The Trade

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Megan sighed as she filled another pint and slid it across the bar. A glance at the clock hanging above her suggested the night would usually just be getting started, but today it was starting to slow down for her.

Corporate events at the bar were always a crapshoot for a bartender — sometimes people’s wallets loosened and the tips grew as the drinking went on, and other times they could have been glued shut for all she knew. As much as she hated to say it, corporate events that benefited a charity —like today’s — were the worst. For some reason, when people were donating to their coworkers passion projects, they just didn’t feel as much need to take care of the bartenders who were slinging the drinks.

And today’s Brave the Shave event, with people donating all their hair on top of their money, provided little hope she’d be able to afford the repairs her car so desperately needed. Especially when everyone there kept giving the thick, glorious auburn braids that hung past her pants pockets the side-eye, as if she were rude for not volunteering to have them stolen away in a room full of strangers.

The stool and the clippered hair may have still been in the middle of the room where the tables and chairs had been cleared aside, but most of the crowd had made their way home. Going a bit against what you’d think, the tips were gradually getting better as the crowd diminished to a handful of regulars, maybe twelve or so. Most sat or stood near the bar, though Gary Wilson, the main Wilson of Wilson’s New and Used Autos, remained at his own table. He looked a lot like Boss Hogg from the old Dukes of Hazzard series, though he wore jeans and a flannel shirt instead of a white suit. The stubby, smelly cigar was the same, though. His nephew sat with him, and other attendees would rotate to and from the table every now and then. He wasn’t an unpleasant man; he just didn’t go out of his way to be nice.

So why didn’t you get up on that stool, Megan?” one of the regulars, Tex, asked as he leaned against the bar. That was the kind of establishment this was — despite being closer to the coast than it was to Texas, it still somehow had a regular named Tex.

Megan flipped one of her braids behind her shoulder. “This place doesn’t pay me nearly enough to do that.”

It’s for charity!” One of the other guys, his own hair freshly sacrificed down to a barely-there buzzcut, insisted.

Megan just rolled her eyes and moved down the bar, slipping past her boss and bar owner, Ralph, before starting to wash some glasses. She’d been late again today because of her car troubles, leaving him to handle the charity crowd by himself for an hour or so. With that in mind, she avoided the verbal jousting she might have engaged in normally. Ralph was a great fellow, but… he had his moods.

It’s not too late, you know,” Kim, the barberette who acted as the executioner, so to speak, for the day’s events, chimed in. Her wide smile let Megan know she was just teasing, but Megan didn’t doubt the woman had her fingers crossed in the hopes Megan would give in anyway. Kim was among the regulars here, working at a barbershop with her partner just a couple blocks away, and she kept her own hair at a length that would hardly qualify as a dusting, much less a style.

Unlike Kim’s hair, Megan’s was her pride and joy. She’d set out to see how long it could grow when she was twelve years old, and had never cut it since. She liked to think she stopped short of investing her entire identity in it, but she still enjoyed the general reactions she got when out in public or when she got particularly creative with her updos. Incredibly thick and soft, its abundant waves were a constant blanket she was never without.

A miniature bidding war of sorts broke out, with the customers all pledging to donate money to the day’s charity in order to get Megan to lop off her braids. They all failed miserably, of course, even after they’d switched the recipient of the funds to the local pet shelter Megan volunteered at. It was all in good fun, though, so Megan just smiled and teased the would-be benefactors in return.

Say, Megan,” Mister Wilson called over from his table. “Which car of mine was the one you’re always saying you fancy?”

The blue MINI Cooper,” she replied, setting another clean glass down. It was a used 2016 model, but still too far out of her price range to afford. It’d probably take a couple years for her to save up for it, especially when her damn Pontiac Sunfire had to be repaired every other month.

How about I trade it to you for your braids and that piece of shit you’re driving now?”

The bar went silent, and suddenly everyone was looking at Megan with raised, expectant eyebrows. It took her a moment, but then she smiled and laughed. “Yeah, sure thing, Mister Wilson. Let’s get right on that.”

He grinned, plucking the cigar stub from his mouth. “I’m gonna send my nephew to get it and the paperwork. You think about it.”

The silence lingered in the bar for a few seconds after Wilson’s nephew left, but then the chuckling and murmuring returned. Megan responded to Kim’s expression of eager anticipation by shaking her head and mouthing the word, “No.” Wilson had to be kidding, so Megan refused to even think about it. As far as she was concerned, the teasing had peaked and anything more would just be weird.

She decided to not even acknowledge the moment Kim set her silver shears on the bar between taking sips of her beer.

To his credit, Ralph didn’t say a word. He just stood there, cleaning and putting away more of the glasses they’d used that day. Megan wasn’t grateful enough about that, though, to avoid considering how much easier life would be if Ralph just paid her enough to buy another car to begin with.

