Louise Returns by Sean O’Hare
It had been 4 weeks since Dad took me to the barbershop where I had my waist length hair chopped off. My shaved neck and change of appearance had drawn lots of attention from friends and at school… nearly all of it favourable.
I was surprised that even boys seemed to like my new look, more perhaps than when I had long hair. As for me, well, I love it. I love how it looks and I love how it feels to the touch. Just touching the smooth skin is like an electric shock, especially when I imagine how it used to look. Shut away in my room, I am caressing my severed ponytail and remembering that morning 4 weeks ago. Ohhhh! I remember the tug of the scissors, the vibration of the clippers and the rasping of the razor. OHHHH! And I have been coming to terms with the feelings I have been experiencing since then!
Of course it has grown quite a lot, even in the short time since I had it cut. The longer top hair now almost reaches the tops of my ears, while the shaved area is now well over half an inch long. It has gone through a lovely prickly stage where just running my hands up it was a stunning experience. It is now soft. It still feels nice, but not as exciting as before. It needs to be cut again. And I have been anticipating today with relish for some time… for nearly 4 weeks!
There’s a knock at the door. I hear Dad answer and there is muted chat, surprisingly good-natured since this is the first time Mum has returned since she left us nearly two months ago. She’s returned to take me out for the day – no not the zoo, but shopping for new clothes!
As I descend the stairs I hear Mum.
“Well Dave, that shorter haircut suits you. I don’t know why you kept it all long and straggly for so long.” Because Mum said she liked it!
“Thanks,” Dad replies. “You’re looking good too.” As I reach the bottom of the stairs I see he is right. She looks no different – just her normal stunning self! A very short denim skirt teamed with a white, silky blouse covered by a close-fitting leather jacket. All this topped off by her sensational golden blonde, glossy curls which reach way down her back. Most people assume they are natural – they certainly look natural – but she regularly has her hair permed to keep the look.
As she turns, she characteristically pushes over her hair from the opposite side to the parting, making it look even fuller.
“Well hi sweetheart, so the hairdresser has been at you too. That fringe really suits you.”
It dawns on me that Mum doesn’t know I’ve had my hair cut. Of course it looks as though I’ve had a fringe cut and tied back the rest.
“Hi Mum. Er, actually a little bit more than a fringe… it goes all round.” I do a twirl and Mum’s jaw drops. She is rarely lost for words.
“Er, your hair Louise! It’s all gone.” Unsurprisingly – I knew the gesture well – her hands went to her own hair to feel the comfort of it still being there.
“Yes, I had it cut. Do you like it? I do.” To emphasise my feeling I run my hand over the short nape and through the bowl-shaped crown.
“Well I, er… it’s very short… er, yes I do actually. It looks really nice. But why?”
I’m not even tempted to say we couldn’t manage it without her! “Just wanted it all cut off.” Mum nods. “And I’m going to have it trimmed today before we go shopping.”
“Today! Oh Louise.” Adults whining is not a nice experience.
“It won’t take long. We’ll go on the way into town. It’s the shop just before the high street.”
“OK, well we’d better get going.”
So we do. We talk about what I have been doing at school and she asks after my friends. But she volunteers little about her new life.
My anticipation and excitement is growing as we cross the road. Mum is still talking as I stop outside the barbershop. She continues walking.
“Er mum, we’re here.”
“What? I assumed you had an appointment at Julie’s. This is a barbershop. A man’s barbershop!” She looks really shocked.
“I know. They offered to cut it for me when I was waiting for Dad. And they did do a good job, didn’t they?”
“Well, yes….” I march in and Mum follows.
No one is waiting. The younger barber is attending to a customer and Phil walks from the back of the shop. On seeing me he smiles. His gaze moves to Mum and his expression goes a little frosty. “Hello Anne.” Clearly he knows her, and remembers from Dad that she has left us.
“Ah! Phil, I forgot you work here. How are you?”
“I’m OK.” He looks towards me once more. “Well Lou, what can we do for you today. A trim is it?”
“Yes please!” I immediately jump into the chair and remember the young boy who had done the same last time. And I had no understanding why he felt that way! “Mum, you can sit over there.”
Mum sits in one of the chairs against the opposite wall, crosses her legs and arms, and waits.
A cape suddenly swirls around me – no long hair in the way this time and is fastened securely around my neck. I feel that now familiar excitement return once more.
