—————————- This will only hurt a little bit ————————
“This is an opportunity that we only offer to agents who have already proven themselves,” Director Peterson added flattery to his sales pitch.
“I’m very happy to have been offered this, but that doesn’t eliminate my concerns.” I emphasized trying to not get distracted, of course if I was an agent who could be distracted by a little flattery, I’m sure they wouldn’t have chosen me to participate. “I want to know specific details about the risks, and the odds of them. If I agree to this enhancement.”
The director sighed, and turned in his swivel chair to the man who had barely said anything the entire meeting. “Dr Jones?”
“Ok, there is an extremely low chance of rejection or allergic reaction, less than 1% so far, but this is a very new procedure, so our sample size is small. The 2 times it happened, we just took the implant out. Theoretically it could lead to chronic nerve pain, but so far we haven’t actually seen that happen.” Dr Jones assured me. “The procedure itself is done under anesthesia with an extremely small incision, and you will receive pain management afterwards. Recovery can be a bit difficult though.”
“You said the incision was small and I would be receiving pain management?” I furrowed my brow in confusion. “How is recovery difficult then?”
“It’s not the pain.” Dr Jones emphasized, “Though the point of the procedure is to enhance strength and both gross and fine motor skills, temporarily it has the opposite effect. While the body is adjusting to the enhancement, those things are actually diminished, but just a little usually. For some that is so minor it’s barely noticeable. They can go about fairly normal activity as soon as the anesthesia wears off. They are just not up for lifting heavy weights or doing fine hand work. It lasts only a few days before they are completely back to normal, and then swiftly exceed their original strength.
“For others it is slightly more pronounced.” Dr Jones continued. “The weakness can be more severe, taking a few weeks to return to normal strength before beginning to have enhanced strength. It’s always been temporary, and nothing so serious it’s debilitating or anything, but the degree of weakness and time span vary, and we don’t know why. Interestingly, those with a harder recovery tend to be the ones who see the most long term gains.”
“I don’t know.” I hedged. “I’m healthy, I’m strong and in great shape. I don’t get why I would risk that for a bit of enhanced strength. I mean when do I need to be able to do superhuman feats?”
The director frowned.
“Gentlemen,” Madeline Cohen, my direct supervisor, said with authority beyond her rank, “could you please give us a moment so that I can discuss this with Agent Miller.”
I watched as Director Peterson, Dr Jones, and a couple of others walked out of the conference room. Madeline stood for just a moment listening after she closed the door, I assume to make sure they were moving away from the door, then turned to me.
“Audrey, you need to do this.” She flatly stated. “They are framing it to you as a choice, but if you don’t agree to this, your career is basically over.”
“They’d fire me?”
“Worse,” she sighed. “You’ll find yourself doing background checks and the like from a desk.”
“But I’m good out there, I get results.” I pointed out. “And I get those results mostly using my brains.”
“Looks too,” Madeline added.
“True.” I conceded a little reluctantly, it was surprisingly easy to distract men with a little cleavage, a swish of my long brown hair, and a sweet smile. Then I got back to the point. “I’m not using brawn out there. I stay fit, but it’s not like I am using it much. I’m not out there getting in fights. Frankly if I ever did get myself into a situation where I had to fight, I would view it as a giant failure. I get in, do my thing, and get out without anyone ever realizing what I was doing there. I don’t need to be stronger and faster with better aim to achieve that. Hell, when I’m out there I usually deliberately try to hide how physically capable I am to look more harmless.”
“You’re absolutely right, but you still need to do this.” Madeline insisted. “It’s all about perception. You know how powerful perception is. If you don’t do this, you are going to be seen as weaker than the agents who do agree to this. And gradually more and more of them will be offered it. If they see you as weak, they aren’t going to offer you the types of assignments that get you ahead. It’s already a problem we face simply because we are women, if you turn this down, you are never going to be seen as able to compete.”
“This is fucking bullshit.” I just sat there for a moment letting it sink in. “This constant need they have to press new tech on us instead of just letting us do our jobs and appreciate that we get results. It’s bullshit, and I’m sick and tired of it.”
“Sick and tired enough that you’re ready to tank your career?”
I took a deep breath. “No.”
“Good,” Madeline said firmly. “I’ll call them back in so that Dr Jones can tell you about prepping and the procedure can be scheduled.”
——————————— How to not tell your wife ———————————————-
“What the hell do you mean, by ‘Madeline Cohen is going to be listed as your next of kin?!’” My very pissed off wife, Michelle, yelled at me.
I didn’t blame her for being pissed. Michelle generally had the patience of a saint, but this situation had passed trying the patience of a saint a long time ago.
“Since you don’t have enough security clearance to know the details, you aren’t in a position to make informed decisions if necessary.” I stated trying to sound reasonable.
“That doesn’t make me feel better!” Michelle pointed out. “The idea that you might not be in a position to make your own decisions. What is this procedure?”
“I told you already, the official explanation is that I sustained a minor injury that needs a surgical repair.” I reminded her, I always worded it so she knew that the official explanation was just that. She understood that meant there was stuff I couldn’t share but I didn’t want to lie to her. “I’m only going to be in the hospital overnight, and then I’ll be home the next morning. And then I have 3 weeks off to recover, so we can just enjoy a little time together.”
“I’m not ok with this.” Michelle stated angrily.
“I’m sorry.” I said looking at my pouting wife. “I will tell Madeline to call you as soon as the procedure is over. Now I really do have to finish getting ready before tomorrow.”
I gave her a soft kiss on her forehead and continued towards the door, grabbing my car keys on the way.
“Where are you going?” She asked almost fearfully, like I might just head off to the hospital 20 hours before I had to.
“I need to get a haircut.” I admitted, hoping it wouldn’t bring on a whole new round of near panic.
“Why do you need to get a haircut?!” She asked, then when I didn’t answer right away, she shouted. “WHAT THE HELL ARE THEY OPERATING ON?!”
“I can’t tell you that.” I reminded her, feeling awful about it.
“OH MY GOD! IS IT BRAIN SURGERY? DO YOU HAVE TO SHAVE YOUR HEAD?” Michelle looked like she was about to burst into tears.
“It’s not brain surgery.” I told her more than I should in my exasperation. “I don’t have to shave my head, well not most of it.”
“It’s just below the base of my skull where the neck starts. They won’t be drilling into my skull. The procedure is on the atlas, c1 vertebra, not the brain. You can NOT talk about it.” I told her. “I am just getting a little undercut, because my hairstylist will do a better job than the nurse of sectioning off what gets shaved. Though they told me to just get it cut to a quarter inch and let the nurse do the final shave with sterilized equipment. I’m just telling my hairstylist I thought it would be fun, and I’m getting the rest of it trimmed so it doesn’t seem like I only came in for the undercut. And that is the official story, I just happened to want a haircut. Ok?”
“No.” Michelle sulked, just looking sad and worried.
“I’m sorry,” I pulled her into a hug.
“Don’t let them cut too much,” Michelle said as she stroked the brown waves of hair that hung down my back.
“You’ll barely notice.” I promised her.
————————— Things Gabby doesn’t need to know —————————
“So, what are we doing today?” Gabby, who’d been doing my hair for years, asked as she shook the leopard print cape out to drape over me.
I watched the flapping fabric wondering why she always bothered to ask in such an open ended manner. It wasn’t like I asked for anything but a basic trim in the years I had been coming.
I pretty much had barely changed my hair in forever. I’d had it slightly shorter with bangs as a little girl that I grew out as a teenager, replacing the bangs with just long subtle layers and letting the rest go from just a few inches below my shoulders to all the way to the small of my back. My mother had complained it looked messy, but I was happy. Then as an adult, the look worked well for me, just a pretty girl next door look, not over the top glamourous or badass or anything that would make anyone even vaguely think I was anything at all threatening.
Of course today, the open ended question made this a bit easier. Maybe Gabby just had a poor memory, but maybe she had thought I might just suddenly want something new one day. Of course, if I had a choice, I wouldn’t.
“I’m due for a trim, but I was also thinking of doing something a little more interesting.” I said, as the soft fabric billowed over my lap. “But something I can hide most of the time. So I was thinking of an undercut, a little bit fun when I wear my hair up, but I can hide it at work. And of course not freak out my wife, Michelle loves my hair.”
“Oh, that sounds like fun.” Gabby said enthusiastically, as she snapped the cape around my neck, then started to loosen the towel the shampoo girl had wrapped my long wet hair in. “Have you thought about how high and short you want it?”
“Not too short, like a quarter inch or something,” I said trying to not sound so precise, then raised my hand disrupting Gabby from squeezing the excess water from my hair. “I guess up to about here.”
I placed my hand on the spot just about an inch above where my first vertebra met my skull, indicating where I meant. Gabby nodded that she saw where I meant, so I lowered my hand so she could get back to blotting my hair. Instead though, she picked up a comb, and began detangling.
“So about halfway up your ear, all the way across the back?” She simply casually asked.
“I’ve seen a lot of people with more triangle shaped ones that slope down towards the ears.” I mentioned, since I didn’t want to give up any more hair than I had to. “I think those look really cute, and I figure it will be easier to hide when I need to and leaves my hair looking fuller.”
