The Cost of Being Cool

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Victoria loved spending time with Granny Sally during her summer vacation. She always looked forward to the days spent at Gran’s lovely little house in the small country town. The peaceful surroundings made Victoria feel happy and relaxed, a welcome contrast to her hectic life in the city.

As much as Victoria loved her gran, she could not help but notice that she occasionally got confused and forgetful. But nothing too serious, and Victoria loved her gran nonetheless and accepted that it was just a part of growing old.

A tall and slender girl, Victoria was in her final year at school. She had long blonde hair, reaching past her waist, which was thick, straight, and always fashionably styled. She had a fun and adventurous personality, and her sense of style reflected just that. Victoria never shied away from experimenting with the latest trends.

= * = * =

On Victoria’s first day staying with Gran, the weather forecast proclaimed it was going to be a scorcher. So, Victoria decided to keep her outfit light and simple. She would look cool, and not feel the heat. She wore her favourite red linen skirt, a white lacey top, and her trusty boots. A cool outfit she judged to be perfect for going into town with her gran.

Victoria decided to spice up her look by trying out a cool new hairstyle. She had first seen it on Amelia, a popular actress in one of the TV soaps, and it was soon everywhere on social media. Victoria was sure she could pull off the messy updo that was all the rage. Excitedly, after half an hour of tugging and tweaking, she approached her gran and asked for her opinion.

‘Isn’t it, er, a bit untidy, Victoria?’ Gran remarked, disappointment tinging her voice. ‘It always looks so nice and neat when it is in plaits. Would you like me to do them for you, dear?’

‘Gran, I have not worn my hair in plaits for years! They are so not cool for someone my age,’ Victoria sighed, trying not to laugh or to sound irritated. After all, Gran was only trying to help. ‘This is the latest fashion, and it’s supposed to be messy,’ she explained patiently, parading back and forth and carefully patting her creation. ‘It’s a messy updo … it’s so cool.’

‘Good,’ Gran acknowledged, ‘it’s expected to be very hot outside today.’

‘No, Gran, that’s not what I mean -‘

‘So, if not plaits, why not put it all up neatly without all those bits hanging down on your neck and face,’ Gran complained. ‘You will get all hot and sticky. Here, let me.’

Victoria’s gran pulled a box of old hair grips from a drawer and began adjusting her granddaughter’s hair. But the girl pulled away, not wanting anyone fiddling with her artfully crafted hair.

‘No, it’s cool like this,’ Victoria insisted, her patience stretched.

‘I could make it cooler,’ Gran persisted, waving a selection of hair grips between her fingers.

‘No!’ Victoria finally snapped, then immediately regretted it. ‘Sorry Gran, it’s just -’

‘I don’t relish being seen in town with you looking so untidy,’ Gran sighed, annoyed by her granddaughter’s curt dismissal of her well intentioned suggestion. ‘And it’s forecast to be hot outside today,’ she repeated, ‘so you won’t be cool at all.’

Victoria stopped herself from groaning in annoyance, and she swallowed her pride in deference to her gran’s age. ‘I’ll be fine,’ Victoria said sweetly, smiling indulgently at her dear gran. ‘Cool,’ she murmured under her breath.

Gran frowned as she silently contemplated something or other. Victoria had become aware that the frequency and duration of these episodes had increased recently, but she had learnt to simply accept it.

Suddenly her gran perked up. ‘Yes, you will be fine, Victoria,’ she said with a smug grin, ‘and cool too. So, my dear, let’s go and hit the town!’

Despite Victoria’s confusion and amusement, she shook her head and decided to let it pass. After all, she concluded, if Gran was happy then she was happy. And so, they made their way into town.

= * = * =

Although it was only a small market town, Victoria loved it. There were variety of small and independent fashion boutiques. She could find exclusive clothes that the chain stores in the city could not match for individuality and style. It allowed her to stand out in a crowd and that was always her aim.

Victoria did not go too mad on her first day but made a mental note of which shops to revisit during the remainder of her stay. In her mind, as they walked down the street, she was pairing up new and old items to fashion new and exciting outfits.

Suddenly, without warning, Gran grabbed Victoria’s arm. ‘In we go, my dear!’ she announced excitedly.

