Christy and her best friend Becky had grown accustomed to spending summers at Christy’s grandmother’s house in southern Ontario. The 12-year-old girls had been going there for three summers, affording their parents (who were also best of friends) a chance to get away for extended summer vacations while their children were gone. In years past, one set of parents or another would make the long trip up from their homes in Ohio to deposit the girls at Grandma’s, but this year it was felt that the girls were old enough to safely take the bus across the border to their summer retreat.
Watching the southern Canadian farmland roll by through their Greyhound Bus window, Christy and Becky couldn’t wait for their bus to pull into the terminal. Although Becky had no blood ties to Christy’s grandmother, the girl couldn’t help but think of the kindly old woman as her own. Christy’s grandmother had always loved the two girls equally, showering them with gifts and affection whenever they arrived at her house for the summer. The elderly woman had even “gone to bat” for them several times when the girls had gotten into hot water with Grandma’s neighbor, Mrs. Green. Mrs. Green lived in the house directly across the rural, winding road from Christy’s grandmother. On Mrs. Green’s property lay the huge apple orchard that the girls loved to play in, reaching up and grabbing a juicy ripe apple whenever their play made them hungry. Mrs. Green shared none of Grandma’s love for children, and would often end up chasing the girls out of the orchard with a broomstick, screaming after them and calling them names as the girls ran across the street to the safety of Grandma’s house.
After what seemed like an eternity, the bus rolled into the terminal. Christy and Becky rushed off the bus in search of Grandma, but instead were greeted only by the scowling face of Mrs. Green.
“Your grandmother suffered a minor stroke earlier this week,” the crabby old woman said to Christy. “She’ll be out of the hospital this afternoon, but asked if I could look after you girls until she returns home. She didn’t want to call your parents for fear they wouldn’t have you come this summer.”
With that, Mrs. Green turned and headed for her car. Christy and Becky turned and looked at one another momentarily, figuring that the old lady expected them to follow, so they did, each lugging her huge suitcase toward the waiting automobile.
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When they had been driving for several minutes, they noticed Mrs. Green take a right turn toward the center of town rather than continuing on straight to where her and their Grandma’s houses were.
“M..M..Mrs. Green,” stammered Christy nervously, “aren’t we going the wrong way to your house?”
“Don’t you think I KNOW that, you impudent little girl?” spat back Mrs. Green in anger. “Your grandmother asked me to bring you both to town to have your hair cut. Poor woman had to spend nearly $200 on a plumber after you girls left last summer, so much of your long hair had gotten clogged in her bathtub drain.”
The girls looked at one another silently. They hadn’t heard about any clogged drains, and they certainly hadn’t heard about any mandatory haircuts this summer. But their initial anxiety soon gave way to feelings of guilt and regret. The two girls loved Grandma very much, and they felt badly when they heard the trouble their long hair had caused. Now, with Grandma recovering from a stroke, they knew they had no choice but to accede to her wishes.
Mrs. Green slowed the car and parked alongside the curb in front of the Hopedale Beauty Salon. Nervously the two girls got out of the car and followed the old woman into the establishment. Two women about Mrs. Green’s age were sitting beneath hair dryers while the owner of the salon, a slightly younger and much more sturdily built woman named Margaret, swept up little snippets from the last old lady’s haircut.
“Hello Gladys,” said Margaret to Mrs. Green. “I was expecting you to come with the girls right about now. Choose your first victim and send her on over… I’m ready for her!”
Christy and Becky didn’t like the sound of Margaret’s voice. The woman looked more like a man with her severely shorn, graying hair and gruff voice, and however much she may have been joking with that “victim” remark, it sent icy chills down both girls’ backs.
“You!” Mrs. Green pointed to Becky. “Step into the chair.”
Becky looked nervously at her friend Christy. For the first time in all the summers the two girls had spent in Canada, Becky somehow felt as though she were being “singled out” for not being a relative of Christy’s grandmother. “Why do I have to be first in the chair?” thought Becky silently.
“Don’t worry,” replied Mrs. Green as though she were reading Becky’s mind. “Your little friend here will join you in a few moments.”
Becky walked slowly toward the chair and hoisted her little four-and-a-half foot frame into it. The two old ladies under the hair dryers each looked up from their women’s magazines to survey the approaching spectacle.
