Blank Slate By Lela
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The ritual only took Cate a few seconds longer than usual. Placing the brush down with a hesitant force, she picked the burnished brass cat barrette off her dresser and clipped her hair into its customary half up, half down position. Her hair was as straight as a post and fine, and had the damaged, hippie-ish raggedness as it caressed the waist of her jeans. Despite this, it had a rich ginger color that made it lovely. Cate sat down at the computer and logged on.
Two new messages. Message 1: from Elsie Davis to Cate Harris. “Hey Cate! I can’t believe you’re really going to do it! Onwards and upwards – I suppose. ~TTFN~ Elsie”
Cate logged off and walked out into the kitchen. Her mother sat typing something on her laptop.
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“I’m going out, ok?” Cate asked, her voice perfectly calm.
“Sure, Catie,” She replied, not even looking up. Cate went out to her car, swinging her hair out of the way of the door out of habit. As she pulled out of the driveway, she checked her clock. 8:00 AM Saturday. Her stomach waltzed as she drove. She’d had this appointment for over a month, she couldn’t back out now. She pulled into the strip mall and wiped her sweaty palms on her faded jeans. 8:16. She sat in her car a moment, just staring at the sign in the morning fog. “East Hills Salon,” the sign read. 8:24. She opened the door and locked the car as she got out.
“Hello Cate!” the receptionist greeted her.
“Hello. I have an appointment with Selah for 8:30,” Cate said. Her palms had stopped trembling and sweating. Her stomach was quiet. 8:29. Cate flipped idly through a magazine. Long hair was definitely “it.” Her eyes fixed for a moment on a picture of Winona Ryder. She smiled. 8:33.
“You want to do what we discussed the other week?”
“Yes.” Cate’s voice was almost firm, a quality that made her wince.
“And you still want to send the rest to Locks of Love?” Cate nodded. “It’ll be easiest if we cut the length, then wash, ok?” Cate nodded again. Selah led her to the big vinyl chair. Cate crossed her ankles as Selah took the barrette out of her hair. Selah reached for a boar’s hair brush and began gliding it through the mane. Once, twice, thrice. Cate savored the gentle pricking of her scalp, followed by the familiar tug of the brush over her tangle-free hair. Selah stopped and reached into her drawer. She took out an elastic and a pair of shears. She ran her fingers through the glossy hair and paused at the nape of Cate”s ivory neck. “Here?”
“Yes,” said Cate. Selah secured the mane in a ponytail at the nape, then reached for the shears. Cate’s eyes began to widen. She was unsure whether to laugh or cry, whether to shut her eyes or leave them open. She could feel the Selah’s slim tawny fingers weave into her ponytail. She saw a silver glint in the mirror, heard a snip, much quieter than expected, and felt a piece of hair as wide as from her face to her ear settle at her collar bone. She let out a gasp and a nervous smile. Past the point of no return now, eh? she thought as she saw Selah raise the shears again. Another glint. Another snip. Cate’s hand flew to stroke not the new locks that remained, but the amputated ends. She folded her hands again. Snip. And it was gone. She’d grown her hair ever since she’d had it cut in a bowl cut the summer before sixth grade. Six years of growing, and all she had to show for it was the hacked lengths that swarmed about her face. She’d grown her hair at first as a way of fitting in to her new school, then as a way to separate her from the pack. It had also been a way of easily raising spite with her mother.
The hair was being lovingly coiled into an envelope. Selah, without either drama or insensitivity, carried it over to the front desk. She ushered Cate over to the washbasins. Cate marveled at the new sensation of actually feeling the water being sprayed on her head. Selah wrapped her hair in a towel and led her back to the chair.
“So how are we going to style the cut?”
“Longer in front, shorter in back,” Cate responded firmly. “Shoulder length in front, chin in back.” Cate groaned slightly as the comb slid down her neck. Selah paused and then the icy caress of the shears along her neck. And she thought brushing her hair was erotic. Selah precisely but swiftly shaped the rest of the cut, then took out a round brush and dryer and began to dry it.
“Quicker than the last time I did it,” Selah cracked with a smile. She stroked the bob quickly and regarded it. “Yes. Yes. A decided improvement. They’ll love this at college. What do you think?” Cate raised her liquid eyes to look in the mirror. The young woman she regarded looked about ten years older than the one who had walked into the shop. Was that the slightest hint of prettiness she saw in that smile in the mirror? She shook her head hesitantly.
“It tickles,” she said as she took Selah’s tip out of her pocket. She paid the stylist and got into her car. 9:20 am. She drove home. Her mother was still home. 9:31 am. She walked into her house. Her mom was still typing.
“Hi Mom,” she said nonchalantly.
“Hello Catie.” Mrs. Harris took a sip of coffee, not looking up. “Did you… oh my god!” The mouthful of coffee hit the opposite wall. “Great Scott! I love it.”