This story is for my friend James, and his interest in capes. May you find a magic cape too!
The Magic Cape by Sabrina S
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there lived a beautiful barberette named Emily.
Emily had her own little barber’s shop – or Hairdressing Parlour, as she called it. It had the latest art deco fittings and lights and mirrors, rounded stainless steel and silver everywhere, and neat, almost feminine, barber’s chairs upholstered in shiny red leather. Every penny of Emily’s money had gone into the shop, fitting it out so it made even the most staid maiden with old-fashioned rolls at the back of her neck want to become a modern girl. Emily had the latest in haircutting tools, too, a new pair of electric clippers all the way from America.
“Bob your hair here!” shouted the sign artfully painted on the window of the shop. The sign also showed two very beautiful young women with the shortest of bobs showing their neatly shingled napes.
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Emily’s shop had only been open a fortnight, and she had had very few customers. The landlord was frowning on her and Emily was trembling as she counted the meagre shillings she’d acquired that week. Two of the haircuts had been on children, which were cheaper. Two of the adult haircuts had been mere trims on lush, overlong, unfashionable hair into which Emily had ached to push her growling new clippers.
The ladies of Nether Beeches needed to update their image, but how was Emily to persuade them? She herself wore the latest chemise dresses and cloche hats over her sharply symmetric Louise Brooks bob. The first time she had worn a chemise she had almost caused an accident in the High Street with men cricking their necks to ogle her thoroughbred ankles and calves. She was the picture of elegance, and couldn’t understand why the women of the mid-sized country town weren’t keen to follow suit – even the young ones who listened to jazz.
Sighing, Emily sat in one of her comfortable chairs and gazed at her China Doll reflection in the looking glass.
The bell over the door rang and Emily jumped up eagerly.
“May I help you?”
But the gypsy woman who stood with a palpable, almost visible odour in the doorway obviously wasn’t here for a shampoo and cut. Her own hair hung in wild, matted curls over her shoulders, the white strands stark against the black.
“You be needing my help, miss, not the other way around,” mumbled the gypsy woman. She was carrying a battered, colourless carpetbag, and pulled something out of it that looked like a curtain. “You be needing new capes in your shop.”
“But my shop is only new, I already have capes,” protested Emily, thinking: I’d like to help this poor woman but I can’t afford to, I’m nearly broke.
“Not like these’um, miss,” the gypsy wheedled. She flourished the cape like a matador. The cape itself was of an unpatterned fabric, Emily wasn’t sure what. It was a silvery grey colour and fluttered in the gypsy’s hands. “These be only cheap, but they will last a long, long time,” the gypsy promised.
Emily reached out and touched the cape, entranced by the way it shimmered with a slight sibilant hiss, even more entranced by the silky feel of it. What woman could resist a haircut with this around her neck? she found herself thinking.
“I’ll have three,” Emily said rashly, opening the cash register with fast, fumbling fingers.
“And a gypsy’s blessing on ye, m’dear,” intoned the gypsy. She looked at the silver Emily had placed in her wrinkled brown hand. “Ye’ve crossed m’palm with silver. I tell ye, things will look up for ye now with these’m capes.” And with not another word, the gypsy was out the door far faster than her legs looked capable of carrying her.
Emily scratched her head, wondering if she’d picked up nits. Really, what HAD got into her? Buying THREE capes! Just one would have been enough.
She held a cape near the window, admiring the silky fabric. If all else failed it would make a beautiful blouse.
Two young women, strutting past in their shapeless tweeds and awful hats, stopped at the shimmering cape.
Before Emily was ready for them, the two girls had taken a chair each and had tossed their hats onto the floor.
“Er, may I help you?” Emily asked. At last, business!
“What a beautiful cape,” said the girl on the right, whose long mouse-brown hair was captured in a bun. She looked in her early twenties.
“Ad-dore the colour,” enthused the other, her black locks also fastened back firmly.