“I remember having long hair like that when I was a kid,” said one of the women loudly so that the other could hear her over the hum of the dryers. “It was nothing but trouble. One day my mother got so tired of having to braid it for school every day that she just chopped it all off. Had me sit at the kitchen table like I always did for my morning braiding session, then went ahead and gathered up all my long hair in her hands as usual, but instead of braiding it, she pulled out this big pair of scissors and started hacking it all off. I remember it like it was yesterday. I cried and cried while my hair fell in heaps and tumbles all around me. Mother was so angry with me for carrying on the way I did that she made a big spectacle of gathering up all my hair off the floor and throwing it in the outhouse while I watched. I hated her for it at the time, but haven’t grown my hair past my collar ever since.”
Becky cringed in the salon chair as she saw the other lady under the hairdryers nod in agreement. She couldn’t imagine the horror of having her own dark brown, nearly waist length hair sheared off like that. Of course, it didn’t help matters any that Margaret was roughly sectioning off her long hair into three equal sections at the same time the old lady was telling the awful story about her childhood. Becky was certain that her nervousness showed on her face, and had the peculiar feeling that the old ladies under the dryers were enjoying it.
When Margaret was through sectioning off the long hair on the right, back and left sides of Becky’s head, she picked up a pair of electric hair clippers that lay on the counter behind the chair. Becky couldn’t see what Margaret was doing, but she noticed the look of concern now clearly etched on her friend Christy’s face.
All Becky could feel now was Margaret twisting the section of hair on the right side of her head into a ponytail. The girl could see Margaret’s hands working a few inches from her head, twisting round and round the thick section of hair until a tight knot of it extended an inch from her head. Becky heard some sort of electrical appliance being turned on, but it wasn’t until the noise came closer to her ear that she understood what it was.
Gripping the girl’s tightly twisted ponytail, Margaret inverted the clippers and jammed them into the thinnest, tightest part of the ponytail, pressing Becky’s hair firmly against the blades so as to get the maximum cutting power. The clippers took on a heavy, throaty sound as they began chewing through the thickness of the girl’s hair. Every few seconds the blades would become mired in Becky’s hair, so Margaret would have to extract them momentarily before plunging them again into the thick knot of the ponytail.
It took about a minute before Margaret could see that she had made any noticeable progress. The knot, which had started out nearly two inches thick, was now down to less than an inch, and Margaret could tell by the grip she had on it that much of the girl’s long hair had gone limp in her hand. Wanting to be rid of the long, soft hair that now rested on her forearm, Margaret gave the clippers a final push into the ponytail, watching with satisfaction as the blades chewed through the last of the silky dark strands.
When the tugging on the side of her head suddenly stopped, Becky knew instantly that the clippers had finished their work on her ponytail. She glanced reflexively to the right and saw Margaret holding up the fistful of 20-inch long hair so that the old ladies under the dryers could see it. To the little girl’s horror, the hanging loose ends of the once tightly twisted ponytail began to unravel themselves in ever widening circles near Becky’s head. Two or three times the soft ends of the ponytail brushed her cheek before finally losing their circular momentum. Pleased with her handiwork, Margaret flung the lifeless clump of shiny dark hair toward the front of the salon chair. She grinned as it landed a couple feet beyond little Becky’s outstretched sneakers, sliding several inches on the recently waxed floor before finally coming to rest midway between Becky and the chairs in which the two elderly customers sat.
“Should throw that out back in the woods,” shouted one of the women to Margaret over the noise of the hairdryers. “Would give some family of birds a nice nest for the summer.” The other woman under the dryer smiled and nodded in agreement as she settled in to watch more of Becky’s shearing.
Before she had time to recover from the sight of the first ponytail hitting the floor, Becky felt her head being pushed forward as Margaret began to gather up all the hair on the back of her head. The hair there was thicker than it had been on the side, and Margaret wasn’t being nearly as gentle in grabbing and twisting it into another tight knot, this one nearly twice as big as the first.