Gran propelled her granddaughter towards an unassuming doorway that she had never taken notice of before. Just before she staggered through the entrance, Victoria noticed the doorway was part a faded light blue shop front. Net curtains obscured the interior from view. Faded photographs and posters adorned the glass. “Top Style by Doris” a peeling sign declared above the door.

Stumbling inside, Victoria was confused. A strong chemical smell, an unwelcome heat, and a general stuffiness combined to assault her senses. Gran always had her hair done before her granddaughter visited, and it certainly looked fresh. However, “Top Style” was undoubtedly the traditional type of hairdressing establishment that Gran and her contemporaries would frequent.

‘Hello, Doris,’ Gran greeted a plump lady of her own age, wearing a floral tunic and sporting a halo of bright red curls. ‘Thanks for fitting Victoria in.’

‘Well, you said it was an emergency, Sally,’ Doris laughed, waddling over from behind a desk, ‘and with all that hair, it certainly is an emergency in this hot weather. Did it get than untidy in just the short stroll from your home?’

‘No, she came out with it looking like that,’ Gran shrugged. ‘That’s how she wants it, Doris.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous, Sally,’ Doris chuckled dismissively as she examined an embarrassed Victoria along with her messy updo.

‘Please make her cool, Doris,’ Gran requested. ‘Victoria’s been insisting on it all morning.’

‘No, Gran!’ Victoria said, appalled. ‘I am cool. What I meant was -‘

But before the girl could finish her sentence, the two older women pushed her into a chair, quickly enveloping her in a thick, heavy cape. Victoria tried to extricate herself, but the two old women just laughed, treating it as a game.

‘No, stop!’ Victoria cried, panicking as she waved her arms under the cape, both comically and ineffectively.

‘Calm down,’ Doris chided, ‘or do you me to strap you down like we sometimes have to do with the younger children. The ones who think they know better, when their mothers bring them in for their first proper haircut.’

Troublesome thoughts rushed through Victoria’s mind as she contemplated her predicament and continued to struggle. The suggestion of tying down a child for a haircut in the current day and age felt as preposterous as it was outrageous. But Doris appeared to have grown up in another age when such things might have been common.

‘Look,’ Victoria said, trying to adopt a reasonable tone, ‘you really cannot do this. Gran, tell her. Please!’

But Gran did not as she was far too busy disassembling Victoria’s messy updo and then fashioning a ponytail. She held the hair taut in her first as Doris approached with a huge pair of scissors.

‘Gran!’ Victoria whined, pinned in place and unable to move.

With a determined expression, Doris sawed through the girl’s thick hair, and it all came away in her grandmother’s hand. The two women briefly examined the ponytail, looking satisfied, before Doris tossed the hair unceremoniously into a bin.

Victoria, stunned, stared disbelievingly into the large gilt-framed mirror before her. The mad pair of old women had ravaged her lovely locks. What remained on her head was an awful raggedy bob that barely reached her chin.

‘She’ll be cooler already,’ Gran proclaimed, smiling contentedly as if what had just occurred was completely normal. Hearing a snivel from her granddaughter, she patted her on the shoulder. ‘There, there,’ she added comfortingly, in a tone more reminiscent of Victoria having grazed her knee rather than losing her pride and joy.

‘Cooler, yes, but we’ve a way to go yet,’ Doris declared with certainty as she turned on her hairclippers. ‘Head down, my dear.’

‘No, please, you can’t use those things on me,’ Victoria implored, staring wide-eyed at the frightening device in the uncaring woman’s hand. The girl was trying to keep up with what was happening, but she was struggling with severe emotional distress. ‘They, er … they will -’

Doris interrupted, chuckling. ‘Sally, please could you hold your granddaughter’s head down so I can make a start on tidying up the back.’

Gran grinned, doing as instructed. Her surprisingly firm hold ensured that Victoria could only look straight down, her vision filled with the plain white cape that covered her chest.

The view changed when the hairclippers bit into the hair at Victoria’s nape, and she could see snippets of blonde hair raining down, bouncing on her chest, sliding into her lap, before tumbling to the floor.

‘Oh my, those things are very efficient, aren’t they,’ Gran marvelled.

The words horrified Victoria as Doris continued to peel away all the hair from her neck, only finishing when the blade reached halfway up the back of her head.

