A Bride’s Gift by Jim B.
“Come on,” the best man called to Groomsman. “They are getting ready to leave and we have to decorate Bill’s car. Ted, did you bring the shoe polish and rope?”
“Yes,” Ted replied. “Got everything in my car.”
They rushed outside and quickly painted John’s car, stringing empty cans on the rope to trail behind the car.
It took the new couple an hour to leave, but Sue was pleased to have the extra time to tell her family and friends bye. She and Ron had dated for five years, now they were man and wife. His gift to her was to bring her family and some of her close friends to Jackson for the wedding.
They were going to spend the night and the next two days there before leaving for Germany, the homeland of their grandparents and family names. While there, they were going to spend a few days locating some of their relatives. This was another gift he gave her.
He had also, as a gift, given her her wedding dress, as well as co-signing for the loan her father had taken out to pay for her wedding.
She found it hard finding the right gift for him. He was a man who wanted few things and did not expect anything. But, it was a family tradition that she give him something worth more that what he gave her. She tried over the last months to find out, to ask him, what it was he wanted.
But he did not ask or say. He only wanted her to give to him what she wanted, what she thought was a gift of personal value.
She had made a list of things she knew he liked, a list of things of “personal value” to her, but nothing matched. His parents found it hard, when she asked them for help, remembering how he would always find what he wanted before they could give it to him.
Their first night was as man and wife, not leaving the hotel until late the next day. The few days stay in Jackson was something they both wanted. They had never taken time to see what was around them, in a place where they had met and chosen to live together, to play tourist for a day and night, to take in the night life, the restaurants and the food.
It was around 6pm when they stopped at a little outdoor café. A waiter showed them to a table in the patio. The sun was setting and cast a romantic light over them.
They looked over the menu together as they held hands. Together they chose what the other would eat. First to be ordered was a bottle of fine champagne. A fine wine was chosen to have with the fish dinner.
When the waitress came to take their order, Sue got a hint of what his gift should be. She was a tall lady, but what got his attention when he looked up from the menu, was the lack of hair on her head. He looked, trying to give his order. But his attention, Sue would find out later, was her hairlessness.
She remembered him talking of a high school girl friend who had to shave her head because of an accident, how her lack of hair made her more attractive, bringing out her eyes and smile. How the boys would follow her with their eyes as she passed them. How many of the girls had gotten mad at her for shaving her head longer than was necessary.
But, she thought, would he find this a “personal gift”?
He had never said anything to her about her hair. Never commenting when she changed the color, the style, or the length. It was as if he was blind to her doings with her hair. He never gave her gifts to decorate her hair with, nor purchased her any brushes or combs.
The next morning they woke early, and had breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. While drinking coffee she asked him how he would like her to style her hair. But, he offered nothing, leaving that to her.
After breakfast they played tourist again. This time they decided to walk around, and to return later to purchase gifts.
They returned to the little café for lunch. Sue looked for the waitress they had the night before only to be told she only worked at night.
After walking from shop to shop to purchase gifts, Bill became thirsty. “There is a small bar just down the street,” the gift shop owner told them of their inquiry. “They have a nice little patio, with weeping willows to shade you from the sun.”
As they entered the bar Sue noticed the flickering of red and white light coming through the windows. She walked to a window to see the origin of this light. It was reflecting out over the small patio, its movement was slow. She searched for it.
“Its coming from the barber pole,” the bartender told her. “My sister, Bunny, has kept the ol’ barber shop going for years.”
“Is there a way to the patio,” Bill inquired. The bartender pointed to the back of the bar. “There. You have to walk back down a tight alleyway.”
The alley was so tight, they had to walk sideways through it. After a few side steps they came to the patio. There in the center was the weeping willow the shop owner had told them of. Its branches were wide, covering the better part of the patio. The sunlight flickered through the leaves as the wind gently blew over the tree. The flickering red and white light gave it some life.
As they sat each offered a toast to the other. To their life together, and the family they would have.
Sue’s eyes floated to the turning barber’s pole, as if it was hypnotizing her. “Bill,” she asked her husband. “What did you think of our waitress last night?”
Bill looked at her. “What do you mean, my dear?”
“Your eyes seem pleased when you saw her,” she queried. “Did you find her lack of hair interesting… sexual?”
He leaned back in the chair, his face searching for an answer. His eyes closed as his head lowered in thought. Sue crossed her arms, her facial expression was of one wanting to know as she waited for his answer.
“Well,” she asked of him, “did you find her attractive?”