From her seat in the waiting area, Christy watched in sad silence as the harsh-looking hairdresser manhandled her friend’s beautiful long locks. Christy’s thoughts returned to earlier that day, when she and Becky sat beside one another on the long bus trip to Ontario. Becky had fallen asleep twice during the trip, both times resting her head on Christy’s shoulder. Christy remembered how thick and soft her friend’s hair had been on her shoulder, and how much she had enjoyed playfully twisting and curling the ends of Becky’s hair around her index finger while the girl slept.
Christy was brought back to the present by the sound of all that hair being fed into the maw of the clippers. Margaret seemed to be going about the task with a mixture of disgust and satisfaction; disgust that the little girl’s hair had been allowed to grow so thick and long, but satisfaction that it was finally getting the good cropping it deserved. Christy watched as Margaret, her hand grasping the doomed hair in a vice grip, pressed the inverted clippers against the ponytail until they became so imbedded in the hair that she needed to pull them away and attack it from a different angle.
This went on for several minutes, and Christy could tell by the growing mass of cut hair splayed backward over Margaret’s fist that most of the ponytail had succumbed to the clippers. She watched as Margaret, sensing that the end was near, began twisting and pulling at the remaining hair even more violently than before. The long dangling ends of Becky’s hair danced in unison with the jagged ends emanating from above Margaret’s fist every time Margaret would jerk the hair around. Finally, with an audible BZZZZT! Becky’s head jerked forward and Margaret pulled away the entire severed mass of hair.
Becky so far had been able to stave off the tears as Margaret was butchering her long hair with the clippers, but she finally gave up when, from behind her, Margaret flung the huge severed ponytail over the salon chair toward where the three women were seated under the dryers. Becky watched in horror as the 20-inch long mane of hair did a couple somersaults in the air before finally hitting the floor with a thud. The new addition to the pile of Becky’s hair on the floor was nearly twice as large as the section Margaret had previously cut from the side of her head, and the force with which it landed caused it to slide and push the first ponytail to within a couple feet of the old ladies’ outstretched legs. Becky could see the women glancing down toward her hair on the floor, little smiles of satisfaction breaking out on their usually pursed, disapproving lips.
With her tears came a sense of utter despair. She could feel Margaret already twisting into a knot the hair on the left side of her head — the only remaining evidence of what had once been her beautiful girlish mane — and found that she didn’t care very much about whatever else was going to happen. She knew that, just as with the other two ponytails now littering the floor, this one too would be hacked off and tossed onto the growing heap. Resigned to the fact that she would never again feel the luxurious pull of her long hair, Becky closed her eyes and waited for the inevitable jerking of her head that signaled the start of more butchery to her hair.
Becky sat with her eyes closed for over a minute while Margaret began shearing the twisted hair off the left side of her head. From over where the old ladies sat came a “Splat!” sound, and Becky couldn’t help but open her eyes to see what had happened. When she did, she saw that one of the women had knocked over a huge 20-ounce styrofoam cup of coffee with cream, and that the light brown colored liquid had spilled over a large area of the floor between the row of hair dryers and the salon chair where Becky sat.
“Damn!” said the woman who had knocked it over. “Sorry about that Margaret, I’ll grab some paper towels and clean it up.”
Margaret and the old woman who had just spoken glanced over to the paper towel holder hanging near the salon’s shampoo sink, both noticing at the same time that it was empty.
“Shoot,” said Margaret, momentarily pausing her shearing of Becky. “I knew I forgot something when I went shopping yesterday!”
Everyone in the salon stared helplessly at the now spreading puddle of lukewarm coffee. No one seemed to know what to do, until Gladys Green herself stood up from her chair in the waiting area and marched over to the spill. Without missing a stride, Gladys clamped a well-worn shoe down onto the mass of Becky’s cut hair and, with a circular motion of her leg, began smearing it through the coffee spill.
“Good thinking Gladys,” commented Margaret.
Gladys didn’t respond immediately, but instead kept pushing the now sopping wet pile of hair through the spill with her shoe. Margaret could tell by the big streaks of coffee now smearing the floor that more hair would be needed to absorb the spill. She looked down at the progress she had made toward severing the third and final ponytail, and decided that she wouldn’t have it cut in time to stop a large tendril of the coffee spill that was now threatening to trickle into the waiting area.
“Florence,” she said to one of the women under the hair dryers, “you’ve got strong hands. Could you grab those scissors over there and see if you can cut through this hair while I shave the rest of it off?”
