Favors Returned by Jim B.
“Coming?” my dear husband, Mike, called to me.
“YES!” I yelled back at him as I closed the front door behind me.
“It was your idea for us to get all dressed up,” I told him as I sat in the car.
We smiled at each other and he backed out the driveway. He did not say much to me, not even giving me any idea where we were going.
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I knew it was to get my hair cut. I had agreed to do this little favor for him – after all, he has done me a lot of favors, little things more like it, since we got married fifteen years ago. I could even get him to do things when we were dating, but never had I given in return. Always asking, never willing to do something for him. He was a dear, always looking out for me and doing for me.
So, when he did me the favor of bricking our wooden house, not even asking me why, I began to think of all the things I had asked of him. Some of them were little things, things I could have done myself.
Others, well, cost a little, but not as much as it did to brick the house.
After thinking about it a few days, I decided I would do something for him. But, what would it be?
He asked me to do a lot of simple things, but which would he ask in return for the bricking of our house!
When he told me there were a few things, really about five that he would like to see me do, I thought a little more about it. He told me what the most important ones were, and I could choose which one I wanted to do.
I found it funny that cutting my hair short was one of them. He always liked my hair just as I had it, just below the shoulder. Always telling me it was just the right length – not too long and not too short. Twice I had mentioned cutting my hair above the shoulders, because of the hot summer’s weather, and he had a small fit. “You can pull it back in a pony-tail, or a braid,” he would tell me.
Now he wanted me to cut it short, but he did not say how short.
After agreeing to cut my hair, I began looking in various hairstyling magazines to find a short cut I liked. One that would suit me and my lifestyle. One with bounce, one that would move, not stick to my head.
But the other night when I was showing him some of the cuts I had found, he looked at me and told me, “My choice.”
“My choice?” I replied. “Do you mean yours or mine?”
He smiled, winked, and pointed at himself.
After a few minutes of thought, I thought it would be nice. After all he did get his hair cut like I wanted it.
“All right,” I remember saying, “you choose. But, remember you have to put up with the result.”
As we drove toward the city I asked, “Where are we were going?”
“To get your hair cut,” he replied.
“I know that,” I answered. “But, where is where? And why are we all dressed up?”
He reached over with his right hand and patted my left thigh, “Can’t wait, can you? When we get there you’ll know. As for dressing up…” He reached in his coat pocket and handed me two tickets.
They were for a play, “Cats”. I had been wanting to go since it went on the road from New York. I could not help but to lean over and give him a hug and kiss. This made letting him decide how I would get my hair cut a lot easier to do.
“Dinner beforehand is included,” he whispered. I smiled and sat back, more at ease, as we entered the city limits.
I thought of the many times we drove into the city. For shopping, to visit the doctors, to take in a movie, just to visit family and friends. We built our home in the southern suburbs to get away from it, but coming back for the little things was welcome. When we were children our families lived on the north side of the city. It grew into a small suburb, but crime quickly took hold of the area and many of the families moved.
As we reached the center of downtown he turned west. The sun was shining brightly and I closed my eyes as the sounds of downtown faded away.
I felt his touch as he nudged me, “Here we are.”
I looked around. We were in the parking lot of a small strip shopping center. There was a small drugstore, a small grocery store, a few buildings with nothing in them, and a barber shop. “Carol’s Ol’ Fashioned Barber Shop” was on the window.
We got out the car and walked to the barber shop. “Well, think you can handle it?” he asked.
I gave him a little punch in the arm, the gentle kind. “Yes,” I whispered. “Remember the little barber shop we met in?”
He smiled and gave me a hug, “Yes. And, you were only there to sweep up for the summer.”
Yes, that’s how we met, at a barber shop a few blocks from where we lived. The shop was owned by a friend of our fathers, who also got their hair cut there. “Mr. John,” I told him.
“Remember he told our fathers we would end up together,” I reminded him as I laid my head against his arm.
As we reached the barber shop I looked in the large picture window and saw an old barber chair like the one Mr. John had in his shop. When he opened the door a bell rang out just like in Mr. John’s, and there were wire-made waiting chairs, also. Everything was like Mr. John’s shop where we grew up.