The longer top layers are pinned up. And now I hear that buzzing sound! I feel the coldness on my neck. And then the sweet smoothness as the bare blade clears a path straight up the back of my head.
“Oh my!” I hear Mum exclaim. “He’s shaving off all your hair, sweetheart.”
I see her expression in the mirror. It’s a real picture! “Yes, I know Mum. That’s how I want it.” Really want it!!
And I feel the delicious chattering blades glide up again and again. And I watch Mum transfixed by their operation. Her eyes followed their movement like a tennis ball!
Her eyes nearly pop out as Phil applies the shaving foam. He begins to shave away the back and then over the ears. Mum has not said a word since her exclamation. Unusual for her! But I could see from expression, from her quickly rising and falling chest, and from the crossing and uncrossing of her legs, that this was affecting her. Big time!
Phil put down the razor. He seemed to go much more slowly and carefully this time. Almost as if he was enjoying it… and he knew that I was too. “Louise, your hair grows quick. It nearly reaches the tops of your ears already. I’m going to cut it much shorter.” There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it touching the ears of course. Just that Phil doesn’t think it should. Perhaps I should just come more often. Mmmmm!
True to his word, he combs down the top hair and places the cold blade of the scissors against my bare temple. Nearly two inches above the tip of my ear. And cuts. And nearly 2 inches of glossy hair slides down the cape.
“I said, I think you’re next Madam.” The young barber had finished with his customer and made the assumption that the only person in the shop was waiting. A pretty foolish assumption given my mum’s appearance!
“Er what? Er, no… sorry. I’m just here watching my daughter… that is waiting for my daughter to have hers cut.”
“Oh.” It is pretty easy to feel in his voice that he is disappointed – whether because he relishes attending to my mum’s hair or just talking to my mum, I’m not sure. “Well you can watch a little closer if you wish,” he said indicating his now vacant chair.
Surprisingly Mum walks over and sits, swivelling around to watch me. “Thanks.”
“Did you have it shaved like that last time Lou?” I nod. “It looks so smooth. How does it feel?”
“Smooth!” Mum lets out a short, breathless laugh. “So clean, so crisp… so, well, just right!”
“Yes I can see it does. Doesn’t it feel odd, not having all that hair?”
“Yes Mum, it feels really odd. But so… oh, I don’t know.”
Mum looks really excited and nervous and leaned towards me to watch more closely.
“There, all done Louise.” And it was. I looked in the mirror and saw he had gone much higher at the sides. There was a vast expanse of bare skin around my ears. And it looked great. He held up a mirror behind me and I saw the line appeared to have been angled up at the back and my neck and the back of the head appeared hairless.
The cape is whisked away and I feel a warm hand on my neck. Mum was reaching over and feeling the sensation of the bare skin. “Oh my,” she exclaimed once more. I could feel her hand shaking slightly.
“OK Mum, time to hit the shops.” She seemed a little lost, a little confused as she continued to look at my hair.
She then turns to face the young barber who had been leaning against the counter to one side of her. While Mum had been watching me, he had been watching her!
She sits there looking into his eyes and I hear her ask, somewhat huskily and rather breathlessly, “Er, what… what do you think of my hair?”
“It’s lovely.” He looked dreamily. “I, er, mean it really suits you. You’re extremely lucky.”
She looks disappointed. “So you don’t think I should have it cut. I mean do I wear it in the right style?” What! Mum cut her hair? That was a more outrageous thought than Dad cutting his. She’s clearly just flirting with this guy.
He jumped off the counter and swivelled Mum’s chair towards the mirror. “Well, it looks fine. Ideal length really. IF it was shorter it wouldn’t fall right with all those curls.” I can see her chest moving under the thin white blouse – quickly, up and down. She self-consciously pulls down the hem of her short skirt. But it remains short and shows ample thigh.
He is fingering her hair. Lifting it so it looks shoulder length. Then to chin length. Moving his head from one side to the other as if in contemplation.
He carefully smooths it all back, and holds it back. He stares at Mum in the mirror. “Of course if you were to wear it off your face it would look very different.”
I don’t think I had ever known Mum wear her hair off the face and never tied back. The cluster of curls always surrounds her face. “All this hair really does swamp your wonderful features.”
