The Mystery Prize by Sabrina S. and Sean O’Hare
Earlier this year we were on holiday. We decided to get away from the buzz of the city and visit our favourite wine area, and sample the fruits – or more strictly the juices – of their labours.
“What are we going to do now Malcolm?” whined Marian, as we drove back through the small town of Demgue once all the winery tasting rooms had closed. It was winter, and already getting dark. Then it started drizzling with rain.
“Why not just go back to the cottage for dinner?” I suggested.
“It’s too early for dinner,” she snapped back, slurring a little after her rather ambitious tasting schedule, forgetting that we had eaten at precisely this time the previous evening.
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“Er, well. Um.” It was difficult to think what we could do in a small country town on a rainy winter’s evening. “Well we could go back and, well, play a game of something first perhaps. Scrabble?”
“But I don’t like Scrabble,” Marian countered abruptly, again perhaps forgetting we had played several times during the holiday. I love Marian of course, but sometimes she can be a little difficult. Well, a lot of the time really. But I’ve learnt to live with it and avoid unproductive confrontations.
Bingo! Well, not quite. I saw a spotlit sign for the town’s club, proclaiming that it was open to visitors and possessed gambling machines. One-armed bandits. Marian does like a flutter every now and again.
Without saying anything I drew up outside and she nodded approvingly. We signed in, bought a couple of beers and settled down in front of one of the wide array of flashing and beeping one-armed bandits. Marian looked at me pointedly… and so I searched my pockets and primed the machine with our small initial stake.
Marian hit the start button and then, as always, we alternated subsequent presses and somewhat unusually we began to build a modest profit.
After half an hour, as our profits began to erode, I ventured, “Perhaps we should cash our winnings now Marian. We’ve got enough for a really nice bottle of wine to have with our dinner,” I added, emphasising the word dinner as my stomach was suggesting that continuing to drink with it empty of food was probably not a good idea. After all I had to drive back to the cottage.
“Hmmm, OK,” agreed Marian grudgingly. “What are we …” she began to say, but was interrupted by the club’s tannoy.
“Come on everyone. Members and visitors. Last chance to buy your raffle tickets. Top prize this week is over a thousand and there are plenty of other prizes, including some wonderful meat trays.”
Not put off by the prospect of winning a meat tray – Marian of course being a vegetarian, and me too following our marriage over ten years ago – she jumped up and bought six tickets. The draw of such a big cash prize was too hard for Marian to resist. She was feeling lucky. The thought of winning all that cash and being able to stock up our wine cellar while in the district was overwhelming.
Waiting for the raffle draw we continued to play the one-armed bandit and began to see our profits erode further. Then it was time for the draw. We stopped.
“Good evening everyone. Without further ado the first winner this evening is 6781!”
“That’s mine!” shouted Marian, unable to disguise her glee.
“Well go on up there then. You have to spin the wheel of fortune to find out which prize you get,” I said. She trotted up to the stage smiling broadly.
“Good evening my darling. And what’s your name?” asked the compere.
I cringed inside. No one called Marian ‘my darling’ – well not anyone who wanted to live. Even I was careful.
“It’s Marian,” she replied brightly. Clearly the thought of all that cash was allowing her to readjust her priorities.
“Well Marian, give the wheel a really big spin to find out which prize you’ll be taking home this evening,” the compere requested.
I watched her push her shoulder length hair behind her ears and, with an almighty effort, spin the wheel. The numbers whizzed by, including the red and gold diamond denoting the jackpot. She closed her eyes willing it to stop there.
It began to slow and the whirring was replaced by a clicking which got less and less frequent. She slowly opened her eyes. The jackpot passed the winning point and I watched Marian’s smile begin to fade.
With a final click, the wheel stopped on a question mark. “Congratulations Marian, you have won tonight’s mystery prize!” the compere declared excitedly. Marian’s disappointed expression changed to a questioning one.
Well, at least it isn’t one of the meat trays, I thought. The compere would probably have been harangued with a lecture on cruelty to animals followed by the benefits of a meat-free diet.
“And the mystery prize this evening is a home haircutting set!” the compere declared.
What? Marian’s face was a picture, probably thinking the same as me. No kids. No dogs. What are we going to do with a home haircutting set?