It wasn’t long before Wilson’s nephew returned. He walked back to his uncle and set down a manila folder, a pen, and a set of keys. The bar went quiet again, and Megan felt her heart begin to pound as everyone’s attention slowly refocused on her.

So?” Mr. Wilson asked, smiling around his cigar again. “Do we have a deal? The car’s outside waiting for you.”

Megan looked down at the scissors, and then at Ralph. He set down the glass he’d been washing and just looked back at her. Everyone, she realized, was looking back at her.

You can’t be…”

I am completely serious. And everyone here has heard me. Wouldn’t do much for my reputation as an honest businessman if I went back on my word now, would it?”

Megan’s hands were shaking as she pulled her left braid in front of her shoulder and slowly stroked its length. She loved her hair, absolutely adored it. But… a car? An actual car for cutting her hair?

But how long would it take to grow back? She looked down at the shears, doing the math in her head. The car was already seven years old. What were the chances it would even last as long as it took her to grow her hair back?

For Christ’s sake, Megan,” Ralph sighed with exasperation, “You’ve been late four times in the past three weeks already because of your car.”

She stroked her braid again. “I know, but…”

The shears disappeared as Ralph’s meaty hand slapped against the bartop. His other hand landed on Megan’s shoulder and spun her a bit. He took hold of her left braid in his left hand. Megan’s head dipped back as her boss tugged on the thick rope of her beautiful hair, and then her soul went cold as the silence in the bar was shattered by the horrible, persistent crunching of the scissor blades.

I’ve been patient with you, Megs, but I have a business to run,” he said as the shears just kept crunching and crunching, loosening the tension tugging at her scalp as the sight of the bar room began to waver through the tears building in her eyes. “I can’t let you be so stupid as to pass this up.”

With a final snap of metal against metal, Megan’s head jerked forward, free of the tension that had been holding it back. Her hand rose to her mouth as she turned to watch the thick, heavy braid land on the bar with a thunk. The braid that she had just been playing with, the braid that was no longer attached to her head.

Oh my god,” she whispered.

Another shoulder grab, and another twist. Now she was facing herself in the mirror on the wall behind the shelves of liquor. On one side hung her remaining braid, a rope of dancing auburn locks that was more than a few inches in circumference, and on the other side was a mass of wild, chopped curls desperately attempting to decide whether they wanted to be a chin-length bob or a Bozo The Clown afro.

This time she could see Ralph take hold of her thick braid and begin sawing at its base, right up against her nape as the abundant tresses did their best to resist the blades. The braid’s tension gradually gave way to the loud schnickts just like its twin, but this time Ralph cut upward instead of across. The blades just kept chomping upward, continuing to hack close to her head as they moved until finally, mercifully, the last of her long locks was severed near her crown.

More silence, broken by another solid thunk.

A moment passed as Megan composed herself, and then Ralph simply said, “Go make your trade,” and walked away.

Megan — short-haired Megan — turned to face the crowd. Several were looking away, some were looking at her sympathetically, and others were trying to hide their utter amazement at what had just happened. With almost numb hands. She picked up her two braids and walked around the bar, taking them toward Mister Wilson.

The old man was grinning widely, a sheen of sweat having built up on his flabby cheeks. His eyes followed the braids as she set them down in front of him, and then his nephew pushed a few papers and a pen in front of her.

Auburn curls fell in front of her eyes as she tried to sign her name, and they refused to stay back like they always had when they’d been long enough to reach past her shoulders. After signing, she handed Wilson’s nephew her Sunfire’s keys and then took the Cooper’s from him, trying not to focus on how Mister Wilson was holding and stroking and sniffing the wildflower shampoo scent of her braids.

Nice doing business with you, young lady,” the old man said.

Gentle hands rested on her shoulders from behind, slowly and carefully guiding her backward until the stool at the center of the room pressed against the backs of her thighs. Megan sat down, and turned to see Kim setting her bag of tools out on one of the nearby tables once again.

Just let me fix this up for you, would you?” The barberette asked.

Megan nodded.

The buzzed barberette attacked what was left of Megan’s man with a small-toothed comb, sliding it through the thick curls again and again as she took stock of what remained. Just judging by the difference in feel between the strokes through the locks on her left side and the locks on her right, Megan knew this wouldn’t be a simple trim to neaten things up.

She’d look good with your style, Kim,” one of the buzzed patrons offered.

She actually would,” someone else agreed.

Megan closed her eyes, trying but failing to block it all out. Her hair — her beautiful, long, Rapunzelesque hair was gone, and more was about to follow. More than once, though she’d never say so publicly, she’d role-played Lady Godiva for imaginative paramours… but now that would be impossible without a wig.