Emily, naturally, fastened the capes around the girls’ necks, glad now she had bought more than one. The capes slithered and hissed as they sank over the girls’ shoulders, the soft silver grey enveloping them and leaving only their vulnerable heads free. “Okay, ladies, what would you like me to do?”
The first girl put her head on one side and gazed at herself in the mirror. “A bob, I think, a nice short bob, as short as yours.”
“I’d like an Eton crop,” pronounced the girl with jet black hair.
Emily grinned. “It will be my pleasure,” she promised. “Now, I have a new pair of electric clippers from America here. If you like the way my bob looks at the back, I can do the same for you with these clippers. They cut hair very precisely.”
“Yes, please,” said Mouse Brown, grinning at her reflection as Emily unpinned the brown bird’s nest of hair and let it fall free. It hung down the girl’s back in healthy, shiny locks. Emily brushed it thoroughly, then pinned up the top layers at the back, leaving the long-haired nape exposed.
She oiled her new clippers, glad at last to have the chance to use them, and secured a guide over the blades. Then she switched them on. Both her new clients jumped as the clippers roared and snarled, the motor revving in anticipation.
“Will it hurt?” the girl asked anxiously as Emily pushed her head forward slightly.
“No, it might tickle a bit though,” Emily replied, bringing the growling clippers closer and closer, letting her client get used to the noise. Then she gently pushed them into the thick fall of hair. The clippers screamed for mercy and chewed it up. Delicately Emily pushed them up behind the girl’s ear, watching over a foot of hair drop away as the clippers cleaved through it like a hot knife through butter. The cut hair fell on the girl’s shoulder and slowly trickled down the front of the cape. The soft pelt that was left in the clippers’ wake felt like velvet as Emily touched it with one hand. “Didn’t hurt?”
“Not at all,” the girl said, her voice a little unsteady. Emily hoped she wasn’t going to cry as her hair was cut off.
“Gosh, Louisa, it’s nice and short!” exclaimed the other girl. “You’ll look smashing!”
“Good,” mumbled Louisa, her face facing the cape and her eyes looking at the long hair that had been clipped from her head.
Emily, confident her client wasn’t going to run out of the shop screaming, continued clipping the back of her head, driving the clippers carefully up the middle of the back to the horizontal parting she’d made near the occipital bone. The clippers felt hot in her hand as she sheared the hair away. It fell in great clumps to the ground, and the hair that was left was as short as a man’s. Louisa’s chin was almost touching her chest as Emily made the final pass with the clippers behind her right ear.
“That’s the neck done,” Emily told Louisa, unpinning the rest of her hair and straightening her head. “I’ll cut the bob now.”
She swung the chair around so Louisa couldn’t see the decimation of her long hair in the mirror. It also made it easier to cut, since she would start at the ears.
Emily’s bob barely reached her earlobes. It was pert and short. Before it was bobbed it had hung to Emily’s waist, a dark seal brown waterfall of hair. Emily had never regretted her bob, loving the easy styling of it and the speed with which it dried.
“As short as mine?” Emily confirmed, and Louisa nodded.
So Emily took up comb and scissors, placed the comb about halfway down Louisa’s ears and with one big SNIP! made the first cut. About an acre of hair slid over Louisa’s lap and lay coiled on the shimmery cape. Louisa actually smiled at the sight. Emily moved behind her ears, cutting the hair swiftly with steady hands. It made a hissing sound as it hit the cape and slid to the floor. Now she was at the back, blunt cutting the bob over the clippered nape.
The other girl watched keenly as Louisa’s long hair was reduced starkly. As Emily cut the back, the shaved nape was revealed, almost two inches of it, shorn and sleek against the girl’s skin.
Emily moved to the other side and again cut off the hair halfway down Louisa’s ear. With three more expert snips, her hair had been bobbed, and the silver cape was covered in long, brown, heavy locks.
Emily moved around the girl’s head, carefully trimming the bob to make sure it was exactly even. Tiny clippings rained down on the cape, and Louisa watched in the mirror now as her disembodied head stuck out of the cape with a very short bob adorning it in place of the dated, clumsy bun.