His head still lowered in thought, he said, “Somewhat!”
“Did she remind you of your friend in high school?” she asked.
He raised his head, a smile came to his face. “Mary,” he remembered. “She had a reason. But, she was attractive. Why do you ask?”
She smiled and took a sip of her wine. “Do you think the barber would mind if you took a picture of me standing in front of the pole?”
He looked at her. Taking a sip of his beer, he said, “Don’t think so.”
Sue got up and walked to the pole. “Where should I stand?”
“How about taking one on each side,” he told her.
The camera flashed, then again. She stood there letting her eyes clear from the glow of the camera’s flash. Bill returned to their table, taking a deep breath as he sat.
Sue looked into the shop as she walked past the door. It was as the bartender told them. There was an old barber’s chair, its chrome shining as if it were freshly polished. The leather of the chair gleamed with freshness. The shop smelled of the powder used by barbers. There was an overhead fan slowly turning sending a gentle breeze over the shop. The wire customer chairs sat in a neat row, one next to the other, leg to leg. The bright light from the fan was tossed out over the dim shop as the beams reflected off the mirrors on two walls.
There was a hint of hair, freshly cut, lingering around the chair. A line of clippings traced to a cabinet where others had been swept. Soft music filled the shop from an old radio sitting on the old wooden shelf.
A glass cabinet sat on the far corner of the shelf. In it were barbers’ tools. Under the shelf hung signs of modern time. The smell of coffee mingled with the smell of powder.
She entered the shop as her eyes viewed the inner working. Her fingers brushed the waiting chairs as she walked by them. She took a deep breath, breathing in its smell of the past and present.
She walked to the big chair, so peaceful it looked. Low to the floor, turned facing the mirror that lined the back wall. Little fading flower cut outs lined the edge of the mirror, they too showed the sign of the age of the shop.
Her eyes looked at the tools lined on the shelf. A straight razor, its blade open, sat next to a mug. Its small brush stood, wet as if just used, between two pairs of scissors, one with blades open and the other with blades closed. Combs sat next to each other, different in length and shape, and color too. Two hairbrushes, bristles mixed together as they lay one on top of the other.
“Can I help you?” came a soft voice. Sue looked up in the mirror to see a tall, stunning lady standing a few feet to her left. Their eyes met in the mirror as the lady walked towards the chair.
“Can I help you?” she asked again. Sue turned to her.
“No,” she replied. “Just looking. It is as I remember from the pictures my mother had.”
“Was she a barber?” the lady asked as she turned the chair to face forward.
“No. It was a picture of a barber shop my grandfather used to go to, back in New Jersey,” Sue calmly replied.
The lady sat in the chair and crossed her legs, causing her short dress to rise. Sue’s eyes closed as she turned her head, remembering the shop back then.
Many times, as a child, she had gone with her grandfather, for his monthly haircut. She would sit on his lap watching the other men get their hair cut before him. Then, she would sit on the floor, in front of the chair, as he got his hair cut. Watching the barber cut small sections of hair, then following them until they came to rest. She would pick a section up, when it fell on the floor before her, and toss it in the air and blow into it. This gave her laughter, and delight from her grandfather.
Once, the old barber, “Dan” she remembered her grandfather calling him, gave her fifty cents for sweeping the hair into a pile.
She started backing away from where she was standing. The lady watched her, quickly pointing out that someone was behind her. She turned to see her husband standing a few feet from her.
Their eyes met.
They stared at each other for a few minutes.
“What are you doing in here?” he asked.
She looked at him as he walked to a waiting chair in front of the barber’s chair. She caught the eyes of the lady barber, looking at her as she rose from the chair.
A strange feeling came to her, a lump in her throat. Her stomach began to tighten. She felt weak standing there. A feeling of helplessness came across her mind. One that told her she was expected to do something.
The lady barber slowly stepped behind the chair. She removed the gray striped cape, which lay over the back of the chair, and shook it open.
Bill sat looking at Sue, his eyes deep in thought. She closed her eyes, seeing old Dan as her grandfather sat in his chair. “You next, young lady,” she heard Dan’s voice in her mind, remembering that day he picked her up and sat her in the chair. Playfully he had tossed the cape around her, and began making sounds of scissors cutting her hair. She had giggled as her grandfather brushed her face with some cut hair.
She felt a quick breeze come from the side. She looked in the mirror behind where Bill was sitting, it was the lady barber fanning the cape.
She stretched the top of the cape open, like a matador at a bullfight. Hands holding the edges, she held it like she would to toss it in the air and around a customer’s neck.