“Sure, anything to help!” replied Florence, who frankly seemed a bit excited to become part of the clean-up activity.
Becky watched through the tears now staining her cheeks as the old lady whose name was Florence grabbed hold of the big pair of scissors laying on the counter, and approached the salon chair.
“Here… you grab hold of this and see if you can chop it off. I’ll start taking off the rest of her hair and, between us, maybe we’ll have enough to stop that coffee and dry the whole area so it won’t stain my floor.”
If Becky thought the last ten minutes had been hell, then she definitely wasn’t prepared for this. At the same time she saw Margaret snapping a tiny attachment onto the clippers, Florence wrapped the big scissors around the half-cut ponytail and “SCRRRUNCH!” hacked it completely off. The old lady was still holding the long clump of hair in her hand when Becky felt the first pass of the clippers go up the back of her head, over her crown, and down toward the center of her forehead. Becky watched as the contents of the clipper blades — a thick tuft of 4-inch long clippings — were tossed forward onto the white cape covering her lap.
“Thanks Florence,” said Margaret. “Be a dear and give that to Gladys, will you?”
Becky didn’t have to wonder what “that” was. As Margaret quickly deposited one, two, then three more piles of shavings onto the cape, Becky saw Florence hand the last of her long, soft hair to Mrs. Green, who promptly used her foot to push aside the soaking wet pile of coffee-drenched locks, and threw the newly arrived ponytail down onto the floor directly in front to the moving stream of coffee.
“Don’t worry if you can’t get it all with that,” said Margaret to Mrs. Green. “I’ve still got a little left to cut, and you can take what’s sitting on the cape there.”
Becky watched as Mrs. Green, having smeared the third ponytail into the coffee, approached the salon chair and grabbed a couple handfuls of shavings. These she promptly threw atop the third ponytail to try to reinforce the makeshift dam she had made to stop the spread of the spill.
“This isn’t going to do it, Margaret. We’re going to need something more.”
All eyes turned to little Becky’s head which, apart from a little hair still protruding from around her ears, had been neatly shaved down to stubble.
“Darn! I don’t want that coffee to stain my floor,” said Margaret, sounding a little exasperated. “Florence, see if you can run next door and get some napkins!”
“That won’t be necessary Margaret,” interrupted Gladys Green calmly. “Christy, come over here.”
The little blond-headed girl who, for the last fifteen minutes had sat nervously in the waiting area while her friend Becky was having all her beautiful hair cut off, stood up and nervously made her way over to where Mrs. Green was trying to mop up the spill. No way would Christy hurt her friend’s feeling by stepping on her lovely hair the way Mrs. Green had. Not Margaret, not Florence, not anyone could make her do that!
“Hurry up girl!” shouted Mrs. Green.
Frightened by her tone, Christy quickly made her way over to where Mrs. Green was standing, still resolved not to add further insult to her friend Becky’s formerly glorious mane.
“Lean over!” said Mrs. Green.
“LEAN OVER, I SAID!”
Reflexively, in response to the implied threatening tone of the command, Christy leaned over and stared directly downward at the pitiful pile of Becky’s coffee-soaked hair.
Because she was looking down, Christy didn’t see Mrs. Green stick her hand out toward Florence, motioning for Florence to hand her the big scissors she had just used to hack off the last of Becky’s long hair. She also didn’t see Florence’s smile as she gladly handed the scissors over to Mrs. Green, or the smirk on Margaret’s face as she maneuvered the clippers around Becky’s ears, shearing the last of the girl’s pretty dark hair down to a uniform 1/16th of an inch.
The heavy steel scissors felt good in Gladys Green’s hand as she reached out to accept them from her friend Florence. After nodding her thanks to the woman, Gladys turned her gaze to the task at hand.
Towering over the leaning, trembling figure of little Christy, Gladys couldn’t help but stare longingly down at the girl’s super-straight blond locks, parted neatly down the middle of her head, with thick bangs now teasingly suspended an inch from her forehead because of the way she hung her head.
