It was one of those bone-chilling cold November days in the north, just above freezing, soaking wet and miserable, gusts of icy wind making it almost impossible to keep the rain from soaking right to the skin. It was a couple hours after the early sunset, that weird time between the end of the mad dash of rush hour and when the small stores closed.
The town was shuddering in the wind, most people huddled inside their houses cooking warm meals, TV’s drowning out the howling of the wind.
Julia fled out of that weather into the tiny salon that was wedged in between a kiosk and a fancy tea store, startling the man sitting behind the counter.
It looked like he’d been sitting there alone for a while, just waiting for it to be time to close up, a book and mug in front of him.
His greeting was warm and friendly, he took her woefully inadequate drenched summer coat and found her a nice soft towel, and while she was busy using it on her bleached yellow hair, she asked if he had time to cut it.
So he washed her long hair, the warm water chasing most of the chill of the outside away, his strong fingers massaging her head making her feel wonderful and more relaxed than she could remember. He was maybe a few years older than her mid-20s, and he smelled really nice.
He took her to the chair in front of the big mirror, fetched a blanket from somewhere to drape over her shoulders, the cape on top, and placed large mug of warm sweet tea in her hands. Then, he combed through the bleached atrocity on her head, and asked her what they were doing today.
She asked if he was in a hurry, then told him the whole sordid tale.
How Martin, her fiance, had been with her almost a decade since they were both teens. How he had groomed her, made her abandon her friends. Move far away from her family. How he had liked her hair long and cheaply bleached, and made her wear all black clothes. His demanding nature had built up over the years to the point where she could almost no longer bear it. How last night she’d come home from work to a drunken mess and demands that she cook him a nice dinner. Again. How the fight had turned into him threatening to hit her. Strangle her. Kill her. Told her she had no friends and nobody would miss her.
She finally had enough. Gave him his ring, took his keys to her apartment and pushed his drunken ass out the door to sleep it off on the doormat. Spent half the night stuffing all his things into trash bags piling them up near the door. He’d hammered, threatened to kill her, begged. The police had taken him away at her call when she thought he might actually break down the door in the middle of the night.
Now she desperately needed to see someone else than the helpless person he’d made her when she looked in the mirror. She’d come here straight after work the next day, wearing the last set of clothes she owned that had any colour to them, inadequate for the season or not.
Julia’s hairdresser nodded and listened. Said all the right kind and understanding words at all the right times. Made her feel listened to, and made her comfortable. Refilled the mug at least once. At some point in her tale, he turned the sign on the door to ‘closed’, and locked it, leaving the key in. They would not be disturbed, but he made sure she knew she could still leave if she felt the need to.
It had only been a few weeks since the last time she’d bleached – Martin had liked it clean, no roots – so if she wanted to get rid of the bleached parts, it would have to be a rather short cut. He showed her some pictures, held her hair tight against her head, trying to show her what few options he could give her, then sectioned the top off, drawing a line all around the top of her head with his comb, pinning the top hair out of the way.
Even though he’d warned her, she still jumped when the clippers started up, and had an intense sensation of wild and unbridled freedom when he pushed them against her left temple. He looked a question at her, she nodded slightly, and he let them loose on her hair, busily mowing away more than a foot of that chemically ruined mess, leaving behind soft, dark brown fur. Again and again he pushed the humming clippers, with measured careful precision, up into the exposed hair, all the way around the back and around her right ear. Even though he was the one holding the clippers, she felt in control there in his chair, under his black cape, as her handsome hairdresser removed the helpless little girl in the mirror and made her feel strong.
He swapped to a pair of shiny silver scissors and went to work on the top. His hands were soft and deft, and she noticed him occasionally leaving them on her shoulder just a smidge longer than she thought strictly necessary. She decided she liked that. He took his time, as snip after snip, lock after lock, he carved away years of trauma, years of humiliation.
They talked some more while he worked; he told her that he owned the salon – it had been his mother’s for many years, but she’d retired recently. He lived in the tiny apartment on the floor above. No commute; he loved that bit. She noticed he had soft, brown eyes.
She told him of her work and colleagues, how bored she was of the mindless office routine. When he met her gaze in the mirror he made her feel cared for in a very intense way.
She talked about how she yearned to go back to school, learn to do something completely different with her mind, her life. He paid such attention to her words that she felt that her story and what she wanted really mattered, for the first time in years. He told her he had clients who worked in the field she dreamt of. How they seemed content with their lives.
Finally, he was done.
The woman in the mirror had her features and her eyes, but those eyes had a sparkle in them she didn’t remember. He had clippered the sides and back so short that her skin showed a little at the bottom of the smooth fade, and cropped the top close, so short it wanted to stand on end in a tight spiky pixie, but just long enough that it could be coaxed to lay flat on the side in little tufts if she wanted it to.
Nothing of the hated yellow remained; it was all spread out on the cape and floor around her, discarded like the dirty rag it had resembled. The woman in that mirror had brutally short dark brown hair, and she was beautiful; Julia couldn’t quite believe it was her. She ran her hands over the short hair on her nape, and liked the prickly feeling of it.
He removed the cape and blanket. she got up, and on a whim took his head in her hands and kissed him on the nose in gratitude.
She paid him as he looked at her thoughtfully, and was about to grab her still soaked coat and face the chill and the rain, when he cleared his throat and hesitantly, suddenly inept, asked if, possibly, she would want to join him for dinner instead of facing the elements.
So they ordered hot soups from a local takeaway kitchen; warm and creamy, spicy with big chunks of vegs. Enjoyed it with more kisses, tea and wine in his tiny apartment, seated in his antique furniture. They talked about the book he was reading, music she liked, and built dreams and wild plans together.
And, later, as the storm raged outside, he showed her just how good a man can make a woman feel, when he really puts his mind and body into it.
This is the first piece I’ve written for this place.
English is not my first language, so please let me know if something is messed up, so I can fix it.
Or if you hated it, liked it, found it ‘meh’, etc, but please be constructive.