With a big barber’s brush Emily dusted Louisa’s neck and face, and unclipped the cape, shaking the clippings to the floor.
Louisa stood up, amazed at her long neck and the lack of hair. She ran her hands up the back of her shorn neck and gasped. “Oh, it’s like a movie star’s haircut!”
“I’m glad you think so,” smiled Emily, and moved to the other girl. “Eton Crop?” she reaffirmed.
“Yes, but….” The girl turned her head from side to side. “Could you cut it with those clippers?”
Emily said: “It would be my pleasure. They’re rather fun.” She readjusted the cape, smoothing it over the girl’s shoulders.
“Oh Jemima,” gasped Louisa, who was still gazing at herself and tossing her neat head. “What will our parents think? Your mother will be fuming if you get an Eton crop!”
“I’m over twenty one, Louie darling,” Jemima said, watching Emily unpin her black locks and the hair drop loosely over her silvery shoulders. “I can cut my hair however I want. Yours looks lovely, Louie, don’t worry about the parents.”
This time no hair was pinned up. Emily took her preferred weapon, turned it on, and pressed the screaming clippers against Jemima’s cheek. Gently she drew them up into the hair, and the raven masses fell onto Jemima’s lap, leaving a half inch of hair in their wake.
Jemima closed her eyes in what Emily perceived to be pleasure as she made the second pass up behind the girl’s ear, delicately clipping off the hair to about halfway up the side of the girl’s head, then drawing the blades free.
Louisa watched with bulging blue eyes as her friend’s hair was clippered away all around her head. Emily was at the back now, clipping up Jemima’s nape. Jemima arched her back in pleasure, pushing against the clipper blades as her lovely hair was shorn away.
“Shall I cut it closer around the hairline?” Emily enquired with some amusement, noticing Jemima’s enjoyment in her haircut.
“Yes please,” whispered Jemima, writhing in her seat, the cape slithering around her shoulders.
Emily finished clipping up the sides then adjusted the blades, and placed the clippers at Jemima’s hairline. This was going to be very short indeed!
Emily shaved Jemima’s hairline to almost a eighth of an inch long, so short her white scalp was visible. Then she tapered the clippers up into the hair, blending the ultra short stubble with the longer hair.
Clipping finished, Emily picked up her shiny new scissors and began to blend the still long hair on top of Jemima’s head with the clippered sides.
Jemima opened her eyes now to see her reflection for the first time: her hair had been clippered above her ears, which sat like pink shells against her head. The long hair that had hung there forever lay on her lap and the floor; Her head looked naked and different without it. A long fringe that she certainly didn’t have before hung over her eyes, and she supposed Emily would cut it shorter. She was right. Emily combed out the fringe and cut it at least an inch shorter.
Finally she combed pomade through Jemima’s shorn locks, and slicked them close to her head, so she looked androgynous, her clothes and sexuality masked by the cape. She could have been a schoolboy with her closely trimmed head.
“How’s that?” Emily asked, dusting the clippings away from Jemima’s neck.
“Perfect!” gasped Jemima.
Emily released the cape with a flourish, sending a rain of hair to the tiles.
“Well, it IS awfully short,” Jemima pondered, turning this way and that, and fingering the stubble left by the clippers at her hairline.
“You did ask me to cut it that short,” Emily said gently. “But it looks great on you.”
“Yes, yes it does,” Jemima said with finality. “How much do we owe you?” They paid and left the shop, Jemima saying to Louisa, “I say, we’d better get some new clothes, too. Did you see what the hairdresser was wearing? Ad-DORE the chemise!”
Emily swept the floor and carefully tied up the long hair into ponytails. She would get some money from selling it to wigmakers. It was in superb condition.
Finally she picked up the capes and began to fold them, blowing on them to get all the loose hair out of the way.
The shimmering silver attracted the glance of a middle aged bun-wearing woman outside the butcher’s shop. She found her legs carrying her into Emily’s shop almost of their own volition. And her voice said, before she could stop it, “I’d like my hair bobbed, please.”