Her body turned to face her husband, who was sitting as if in the audience of a theater. He sat waiting for the performance to begin.
Slowly Sue began to back her way from him, step by step to the waiting chair, to the lady barber, with open cape. Her legs stopped by the footrest, she frighteningly turned to see the gleam in the eyes of the lady barber.
Her left hand let the cape fall as it patted the arm of the chair, telling her “You next, young lady.”
Sue stood, her body shaking. Her eyes lowered to the seat of the barber’s chair, as if to guide her to it. A deep breath, one that could be heard, was taken as her body turned and sat in the barber’s chair.
As she sat the cape was tossed across her body. A hand came down over her left shoulder and brought the cape up and around her neck. It was pulled tight and pinned in place.
Bill sat up, then lowered in a relaxing position. His arms crossed, his legs crossed. His eyes fixed upon her, the lady barber.
She felt her hair being undone, it falling to she shoulders. No sound was made or heard. The radio became quiet, the fan’s breeze softer.
Her eyes caught the lady barber combing her hair out from its center part. Gently each combing was made, one next to the other. Combed not to bring her hair to a shine, but to loosen the strands from each other.
The lady barber now stood behind her and the chair. She reached over Sue’s head and combed a section backward between two fingers of her left hand. The section was combed only an inch, when she placed it between her thumb and first finger. Her right hand moved backward, then came forward next to her face. In it was a pair of scissors.
Its blades were opened and pushed around the section of hair. Quickly she closed the blades, sending inches of hair floating past her eyes and into her lap. Another section was combed and the scissors quickly cut it.
Bill sat watching, no emotion on his face.
Another, then another, section of hair was combed and quickly cut. Slowly the top of her head was turned from long hair to hair two inches long. The lady barber worked backwards to the right of the center part. Some hair lay down while others stood wondering what was happing.
The last section was cut on the right of the center, she now being, from the front, on the left of the center part. Again she combed a section of hair, quickly it was cut and floated past Sue’s eyes into the cape.
Bill sat watching, not saying a thing. His eyes fixed on what the lady barber was doing, not his wife.
Within minutes the hair on top of Sue’s head was shorter than she had ever had her hair cut to. Her head was tilted to the left a little as the lady barber began to quickly comb and cut the right side of her head. She stood behind the chair combing section after section, quickly each was cut. Each section of long hair fell to the floor.
Sue sat there watching in the mirror behind Bill. His eyes still fixed on the lady barber, not her, as she combed and combed. Quickly the scissors would cut her hair to its new length.
She began to feel the breeze from the slow-turning fan on her head.
The lady barber did not miss on movement with the comb and scissors.
Her head was tilted to the right and the lady barber began combing and cutting. Hair fell to the floor. The lady barber, still standing behind the chair, worked to finish her work. She placed her right hand on top of Sue’s head, as she took a deep breath, and pushed it downward causing her chin to touch the top of her chest. Sue felt her hair being combed, then the tightness went away as the section of hair was cut.
She felt the small hairs on her neck being pulled together, then her head fell limp.
Within a minute the lady barber was brushing her hand over Sue’s head. It felt strange to her, she had never felt this before. Her head rocked back and forth, side to side. Her eyes watched as the lady barber turned her body and tossed the comb and scissors on the shelf.
Her hand then reached under the shelf. Slowly it came up with a large black object.
The lady barber brushed the object across her body. There was a humming sound. Sue’s head was again pushed downward. The sound came close to the back of her head.
Her eyes picked up at Bill. He was now sitting up more, as if he was trying to see over her.
She felt the humming sound touch her neck. Slowly it moved up her neck as the humming sound changed. It moved up to her head, then quickly it moved away. She took a breath, as she felt the humming sound change again as it moved up her neck and head. Again she felt it move from her head.
It moved to the left side, started over. Sue began to feel a lump in her throat, as she began to think of what was happening.
Her head was tilted to the left as the humming sound changed. Hair, short hair, began falling from her head. She felt the humming sound move over the top of her right ear. Her eyes watched as it pushed a pile of hair forward to fall into her lap as the humming sound was pulled from her head. Again it moved forward, pushing another pile of hair.
As she took a deep breath her head rose, her eyes saw shorter hair on the right side of her head. As her head was tilted to the right she closed her eye, only to feel the humming sound move up behind her left ear and over it. Quickly it pushed a pile of hair forward, to fall past her eye and into her lap.
