I looked at the phone as it rang. It was 3:45 in the afternoon. The June sun shone brightly outside my office window. I debated for a moment, then picked it up. “Turn off the computer,” my wife cooed into the phone, “and be at Alex’s at 4 o’clock sharp.” She hung up. That ended the discussion. Alex’s was our favorite bar, with a number of good beers on tap. I turned the computer off and left. There was a parking spot open right in front of the bar, with time left on the meter. But I parked halfway down the street and put a quarter in the meter. It gave me an excuse to walk by a small storefront and check on progress.
“Coming Soon,” the sign had read for about 8 weeks, “Beth’s Little Barber Shop.” The storefront was only about 8 feet wide, and when the sign first went up, the interior had been completely stripped. Whenever I had the chance, I walked by to see what had changed. First some cabinets and a countertop had been put in. Lights were installed the next time I walked by. Then new mirrors on opposite walls, both so the customers could see, and the shop would seem bigger than it was. Last week there was a smooth new linoleum floor of alternating red and off-white tiles. Today I was pleased to see a pair of rather old-fashioned Koken barber’s chairs installed, with fresh-looking red leather upholstery.
As I walked towards Alex’s, I fantasized about what Beth-the-Barber might look like. I imagined some blonde knockout, luring unsuspecting women in to have their locks shorn. I saw the hair of lovely co-eds landing in thick piles on the smooth linoleum floor. I silently kicked myself for getting my hopes up, knowing Beth would end up being a frumpy, unattractive, middle-aged women, catering to overweight middle-aged businessmen. I walked into the bar, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the dim light. As I looked around for Kathy, the bartender called me over. He motioned to a barstool, and placed in front of me a lowball glass full of ice. From under the bar came a bottle of expensive and rather obscure bourbon, which happened to be one of my favorites. He showed off the label, gave me a generous pour and told me it had already been paid for by my “secret admirer”.
We chatted for a while, then he wiped his hands on a bar towel, handed me a small envelope and walked away. The note from Kathy simply said “Candy Shop. 4:20 pm.” My watch said eighteen minutes after, so I finished my drink, shouted thanks to the barkeep and walked outside, heading back past where my car was parked. It looked as though the lights might be on inside the narrow storefront, so I slowed my pace as I approached. I took a calculated glance in the window, and saw a dark haired woman sitting in the barber’s chair closest to the window. She was quite beautiful, with her thick hair falling nearly to her breast. She was also my wife.
I stared through the window for a moment as she studiously ignored me, studying her reflection in the mirror. I reached for the door, only to find it locked. I gently knocked, and she continued to ignore me. From the back of the shop came a woman wearing a blue smock with “Beth” embriodered over her breast. Her thick red hair was short, but not drastically so, and she was almost as good looking as Kathy.
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I knocked again, and this time they both ignored me. The barber covered Kathy with a cape, pulling it snug around her neck, then gently lifting the long hair out from underneath. She began to comb it, and I watched as they talked, smiling and laughing. If there had been less traffic on the street, I might have been able to eavesdrop, but instead it was like watching a TV show with the sound turned off. Inevitably, she picked up her scissors. She slowly sank them into the hair at Kathy’s shoulder. I stood staring through the window as six inches of thick, soft hair fell onto the smooth, hard floor. The barber kept slowly cutting around, as locks of hair fell onto the cape and floor. Kathy’s hair was now in a rough bob, and Beth stepped around in front. She combed it down over Kathy’s face, and then cut away the curtain of hair, leaving thick short bangs to offset the bob. They talked again for a moment, then Beth nodded and began cutting in some layers, shoulder length in back and a bit shorter towards the front. She did this very slowly, combing the hair in sections before taking each piece in her hand and cutting a measured portion off. She seemed to enjoy feeling the hair in her hands as she continued to cut off most of my wife’s crowning glory.
I was still standing outside, oblivious to who might be watching me stare through the window. Beth finished cutting, then picked up a brush. They talked as she brushed, and after a few minutes she stopped, and took a step back. She stared at the layered shoulder length cut, and listened to Kathy’s animated comments. The brush was put down, and she picked up the comb and scissors again. She began cutting much more quickly this time, completely revealing first one ear and then the other.
When she seemed nearly finished, having given Kathy a sort of pixie-like cut, she suddenly burst out laughing at something that my wife said. Then she turned to face Kathy with a semi-serious look. She asked a question, got an answer, and put down the scissors and comb. A drawer was opened, and out came the clippers. A largish attachment was selected, and the vibrating clippers were placed in front of Kathy’s right ear. Beth slowly pushed them up through the remaining hair, which rained down over her hand. She held Kathy’s head firmly as she slowly worked her way around her head. In less than a minute, Kathy had a 3/8 inch brush cut. Beth stepped back, and they both smiled as they admired Kathy’s new ‘do in the mirror. Beth looked up at me through the window, and smiled at me as though she hadn’t known I was there, holding up one finger to tell me to wait. She then made a big deal about sweeping up the piles of hair, leaving a single, impressive pile of dark locks near my wife’s feet.
Beth walked over to the door and unlocked it. She looked me up and down through the glass before she opened it. “Sorry,” she said with a wink. “We’re closed right now.” And leaving the door open, she walked away into the back of the shop, leaving me to stare at my wife, newly shorn and smiling, in the big leather chair.