Emily’s shop went on to be a resounding success. Soon almost every woman in Nether Beeches had come to the shop to have her long hair cut off into a bob or crop. And those that had been bobbed came back for trims.
Jemima and Louisa sent all their friends to Emily, and supervised the shearings with giggles and bottles of French bubbly.
County ladies who had swapped their elaborate hairstyles for the simplicity of the bob told their friends and recommended Emily, who had become expert in cutting a bob between trains. Often her clients came by one train and were on their way home on the next.
The shimmery silver capes were in use all day long. They never seemed to get dirty or stained, or show signs of wear and tear.
Before long Emily had another woman – Eleanor – working for her, and the floor of the shop was so covered in cut hair they almost slipped on it. Both of them were so busy caping clients and cutting off their locks they barely had time to sweep up.
Emily herself was overdue for a trim and she asked Eleanor to cut her hair, late one night when they’d shut the shop.
“Of course,” Eleanor agreed.
With a sigh of relief Emily sank into her barber’s chair and put her feet up on the footrest, edging out of her high Louis heels and wriggling her toes.
She closed her eyes and felt the cape drift around her shoulders and neck like a gentle breeze. She opened her eyes and gazed at her reflection.
“I want to go shorter,” she found herself telling Eleanor. “I think it’s time I tried an Eton Crop for myself. A very short one, Ellie. How about it?”
Eleanor’s ingenous green eyes widened, but she picked up the clippers and began, without a word, to clip off Emily’s bob.
Smiling with satisfaction, Emily watched her already short hair rain down on the cape as Eleanor sheared in front of her ears. She liked the feeling of the clippers and remembered the first time her hair had been bobbed and the barber, without asking, had simply shaved the back of her neck with the electric shears. It had sent a shiver through her then and sent one through her now as Eleanor pushed them up the side of her head.
It was going to be a very short Eton Crop, clippered high on the sides. As short as any boy’s.
Emily bent her head forward as the familiar tingle of the clippers touched her neck and moved up her nape, sending little clippings of hair into the air. Eleanor clipped her locks almost up to the crown, far shorter than she’d ever had her hair cut before.
Finally Eleanor buzzed the other side of Emily’s head, leaving the hair half an inch long. Emily sighed as the clippers were abruptly switched to silence. The clipping had lasted barely a couple of minutes.
Eleanor textured and tapered the top of Emily’s short hair into the clippered sides, and, like Emily did for her clients, added pomade and slicked it back so the hair looked shorter than ever.
Emily smiled at her newly shorn head, and shook the clippings off the cape. She unclipped the cape herself and let it fall over the back of the chair.
Suddenly she began to wonder: why DID she get her hair cut so short? She’d only wanted a trim for her trademark Louise Brooks bob. Puzzled, her eyes lit on the cape she’d just tossed off. Before the cape went around her neck, she’d only wanted a trim. With the slinky cape fastened firmly, she’d had a raging desire to have her hair cut very short.
Had the gypsy cursed – or rather blessed – the capes?
Emily pondered this thought. She pondered it a lot over the years to come, as the capes stayed as good as new and women came in by the droves to get their hair cut “nice and short”.
Emily herself was thereafter careful whenever she had a trim with one of the capes around her neck. She didn’t think the world was ready for a woman with a totally shaved head just yet!
But every morning she shook the shimmery capes out in front of the window, a signal to every woman to come and get a haircut.
Emily’s Hairdressing Parlour flourished. While it specialised in ladies’ haircuts, one day a young man, passing by, saw a silver cape out of the corner of his eyes, and tentatively walked into the bastion of femininity to ask for a trim. The cape was placed entrancingly around his neck and Emily’s fingers, even more entrancingly, ran through his thick wavy hair. The magic cape had snared the most important customer of all; Emily met his eyes in the mirror and knew they would live happily ever after.
(c) Copyright Sabrina S 2000 Comments welcome to [email protected]