Within minutes her head was slowly rising. Her eyes saw a woman with very short hair. She saw the lady barber hang the black object under the shelf, only to bring up another one.
This one was smaller, and the sound was softer. The lady barber reached over her head and placed the object in the center of her forehead. Not asking, not saying, she moved the little clippers back over the center of Sue’s head. The pile of short hair grew, some falling to the sides, as she moved it backward. Then, it left Sue’s head, only to return to her forehead.
The lady barber moved quickly. Clipping strip after strip over Sue’s head, leaving behind hair that looked like her husband’s face in the morning. Her head of hair grew shorter, as the lady barber moved the little clippers over and over her head.
She looked at Bill every so often, only to see his expression unchanged.
Not a word had been spoken since she had sat in the chair. It was if she was dreaming what was really happening. Her mind would flash back to her grandfather as he was getting his hair cut. To hear Mr. Dan jokingly say, “You next, young lady.”
Soon the little clippers were done and the lady barber hung them under the shelf, next to the large black ones. She dusted Sue’s head with a hair duster. It felt good to her and made her smile a pleasant smile.
Sue’s attention was on Bill. He was smiling now. Smiling with pleasure, with interest.
She did not hear the water running in the sink, nor see the steam rising from it. Her attention was brought back to her when she felt the warm towel being wrapped around her head. Then she heard a winding sound and saw steam rising from a pile of cream in the lady barber’s left hand.
Sue’s head rocked backward as her mind told her, “Your head is going to be shaved.”
She took a deep breath in disbelief. She could not believe she had sat in the barber’s chair allowing her hair to be cut from her head. She could not believe Bill, her husband – her friend for five years, would sit, as he was, allowing this to happen to her.
The lady barber removed the cool towel, and began spreading the warm lather over Sue’s head. Again, as she had times before, she took a deep breath as her eyes closed. The lady barber spread the lather over her head, rubbing it in.
When the lady barber stopped spreading the lather Sue opened her eyes to see her head covered in white. It felt warm, almost tingling her scalp.
The lady barber stood behind the chair, as she had all this time, and reached over Sue’s head. This time in her right hand was a safety razor. It too was placed in the center of her head, and moved backward. Behind the moving razor was left skin, pale skin. Skin which had never seen light of any kind. The center path grew to the right with another backward movement of the razor. Then, it grew to the left of the first movement.
Soon the top of her head was nothing but pale skin. The long hair which minutes before had hung there was gone. Gone to nothing.
She looked at Bill, her husband of only two days. He sat pleased at what he was watching. Never saying a word, hardly moving in his seat. Only to wet his tongue every so often.
Her head was tilted to the left as the lady barber began shaving the right side of her head. Each upward movement of the razor revealed more pale skin. With each movement of the razor she felt the slow-moving air from the fan above and in front of her. Soon her head was tilted forward and she felt the razor shaving to the skin. Each movement widened the size of the paleness.
Soon her head was tilted to the right. The razor began exposing more pale skin. The slow-moving breeze spread over her head. The last movement was made, her head was all pale.
Another warm towel was wrapped around her head. She watched the lady barber rub her hands together. Then, she removed the towel and began rubbing her hands over Sue’s shaven head.
Her head rocked from side to side, backward and forward. Then she felt coolness over her head. It was not from the fan, but from what the lady barber rubbed over her shaven head. Its coolness passed slowly away as the lady barber dusted her head with that sweet smelling powder she smelled when she entered the shop.
The cape was removed and shaken clean of the hair that was in it.
Sue stepped out the chair, looking down on the floor to see all the hair that was once on her head. She turned to Bill, but he was walking out the shop. She turned to the chair and her eyes caught the lady barber walking through the back door of the shop.
Sue looked at herself in the mirrors behind the waiting chairs. She saw a woman whose eyes she knew, a face she had dressed up. But it was hairless.
She slowly brought her hand to her head. Her fingers stroked over its smoothness. She only felt this on her legs and her husband’s face. Her mind began replaying what had happen. She watched in the mirror as her mind projected the last hour of her life.
Removing her fingers from her head, Sue walked to the door of the barber shop. She stopped and started to turn and look at where she had been. Instead she continued walking, walking to that little walkway which had brought her and Bill to the patio.
As she walked into the bar the bartender looked up from serving two women. They smiled at each other as she walked by.
“Yes,” she heard him say. “Just out the back door, turn left, and down the path. You’ll have to walk sideways to go down it. But, you’ll love the patio. Look to the back and you will see the red and white pole, that’s my sister’s barber shop. She has kept it like it was since she…”