“Be with you in a minute,” came a feminine voice from a little room in the back of the shop. Mike placed his hands on my shoulders and guided me to the waiting chairs. We sat for a few minutes, when the door opened I looked up.
“Molly,” the woman’s voice announced as she stretched out her arms walking to us. I stood up and did the same. “Been years, Carol, years.”
“Mike,” she said as she leaned over to him and gave him a little kiss on the cheek.
“What have you been up to?” I asked her.
She smiled, stepped back a few steps, and waved her arms out and around, “This, this!”
“After Dan passed away, I went to barber’s school,” she continued as she waved her arms around again. “Now this is mine. The old barber chair, the little chairs all from Mr. John’s shop. Remember Mr. John?”
I nodded my head and we hugged again.
“So, what brings you two to this part of town?” she asked.
A lump came to my throat, just as it came to me. I tried to swallow, but couldn’t.
“She wants a nice short haircut,” Mike piped up. “Couldn’t think of a better place, or better barber, for her to get the cut she wants.”
“Cut she wants,” I heard my mind tell me. “Remember I am letting you choose the cut.”
Carol stepped to the chair, pulling the white striped cape from across the arm. With her left hand she motioned me to the chair. “And how short are we going?”
“Well, you’ll have to ask him,” I told her as I sat in the chair. “Told him I would get it cut like he wanted, because he has done so many things for me. And, would you believe he never complains!”
“My, my,” she said as she wrapped a strip of paper around my neck and pulled the cape after it. “You did luck out with the best one didn’t you?”
As Mike sat down, Carol picked up a hairbrush and began brushing my hair out. “Well,” she asked as she began brushing the left side of my head, “how short?”
Mike looked up, our eyes met. He was smiling. I could see Carol looking at him, looking for his answer to her question. “Well, how short?” she asked again.
He looked at me, “Sure it’s my choice?”
I smiled, winked, “Your choice.”
“No matter what my choice?” he asked childishly.
“Yes no matter what,” I said and winked, but a little worried.
He leaned forward, then back. His body moved to the edge of the chair, his fingers tapped the edge of the chair seats on either side of him. He wet his lips, then swallowed.
“A crewcut,” he said somewhat low as his body moved backwards in the chair.
I leaned forward, turning my head a little, “A what?”
“A crewcut,” he said a little more clearly. “A really short crewcut. Like I used to get when we were kids.”
“You got to be kidding,” Carol said laughing. “Wome…”
I cut her off. “That sounds nice.”
She looked at me. “Do you remember how short that is?”
I wet my lips, closed my eyes to quickly remember and nodding my head I told her, “Yes.”
Carol brushed her fingers through my hair, pushing it back off my face. “It’s going to be real short. I mean you will look like you have no hair on the sides or back.” I smiled at her and nodded my head indicating I knew. She patted me on the shoulder and walked to the shelf behind the chair.
I looked at Mike: his eyes looked down like a child who had done something wrong. He looked as if he were ashamed of what he had asked for.
“Been wanting to get ride of some of this hair anyway,” I announced to them. “Getting too old for long hair – not a young girl any more.” Carol was standing to the right of the chair, clippers in her right hand.
“You sure of this?” she said.
“Yes,” Mike and I replied, then we laughed.
Mike looked up and smiled at me. He sat back, more relaxed now.
“Well, here we go,” she told me as she placed her left hand on top of my head and tilted it to the left. “Going to clip you down to half an inch first. If you, either of you, change your mind a half-inch brush cut won’t look that bad. A lot of women are cutting their hair like that for the summer, easier to care for. Wash it and you don’t even have to towel-dry it.”
She slid the humming clippers under my hair and quickly pushed it up, tossing a pile of hair in my lap when it could go no more. The second pass was along the top of the side of my head, backward to the back of my head. Hair fell to my shoulders, the floor, some sticking to the uncut hair below the backward-clipped section. She lowered the clippers down clipping that section, below the first, the same way, backward sending this pile to the floor behind the chair.
My head was tilted forward as she began clipping behind my right ear, then up the back of my neck and head. She clipped upward around the back of my head until she reached behind my left ear. There she placed the clippers at the arch of my head and moved the clippers forward, pushing a pile of hair which fell passed my left eye and into the cape. I quickly took a deep breath which rocked my body backward. This was followed by another pass just below the first, sending the pile of hair again passed my left eye and into my lap. Two short upward passes were made in front of my left ear and she was finished.
