The Note

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This was originally written as a chapter in a novel I’m writing, but I ended up discarding it as it didn’t serve the plot in any way. Thought I would post it here for others to enjoy rather than simply chuck it in the bin.

 

When Andrew and Susan arrived downstairs in the morning, Nova and Felix were already sat at the table. There were three identical packages in front of them, all covered in brown wrapping paper.

In Nova’s hand was a note, which she held out for Susan to take. “You’re not going to like this, Sue.”

She took the piece of paper cautiously, though once she started to read her eyes widened and the colour drained out of her face. Andrew waited for her to tell him what the matter was but she couldn’t do anything but stare at the words in front of her, so he peered over her shoulder to find out for himself.

Jess, Nova and Susan are to have their hair shaved to a number one all over.

He put a hand on the centre of her back and she finally seemed to snap out of her trance as she gazed up at him. “Do we have to?” she asked no one in particular.

“Afraid so,” said Nova. “Believe me, I’d rather not do it either, but I know it’s got to be worse for you, never mind Jess. God, she’s going to be a nightmare to convince.”

“Are we to do it together?” Susan asked.

“Doesn’t say so. I think it might be better if you and Andy go back upstairs and do it in private. We’ll wait here for Jess and Kevin.”

Susan didn’t look overly pleased to have received her marching orders so quickly, but she headed out of the room and Andrew brought one of the packages with him as he headed after her. The first thing they did once they were back in their room was to untie the brown wrapping, which revealed a set of cordless hair clippers and a variety of guards, a very pointy set of silver scissors, a couple of different plastic combs and a matte black apron.

Andrew wheeled the single chair over from the desk at the opposite side of the room to sit it in front of the full-length mirror. It remained unoccupied for a moment as Susan contemplated whether this was truly her only option, but after ten or so seconds she gave in and sat down. He got her to clip her hair up with her favourite clawed clasp while he shook out the black cape and then swirled it around her. Once he had fastened it tight around her neck he undid the clasp and let the heavy sea of blonde splash back down against her neck and shoulders, then set about combing it out. As ever it needed little work to make it perfect, but they both pretended that wasn’t the case to delay the step that was supposed to follow.

A few minutes of playing later, he finally took a break and made eye contact in the mirror. “Will I get to the point?”

“I don’t really want you to in all honesty.” She sighed. “But you’re probably right, we should get this over with.”

He swiped the comb through her hair again a few times over, each time slipping through like a ghost through a wall. “How do you want me to do this? Will I cut it a little at a time to make it less jarring or will I just shave it all straight away?”

“Use the scissors as much as possible. I hate the sound of clippers.”

“Okay. Do you want me to cut it as fast as I can?”

She shook her head. “Don’t take forever, but don’t rush either. Just…” She tailed off before she knew where she was going and groaned. “I’ve never enjoyed having my hair cut, not even just a trim, so this is going to be traumatic either way.”

He smoothed his hand down the back of her head. “I’ll try to make it less terrible if I can.”

She didn’t reply, so he decided it was best to proceed with the haircut and get it over with. He scooped up her heavy bangs with the comb and brought them between his fingers. As he lined up the scissors to make the first cut she wriggled and he paused to check she was okay.

“Can you start somewhere else?” she asked, her voice abnormally high and her words hardly spaced out at all.

For the time being he let her fringe flop back down, and he sat his hands on either shoulder. “I have to cut all of it at some point.”

“I know, but please don’t start there.”

“Why not?”

“It’s my comfort blanket.”

He brushed through her fringe again to get it to return to its normal flawless state. “Don’t you think we should get that out of the way? Maybe you’ll accept what’s got to happen if that’s the bit we chop first of all. And compared to the rest, it’s going to be a lot less jarring.”

He knew she didn’t think so, but she didn’t argue any further and he moved back into the same position again, scissors poised over either side of the thick line of blonde.

“I know you’re going to hate this Susie, but just shut your eyes and it’ll be over soon.”

She did as he asked, and he started to cut. The blades snipped through her soft hair as though there was nothing there despite how thick it was, however the sound made it clear when each strand was cropped, a delicate yet noticeable accent to the usual click-clack of the blades opening and shutting a couple of times over. The strands fell almost individually and floated their way down to the cape, where they slid to form miniature pools at various locations. He couldn’t have cut more than four inches in length thus far, but the density meant that the black cape was already swimming in gold.

Susan didn’t dare to open her eyes, and so he moved onto the front of the right side of her head without further ado. Compared to the easy start this was another level entirely, and he had to restrict himself to merely half of what he had collected in the comb’s teeth such was the thickness of her gorgeous mane. Once he had transferred it to his fingers however he moved the blades back into position and chopped it short without hesitation; he couldn’t afford to mull it over, or he would find a way to talk himself out of ruining her prettiest feature. Four big snips and the damage was done, and close to fifteen inches of her shiny locks spilled down the cape. She winced but kept her eyes closed, and for a couple of moments he brushed carefully down the back of her head to soothe her.