“Sure we can do that.”
Gabby then just started cheerfully chatting about stuff as she began combing the hair on my nape into the section we had discussed. I felt the corner of the comb scrape downward, dividing my hair into what I was going to get to keep and what I would be losing. I felt the pressure from the clips holding up the hair that would only get a minor trim.
Gabby paused the story she was telling when she finished the sectioning to ask me “how’s this?” As she turned the chair so the large mirror was to my back, she handed me a small hand mirror to look at it.
I tilted my head, looking at the part that long damp hair hung down below. It started at one side of my nape just about level with my earlobes, swooping upward in the middle, then following the same swoop back down on the other side, It was more of a softly pointed arch than a sharp triangle. I raised my hand to feel and make sure the top of the arch was high enough that the vertebra would have a decent margin around it and the nurse wouldn’t end up shaving up past the line Gabby had just done.
“Do you want the point sharper?” Gabby’s tone sounded like she was interpreting my thoughtful expression as displeasure. “It’s fine if this isn’t the shape you meant, I can change it. That’s why I check before I start cutting it.”
I could ask her to make it more of an actual triangle and save more of the hair to the sides, but I figured she’d chosen this shape because she thought it was flattering. I was here getting this done so that I would have a nice looking undercut, and not just a patch of missing hair to hide. If I wanted to just lose as little hair as possible, I could have just let the nurse shave the necessary 2 inch wide strip.
“It looks great.” I told Gabby and handed her the hand mirror back with a fake smile.
“Ok,” Gabby said cheerfully.
She seemed calm and carefree, I was nauseous and nervous but trying to look calm. Which admittedly was one of my skills. Some agents took a beta blocker, but I could hide it without that.
She resumed telling me the story I barely was paying attention to, as she turned the chair so I was facing the back of the salon with the mirror to my left. She picked up her scissors and comb, I watched out of the corner of my eyes as she lifted the loose hair up from underneath with the comb. She held the comb with the hair dangling from its teeth just a couple of inches from my head.
I strained to see the scissor approach the long locks. The silver blades opened. My jaw tightened closed. Gabby closed the scissors right up against the comb.
The damp locks fell away landing on the cape, and sliding down to where the low backrest of the chair made the cape wrinkle. The severed long strands just dangled there, ignored by Gabby as she combed up more of the hair that hung down next to the severed strands.
The second lock slid down to tangle with the previous one in the wrinkle of fabric. The third lock finally hit some critical mass that sent the lot sliding to the floor. After the fifth big slice, the hair of the undercut was basically short. Then Gabby started snipping at the short hair against the comb she ran up and down my nape.
The snipping made a gentle rhythm. I could see that Gabby was snipping very close to my head, but the angle didn’t le me really see what it looked like, I would have to wait for Gabby to show me with the hand mirror again before I knew what it looked like beyond short. Gabby paused a brushed her hand through the short undercut.
“That’s the bulk,” she informed me. “I usually use clippers at this point to get it down to a nice even quarter inch. but if they make you nervous or you want it to have a really soft look, I can cut it with shears.”
“Clippers are fine,” I said, considering a nurse was going to be reshaving it in less than 24 hours, it would be dumb to make Gabby snip for ages to achieve a softer look. Heck, I felt a little bad that I couldn’t tell her it was already good enough to serve as a guide for the upcoming shave. Then again, I was paying for this haircut and having it look good would help Michelle calm down tonight.
Gabby put down the scissor as I expected, then instead of just picking up the clippers, she grabbed the hairdryer. Drying the short undercut took just a minute or so, the air blowing over my neck warming it up.
When she switched to the clippers, I watched her click what I assumed was a quarter inch guide onto the end of them. Gabby gently pressed my head down, so I was looking at the leopard print cape that covered my lap.
Gabby flicked the switch on her clippers, they clicked sharply, then settled into a soft hum. Gabby pressed the guard against my neck, and started pushing it up my nape. The hum turned more into a buzz as the blades encountered hair. Then I felt the sprinkle of severed hair on my neck. I just sat there looking at my lap as the buzzing clippers ran up my head over and over.
When Gabby turned off the clippers and let me raise my head. I looked up at the mirror, and discovered I couldn’t really see anything. I slipped my hand out under the cape and brushed my fingers over the soft bristles. It felt good, not good enough that I would have done this if I hadn’t had to, but it was nice and I felt myself smiling as the fuzz tickled my fingertips.
Gabby was back holding a little trimmer, so I pulled my hand away and let her tilt my head back down again. I felt her begin to shave away at my hairline, and suddenly remember the nurse giving me instructions being very clear to not get it shaved.
“Wait, how high are you going.” I asked, hearing the worry in my voice.
“I was just shaping you neckline a little,” Gabby said in a reassuring manner. “Just cleaning it up a little. I’m not going to go over the whole area.”
“Can you just leave it…. natural,” I said trying to justify the request without explaining the real reason. “I like the shape of my natural hairline.”
“I was planning to follow the shape of your hairline, since it’s good. I’m just going to make it a little cleaner and sharper.”
“Can you just clean the sides, but leave the middle.” I requested. “I know it’s weird of me, but I just don’t want my neckline sharp.”
Gabby sighed deeply. “It’s a little late. I’ve already started rounding the corner.”
I felt my forehead wrinkle. The corner was pretty far from the spine where I need the hair left a quarter inch long.
“Can you just make it symetrical, but leave the center?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Gabby conceded not sounding completely happy about it.
“Thank you.” I said feeling bad that I couldn’t just let Gabby fulfill her vision as she just made the other side match the incomplete rounding of the corner.
As Gabby started letting the long wet hair down to cover my new undercut, I just hoped it wouldn’t be an issue. The rest of the haircut went the usual way, as Gabby gave me a light trim and freshened up the long layers. Then she styled my long hair.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to finish shaping your neckline, or taper it?” Gabby asked as she held the long hair up off my nape and handed me the hand mirror to look at the undercut.
She was right, that it looked a bit off, with the sides trimmed just a bit rounded off, and then the center just left, but it was going to be something I had to live with for less than a day.
“It’s ok.” I said, even though it wasn’t. “I’m sorry I didn’t say anything sooner.”
Then I thought to add some compliments to elevate the mood. “I love the shape of it. And it’s easy to hide when I need to. And of course the rest of my hair looks nice and healthy from the trim.”
So Gabby just smiled and nodded before dusting me off.
—————————— Unhappy wife, unhappy life ——————————
When I got home, Michelle sat huddled on the couch, her back to me, watching our wedding video on the big screen in the living room. Well really it had been our commitment ceremony video since it had happened a couple of years before the courts had made the state we lived in at the time recognize gay marriages. We’d been incredibly young, still in college. It had been before I had been recruited.
“Hey babe.” I said softly letting Michelle know I was there.
When she turned and faced me, her usually sparkling eyes were rimmed with red. I went and sat on the couch with her, where she just fell into my arms and started crying in earnest.
“I can’t believe you’re having surgery tomorrow, and I’m supposed to just sit at home not even knowing why.” Michelle said. “I’m supposed to be there for you.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” I tried to comfort her, rubbing her back in circles.
“What if something happens to you?”
“Nothing is going to happen to me.” I assured her. “Tomorrow afternoon, Madeline will call you and complain about how annoying it was being stuck in the hospital all day with me.”
Michelle took a deep breath, pulled away and wiped her face. She looked at me, and reached up and stroked my freshly trimmed hair. She looked very relieved that my hair was not noticeably shorter.
“Your hair looks nice.” Michelle said. “Can I see the undercut?”
“Yeah sure.” I agreed, and turned around and lifted my long hair up.
“Why are the edges sharp on the sides, but messy in the middle?” Michelle asked.
“Because I’m an idiot,” I admitted. “I forgot that I wasn’t supposed to get anything near where the incision will be shaved till after she’d started, so I made her stop. I know it looks dumb, but they’re going to be shaving it off tomorrow anyway.”
“Well it’s a good shape for the nurse to follow.” Michelle told me. “I wish I could be there to make sure they do a good job.”
“I wish you could be there too.” I pulled my unhappy wife back to me, and held her tightly. We had about 18 hours left to comfort each other.
—————————— Are you my mommy? —————————
“You know ‘mom’,” I said to Madeline, emphasizing the false title she was here under, “if Michelle was here she would help me with this.”
Madeline sat reading a report, while I braided my hair into a pair of pigtails. The pigtails were going to be secured up to my head with some plastic barrettes and somehow covered during the surgery. Madeline had scrubbed and put on a clean gown since she had to stay with me while I was under anesthesia to know if I mumbled anything classified. They’d also given us a private room.
“I’m not here posing as your wife, I’m here posing as your mother.” Madeline simply said in a bored tone. “What would your actual mother do if she was here?”
“Lecture me about letting my hair get too long in the first place. Yell at the nurses that braiding it was their job.” I speculated, as I got to the the end of the second braid and secured it with a tiny elastic. “And of course make the entire thing about herself.”
“Now aren’t you happy I’m here instead of your other mom.” Madeline chuckled.