“Look,” she asked again, “are you sure about this haircut? Both of you not just you Mike.”
I looked at Mike and remembered the things he had done in the past for me. Not asking, just doing.
“Yes,” I told her. “Short like Mike used to get his back when…” Mike’s eyes lit up, his smile was bigger, more pleasant then when he had told her.
“Yes,” I told Carol again. “If you don’t want to do it, I am sure we can find someone who is willing to do so.”
“Just asking, just asking,” she replied as she removed the half-inch attachment and tossed it to the shelf as she walked towards it. She hung the clippers under it and reached in the drawer to the right of it. Pulling her hand out she had another clipper, one that was bigger and rounder. She pulled the cord out and plugged it in the wall outlet. Her left hand reached back into the drawer pulling out something I could not see.
When she turned around the clippers looked bigger than when I saw her pull it from the drawer. There was no attachment on it, just metal teeth. She stood behind the chair placing her left hand on top of my head and tilting it forward. I heard her take a breath in and let it out.
“Going to feel a cool breeze in a minute,” she warned me.
I heard the click as she turned the clippers on. I heard the loud humming as she brought it to below my hairline. Its vibration was strong, sending little chills down my spine. Slowly she pushed it upward. The humming sound quickly changed to one of cutting, chewing. Higher up my neck, my head until she reached the top of my head. The clippers were pulled away and I felt a gentle coolness.
The metal blade was warmer as she began the next pass up the back of my head. Again to the top of my head, the coolness widened. My head was moved to the left a little as she pushed the clippers up behind my right ear. Again to the top of my head, more coolness was felt.
She stepped to the left and began clipping upward to the left of the first pass. Again to the top of my head, more coolness was felt. My head was tilted to the right a little, again the clippers moved up to the top of my head and the coolness grew.
Again I heard Carol take a breath and force it out. Her left hand, still on the top of my head, tilted my head to the right. I took my right hand from under the cape and brushed it over the back of my head.
It felt strange feeling my hair this short. But, for some reason it felt good. It reminded me of Mike when we began dating back in grammar school. How much I liked that feeling each time he would get his hair cut. Like a soft short-haired brush. I would brush my hands over his head every time I had the chance to. Now I was enjoying that feeling on the back of my head.
“Sorry,” I heard Carol say. “I think it’s really too late to back out.”
I turned my head a little so I could see her. “Not going to,” I told her softly. “Just wanted to feel it.” We smiled at each other and she began clipping the left side of my head.
My eyes watched Mike, how he was staring not wanting to miss anything. His smile told me he liked what was happing, that made me feel better about it. I watched in the mirror behind him as the clippers clipped my hair shorter. With the last pass made, on the left side, I could see how short my hair had been clipped to. Carol was right, it looked bald.
Her left hand tilted my head to the left as she began clipping the right side of my head again. This time she started in front of my right ear and clipped back over it. After four quick passes she reached in to her jacket pocket and pulled a small flat brush out. Gently she dusted little hairs from back and sides of my head, as she walked around the chair. When she reached the left side, again, she dusted across my face. This caused me to close my eyes.
I heard her turn the clippers on again. My eyes opened to see it moved up before them to my forehead. I stared in the mirror, staring at the clippers as she pushed it back over my head. Slowly a small pile of short hairs grew before the clipper. When it reached the back of my head she pushed the clippers off sending the pile of short hair in the air, to float to the floor. Quickly she brought the clippers back and pushed it back over my head. The third pass was more to the center of my head, sending another pile of short hairs to the floor.
She patted my shoulder as she walked around the chair to the right side. There she made three quick passes over my head and turned the clippers off.
Her left hand touched my chin turning my head to face her. She looked from side to side of my face, looking to make sure the clippers had done its job. She smiled. “One more time around.”
She walked to the shelf, her body keeping me, keeping Mike, from seeing what she was doing. Just as quickly she returned to the right side of the chair, clippers still in hand.
“This is it,” she told me. “00000 head. It’ll buzz you almost to the skin.”