He continued along the same side of her head, doing his best to be efficient while also making the experience as pleasant as he could for her. The scissors were loud though and she flinched each and every time he snipped away more of her precious tresses. They slid audibly down the smooth acrylic into an ever-increasing pile over her lap, in which her hands were clasped beneath the cape.

Truthfully he didn’t dislike the experience of cutting her hair, in fact in some regards it was almost gratifying. The ring of each snip through the silk and the melody of her chopped locks hitting the cape made for a captivating symphony against the silent backdrop, and the way the metal cut so easily through the soft blonde fascinated him. So too did the way it rained down after it had been severed, as it swam gracefully to the cape or the floor as if in slow-motion, with no sign of the weight that was so evident when he collected it with the comb or his fingers. Under different circumstances it would be rather enjoyable to crop her long hair just like this, but with Susan perpetually grimacing in the mirror he was reminded of the harsh reality that this wasn’t something she wanted any part in.

After about five minutes of careful chopping he was done with the entire right side of her head, and her eyes flicked open briefly to inspect the scene of the crime. Without meaning to she let out a startled yelp, and he took another break to calm her. She didn’t have the capacity to put her thoughts into words, too busy battling with a quivering lip and two watering eyes, so he once again repeated the same reassurances that it would be alright and that it wouldn’t last much longer while he stroked his thumb across her cheek. As yet there had been no release of the reservoir, but he didn’t expect that to last as he got back to work.

This time she forced herself to watch in the mirror, though it was clear that she had to fight the urge to look away with each vulgar snip. As he moved from the back of her head to the left side this became more and more obvious, as she started having to watch her precious locks drip onto the black cape rather than to the floor, where the evidence was out of sight behind the chair. She clearly hated how it sat and taunted her, but she wasn’t brave enough to shake the cape and push it all to the ground in front of her for fear that it would touch her bare feet. Every time the latest group of blonde snakes slithered into the mountain at the collection point she squirmed a little more, but there was nothing she could do but wait for the scissors to complete the first lap of her head.

It took another five or so minutes, but eventually he was finished lopping her hair into a crude and shaggy crop. It was quite a mess, too short to show off the usual shimmer of her glossy locks but not short enough to at least look tidy. Inevitably she pouted as she examined her new hairstyle from a couple of angles, and at last her eyes started to leak.

“It looks horrible,” she whined.

“It’s not finished yet, don’t worry.”

“I know, but it’s going to be even shorter and I already hate how exposed I feel.”

She sniffled and worked one arm out from under the cape to wipe at her eyes. Inadvertently she made contact with some of the debris on her way back inside which only upset her more. Hastily he swept it all away to the floorboards and manoeuvred it all into one big pile behind the chair. The sheer volume of hair that she had had on her head to start with was impressive if not slightly saddening to see in a pile of waste.

“What do you want me to do next?” he asked.

“Can you go to the number one yet?”

He combed his fingers from her neck up the back of her head, examining the small clippers as he did. “I think your hair is too thick for these things, Susie. I’ll probably have to either clip you twice or keep going with the scissors.”

She whined, and he put the tools to one side and cupped her face in his hands.

“I’m sorry. You know I wouldn’t if I didn’t have to.”

“I know, but I don’t like it.”

“I understand. It’ll be alright though, okay?”

It took a couple of seconds but she eventually nodded meekly.

He pecked her on the cheek and moved back around to stand behind her. “Clippers would be faster, but I know you wanted me to use the scissors as much as possible.”

“How short would you have to cut it with the scissors?”

“Pretty short.” He closed his index and middle fingers around a lock of what was left at the right side of her head. “As close as I can cut it, basically.”

“So a lot of snipping.”

“Most likely.”

She weighed up her two options for a few seconds, neither side of the Morton’s fork standing out as the better of the two, then after ten or so seconds she sighed. “Fine, use the scissors. Better that than the buzzing, even if it takes longer.”

He accepted her choice, and he picked up the same comb and the scissors once again. For a minute or so he felt his way around her mop with the comb, eventually deciding to start at the back of her head this time. He tilted her head down and she complied, and he ran the comb from her neck to her crown and swiftly snicked the scissor blades together over the top to reduce the length by another two inches. He was no hairdresser, and it took longer than it probably ought to have for him to work out how to do what he wanted, but once he got the hang of it he started to reduce the remaining length quickly. Soon the back of her head was much neater and he sat her up so he could start on the right side of her head.