The young barber slowly lets go of Mum’s hair. It is apparent that he thinks he’s overstepped the mark. He looks a bit sheepish and is worried by what she might now say. She continues staring straight ahead at her reflection – her expression difficult to read as she appears to admire her glorious hair caressing her wonderful features.
Mum said something but neither I nor the young barber heard. “I’m sorry, madam?”
She moved her hand once more in that characteristic gesture, rapidly sweeping all that hair from one side of her head to the other. The barber stepped back slightly as this cascade of hair came flying through the air.
Once more, rather breathlessly, but this time a little louder. “Please will you cut it for me.”
My mind’s running overtime. I’m still experiencing the afterglow of my “trim” – not as dramatic as last time, of course, but still very pleasurable. Perhaps more so, as I knew what to expect. And now this!
“Mum?” I still didn’t think I had heard.
“Madam?” And the young barber’s jaw literally dropped.
Mum dropped her eyes slowly to her lap. Her hands seem tense as she stretches a little, running them over her skirt and down onto her thighs, leaning forward slightly as she caps her knees. The hair, swept to one side, now all falls forward shielding her face from view.
“I – would – like – you – to – CUT – my hair.” A pause. “Please!”
I can see Phil – my barber – watching us all and appearing to find all most amusing! “She wants her hair cut Tim. Remember? It’s what we do here!”
“Yes, yes of course,” he muttered. Whether to Phil or my Mum I’m not clear.
I watch him to start to pick up the cape from the counter. He thinks better of it and selects a fresh, crisp new cape from the shelf and flicks it open. The sudden noise seems to bring Mum out of her reverie and she slowly rises.
Phil steps forward and gathers up her hair. Even he seems amazed by its thickness, length and sheer beauty. He holds it up and Tim, the young barber, fastens the fresh cape around her neck. As I stand there watching I realise that I’ve never seen my Mum’s neck before!
Tim fumbles a little and the cape slips. He grabs for it, and makes contact with my Mum’s breast. I see her body rise a little and her breath coming quickly. “Sorry,” he says, but makes it worse by firmly fastening it and then smoothing the cape over her shoulders… and the rest of her body. I expect Mum to be a little angry at this familiarity. But she says in a playful, almost flirting voice, “That’s OK.”
Phil releases her hair and it hits her shoulders and then the back of the chair with a very audible thump.
I’m spellbound. I don’t know what to say. I presume she’ll just request a trim. I’ve done it for her before – the dry ends of regularly permed hair need to be kept trimmed otherwise they tend to split very easily and give an uneven appearance. Mum’s hair has never looked uneven!
Tim picked up a large comb and began to run it slowly through Mum’s hair. She closes her eyes. This continues for a moment or two.
“Er, well Madam. It’s just a trim then….”
“No Tim. I want it cut much shorter….”
“Really!” Tim exclaimed, sounding surprised. But not as surprised as I feel!
“Oh yes. It was you who said it swamped my features wasn’t it?”
“Well, yes. But you can tie it back or… whatever.”
“I’ve never done that. I NEVER use scrunchies and all that paraphernalia. I rely on a good cut to look good and that’s what I would like from you.”
“OK, that’s what you shall have,” he replies in a very clipped tone. Mum is good at upsetting people with her abruptness which is often taken to be rudeness.
I still find it hard to believe she is going to have any length removed. I know when I was much younger it used to reach to her waist and that she was a little upset for a while when she first had it permed and lost nearly 10 inches of overall length. Now here she was caped, sitting in a barbershop, with the barber reaching for his scissors.
“So how short? To here?” He rests the scissors a few inches below her shoulders and looks enquiringly at her in the mirror. That meant losing nearly 20 inches of hair! Mum, I want to cry, not that much. I see her gulp as if she is finding it difficult to speak.
“Er no.” Phew! “Shorter!”
He raises the line of the scissors slowly. Past her shoulders, and upwards. All the time clearly expecting her to say stop.
He reaches her chin. “Surely not shorter than this.”
Her teeth bite her lips and she nods. “It’s the curls. I’m fed up with all these curls. The time to get them permed. To untangle them each morning. I want you to cut them off. Cut them all off.”
She turns to me. She looks at my hair, and gives me a knowing look. I feel myself turn warm in guilty embarrassment – my bare temples glowing red.
I turn and see Phil watching me – with a smile on his face. I also see he has picked up the hair clippers and is making some adjustments. He picks up a guard and proceeds to fit it.