‘Yes, they are very effective indeed,’ agreed her friend. ‘Now, assuming she will remain uncompliant, Sally, please could you angle her head to one side, so I can remove the hair from around her ear.’

‘Like this?’ Sally asked eagerly, adjusting the position of her granddaughter’s head.

‘Perfect,’ Doris confirmed, as she shaved all the hair around Victoria’s left ear. Then she repeated the action on the right. Doris adopted a stern tone. ‘Now, Victoria, sit up straight.’

Victoria, reacting to the order without thinking, did as Doris had told her. The hairdresser rewarded her obedience by cutting a ridiculously high fringe straight across her forehead. Victoria had never had a fringe before. She had never wanted one.

Continuing to employ the hairclippers, Doris carved a perfectly even and level cap of hair. The perimeter was high above each ear, and barely covered the curve at the back of her head. Doris created a modest undercut, allowing the ends of Victoria’s thick blonde hair to turn under naturally.

Finally, the hairclippers went silent. With a flourish, Doris whisked away the haircutting cape.

‘There we are young lady. A neat and tidy bowl cut,’ Doris announced proudly, ‘with the back and sides nicely shaved all the way down to the skin.’

‘Thank you, Doris,’ Gran chuckled, delighted with the outcome. ‘Now, Victoria, you will be really cool.’

= * = * =

The walk back to Gran’s home was awful for Victoria. People would laugh when they saw her dressed fashionably but with a ridiculously childish haircut. Over the following days, she tried to avoid going out in public, feeling self-conscious about her appearance. She decided to forego returning to the fashion stores.

Doris had cut her hair so short that there was nothing Victoria could do to style it differently. She tried but, other than pulling up a hoody to cover her head, she had np options.

‘There, there,’ Gran would repeat, when her granddaughter unexpectedly caught sight of her reflection and began to snivel. ‘You look delightful,’ she would add encouragingly, ‘and cool.’

Victoria had no strength or inclination to correct her misconceptions. There was nothing that anyone could do.

But then something unexpected happened.

On her final morning staying with Gran, Victoria had not wanted to leave the house. So, to cheer herself up, she asked Gran to buy her the latest edition of a teen magazine that she always read avidly from cover to cover. As she laid back on her bed, staring back at her from the said cover was Amelia, the glamorous TV actress on whom Victoria often based her stylish looks. Ironically, it had been emulating Amelia’s messy updo that had led to the unfortunate events that followed.

Amelia had long blonde hair and, before Victoria’s haircut, the two women had looked remarkably similar. It was a striking likeness that people had frequently commented upon favourably. Victoria felt sad that people would no longer remark on their similarity as they now had such different hairstyles. Angered by the need to accept the truth, she flung the magazine down on the bed in disgust.

The periodical fell open on a centre spread featuring Amelia but, most notably, without her signature long blonde locks. The headline proclaimed, “Amelia’s Makeover: Stunning, but not for the Faint Hearted”. The actress was now sporting a drastic new haircut that was identical to that worn by Victoria.

Further photos gave a view of Amelia’s severely shaved undercut peeking out from the smooth cap of hair above. The associated article marvelled at her bravery but, due its severity, they stated authoritatively that there was no chance that the public would be adopting her severe hairstyle. ‘Yeah, right,’ Victoria giggled. ‘The public aren’t all faint hearted!’

= * = * =

That afternoon Victoria, dressed in her favourite new outfit, went into town with her gran with her head held high. People were admiring her new haircut, seeing it as a bold and brave fashion statement that elevated her to the same league as the top TV stars. They were even asking for selfies! Victoria could not believe it. In a short space of time, she had gone from feeling embarrassed and humiliated, to receiving praise for her bold and edgy hairstyle.

Victoria knew that it was an accident that her gran had helped her embrace such a huge change, but she was no less grateful. ‘Thank you so much, Gran,’ Victoria said during lunch in town, giving her a big hug. ‘I feel so stylish and confident now, but I do hope my haircut wasn’t too expensive?’

Appreciating that she had inadvertently helped her granddaughter discover her true sense of style and confidence, Gran simply smiled. ‘Not at all, Victoria, it’s simply the cost of being cool.’

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