Gladys’ mind was instantly transported back to a time sixty years ago, when she herself was a little girl with pretty blond hair, and when she herself stood trembling before an old woman with long, wicked looking scissors in her hand. In Gladys’ case, the woman was her mother, and Gladys stood before her that day more ashamed than she had ever been in her life, for her mother had just caught her and the little girl from the neighboring farm doing something so unspeakable that it had gone unmentioned in all the years since. What Gladys recalled most vividly, and indeed had been nearly obsessed with ever since, was the feel of those scissors laid flat over every inch of her head, and the sound they made as they severed all evidence of what had once been her pride and glory as a little girl. Gladys could recall as though it were yesterday the awful, sinking feeling in her stomach as her mother first cropped her bangs, then scissored off everything else on her head, letting the pretty long locks drop to the floor around her, where they became a soft cushion for her warm, salty tears.
“Come on Gladys, that coffee isn’t going to clean itself up, you know.”
Gladys was brought back to the present by the always-shrill voice of Margaret. Looking down, she could see that the long brown levee of Becky’s hair was about to give way to the spill. She could also see by the trembling of Christy’s shoulders that the girl knew what was about to happen. A certain calm came over Gladys as she gazed upon the girl’s beautiful head of hair for the last time.
Like her mother had done sixty years before, Gladys clenched her fist around the girl’s thick blond bangs. Then, pressing the shears tightly against the hairline atop Christy’s forehead, she deftly chopped away the four-inch curtain of hair, sprinkling its severed remains so that they’d slowly float past the girl’s teary little eyes before attaching themselves to the sodden mass of coffee-soaked hair below.
As Christy whimpered at the sight of her once pretty bangs absorbing the bitter-smelling liquid, Gladys looked with pleasure at the closeness and ease with which Margaret’s heavy, professional quality scissors had cleared away the girl’s bangs. There would be little of the painful chomping and hacking of hair that had characterized her own shearing at the hands of her mother. This little girl’s hair was going to go quickly; no match for the stainless steel sharpness now emanating from Gladys’s hand.
Gladys kneeled on one knee in front of Christy as she contemplated her next move. From her new position looking upward into the little girl’s eyes, the ugliness of Christy’s pale exposed forehead was even more prominent. “Only one way to resolve that!” she mused silently as she began her next move.
With Christy leaning forward as she was, much of the hair that would otherwise have rested on her shoulders now hung forward over her chest, within easy reach of Gladys and her scissors. Running her left thumb along the girl’s right temple, Gladys collected in her free hand the longest of the honey-blond locks covering that side of Christy’s head. When her bony fist could hold no more, Gladys pulled upward on the soon-to-be-shorn tresses, resting the scissors flat atop the girl’s head, their cool steel blades pointing toward the back of the girl’s head, separated and ready to attack.
Gladys again marveled at the power and sharpness of the expensive salon scissors as they neatly and effortless cleared away the long hair from atop the right side of Christy’s head. The old woman smiled as the girl’s cut hair sprung slowly backward onto her clenched fist after being cut, its clean velvety softness enveloping and beginning to tickle her hand.
SHHHNIIIIIK! SHHHNIIIIIK! SHHHNIIIIIK! SHNIKK!
Three big and one small snips of the scissors brought an end to the sizable mass of hair that had for years obscured Christy’s ear and shoulder. Gladys brought the shorn locks down slowly, barely an inch from the girl’s face, making sure that their severed ends brushed her nose and cheeks a couple times before being added to the sticky mess below.
“Florence, could you lend a hand over here?”
“Certainly,” replied Florence to her friend of many years.
Dropping to her knees on the opposite side from where Gladys was working on Christy, Florence rolled up the long sleeves of her blouse and, to everyone’s surprise, sunk both hands down into the liquidy mass of hair at Christy’s feet.
“Boy… Florence is really getting into this,” thought Gladys to herself, but she could see that by slowly pushing the pile of old and new hair backward into the spill, Florence was giving Becky and Christy’s locks sufficient time to soak up the coffee, and was leaving in their wake a clean path of white tile floor.
“Good job Florence, I’ll get you some more,” said Gladys as she grasped up the hair remaining on the right side of Christy’s head. Severing it as close to the scalp as the scissors would allow, Gladys was quickly able to provide her friend with another huge handful of long hair, this one taken from around Christy’s temple and right ear. Florence took the new arrival and dropped it onto the newly dried area just behind the sodden dam of dark and blond hair.