“I would say mildly less unhappy.” I poked the plastic little kid barrette into my hair, and then slipped the end of the braid under it before snapping it closed
“I feel so appreciated.” Madeline said with a heavy dose of sarcasm.
“It’s not you.” I grumbled. “I don’t want to be here at all. I don’t really want to let them mess around with my spine just for a bit of enhanced strength and not letting Michelle be here is not great for my marriage.”
“I promise I will call her and let her know as soon as you wake up.” Madeline assured me.
“Thanks. She’s still pissed about not being here or knowing what is really happening.” I grumbled. “She’s even upset about the hair.”
“It’s a little undercut.” Madeline snorted with amusement. “I’m not sure George would notice if I came home with my head completely shaved.”
“Yeah, well my wife…” I trailed off, forgetting what I was about to say when I saw the nurse, Brenda, who I had seen 3 days ago to go over the instructions for getting ready for the surgery.
“Hi Audrey,” The smiling nurse said. “Are you all ready for today?”
“Ready as I can be.”
“When was the last time you ate?”
“Around 9 pm.”
“Perfect.” She said too cheerfully for my comfort, then came behind me. “Let me see how you did with the hair.”
“I got a cut like you suggested.” I stated the rather obvious. “I followed the washing instructions, no conditioner. And I put the rest up with the barrettes they gave me, but it’s hard to get them to stay closed. Why couldn’t I just use normal bobby pins?”
“We may want to send you for an MRI at some point to check placement of the implant.” She said as she peered at the back of my head. “Why are the sides of the undercut clipped to the skin?”
“Sorry about that,” I flushed slightly with embarrassment that I hadn’t followed directions properly. “I was a bit preoccupied when she started. I hoped stopping her before she got to the middle would be good enough.”
“Well, we can’t undo it now, and it’s not that close to the spot I need to shave.” Brenda lamented, as she took a towel from a cabinet
“Aren’t you shaving the whole undercut?” I asked, since I thought that was kind of the point of my hairstylist giving her an outline to follow. “Why did you suggest I get one?”
Brenda put the towel over my shoulders, and started tucking it so it was tight around my neck.
“The shaved spot will blend into the undercut very quickly. And I would have to shave a wider path if there was still long hair.” Brenda promised me. “Just trust me this is better.”
“Ok.” I sighed.
Considering I was about to trust them to cut open my perfectly healthy body, trusting her about my new undercut was really not a big deal. While I was speculating, Brenda had been getting things ready. putting on gloves, and then moved on to uncovering a tray table cart thing that was off to the side. Under the teal cloth, was a clipper, shaver, or maybe better described as a trimmer with a very fine looking blade. The most obvious thing that made it different from what Gabby had used on me the day before, was it was in a plastic sleeve. Next to the shaver was what looked like a giant q-tip still in a package, a brown bottle, and a few other things.
“Now once I do this, you can not touch it.” Brenda warned me. “Just don’t touch anywhere near it, so don’t touch your head at all.”
Brenda turned on the little shaver. It made a higher pitched buzz then the clippers that Gabby had used. I felt her press the blade into the back of my head, just about at the top of the undercut. Then I felt the blades scrape down my head to my neck.
When she turned them off the room was just quiet, nothing but a slight rustling sound as she did something with the stuff from the tray. Then I felt the soft cold wet swab on the bare skin. I felt it swirl around, painting I assumed some kind of disinfectant on the bald strip that started at my occipital and went down to my neck.
“Ok, now remember,” Brenda reminded me and started taking off the gloves, “NO touching.”
“Ok,” I said as I felt the weight of the towel lifted from my shoulders.
“I’ll see you in there.” Brenda said as she dropped the gloves in the garbage next to the door she then slipped through.
“Yes?” She answered me.
“It’s driving me crazy that I can’t feel it or see it.”
“It’s been two minutes.” Madeline said with zero empathy.
“What does it look like?”
“There’s a bald strip, and the skin is stained yellow.” Madeline told me impatiently.
“Does it look bad?”
“It’s the back of your head Audrey,” Madeline stated with exasperation. “As soon as you let your hair down it will be completely hidden. Please stop whining about it.”
“I’m sorry. It’s not really about the hair.” I admitted and opened up. “I’m bored, cold, and don’t really want to be here in the first place. I want my wife here, the wife I can’t even tell what they are going to be doing to me. And I know you have always said to me that I should complain to you so I don’t slip up and accidently complain about something classified to someone else, but I have to admit, I have been hiding from you how scared I am. You are my boss and mentor, I feel a certain need to seem brave to you, but I’m scared. I’m terrified they are going to mess up my spine.”
“If I had thought you really weren’t scared instead of just doing a very convincing job of hiding how scared you are, I would worry you were reckless.”
“So you think I have something to be scared of? I mean, it’s my spine. God, I don’t want to do this.”
“They keep saying the risk is really low.” Madeline repeated without much conviction. “I know what you mean though. I’m not sure if I’m jealous that you got offered this and I was not, or if I am relieved that it was you and not me. Though the envy is pretty much just that you are young and out in the field, and I’m nearing retirement and mostly in the office. Here posing as your mom is the closest thing to field work I have done in ages. I’m not at all jealous about the surgery itself. I mean sure enhanced strength and motor skills sound great but…”
“Are you saying I should withdraw my consent?”
“No,” Madeline said firmly. “It still is going to mean tanking your career.”
“Yeah,” I said quietly. “At this particular moment….”
I never got to finish my thought though, because an aid who didn’t have high enough clearance to know the details walked in to take me away.
——————————— Waking Up ——————————
As the fuzzy haze that clouded my mind gradually lifted, I struggled to open my eyes, only managing to get them half open. I was looking straight up at the white drop ceiling tile. I tried to turn my head and look around, but somehow it wasn’t really happening. I finally managed to clumsily flop my head to the side. As I expected, Madeline was sitting there doing paperwork.
“mmmma” a weak sound was all that came out when I tried to talk to her.
“Shhhh,” Madeline soothed. “Just relax till the anesthesia wears off. We’re in a private room incase you mutter anything classified.”
I tried to open my eyes more, and prepared to tell Madeline that I was fully awake, that I didn’t feel groggy, just that I was having a hard time moving.
“uuuu wwwwuh,” was all that came out as my tongue and lips wouldn’t shape the words. “mmmmaa”
“Do you need ice chips?” Madeline asked me.
“maahvu” was what came out when I tried to say maybe.
Madeline held out the styrofoam cup full of ice towards me. I tried to lift my arm to reach and take it from her. My arm just barely twitched slightly.
“uuuuu cuh mmm mmm ahhhhmm” I tried to tell Madeline I couldn’t move my arm, I could hear that the words were unintelligible though.
Madeline’s brow furrowed. I don’t think she understood what I was saying, but she was beginning to notice I wasn’t just groggy and thirsty. I tried lifting my arm again, causing nothing but a vague twitch.
“I’ll go get Brenda.” She stated firmly before heading to the door.
I tried to turn my head to watch Madeline as she left, but my head felt too heavy.
“How are you doing?” I heard Brenda’s voice and again tried to turn my head to face the door but failed.
“muuh aahhh.” I was frustrated by the muffled tones that came out as I tried to say not ok.
“It’s normal to feel weak and clumsy right after this procedure.” Brenda assured me. “But let me just check a few things.”
“ahhh.” I said as I felt the blanket covering my feet lifted.
“Wiggle your toes.” Brenda told me.
I concentrated, and felt a slight movement.
“Can you wiggle them a little more vigorously?” Brenda said.
I managed to make them twitch again.
“Ok,” Brenda said as she let the blanket back down, and walked to the side of the bed I wasn’t facing and lifted my hands. ”Squeeze my hands.”
I tried, and felt my fingers jerk slightly in response.
“Audrey, I asked you to squeeze my hands, not wiggle your fingers. Did you understand?”
“eeeehhh” I tried to say yes as I made the fingers twitch some more.
“Audrey, can you look at me?” Brenda requested,
“mmmmuh” I said the closest thing I could to no, but also tried to turn my head again, it was still too heavy for me to roll.
“I’m going to call Dr Jones, and see about getting you in for an MRI.” Brenda announced with an eerie calmness that scared me more than if she’d acted concerned.
I just figured Brenda left, when I saw Madeline come back and sit. She looked at me with worry, then reached over and put her hand on top of mine. I let my eyes fall closed, and thought about my wife. My wife who was stuck at home worrying.
“ghaall meesrrrrrrr” I reminded Madeline.
“What?” Madeline didn’t understand.
———————————— Everything looks good ——————————-
A few hours later, I’d had an MRI, and Madeline had finally called Michelle. She’d simply told her I was awake, but weaker from the procedure than expected, sort of tentatively hinting that I might not be going home in the morning as planned. I’m not sure if she’d finally figured out what I kept saying to her, or if she just remembered to do it on her own.
When they had taken me back to the room after the MRI, they’d once again placed me staring up at the ceiling. This time when I had clumsily rolled my head to the side letting gravity do most of the work, I had deliberately rolled to face towards the door, knowing that I would probably not be strong enough to turn it after.
I watched Dr Jones walk in.
“Everything looks perfectly fine.” Dr Jones stated. “Blood work, MRI, everything. I think this just might be a particularly extreme example of the usual weakness. We’ll see how things are going tomorrow.”