“Bald?” I inquired. “Almost bald like you told me!” She nodded. I closed my eyes as she tilted my head to the left, not wanting to see until she was finished. When she turned it back on, it sounded louder this time. The metal was colder.
Quickly she pushed the clippers up the side of my head, pulling it away right where my head arched over the top. I felt it touch my skin above the right ear, my eyes opened as she pulled it away at the arch. I gasped for a breath. I looked at Mike, he looked a little uneasy. She stepped to the back some and began buzzing the back of my head, pushing it over the top a little from the read.
My eyes kept staring at what the clippers had done. I did not notice her move around to my left side until I felt my head being tilted to the right. Four upward passes and she turned the clippers off.
She took out the hair duster and dusted over the sides and back of my head. I felt the soft strands more, there was less hair. Carol walked to the shelf and laid the clippers down on the shelf. I looked at her in the mirror as she stood there for a minute.
She turned around and stepped to the left of the chair. “Do you want me to…,” she started to ask.
“Yes, yes,” Mike told her. “It’s not a true barber’s haircut without it.”
Carol shook her head, turned around and took a step toward a small cabinet under the shelf. She pulled the small door open, reached in and removed something white. As she turned the door closed with a bang. Her right hand undid the clip that held the cape together in back, and let it slide down across my arms. My neck felt stiff, so I moved it as she began tucking the white thing, the white towel, in the collar of my blouse.
As she spread it out over my shoulders I knew what she had asked. What he had stopped her from saying. I had seen my father, other men, my brothers, even Mike.
I heard the winding sound of the dispenser, my eyes caught the lather flowing out into her left hand. My eyes followed her to the right side of the chair. They followed her fingers as they picked up some lather and spread it along the hairline. It was warm, warmer than when I heated up the can of shaving cream to shave my legs and underarms.
Gently she spread the lather across my neck, but a little higher than the hairline. Up and over my left ear, the final dab in front of the ear. It looked funny, I looked funny, the hair on top of my head just long enough to tell I had hair there. The sides and the back looked like I was bald, shaved to the skin. The little white line tracing the bottom of my hair growth.
I heard her sharpening her straight razor on the leather strap, but I could not watch. My mind was focused on the woman my eyes were telling it about. They would glance to the man who asked me, who wanted me to do this. To cut my hair like he did when we were kids, years ago.
The light flickered off the shining blade into my eyes as she brought it up to begin skillfully removing just a fraction of hair growth that remained on my head. To remove the short hairs, to shave a thin line that could be seen. I sat there not thinking of anything. Not wondering of anything. Just staring in the mirror as Carol shaved that thin line along the edge of my hair growth. When she began shaving the hairline across my neck, the blade touched my skin below the little notch. She shaved down from there to the hairline, all the way across my neck.
I glanced at Mike – his smile was small. But deep in his eyes I saw something, something I had never seen in them before. A look of pleasure and the unknown!
“There,” Carol’s voice brought me back to the present. “What do you think?”
I walked to the mirror where Mike was sitting. I looked at myself, looking for something that told me it was me. The smile began, a little wink, it was the woman I knew. It was me, it was still me, only my hair was no longer to my shoulders. I looked at Mike, I touched his face. He smiled, a smile of relief.
My fingers began brushing gently over the sides and back of my head, moving over the top of the soft little hairs that were on top. Hair that could not be grabbed even with my fingertips. Down the back of my head, to my neck where Carol had shaved it bald.
It felt good there, no hair. The place Mike liked kissing while he tried to see what I was cooking for dinner. While we stood in line at the movies, the theater. The place that I enjoyed being touched.
“What you wanted?” I asked him lovingly. Before he could answer I leaned down and gave him a gentle kiss on the lips. I took his hands and brought them to my head, for him to feel what he wanted.
Carol began sweeping the floor, sweeping my hair into a pile, then in to a bin with others.
Mike tried to pay her, but she would not take it. “Really didn’t think you would do it,” she told me.
I gave her a hug, a gentle kiss on the cheek, a gentle squeeze of her hands.
“See you in a week,” I told her.
“Will he be coming with you?” she inquired.
“Yes,” I told her as I looked at him. “He’ll be first.”