“Mary,” said Florence to only remaining onlooker under the hairdryers, “your hair must be nearly dry, could you bring that wastebasket over here, along with those two dustpans over by the closet?”
“Sure,” said Mary to Florence, as the old women slowly rose from her chair and headed toward the closet. Gladys continued to chop away at Christy’s hair, dropping it on the dry floor between herself and Florence, while Mary gathered up the necessary tools for disposing of the hair. Within moments, Mary appeared next to the women, plastic dustpans in each hand, and began gathering up the dripping mass of the girls’ hair that had been used to stop the spreading spill. Still sitting newly bald in the salon chair, little Becky coughed and sniffled loudly as the dustpans lifted her and Christy’s heavy coffee-laden locks and dumped them with a wet, heavy thud into the plastic-lined wastebasket.
“Stay here if you would, Mary, there’ll be more,” said Florence, as she pushed into the spill the growing pile of cut dry hair Gladys had provided for her.
Their work continued on for about ten more minutes, with Gladys happily reducing Christy’s long locks to barely perceptible stubble, Florence wiping the girl’s long hair across the floor in wide circles to clean up the remainder of the spill, and Mary dutifully using the dustpans to dispose of the little wet piles of hair Florence was leaving all over the floor. When it came time to start chopping the mane off the back of Christy’s head, Gladys, mindful of her aching and elderly back muscles, forced the girl to lay flat on her stomach with her head resting at Gladys’ feet. Gladys was thus able to reach out and grab handfuls of hair from the back of Christy’s head, which, like all the previous handfuls, she chopped off as close to the girl’s head as the shears would allow.
For her part, Christy tried not to witness any more of the awful spectacle than she had already seen, but with her face pressed hard to the floor, it was hard not the see the shadows of Florence as she balled up in her fists the first ten inches or so of the locks Gladys would hand her, then would use them to scrub the floor as the remaining ten inches of length extending outward from between her clenched fingers would be tossed madly about the floor like the hair on a shaken doll.
When all the coffee had been wiped up, Gladys cut the last of the long hair still on Christy’s head, and handed it to Florence so she could use it to wipe off her coffee-stained hands before heading to the sink for a more thorough cleaning.
When Gladys gave Christy the okay to stand up, Margaret led her with clippers in hand over to the salon chair where the quietly whimpering Becky still sat. Margaret had Christy lean over the cape covering her friend’s lap, with Christy’s closely-clipped crown just a few inches from little Becky’s nose. There, Margaret proceeded to run the clippers all over Christy’s head the way she had done with Becky, shearing the girl’s once long blond hair down to a fuzzy 1/16 of an inch. Becky, her tears nearly exhausted, expelled heavy dry sobs as she watched thousands of tiny snippets of Christy’s hair dance madly around the clipper blades, falling like a thin blanket of fine snow down onto the thin traces of her own dark hair below.
When all was done, Margaret thanked her three adult customers profusely for their help in cleaning up the spill. She didn’t charge any of them for their haircuts that day, but ignored the two still-sniveling little girls whose long hair, of course, had really done the job.
The girls tried not to look at each other’s bald heads from the time they left the salon to the time Mrs. Green pulled up in her driveway. On those occasions when their eyes did wander to one another, both Christy and Becky quickly looked away, not wanting to be reminded too vividly of the hair they had lost, and of their pale little scalps that would remain exposed throughout much of the summer until some semblance of a normal girl’s hairstyle was allowed to grow back.
As if in a trance, the two girls got out of Mrs. Green’s car when she pulled up in her driveway, and allowed the old woman to lead them across the road to Christy’s grandmother’s house. They watched as Mrs. Green rang the doorbell, and heard Grandma proclaim playfully from inside: “Weellll! I wonder who that could be?” The wide smile that Grandma brought to the door faded abruptly when she saw the condition of the girls’ heads.
“Gladys! What in the world happened?”
“Just a little accident at the salon, Helen. And I trust I won’t need to tell the girls again this year to stay out of my apple orchard.”
With that, Gladys Green turned and walked back to her own house. Never again did the girls visit Christy’s grandmother in Ontario for the summer, and never again did two elderly neighbors whose houses sat across from one another along a winding country road in Ontario, speak to one another.