“My top agent can’t move her arms or even speak clearly, and you’re telling me everything is ‘fine!’” Madeline said with an edge to her voice that was chilling to anyone who knew her well.
“We expected some weakness.” Dr Jone retorted calmly.
“This is way beyond some weakness.” Madeline huffed. “Can you take it out? You said if her body rejected the implant you could remove it.”
“But that’s the thing, her body isn’t rejecting it, her body has fully embraced it. Her body is already forming new tissue around it. The fastest we’ve seen so far.” Dr Jones stated in a neutral manner. “We can’t remove it without causing a lot of damage, a lot of definitely permanent damage. For better or worse, we just need to see what happens.”
“You promised me the risk was low.” Madeline glared at him. “I talked her into this on your say.”
“I understand that you are concerned,” Dr Jones remained calm, “but it is probably needless worry. If the tests are accurate, she is just having a particularly extreme version of the expected weakness. It actually looks like she may be one of our most successful recipients. So far the ones who have been the weakest after the procedure have also been the ones who ultimately gained the most.”
“Were any of them even close to as weak as Agent Miller is, did any of them have trouble speaking?”
“What was the most severe you’ve seen so far?” Madeline’s voice was chilling.
Dr. Jones sighed deeply, then admitted “Two needed some assistance walking. But all her tests are good.”
“Just go.” Madeline said angrily, and turned towards me.
I watched as Dr Jones left, and Madeline looked at me with concern. She walked around to the other side of the bed, and then I heard her dragging the chair around. She positioned it where I would be able to see her and the door simultaneously.
“I’m sorry I talked you into this.” Madeline said, sounding simply tired. “I should have listened better when you said you were scared.”
“ooooo rissssreh” I tried to tell her she had listened to me.
“Do you want me to stay the night?”
Her husband would be wondering where she was. It was bad enough I couldn’t be with my wife, she should get to be with her husband.
“yoorrshruuuh” I tried to enunciate her husband’s name a little more clearly.
“George?” She asked.
Instead of grunting more sounds, I just blinked to confirm. Blinking was easier.
“I’ll call him.” She simply said, instead of understanding that I had meant for her to go home to him.
I wanted to explain to her, to clarify what I meant. To tell her to just go home and get sleep in a real bed. I couldn’t though. It had taken so much to get her to just understand I was saying George. So I simply closed my eyes and let myself fall to sleep with her warm hand on top of my cold one. My cold hand I had been unable to move inside the too thin anyway blanket.
————————————— It’s for the best —————————-
“She isn’t making progress here. Worse, her muscles are atrophying.” Dr Jones told a sour looking Madeline. “Moving her to a regular ward makes sense.”
“How are you going to explain her condition to nurses and other hospital staff who don’t have security clearance?” Madeline questioned him.
“I can keep two sets of charts for her, one for me and my staff, another for the staff on the other ward. I’m going to put in her new chart that she had a stroke. It will allow me to order her physical and occupational therapy.” Dr Jones said in the same god damned calm he always had. “It’s not like most of the staff working on this ward know all the details of her condition anyway since everything about the procedure is treated as need to know. Just a handful of us need to know everything. The others just know that they can’t ask questions. Most importantly, I will continue to be her primary doctor.”
“Why can’t you order her physical and occupational therapy while she is on this ward? It’s one thing to trust Brenda, Tom, and Susan to take care of her when I can’t be here, since they have clearance to actually know what is happening, but to just leave her with nurses who have been misinformed and think she’s had a stroke is a whole other thing.” Madeline argued. “I can’t be here all day everyday. She isn’t the only agent I am responsible for.”
“None of the physical or occupational therapists have enough clearance to come to this ward to work with her, and it’s not practical to send her to them yet. Once she can sit up in a wheelchair she can go to them more easily, but even arranging that will be easier from a regular ward. And I’m pretty sure she’s going to need physical therapy to get to the point where she can sit up in a wheelchair.” Dr Jones claimed. “Them not knowing she is an agent and not knowing about the procedure on the other ward isn’t going to have any significant influence on how they treat her. The main difference is they will actually think you are her mother.”
“How are we explaining the scar?” Madeline asked. “Plus the shaved areas, the original strip and that spot you shaved last week to biopsy the tissue growing around the implant?”
“They may not even notice it at this point since the hair almost covers it, I will put in the new chart that she had surgery, though. I will just change the details to remove any classified information.”
“I’m still not comfortable with this.” Madeline huffed.
“Trust me. It’s for the best.” Dr Jones stated. “And if we move her to a ward that people don’t have to have a certain level of security clearance just to enter, she can have normal visitors, which would include her wife. Though obviously, you need to just say she’s a friend or something, since you are listed as next of kin.”
“You lost my trust a long time ago.” Madeline snapped back angrily, then turned to me and looked in my eyes, “Audrey, what do you want?”
I gathered up my strength and concentrated. “mmmmeeershherrr”
“She hasn’t seen her wife in weeks, and her wife has not been happy with just getting calls from me.” Madeline said, the corner of her mouth twitched. “We can transfer her.”
—————————————- The roommate ———————————
Michelle pulled her hand away from me when she heard someone approaching the door. She stiffly hid that she’d been stroking my face as she waited to see who was going to walk through the door, almost holding her breath. When Madeline came into view, Michelle’s nervous stiffness was replaced with relaxed resentment.
“Hello, Madeline.” Michelle said coldly to her.
“Hi Michelle,” Madeline responded with a tired warmth, her tone almost an apology. Madeline felt guilty enough about the situation that she accepted Michelle’s anger, even though I felt it was rather misplaced. “How are you guys doing?”
“They took her away for a bunch of the visiting hours,” Michelle complained angrily, “supposedly to do physical therapy, which I would understand, but when she came back, she told me she was just stuck there waiting for most of the time and then just did a few minutes of physical therapy because she was so exhausted from sitting and waiting. Or I think that’s what she said. Is that what you said babe?”
“es” I confirmed with a blink, and clumsily flopped my hand vaguely in the direction of her hand.
“Michelle,” Madeline chastised in a low voice. “You need to be careful, if someone overhears you calling her ‘babe’…”
Michelle just scowled. Madeline had been making Michelle say she was my roommate. Madeline said it wasn’t just about the next of kin issue, if it was just that, Michelle could say girlfriend instead of wife, but she was worried that I might be treated differently if they knew I was gay. Michelle had gone along with it, because she knew Madeline’s fear wasn’t completely unfounded. Willing to go along with it wasn’t the same as being happy about it though.
“I don’t think being here is good for her.” Madeline sighed. “I mentioned it to her doctor yesterday. He said she seems to be making progress, but he’ll push them to focus on getting her able to go home. Of course because the fake chart looks like she had a huge stroke, all the nurses, physical therapists, the social worker, and the occupational therapist think I am being unrealistic about Audrey’s mental state, and overly optimistic about her chance of regaining more function.”
“What are her chances of recovering more?” Michelle asked, “What happened to her.”
“You know I can’t talk about that.” Madeline reminded her. “The official account is she had a stroke during a procedure to repair a herniated disk.”
“But that’s not what happened is it?” Michelle spit out.
“ssshhhhh. o weshuums.” I reminded Michelle, she wasn’t supposed to ask, and flopped my hand towards hers again.
“I’m sorry. I know.” Michelle said softly, and finally took my hand in hers, then turned to Madeline.. “If you can get her home, I would appreciate it.”
—————————— Condescension ——————————-
“You did very well Audrey.” The occupational therapist praised me in a patroning voice.
I wanted to tell her that was bullshit. She was folding up the towel that was covered in more of the soft food than had made it into my mouth as I had clumsily spooned the pudding off the plate on the tray in front of me. Any idiot could see I had done fucking horribly at feeding myself. Nevermind that I still couldn’t eat anything that wasn’t puréed, since attempts at chewing just resulted in my injuring my tongue and the insides of my cheeks. I just sighed and didn’t say anything as she wiped the pudding off my face, since I was pretty sure if I did it would prominantly feature the word fuck, and she probably wouldn’t understand me anyway.
“Ok. I’m putting in your chart that you can feed yourself, so that won’t be a problem when you go home with your mom.” She smiled at me. “Now let’s see how you can do with a little personal hygiene.”
She took away the plate and set up a mirror on the rolling table in front of me. Then she placed a super basic cheap comb next to the mirror. The was the kind that men with short hair typically use, about 4 inches long with teeth the entire length, the teeth on one side fairly fine, the teeth on the other just slightly more substantial and wider. It was a far cry from the high quality wide toothed comb with a comfortable handle to grip I normally used.
I looked at the occupational therapist. She had long bottle blonde hair pulled back in a low ponytail that didn’t hide the waves she’d styled her layers in. Considering her hair looked like it reached her waist, she sure as hell should know that she was presenting me with a completely inadequate tool.
“Can you comb your hair Audrey?”
Not with that thing I thought to myself. I hadn’t even been using the one with the handle myself since this happened, but I thought I might be able to sort of make it work with better tools. The only hope was to try to communicate to her that there were better tools available.
