mary squirted strongly perfumed purple setting lotion onto Rebecca’s tightly curled hair, and wrapped a thick white hairnet snugly around the rollers. She wheeled over the dryer and lowered it over Rebecca. Hot air and noise flooded around her head, isolating her from the rest of the world.
Alone with her thoughts, Rebecca’s shock began to wear off, and her pragmatic attitude reasserted itself. She started to wonder how she could make the best of the situation she found herself in.
She realised that she was actually enormously relieved to have some hair left. For all her attitude that she could confidently carry off a shaved head, in truth she had regretted the rash promise soon after making it. The moment that Mary’s clippers had fired up behind her head, she knew that it had been a mistake, and she was grateful that she had been spared the humiliation of leaving here with a bald head.
So, what other positives could she find? She supposed that she would at least be looking neat and tidy now, and looking for a job in a professional, corporate environment would have to be easier than with her long, untidy mane. She would also, she realised, be making her mother proud by attending her graduation with a short, neatly set head of curls. Come to that, Nan was clearly looking forward enormously to seeing Rebecca every week for their salon appointments together.
So her family would be happy with it. She supposed that the fundraising had gone far better than she had expected, too. She’d never thought that she’d raise anything like a thousand pounds, so surely she could take some pride in that; she had done something which few of her peers would be willing to, and for entirely unselfish reasons.
With these positive thoughts in mind, she was feeling good about herself as Mary returned and turned off the dryer. Suddenly, the outside world returned to Rebecca’s consciousness, and with it, doubt. She looked across at Ryan. He was still shoving biscuits into his face, but what would he think of her hair? He’d been all up for her shaving her head, and had pretty much conspired with Joan to have her permed and set, but what would he really think when he was faced with a girlfriend with a prim old ladies’ hairstyle, to go along with the frumpy dress that her Nan had made her wear?
Mary had already removed the spiky rollers, and briskly teased together the tightly rolled curls.
“Well that’s set up beautifully, dear. You look lovely and smart, just like a proper young lady.”
Mary handed her a clear plastic face shield, and picked up an enormous gold can of hairspray. She doused Rebecca’s curls thoroughly, making sure that every lock of hair was saturated. Finally, the nylon cape was removed, and she was handed a mirror. She took a deep breath and held it up to finally see herself.
Even though she thought that she knew what to expect, the sight took her breath away. Her hair had been set into an array of tight, stiff waves, going straight back from her forehead, and cut cleanly over her ears. She turned her head to reveal a tightly curled hairline, well above the high collar of her dress.
The initial shock, though, only lasted a few seconds. Her positive, pragmatic attitude asserted herself, and she realised that whilst this might be a thoroughly old-fashioned hairstyle, you could also call it vintage, and vintage was definitely cool. Even the matronly floral dress looked better, now that she had an appropriate hairstyle. She found Ryan, across the room, for once not concentrating on biscuits, and actually looking at her. She gave him a small smile, and got a big thumbs up in reply. A weight was lifted off her shoulders, and she stood up. She saw Joan heading for the platform, and decided that she was going to take ownership of this.
“Er. Excuse me!” Rebecca tried to add some authority to her voice. “I, er, I just wanted to say thank you very much to you all for coming.” As everyone turned to her there was a distinct ripple of reactions to the way she now looked. “We’ve raised a wonderful amount of money to save the orangutans’ habitat, and hopefully you all enjoyed watching Mary cutting my hair off, and giving me my very first perm and set.”
She paused for a round of applause. “I especially want to thank Mary, for doing such a beautiful job…” More applause. “…and of course, my Nan, Joan, who suggested this” she gestured to her hair “as an alternative to shaving my head, and also, of course, did so much fundraising.”
She took a deep breath. “I really didn’t know how I’d feel about having my hair permed, but I’m so glad that I did it. Thank you all again for helping me through it, and don’t forget, the donation page is still open, if you feel you can give more. Thank you!”
She sat down, feeling slightly overwhelmed, and was promptly surrounded by a gaggle of people all talking at once. They all seemed to be congratulating her, so she nodded and smiled her way through it until Ryan made his way through the crowd. She turned to him, excited but still nervous.
“Well?” She demanded.
“Er, well, do you like it?” Ryan was clearly hedging his bets.
“Yes. Yes, I think I do.” She smiled, more broadly this time. “I think it might be the best thing I’ve done in a long time.”
Also published at https://f35hstories.wordpress.com/