“Well madam, that will be an awful lot of hair to come off. Are you sure?” He commences combing it through once more, looking at the roots seeing where the curl starts. “When did you last have it permed?”
“Nearly two months ago. Look, I’m sorry. I had discussed changing my style for a while with my regular stylist but she didn’t think I should. I’ve seen what you have done for my daughter so I didn’t expect a long discussion. Perhaps I should go….” She starts to rise.
A large hand appears to come from nowhere and gently, but firmly, is lowered onto her shoulder – the hair on her shoulder – and invites her to remain in her seat. “Please remain. Tim will be happy to attend to you.” The hairclippers are in his other hand. “Hold these for Tim while he gets ready. He’ll need these!”
Automatically Mum’s hand comes from under the cape to take what he offers her. When she sees what they are she appears to almost drop them – as if she had received an electric shock from them. Her eyes appear transfixed by them as she stares.
She turns them over in her hand. Bzzzzzzz! She has hit the on switch. The sound of bees fills the shop! She jumps. She struggles to find the switch again. And turns them off.
“Hairclippers. I should, well, just scissors would….”
Tim took them. “Oh no, no, no, I’ll be using these clippers to remove all the bulk of your hair.” The change in tone was apparent now as he was now on familiar territory. He knows what needs to be done. It’s his job.
“B… but won’t they shave my all my hair off … like Louise’s. I don’t want to be bald.”
“Of course not. There’s a guard.” He holds up the clippers. Mum doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about of course. He turns them and over their buzzing roar says, “They’ll only cut it down to a little less than an inch, so nothing to worry about.”
Nothing to worry about!
Mum looks worried now. Her hand once more swings the mass of curls to one side, as she looks in the mirror. Tim positions himself on the side without hair and eases her head to one side before placing the clippers on her cheek.
I expect him to check once more that this is what she wants. But no. Without hesitation the clippers are forced upwards along the side of her head and into the mass of curls. The clippers change tone. They sound like they are about to stop. Have they ever had to struggle through such long, thick hair before?
A few long tendrils begin to slide down the side of Mum’s face, and then slip down the cape. Mum’s watches from the corner of her eye… where a tear appears.
Suddenly the clippers roar as they as the buzzing blades emerge from the mass of curls. It appears they haven’t done their job. Little seems to have changed. Then Tim lifts the hair from around her left ear and it comes away in his hand. He holds well over two feet of thick golden curls aloft. Like springs, it appears to bounce. He lets go and it drops in Mum’s lap.
“Oh my! I, er….” Is Mum changing her mind? Tim doesn’t speak.
Her hand shoots out from under the cape and reaches towards the remaining hair at her ear. It is straight now – no curls – and appears much shorter than an inch!
“How, er… that is….”
Tim lifts Mum’s hand away and places it in her lap where she fingers her clippered curls. “Just keep your head to one side, please.” His left hand once more eases Mum’s head to one side. I notice his fingers buried in her hair too as if gripping it there. Aware perhaps that she might be having second thoughts?
And once more I watch the clippers slide up her cheek, chew through the hair at the side of her head. The hair starts sliding down her hair, mixing with the tears that have collected there. Poor Mum!
She gathers the hair as it collects in her lap. And as the third pass of the clippers completes, I notice Mum, still holding the long curls return her hands underneath the cape.
“Well, you certainly have a lot of hair! I don’t think I’ve ever had such thick hair to cut off. And certainly not as long. But we’ll get there. Other side now please.”
Indeed, the left side of her head is now clippered down to less than an inch.
With a rather meek voice, she enquires, “It won’t be TOO short will it?”
It strikes me that Mum hasn’t agreed on a style. Just asked for it to be cut short. “Well, as short as necessary to get rid of the curls. That’s what you asked for, isn’t it?”
The clippers begin to devour the hair on the other side of Mum’s head. I notice her hands moving under the cape – a sort of rhythmic motion under the cape – are they still holding the curls, is the hair touching her thighs?
“Well it is, isn’t it?”
“Mmmmm.” Mum seemed in a world of her own. “Oh, er, yes. Mmmm, it is.” She seemed a little breathless. I’m wondering how she’s feeling. Watching her lose her hair I know how I feel!