“mignuh” I gestured clumsily towards the top drawer of the bedside table where Michelle had placed my comb.
“Audrey,” the occuptational therapist scolded. “I need you to concentrate. Do you remember combing your hair?”
I inhaled deeply, I wanted to say of course I remember combing my fucking hair. But I knew if she didn’t understand my saying mine and pointing to where my comb was, she was even less likely to understand that. So I decided to try telling her I needed my own fucking comb again, but leave out the fucking.
“migh gome imb dhare.” I lifted my shaking and slightly swaying hand to point.
“Audrey,” she said again, ignoring what I was trying to tell her. “I need to see if you can comb your hair.”
I took a frustrated breath and did my best to pick up the comb. I knew I should try to hold it just by the spine, but that would have just resulted in me dropping it. So I wrapped my clumsy hand around it forming a fist with the fine side teeth biting into my palm. I concentrated on trying to maneuver to comb towards my hair.
“Hi June, how’s it going?” My least favorite nurse, Tori, came in and started chatting with the occupational therapist.
“About how you’d expect.” June rolled her eyes as I managed to get the teeth of the comb into the soft brown locks. “I don’t know why both her mother and her doctor are pushing me to get her to the point that she can go home with her mom instead of to a nursing home.”
“The whole lot of them are being completely unrealistic about Audrey’s abilities, especially cognitive. They all seem to think she hasn’t lost a ton of intellectual ability.” Tori told June. “Have you seen the MRI?”
“Yeah, I saw it.” She responded with a snort. “Frankly, I’m surprised Audrey’s as functional as she is considering how much of her brain is just dead.”
“That ‘roommate’ that keeps visiting constantly,” Tori used air quotes and rolled her eyes when she said roommate, she’d been suspicious about the real relationship between Michelle and I, and I got the feeling she didn’t approve, “sets up a chess board when she comes and has deluded herself into thinking when Audrey makes little sounds she is telling her where to move the pieces. I’d be surprised if Audrey has enough brain function left to play checkers. Maybe candyland.”
I wanted to tell them that the fucking MRI in the decoy chart they were looking at wasn’t mine, because of course Dr Jones couldn’t include mine in the decoy chart, since not only did it show that I hadn’t had a stroke, but it also showed the classified experimental implant in my spine. And yeah, Michelle and I really were playing chess, I even beat her sometimes. It wasn’t worth trying to convince them though, especially since I couldn’t divulge anything classified to them.
I tried to just concentrate on pulling the comb to the end of my wavy hair. It wasn’t going well. My hand accidently jerked flipping hair up and over the comb. When I tried to pull it free, it just got even more tangled. The fact that my hair was sticky from the pudding I had gotten in it while trying to feed myself was making things even worse. I tugged again, but I was definitely not getting it free without tearing half of the long strands out.
“Well that was a good try Audrey,” June said and took the comb from me and started trying to get it out of my hair. “Well, she’s definitely not capable of this. You been doing her hair?”
“What me?” Tori responded. “Nah, not really, washing when I bathe her, but that’s it. I’ve been lucky the roommate has been doing a lot of it, detangling and she will braid it. If I was responsible for more than washing it, I would have been pushing for it to go. The amount of pudding in it now, is going to make washing it ten times worse.”
“Well,” June said, while still working on untangling the comb and pulling out a couple of hairs, “I need her to keep working on feeding herself, so food in the hair is going to be a more and more frequent thing.”
“Great,” Tori said with a sarcastic tone. “I don’t think I can get away with leaving food in it for the roommate to deal with.”
“Is the roommate going to deal with it when she goes home to her mom?” June asked doubtfully as she tried to twist the comb out of my long hair.
“I wouldn’t think so.” Tori speculated. “I don’t know if the mom really thinks that girl is her roommate or not, but I definitely don’t think the mom and roommate like each other, so I’m guessing the roommate will be out of the picture as soon as Audrey moves back to mom’s house.”
“ome mmeeeessser,” I tried to say, the anger making my attempts to talk even clumsier. “mahdeeehi ighes meesherwe.”
“Ok Audrey.” June just said pretending she understood what I was saying as she continued to pull at the comb, then she looked back to Tori. “This is a mess, and I think the tugging is bothering Audrey. I’m trying not to hurt her, but it’s very tangled.”
“Do you need me to go grab some scissors?” Tori offered casually.
I was shocked at the blase way she suggested just cutting the comb from my hair. Tori’s own hair was long and straight as far as I could tell from the smoothness of the pulled back hair that hung in a tight braid down her back today. Some days she put it up in a bun, which also hinted at being straight from how smooth it was. It was a natural looking strawberry blonde color. She obviously cared about her hair. You’d think she’d have some empathy.
“Maybe.” June said, giving it another tug. “I think I might be able to get it without resorting to cutting. Not that I think Audrey would really notice or care. You know, this isn’t the only issue with the hair. She gets so tired just holding her head up, a bit less weight would be better. She’s leaned back to rest her head a bunch of times during this session.”
“I’ve noticed that when she is turning her head towards sound, the hair will stop her from turning all the way if it’s under her shoulder. Even when the roommate braids it, it still is a problem. The other day, Adam and I were lifting her out of bed for physical therapy, and he accidently got one of her pigtails between his hand anh her shoulder and I guess it pulled, because Audrey looked like she was in pain.” Tori added. “I’ll go grab some scissors so she doesn’t have that comb stuck in her hair forever.”
I tried to say No you fucking bitch Michelle will get it out when she gets here, as I clumsily tried to push June away, but the words came out “ohg wooov ughgu gigsss meeesswer iirrr wooww igh eerre”
“Nevermind, I got it.” June finally managed to tear the comb free, taking a few more strands with it. “I’m going to put that she needs a short haircut in her treatment plan. All this hair is doing nothing for Audrey, but making her uncomfortable. Cutting it should solve a bunch of problems.”
“mo” I objected, but of course they misunderstood me.
“Are you saying more Audrey?” June asked me. “Do you want more pudding?”
“mo” I tried again to say no.
June put the paper plate and plastic spoon back in front of me, then started pulling the foil seal off another fucking pudding, while discussing my supposed lack of intelectual ability right in front of me with Tori. This time it was butterscotch, like anyone ever eats fucking butterscotch pudding anywhere other than in hospitals. Even though I didn’t really want it, I dutifully picked up the fucking spoon, hoping maybe she’d forget to write the haircut into my treatment plan if I distracted her with my amazing ability to spoon food into my mouth like a fucking toddler.
Distracted and tired as I was, the spoon wobbled precariously as I opened my mouth to try to capture it. I hit my fucking chin. Before I could convince my hand to pull away, the spoon slick with pudding slid along my jawline, and right into my already sticky and tangled hair, where my jerking attempt to pull back caused the hair to wrap around it.
“That haircut needs to get done before our next session. Can you get her on the hospital barber’s schedule tomorrow?” June asked Tori.
“Probably.” Tori said ignoring me.
————————- All she cared about was pudding ————————-
“That doesn’t really seem like an emergency. Why the rush? I’d like to have time to talk it over with Audrey.” Madeline said to Tori when she was told about the haircut that Tori had scheduled for me in just a few minutes. “Audrey is very fond of her hair. She was upset enough about the bit on her nape that had to be shaved to repair the herniated disk.”
I was laid flat in bed, to wait for them to bring the wheelchair so they could take me away to get my hair cut off. I looked up at Madeline with pleading eyes for her to make them stop this. Michelle was going to have hysterics if they cut my hair off. Madeline looked down at me with a furrowed brow. I’m pretty sure if Madeline hadn’t happened to show up just before it was scheduled, they’d have just taken me to get the haircut without saying anything to her at all. She was only here because she’d shown up earlier than she normally did.
“It’s in her treatment plan from occupational therapy that she gets a more manageable and comfortable haircut today.” Tori simply said as though my fucking treatment plan was some written in stone legally binding document. “Don’t fret. It’s not going to be like when she had to be shaved for surgery. She will be taken to a hairstylist and she can get a nice looking style. Just a little bit shorter and easier, so she doesn’t get stuff tangled in it all the time like she did yesterday with the occupational therapist. I watched her get a spoon tangled in it yesterday.”
“We can just put it up when she eats.” Madeline said reasonably. “I know short hair will be easier, but I think she’d object to getting it cut if you’d asked her.”
“She was part of the discussion yesterday.” Tori said, though my contribution to the discussion was misunderstood and ignored. “She didn’t seem to care. She was much more interested in getting more pudding than expressing an opinion about her hair.”
“I thought you were completely sick and tired of pudding.” Madeline looked at me mildly confused, I blinked back confirming her assumption.
“She was probably extra hungry from the evaluation.” Tori blew off the unlikeliness of my wanting pudding. “But she didn’t object to the haircut when she had a chance, so it’s all arranged. I understand that Audrey may have liked her hair long before, but now with her physical limitations, it’s probably been bothering her that she keeps getting it tangled and stuff. She’ll be much more comfortable with it a little shorter.”
~TORI~ a voice called through the intercom ~I NEED YOU IN 205~
“I’ve got to go.” Tori said as she walked towards the door. “Don’t worry, when it’s time, I’ll go with her and make sure she’s well taken care of.”