Would she be roleplaying the shaven-headed Ripley from Aliens next?

The combing stopped, and Kim sighed. “Ralph really butchered this. I’m sorry.”

Then there was another quick combing before Kim’s petite fingers slid through the doomed locks. The barberette’s palm rested against Megan’s crown, and then the sickening crunching began again. More combing followed, then her palm settled a little to the side and there was more crunching. Soft gasps could be heard, and Megan’s cheeks warmed as she couldn’t believe this brutal shearing of her treasured locks was a public performance.

But Kim continued onward with the shearing, ignoring comments and suggestions and even requests made by those who watched. Megan kept her eyes closed, but could feel her shorn, fluffy locks falling away when the curls caressed her neck or brushed against her bare arms.

I’m going to look like a boy,” she whimpered. The crunching was unbearably loud now as the shear attacked the soft locks that once covered Megan’s right ear. They didn’t need to linger long, though, as evidenced by the swift, brutally brief comb strokes that followed without ever actually touching Megan’s ear.

I assure you, you will not,” Kim told her as she freed the left ear of its relatively abundant covering. “Your hair might look like a boy’s, yes, but you most certainly will not.”

Megan had hoped the soft curls at her forehead might be spared the same treatment as the rest of her mane, maybe giving her new style just a touch of femininity, but Kim didn’t seem to have the same consideration. Following the same pattern, the comparatively ridiculous length of curls were relegated to the existing piled of harvested locks on the floor, shorn away little more than a finger’s width from her hairline.

Megan’s eyes finally snapped open when she heard Kim’s clippers roar to life.

No!” She blurted out.

A gentle hand rested on her shoulder again. “Like I said, Meg — he really butchered it.”

Oh god.”

The gentle hand moved to Megan’s crown, pushing her to look down toward the piles of gorgeous hair — her hair — gathered on the bar’s floor. The clipper head was pressed to her nape, rumbling and vibrating against her neck until it was guided up into her hair. The pitch changed from a friendly purr to a ravenous growl, and even as what might have been pleasurable vibrations in other circumstances rumbled through her body, Megan winced when she realized why each successive pass of the clippers moved quicker and easier.

She really was being shorn like a sheep.

To her unhidden relief, the clippers pulled away before cresting to her crown, and although they chewed their way around each of her ears, they never seemed to ride too high.

When Kim lifted Megan’s head again so she could fine tune the cut with her scissors and comb, Megan was left staring ahead at Mister Wilson’s empty table. The seat from which he had watched the days events — or more specifically, the day’s shearings — was vacant, and nothing remained on the table. The paperwork and, even more notably, her braids, were gone. What use the long ropes of her hair would provide the man, she didn’t know, but given the way he had been smelling them, she didn’t want to think about it too much.

Finally, all of the clipping and combing stopped. Kim was handed a bar towel to brush away the bit of hair that dusted Megan’s neck and slender shoulders, and then she tossed it on a table and said, “Why don’t you go take a look?”

Megan nodded, but took a second to set her still somewhat numb feet down on the floor. She tried to read everyone’s faces as she took a few steps toward the bar, but there was such a mix of emotions across them all that she couldn’t tell what to expect. She didn’t have to wait long, though, before she stepped behind the bar again and her reflection came into view.

The wind was knocked out of her.

It almost looked like her hair was pulled back into a tight bun, leaving her fine, angled features and cute little ears and long neck completely naked and open. It was like the past twenty minutes had been a horrible hallucination. But when she reached up and sifted her fingers through the short hair atop her head, it became clear that what she had just sat through was real.

She had a little boy’s haircut, to say the least. A little boy’s harshly side-parted Easter morning or family-photo day haircut, without enough length to even form any curls. She turned her head this way and that, running her hand down her nape to her naked neck, biting her lip as she felt a mix of horror at the sight and unexpected delight at her own touch.

Kim had been right — she had a boy’s haircut, but definitely didn’t like a boy in any way. Her cheekbones, dark eyes, and the smattering of cute freckles across her nose suddenly gaining prominence made sure of that.

But still… her hair was gone. Her long, beautiful magnet for compliments and overly hopeful tips was gone, and she had no idea how many years it would take to grow back, if it ever did. If nothing else — if she truly did begin losing out on tips without her beautiful, fairytale princess curls — at least the biggest money-suck in her life was gone, replaced by a dream car she hoped would be more reliable.

Speaking of which… Megan reached into her pocket and pulled out the keys to her new (to her, at least) Cooper.

Can we go take a look at it?’ Kim asked.

Megan nodded. If nothing else, she needed to see how cute she and her new haircut looked in the driver’s seat.


A refreshingly short one compared to my last few. Hope you enjoyed it, and, as always, comments and critiques are welcome and appreciated.

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