Tim placed a hand at the back of her head and the clippers at her forehead and forced the clippers through her hair. Or he tries. “Phew, so thick. It must feel so hot and heavy.”
“Mmmmm.” Mum, calm down!
“But not for much longer. It will soon all be gone.”
“OhhhhHHHH!” Mum is trying to look calm, but clearly not feeling it. A small smile is appearing at the corner of mouth. “Oh good. That will be, er… nice.” Nice!
And sure enough all the hair around the ear was now clippered short. Tim moves behind her and eases her head forward, down towards her lap. He lifts the hair off Mum’s neck and throws it forward where it audibly slaps the cape. The hair envelops her, but I hear a grown emanating from under there. It is still so thick you would wonder if any had been cut other than the sight of all the golden curls surrounding her chair. Tim places the clippers at her nape and slowly moves them upwards, and once more they struggle. But a path forms – clippered hair contrasting with those beautiful curls which bounce onto the floor. The path widens. More hair falls.
Finally all the long hair has been severed. Mum’s head returns to the upright position. Her hair looks quite ragged… and short! “Oh! Oh my!”
She looks quite amazing: so different, and much younger. Tim starts up the clippers again and passes the clippers backwards and forwards, up and down, all quite quickly. No resistance now of course. Mum’s eyes were half closed and it was clear she was moving her head towards the clippers with each pass.
“There. Now we have something I can work with, we can get started.” The hair was even now and was a rather attractive style – what I would call a pixie cut. A bit shapeless perhaps. But NOW he was going to get started? What did he have in mind?
“Started? What do you have in mind?”
“Head down again, please.” Mum complied. I watch as Tim removes the large guard. I expect him to reach for a smaller one but watch him place the bare metal blade on Mum’s neck. She starts a little. The clippers glide up now… and don’t stop at the bottom of the bump at the back of head. They continue, curving underneath, then around nearly to the crown.
Mum’s hair is going to be really short. And she had no idea how short.
Again and again the clippers are slid over the short hair, the clipped hair, the almost bare skin. Over the ears too and up the sides of her head. Phew!
“So what do you call the style you are giving me?”
“Your can lift your head now.” Mum was visibly shocked when she saw HOW short her hair now was. Tim reaches down for a comb. Well, a sort of comb. It is much wider. “We call it a flattop. Do you know what that is?” She shook her head and seemed surprised that this wasn’t accompanied by a large movement of hair!
He rests the large comb on Mum’s head, ensuring all the hair was sticking up through the teeth. The clippers turn on once more and are run over the comb – again and again. I appreciated what was happening – by appreciated, I mean that I understood and was also enjoying it… greatly!
The comb was removed and an immaculate expanse of blonde hair – no longer than half an inch – stood straight up perfectly on her head. It looks rather extreme, but suits her features perfectly. But her jaw has dropped almost to the floor!
Tim is now blending the edges of the flattop with the very short hair that borders it. It is so sharp and perfect. But there’s one thing. I wonder…
Down go the comb and scissors. He reaches to the counter and I hear a squishing sound. And in Tim’s hand is shaving foam which he smears on the lower part of Mum’s neck and around her ears. Without waiting he takes a razor and starts shaving away the foam… and of course with it the short stubble. He skilfully blends it, I notice. The hairline has disappeared and is replaced by a gradual fade from shaved clean, to stubble, to slightly longer hair, to the erect bristles on top of her head.
The cape is whisked away and I notice Mum self-consciously drop a bundle of long curls which she had held in her lap – curls which appear quite damp.
She looks in the mirror in amazement. Her hands reach up and gently finger the bare area above her ears. A look of wonder appears on her face. Tim holds up a mirror and she can see the back. Her eyes widen as she sees a vast expanse of pure white skin.
With the palm of her hand she gingerly pats the half-inch bristles that are now the longest that her hair will reach. She chuckles!
With the characteristic motion that used to swing over two feet of hair through the air she now rubbed the bare skin that remains.
She looks wonderful.
Clearly lost for words, she simply says, “Phew!”
“Not TOO short I hope?”
“Yes! And I love it!”
She looks down at her severed locks, piled up on the floor. “To think I used to carry all that around with me. How ridiculous! Thank you. How often should I have it trimmed?”
“Every 3 to 4 weeks at least. But you can come more often. It will be our pleasure.”
And Mum’s too, have no doubt about that!