“Did you really not object when they asked you?” Madeline asked me, sounding like she believed Tori. “I’m sure you will probably be more comfortable with it short. It doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all, it’s just a bit surprising that you would agree to it.”
“ay ibg’t umbuhrsagd muh” I told her and waited.
“They didn’t something?”
“They didn’t understand me?” Madeline checked if she had understood.
I blinked and did a slight nod. This was how we had all our conversations. It was slow and painful. Madeline only rarely got it right on the first try, I often had to repeat parts 3 or 4 times before we got there. Unlike the impatient nurse though, she didn’t just go with whatever she heard first, and didn’t always just assume she was hearing what she wanted to.
“iiigh ibm’p asg gor fguvving.”
“I didn’t what?”
I was breathing in to try again when we were interrupted.
“Time to go Audrey,” Tori said as she walked in with a couple of aides, one pushing a wheelchair. “Are you looking forward to going and getting a pretty new hairstyle? Something nice and light and comfortable.”
“mo” I said.
The aides began to lift me from the bed. I ineffectively tried to grab the rails on the sides of the bed but failed.
“See,” Tori said to Madeline with a fake smile. “She’s so enthusiastic she’s saying ‘go.’”
“I don’t think that’s what she said.” Madeline quipped. “I was in the middle of having a conversation with her.”
Madeline frowned at them as they arranged me in the wheelchair I was fighting to stay out of before they could fasten the seatbelt. I could tell she was calculating if the consequences of making a real fuss and putting her foot down was worth it to save me from what was just a haircut after all. A haircut she might still not be sure I actually objected to. A haircut that if you looked at it from a purely practical point of view made sense. A haircut she had admitted she thought was a good idea.
“I heard ‘go,’” Tori insisted as she clicked the clip on the strap, then began tucking a blanket around me tightly enough I couldn’t move my limbs. “Talking for too long just gets her agitated. She has already agreed to it. The barber is waiting, and can’t fit her in later. It just needs to happen, occupational therapy says it’s necessary.”
“iigh bom’p ongut airguhd” I tried to state as clearly as possible as I felt the chair begin to move.
“That’s right Audrey, “ Tori said in her most patronizing tone and pretended she’d listened to me. “You are going to get a haircut. See mom, she’ll be fine.”
————————— Yogurt ———————
“mo” I repeated every few feet as Tori wheel me down the hallway ignoring my pleas. I’m not sure if she’d have even paid attention to them if I could articulate my no clearly.
At the end of the hall, we entered the room that seemed to just serve as a general purpose space. It had a round table and some stacked up chairs to the side. I’d been here several times with the physical and occupational therapists. when they wanted me out of bed. On the back wall was a mirror, the physical therapist had placed me facing it several times, seeming to think watching myself do the exercises would help me do them better. Inside was a middle-aged slightly overweight bald man unpacking a case and laying hair cutting things out on a towel spread over the table.
“Hi Fred.” Tori said as she wheeled me over. “Here’s Audrey. She’s barely verbal.”
“Thanks. I guess I can’t ask her what style she wants.” Fred said to Tori, not bothering to acknowledge me. “The order from OT just says short.”
“Yeah, she can’t take care of it at all.” Tori explained. “You should have seen it yesterday full of food. It was so gross. Plus it’s heavy. The OT thinks she’ll be more comfortable without it. So just cut it into something really easy to manage.’
“mo guhd.” I interrupted.
“Did she say ‘no cut,’ or ‘yogurt?”” Fred asked Tori.
“Yogurt I’m sure.” Tori continued. “There are some spots in the back they shaved a while back for her surgery, so it makes sense to cut the back to that length.”
Fred lifted my hair up as I jerked my head away, but he just lifted it again. “Yeah, I see where they shaved it. It’s grown in some, but I can see where it’s shorter. Looks like it happen more than once, because there are like three different lengths.”
“yeah,” Tori shrugged. “I think the larger undercut is probably something she did before the surgery, you know how they often suggest people go to their regular hairstylist beforehand. Then they shaved the strip from the occipital down her neck for the surgery. That smaller patch though I was a little confused by. I think they may have drained fluid or something and left it out of her chart. It was really fresh when she first got here and had a round bandaid covering a little puncture.”
“The shortest patch is less than a quarter inch, so I’ll take everything back here down to that.” Fred rubbed the spot with a finger, and I tried to pull away. “Probably a #2 will be short enough, but I may need to take it down to a #1 ½.”
“Just go straight to whichever of those is shorter.” Tori casually said. “The faster this is over the easier it is on her.”
“juss dun’d ghud id” I suggested the simple solution of just not starting the hair cut as I once again pulled away from Fred’s exploring fingers.
“I know you just want yogurt Audrey, but you need to get a haircut first.” Tori said in her most condescending tone. “Fred can’t just hang around while you have yogurt and he needs your hair clean to give you a nice pretty haircut. Think about how much easier it will be to have your yogurt when you can move your head more easily without so much hair.”
“mo” I complained, why didn’t she ever actually take the fucking time to understand me, and again pulled away from Fred.
“Is she going to be jerking around like this the whole time?”
“Sorry, she has very little control over her movements. That’s why the hair has to go, after all. She got a spoon tangled in it yesterday while trying to eat. It’s not deliberate, but if we can get her to relax, it shouldn’t happen as much.” Tori finally spoke to me. “Audrey, can you try to sit nice and still.”
“mo guhd,” I begged again, praying that she might actually listen.
“Are you saying no good Audrey?” Tori asked, I sighed in relief figuring even though it was wrong, it was close enough that she would stop this, so I blinked. “Are you too tired to keep your head up and steady for your haircut? Can you try, it will look prettier if you sit still.”
“mo,” I tried again as a tear of frustration slid down my cheek.
“Hi guys,” I heard June say from the door.
“Ah, glad you’re here June.” Tori said to her. “Audrey is too tired to keep her head up. Can you set something up for her to rest against during the haircut.”
“Yeah sure. But first I need to ‘talk’ to Audrey,” June said with an eye roll and air quotes. “The mom called me and says we can’t do the haircut unless we get Audrey’s express permission. She claims we misunderstood Audrey yesterday, as if Audrey was capable of complex conversation.”
I sighed in relief. I knew Madeline wouldn’t just sit back and let this happen. I felt my body finally relax.
“Audrey just wants yogurt.” Tori complained. “Did you tell her that Audrey has the capacity of a 5 year old, and you don’t ask 5 year olds if they want haircuts, you just take them to get haircuts.”
“Not in those words,” June said, as she flipped her own long bleach blonde hair over her shoulder. “You know how deeply in denial the mom is.”
“Yeah.” Tori rolled her eyes.
June bent down and asked me in that ever so condescending voice. “Audrey, you want to get a nice comfortable haircut so your hair isn’t tangling all the time, don’t you? You’ll be more comfortable, your head will be lighter. And if your hair is short, it won’t get pulled a often. You want a haircut, right? Fred will make it very pretty.”
I took a deep breath and concentrated on being as clear as possible “mo airgh-ghurd.”
“You can have more yogurt after your haircut ok?”
“mo,” I said, feeling the tears of frustration wetting my cheeks.
“She really wants yogurt.” Fred commented chuckling at me.
“In my book, caring more about yogurt than her hair counts as permission.” June said to Tori with a chuckle.
“Get the haircut done, and I’ll take her for yogurt after.” Tori said to Fred.
“Try to be fast Fred. Remember this is really tiring for Audrey. Make it short enough so that when she gets yogurt in it, it’s not such a mess and I can simply be wiped off with a damp cloth.” June told Fred as she started folding up a towel very deliberately and precisely. “A short pixie at least. If it was me, I’d say buzz it all off. Nice and fast, since she finds sitting up tiring, and it’s not like she has anywhere to go. But the mom is fussing, so we can’t do that even if I think it’s in Audrey’s best interest, so we need to make her pretty.”
Then June lowered her voice, as though it would keep me from hearing. “Actually it would be better if she wasn’t too pee-are-ee-tee-tee-why. A woman who’s as attractive as that, and unable to defend herself, plus unable to communicate if anyone does something, is a temptation. Just cut it like bee-oh-why short with just enough on top we can say to the mom it’s a pixie style. So aim for as bee-oh-why-eye-ess-aich as you think we can get away with.”
“Got’cha” Fred said.
I shuddered, and tried to think what I could possibly do to stop this. Did they really think I didn’t know that she’d just told Fred to make me less attractive. Maybe I could negotiate for something that would still be easier and lighter than the long hair they were determined to get rid of, but not so so short, not deliberately less attractive.
“Bob.” I said the simple easy to form single word, with the hope that they would at least not cut my hair as severely short.
“That’s right, Audrey.” June said in the condescending voice. “A nice short haircut like a bob. It’s going to be a little bit shorter though, ok.”
“bob” I repeated, begging them. “bob pweeesss”
“Well, I guess I can tell the mom that she actually said ‘please’ to a short haircut,” June said. “I’ll just leave out that it was for a bob, not that I think she can say pixie clearly. At least we know she understands that she’s getting a haircut”
“bob gover sgar” I tried again to negotiate with a reasonable request to not have that damned thing that I feared made me look like frankenstein’s monster exposed, I hadn’t actually seen it yet, but I knew I didn’t want that vulnerability on display.