There was indeed a lot of opening and closing of the blades, and therefore a lot of noise to cut a relatively small amount of hair. Nonetheless she tolerated it, if only because the result was far tidier than the previous checkpoint. The cuttings pitter-pattered onto the surface of the cape to add a subtle percussion to the continuous snipping, and unlike the long sections he had been cutting up until now the shorter chopped strands didn’t weigh themselves down towards the one spot in the middle of the cape, instead clinging anywhere and everywhere. With the thickness of her mane there was still a lot covering the black acrylic by the time he was done with both sides of her head, so much that in some parts it wasn’t clear which colour was the cape and which was the hair.

He toyed with the slightly longer hair at the top of her head for a moment. “Something like this would look good on you, you know. If it was cut properly I think it would look pretty.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah. I wouldn’t trust myself to do it, but when it grows back you should try something this length. A pixie cut or something.”

She said nothing in response, which he took as his cue to return to barbering. For the top of her head he used a slightly different technique to the back and sides, preferring to gather what he could between his index and middle fingers again and snip what lay above them. The stray gold fell over her face to her lap, which he found somewhat satisfying even if she found it to be pretty much the opposite. It wasn’t long until he was done with it though, and he took a step back to admire his work.

“What do you think?” he asked. “Better?”

“Better than it was. Obviously I wish it was still long, but at least it’s tidy.”

He smoothed one hand over her head, which he realised was a mistake when he peeled it away to find it covered in tiny hairs. “I wouldn’t have minded keeping it like this, but unfortunately that’s not where I can stop.”

She nodded. “I know. If you can do this bit as fast as possible, I’d appreciate it.”

Again he agreed, and he picked up the clippers to attach the number one guard. With the comb he felt his way around what little hair she had left, then he clicked on the clippers and buzzed the first line up the back of her head. Unintentionally she squirmed, and he had to place his hand on top of her head to hold her still as she continued to shear her. The black cape quickly started to become sprinkled with gold dust to accompany the gleaming puddles that were littered across her body and the floor, particularly around her neck and her shoulders, and it only increased with every new line that he shaved.

Susan watched him do the back and sides in the mirror, but when it came to the top of her head she screwed her eyes shut again. He held her steady with his fingertips against her temple, then ran the shears down the centre of her head. She breathed in deeply and then out again, her whole body bobbing up and back down as she did so. Regardless, he didn’t pause for a moment. It only took a few more stripes to have her completely shaved, though for safety he quickly did another lap of her head to make sure he hadn’t missed a single hair.

When he clicked the clippers off again she kept her eyes shut. Once he had put them to one side he moved behind her again, her hands on her shoulders. “All done. Don’t you want to look?”

“Not really.”

“I promise it’s not that bad, Sue.”

She sighed, then peeled her eyelids open. Her expression remained unhappy as she examined herself, but at least her tear ducts didn’t drip anymore. “I don’t recognise the girl in the mirror,” she said.

“I do. She’s the same gorgeous girl I fell in love with. Same big, expressive eyes, same pretty cheekbones, same cute little nose. It’d take a lot more than a short haircut to make me think you’re not pretty anymore, Suze.”

She afforded herself a wry smile, and he smooched her on the cheek.

“And I’m proud of you for not making a fuss. I know you hated it, but you didn’t fight it at all.” He undid the cape and finally freed her, letting the rest of the shiny rubble splash to the wooden floorboards. This collection was dwarfed by the earlier one despite being an impressive sight itself. “I think you should go and shower. I’ll clean up here.”

She nodded and left the room, posture fixed straight to avoid accidentally catching a glimpse of her pride and joy lying in sad clumps on the floor. He shook out the cape and folded it up, then headed out of the room as well to grab a brush and a binbag from the kitchen. As Andrew descended the stairs he could already hear the sound of an argument that had long gone past the stage of civilities, which told him everything he needed to know about Jess’s thoughts on having her hair cut. It stopped abruptly when he entered the room, and all eyes turned to him.

“Did you do it already?” Nova asked.

He nodded. “Sue went to shower.”

“You didn’t,” Jess said, exasperated. “You didn’t seriously shave her head, did you?”

“We had to. Sue hated every second, but we didn’t have a choice. You can come and see the mess if you need proof.”

“For God’s sake,” she groaned. “I needed her on my side.”

“There’s only one side, and that’s common sense. If you don’t all do what the note says then all of us are going to suffer. Would you seriously rather die than have your hair cut?”

“It’s not just a haircut though, it’s having it shaved off completely.”

“And? If it’s that or death, surely there’s only one choice.”

Jess glared at him as though his comparison was somehow an exaggeration, but they knew the consequences of failing to deliver what was asked of them. She resumed her argument with Nova as Andrew took the items he had come for, and he disappeared before seeing the conclusion. He only hoped that Jess changed her tune after seeing Susan’s new buzzcut, though that seemed doubtful. If the worst came to the worst they would have to do it forcibly. Cutting her thigh-length locks would be traumatic enough if she consented, but that would be even more harrowing for her. He hoped it didn’t come to that.

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