“Shhhh Audrey.” June just said instead of listening to me. “I’ll have something for you to rest against ready in just a minute.”
——————————- Not too pretty ——————————
I just sat trapped in the wheelchair crying softly as the fabric of the cape Fred the barber shook out made a thwapping noise. Getting ready to drape it over me and protect the old rundown hospital transport chair, tie in the back hospital gown, and thin waffle weave blanket from getting covered in hair, as though it mattered.
A little over a month ago, I could have easily stopped this. I could have just gotten up and walked out, I could have pushed the barber cape that was being swung over me off. Heck, I could have easily over powered this fucking barber, nevermind the patrozing nurse bitch and condecending occupational therapist. I was too weak though. I was even too weak to talk clearly. I was so weak a tucked in blanket was enough to immobilize me.
June had origamied the towel into a surprisingly functional shape and placed it under my chin, so I could just let the weight of my head rest on it. I wasn’t quite fully upright, just barely enough for me to look up at the mirror, down at my lap was easier, but Fred had assured Tori and June that it was good enough. I got the impression from the conversation that as a hospital barber, Fred was used to working on people who had their heads at unusual angles. I’d also gotten the feeling that June and Tori had worked with him in situations like this before. Since they were worried I was too tired to sit for the whole thing Fred mentioned he could even cut hair on people laying in bed, which they decided against for me in part because Madeline would be there, according to them fussing.
Fred pulled the cape up under the towel chin rest, then snapped the cape behind my neck. His thick fingers were way too close to the scar that made me feel vulnerable. Then the sausage fingers were spreading out my hair. They felt almost as clumsy as my own when they tugged it here and there.
Fred picked up a spray bottle from the table and began to mist the long hair spread around me. He lifted some of the locks from the top to spray them from the other side and let the mist hit the hair below. The dampness was enhancing the waves almost to curls, but just when they hit their peak, Frank started combing through, straightening them out and distributing the dampness.
I felt Fred comb up a lock of hair at the very top of my head. I looked up at the mirror, and watched as Fred held the comb with a lock of my brown hair dangling from it just a bit over an inch above my head. He had the scissors poised just above the comb, opened them, then simply sliced away all my long hair above the comb.
The long lock dropped to my slumped shoulders, then slithered down to my lap. I looked down at it. feeling the tears rolling down my cheeks increase. I looked down at it, remembering how I had laid my head in Michelle’s lap so many times, so she could just gently finger comb my long locks. Now the locks I normally spread on her lap were in mine, but of course this was very different.
I could feel that Fred had another lock combed up from the top of my head and was slicing it off. The sound of the blades slicing my beloved hair filling my ears. Then another lock slid to my lap. Fred wasted little time as he simply combed up and sliced off my long locks.
I looked away from the growing pile of locks in my lap up towards the mirror. the long silver blades flashed open and closed, as Fred worked his way swiftly forward. With just a few more slices, he was cutting the last of the long tresses from the top of my head to barely covering half my forehead with bangs forming a very straight line.
Fred didn’t bother pausing to evaluate or adjust anything. He just started combing the still long hair on the side of my head out and started cutting them off, with decisive chops right in front of my ears.
The locks fell to my shoulder, and then slid down, much of it joining what was already in my lap since my head was tilted forward. I just kept quietly crying as I started down watching the puddle of dark silky tresses grow.
I felt the comb, circle my ear, pulling the locks around it free for Freds scissors to steal. I thought about how cold they were going to feel without the extra insulation that would hang out from under my fuzzy knit ski cap in winter.I looked up at the mirror where I could see he was leaving me even less than he had left me on top. Probably less than an inch.
As Fred moved to the back, I stared at my half shorn head. There was something horrifying about how swiftly and easily something that defined my appearance and identity so strongly was stolen from me. Fred had probably only been cutting for 5 or 10 minutes, and more than half my hair was gone from my head. In just minutes what would take years to grow back could be stripped away.
When Fred finished slicing away all the long hair that had hidden the undercut I had reluctantly agreed to, leaving the scar exposed, he started at the front again at the hair that still obscured my other ear. Again, he worked backwards, matching it to the otherside.
I watched in the mirror as the last of my long hair fell away, behind my shoulder, then draped over the handle of the wheelchair, just dangling.
With all the long hair gone, Fred just started combing upward and cutting the hair that suck out right up against the comb’s teeth. It reminded me of the way Gabby had cut my undercut, but Fred was cutting faster, and going all the way up the side of my head.
He only kept it up for a few minutes, leaving the hair on the sides of my head so short it didn’t touch my ears. I looked up at the mirror while Fred fussed with something at the table, I couldn’t see what because his back was too me. I was nervous about what he was doing, but also knew it didn’t really matter, it was too late, my hair was already all cut off.
I looked up at the mirror, at my mostly bare head. Then I looked back down at the hair that should be coving my head but that was just in my lap. Then back up at the mirror. I just looked so small and vulnerable. I’d lost weight, taking me from pretty girl next door to a more high fashion waif-like appearance. The lack of hair definitely just upped the waif aspect.
I whimpered as the sound of the clippers suddenly had me right back in the room being prepped for the surgery that had terrified me. The surgery I wished I had said no to. I’d given in for the sake of a career I doubted I would ever get to return to, it was possible I would never work anywhere again.
I felt Fred press my head down into the towel, and place the clipper blades against my neck. I closed my eyes tightly and tried to not think about what was happening. I tried but failed to ignore the sensation of the vibrating blades scrping up my scalp as Fred combed downward. It wasn’t exactly the same as when I’d been prepared for the procedure that had ruined my life.
Of course, even without the flashback element, I didn’t want this to be happening. It would be years before I could lay my head in Michelle’s lap as we watched a movie and just let her gently finger comb out the tangles in my long waves. It was something that I could have looked forward to doing again even if I never regained any more strength but stayed weak; this haircut stole that possibility though. I suddenly went from quiet crying to sobbing hard.
“Oh Audrey what’s wrong?” Tori said as she noticed, waving to Fred to turn off the clippers.
“souwz ihge shafer befuhr surhshurry” I told her hoping she’d understand since the sentence didn’t contain many of the hard consonant sounds I couldn’t control my tongue well enough to say clearly.
“The sound reminds you of when they shaved you for your surgery?” Tori checked, proving that she could understand if she actually tried.
“Should I just stop?” Fred asked. “I’ve done the part that makes the hair easy to manage, this bit with the clippers is just to make it look neater and more finished.”
“Audrey, can you let Fred finish so it will be prettier, and you won’t just have the one much shorter patch?” Tori asked me. “You’re mom is going to be so much happier if it looks nice, and it’s going to look better if we don’t stop. You want to let Fred finish right?”
What I wished was that Fred had never started, but of course it was way way too late to think about that. Much as I didn’t want my hair short, it already was, so it might as well be even, instead of in uneven patches.
“es, fwigisss” I said between sobs.
“Did that sound like ‘finish’ to you?” Tori asked Fred.
“I hope so,” he simply responded and turned the clippers back on.
Fred went back to buzzing the hair on the back of my head off. He didn’t stop at the top of my old undercut, but took it up higher, before he started using the comb to put just a slight bit of distance between the humming blades and my scalp. At the sides of the undercut where Gabby had made it swoop down like I had requested, Fred took it higher, buzzing the hair shorter around my ears.
I watched Fred use the combe to hold the hair above my ear up slightly, and then run the clippers over the comb. Since the hair was already short, so what fell was just a sprinkle. The tiny bits found their way into the folds of my ears. I watch as Fred kept buzzing and realized I could see through the short fuzz to my scalp on the sides.
When I heard Fred turn off the clippers, I hoped it was finally all over, but then he turned on a whiny trimmer. I felt the trimmer in the back first, carving a perfectly straight new hairline, ignoring the way my natural hairline went down to a point. He squared off the corners, then went up around my ears. Finally where I could see, he used the trimmer to make a straight line at the bottom of my side burn.
Finally, Fred started dusting off all the little bits of hair that clung to my neck. Tori carefully removed the rolled up towel I had been resting on, making sure my head didn’t just drop suddenly. Then Fred took the cape with the remnants of my beautiful long wavy hair away. I wanted to reach out and grab it back, but of course, i didn’t. Even If I had had the ability to grab the long locks, it wasn’t like I could stick them back on. Maybe just one long lock though, one long lock for Michelle.
“saiwf fer miiissseeer” I said and weakly struggled to get my hand out from under the blanket.
“Are you saying time for yogurt?” Tori asked me as she wiped the tears, snot, and bits of hair off my face with a damp washcloth. “Want Fred to show you the back first?”
I just looked at her silently miserable, thinking why would want to see the back? Even though I hadn’t said I wanted to though, Fred dutifully held up the small hand mirror.
Right at the middle of my nape was the damned scar, it wasn’t huge, but no hair grew on it. This was actually the first time I had seen it, The hair surrounding it way too short to cover it. In fact the hair around it was even too short to cover the unscarred scalp too. It almost looked like stubble. There was nothing soft or rounded about the cut, everything was harsh angles and straight lines. It was definitely a little boy haircut, not a woman’s pixie cut. Then there was the harsh straight line the bangs formed well over an inch above my arched eyebrows.
“ugwee” I just uttered as more tears wet my cheeks.
Fred pursed his lips, looking like he felt bad. Not like he felt bad that I had insulted his work, but guilty shame that I had realized he hadn’t really been aiming to make me pretty. Even if I hadn’t perfectly understood that June had asked him to make it boyinsh, even if I really did only have the mental capacity of a 5 year old, there was no hiding that glaring truth. This haircut wasn’t pretty, because it was never meant to be.
“No, no Audrey.” Tori soothed in the fucking oh so patronizing tone. “You look so cute. It’s an adorable style on you, and you are so pretty. And doesn’t your head feel so much lighter and easier to hold up. Let’s go get you some yogurt and show the other nurses. I know they will all tell you how pretty you look. Ok?”
“ohw’d gare” I said knowing the chances that she would understand that I had just said don’t care were slim.
“I know you want that yogurt.” Tori responded to what she hoped I was saying, and started rolling me towards the door. “Thank you Fred, this is just what she needed. Oh, look who I see, it’s Nurse Mary I bet she’s going to love your pretty new haircut.”
I knew that Tori was right, and she could show off my cropped head and the nurses would all say I looked great, and faune over me for a little bit, and swear I looked pretty. They would lie because they also all felt that how I looked didn’t actually matter in comparison to making it more comfortable and manageable, but they wouldn’t want to make me feel bad.
And really, I knew they were right. My head was a bit easier to hold up now, it was just easier to move. It would be way easier to just use a damp washcloth to wipe the soft sticky food off the short bristles on the side of my head. I could comb this myself without getting the comb stuck in it, not that it needed combing anyway. They might even be right that I was less of a temptation now. None of that made up for how much I dreaded Michelle seeing me like this.
—————————— Clatter ———————————
As the beginning of non-family visiting hours approached, Madeline was standing at the window, just staring out silently, waiting. I was propped up in the hospital bed the way I usually was, I just stared at the unopened yogurt sitting on the rolling tray table going bad. The curtain that hung in the middle of the room was partly closed, obscuring the door as we both just waited.
“Hi Madeline.” I heard Michelle say, from the door, her tone of resentment had softened slightly, over the last few days.
“I’m sorry Michelle,” Madeline said softly, the guilt plain in her voice. “I tried to stop them.”
I listened to Michelle’s foot falls come quickly around the curtain till she was in view. Her face went from worried to shocked as she looked at me. In her hands was the wooden fold-up chess set she’d had since her father had taught her to play as a girl. It fell from her hands, and hit the floor with a loud clatter. Her hands flew up to cover her mouth, and stifled the pained sound that came out that was somewhere between a moan and a scream.
I turned to face away from her. which was admittedly a little easier to do without hair caught under my shoulder. I closed my eyes, squeezing out more tears. I was too ashamed to face her. Ashamed that I had been so weak I was unable to stop this. Ashamed that I was so helpless, that all the reasons June and Tori had pushed this were true. I was weak, and clumsy, and vulnerable.
——————————- Cold dishes ———————————-
**How’s Michelle?** Madeline asked me, through the phone.
Madeline’d been making nervous small talk for several minutes, I could tell she was once again trying to evaluate my mental state. I wondered if the psychiatrist had called her again. I was only sort of finally back at work, there but not really working. They had me doing training exercises to get comfortable with my enhanced skills, even though I was fully comfortable and felt in control. They obviously didn’t quite trust the skills, which still seemed to be increasing, or maybe they didn’t quite trust me yet, they were also making me take breaks to see the shrink three times a week.
“She’s worried too.” I admitted to Madeline softly, from the edge of the slanted roof I was perched on. I was trying to be quiet in case anyone was working late in the small office building below me. “Michelle worrying doesn’t justify you worrying though. I really am doing fine. You know I can easily scale brick walls now.”
**I know you are doing great physically.** Madeline clarified. **I’m concerned that you have some lingering trauma that you haven’t dealt with.**
“I’m working on processing what happened,” I assured Madeline. “I’m just going about it my own way.”
“I’ve taken up a new hobby that has been amazing for my stress levels.” I assured her as I tucked the lock of hair that had fallen in my eyes back behind my ear; it had taken a long time but it was finally just barely long enough to stay there.
**Michelle told me your new hobby is scaring her, Audrey.** Madeline informed me. **She says a lot of what you’ve been doing lately scares her.**
“When did you two become so buddy-buddy?” I asked, feeling slightly amused as I ran the wet stone over the blade.
**We just both care about you.** Madeline stated. **Tell me about this new hobby Aurdey.**
“Oh, just a little metal working.” I lifted up the item with its five curved razor sharp blades and smiled at it.
**Michelle seems to think the things you’re making are dangerous.**
“That depends on how you look at them.” I gave the item a little flick, testing the weight since sharpening it had a very slight effect on that. “They are tools, most tools can be dangerous. Have you ever hit your thumb with a hammer, Madeline?”
**Yeah sure,** Madeline admitted. **Hasn’t everyone?**
“Probably.” I said as I tossed the item away from me, then easily caught it when it returned. “But I’m past that now. Now I can just push nails into wood with my thumb. A tool that might be dangerous for others to use, is perfectly safe for me.”
**Michelle says they look like weapons even though you keep saying they are tools.**
“Most tools can be used as weapons, and weapons as tools.” I pointed out as I placed the one I had just finished sharpening next to the other two I had sharpened before.
**You need to tell me what you’ve been making. I want details, Audrey. Stop beating around the bush** Madeline demanded calmly.
“They are sort of a cross between throwing stars and boomerangs.” I admitted. “They have to be thrown in a very exact way to work like boomerangs and come back.”
**You want something with multiple spinning blades to come back to you?**
“I just catch them carefully. They are safer than they sound, the blades curve inward like a series of sithes. They only cut from a very particular angle, so they have to be thrown very precisely.” I shrugged even though she couldn’t see me. “I’m very good at it.”
**I’m sure you are Audrey** Madeline sounded like she was struggling to stay calm. **Those sound a lot more like weapons than tools.**
“It depends how you use them. I just use them to trim things.” I simply stated. “I promise, I have never used them in a way that drew blood, and I have no intention of ever doing so.”
**That’s suspiciously specific.** Madeline observed. **Is what you’ve been doing legal?**
“Probably not,” I admitted, “but don’t worry, I’m being careful, I won’t get caught.”
**Laws exist for reasons** Madeline was definitely at the end of her patience.
I listened to Madeline lecture me about living in a moral society as I saw movement at the hospital exit door finally.
“I need to go Madeline.” I said quickly and quietly. “I have to trim something.”
**AUDREY!** Madeline shouted as I pressed end.
I watched the woman as she walked towards her car. At first with some frustration, since the long bottle blonde hair was protected inside her jacket, but as she walked across the parking lot, she pulled it out and fluffed it up behind her. The light from the overhead lamps, making the long bright locks glow. The perfect waves bounced, like she’d gotten a professional blowout recently.
I lifted up my first five bladed star shaped tool, and waited till she was at just the right position. She was at her car and bending towards the door handle when I let the star fly. The razor sharp blades went gliding silently through the air. I was sure, June felt nothing but a slight breeze as the spinning blades hit their mark before spinning back towards me.
I watched as the pale strands began to fall to June’s arm and the asphalt covered ground. Plucking the star from the air when it got back to me with my left hand, since the next star already was waiting in my right.
When she stood up, and looked at the golden stands clinging to her jacket, and started lifting them, she still just seemed confused. The tilt of her head was perfect though, letting the face framing layers hang down. I let my second star fly, slipping perfectly between her face and arm, severing the silky strands that were hanging in that space.
June finally started screaming when the realization that the strands that were falling to her sleeve were her own severed hair finally sunk in. She looked up and reached for her hair discovering the extent of the damage and screaming even more. Her frantically feeling her hair left some right at the top sticking up, just completely vulnerable.
I let my final star fly, it hit the lock that stuck up right near the front, just very slightly more than an inch above her head. The lock fell to her shoulder.
I smiled as I plucked the last returning star from the air before the security guard jogged out of the building to see what all the screaming was about. I watched as he talked to June, and she showed him the severed hair. He shined his flashlight around. I wasn’t particularly worried that he’d spot me, even if it occurred to him to look upward, I was well outside the distance the light could reach.
He gave up after a few minutes and started escorting June back towards the hospital. The light showing the damage I had done while they walked. I hadn’t gotten every strand of the pampered mane, but I had gotten enough that the only way to fix it would be a very serious crop.
As I silently descended the old red brick wall, I thought to myself about how this had gone even better than when my new tools had given Tori a high aline bob. It had been satisfying when her long braid had thudded to the ground, but not as satisfying as watching all that loose hair fluttering down.
I was going to need to do something to help Michelle relax a bit about my new hobby though, I wondered if a blackened steel and brass chess set would convince her that I was not a menace to society. Hopefully she wouldn’t notice the blow gun and botox darts I had been preparing for Dr Jones.