To her credit she did act excited as she was presented with her prize and quickly left the stage and trotted back towards me. Looking around I did wonder if a similar prize was presented every week as I surveyed the badly cut short hair of the old men who were clapping at the surrounding tables, and wondered if their permed wives had caused the damage. Not so the younger guys on the bar stools of course. Being a country town they all sported mullets and wouldn’t use them on themselves even if they did win them … if for no other reason than they would get hair clippings stuck in the fabric of their checked shirts.
“What are we going to do with this Malcolm?” she asked, as if it was my fault this was her prize, and tossed the box on the table next to me.
Well we had no use for it. Marian always insisted that my hair shouldn’t be too short. I knew it was thinning a bit and even looked a little stringy when long but she insisted I keep it at collar-length at least … so she could run her hands through it, she said. Not that that happened often these days although it was rather nice. As for her own hair – well, it was fairly long and she spent a fortune at the hairdressers to keep it looking good. Sadly a week after a visit the miracle her stylist worked started to fade. Not that I would say anything of course.
So, we collected our remaining winnings from the one-armed bandit and stopped off to buy a bottle of fine red wine before we returned to our beautiful little cottage. It was a magical place. We had stayed there before. Right in the middle of the vineyards and no one else for miles. When you turned off the lights all you could see was the moon, the stars and the twinkle from other houses across the wide valley. All you could hear were the squeak of bats and the rustle of night animals foraging for food. What a change from our hectic city existence! Standing outside on the verandah listening to Marian complain about the fire going out while we were away, I felt like a different person and thought, not for the first time, how much I’d like to move out here to the peace and quiet.
I opened the bottle of red wine and stoked the fire while Marian put a vegetable lasagne in the oven. We sipped the wine and, with 50 minutes to wait for the meal to cook, Marian said, “What are we going to do now Malcolm?”
Not wishing to suggest Scrabble once more I picked up the mystery prize and opened the box. Marian took out some rather cheap looking clippers. Not the professional looking sort I had seen in the Unisex salon that Marian frequented and which she insisted I go to as well. Not that they had ever been picked up by a hairdresser while I was in the chair.
Marian topped up our glasses, and took a long draw on her own. “What are we going to do with this?” she demanded. From the box I took out some plastic comb-like guards, a comb, a small brush and a small container of oil. And a printed sheet of instructions.
I laughed as I began to read. They were in English. Well sort of. They had been translated from Japanese and the spelling and grammar left something to be desired. I read a section out loud. “For long haircut you uses Number 4 guard. It cuts it half inches.”
“Hey Malcolm I could uses a half inch trimsies. My endses are a bit drieses. You could uses it too!” she giggled. Marian giggling? We really did need some food before drinking too much more of the wine. “Let’s toss a coin to see who goes first. Malcolm, find a coin. Malcolm, you can be the tosser.” I felt a joke coming on but thought it might backfire, so I remained silent as I threw the coin in the air.
“You call,” I said.
“Heads!” shouted Marian, tossing her own.
“It’s tails. I get to trim yours. You’re in the chair first,” I said with relief.
“Er, am I?” she considered, as I dragged a kitchen chair across the varnished wooden floor and set it by the fire.
Marian picked up the clippers and clicked on the largest of the plastic combs over the blades. She plugged them in and switched them on. “Phew! Malcolm, these would make a wonderful vibrator!” she laughed. I took them from her and switched them off.
“Come on Marian, sit down. Our meal will be ready soon,” I reminded her, as my stomach continued to rumble.
“Can’t we do it in the bathroom in front of the mirror. I want to see what you’re doing,” she said. Wisely in my opinion as I hadn’t a clue what I would have to do.
“Well the mirror is too high if you sit and I won’t be able to reach if you stand. Come on, sit down here by the fire.” She did. “So, how do I do this then?”
“Well, when I go to the hairdressers they put it up in sections first and then leave out the bottom section which they trim. Then they bring down the next sections and cut it all to the same line and it all falls in to the style I ask for.”
And there was me thinking that they just brushed it out and trimmed straight along the ends. At least they did something a bit more than that for the extortionate charge that went on my credit card each month. I did like Marian’s hair long. When I first met her it was much longer and all one length. Gradually it became shorter until it was just past her shoulders and flicked out at the ends and around her face. It looked a little like that character Rachel from Friends. Not much like it really, and I wondered if it was actually supposed to look like that. Not that I would ever query Marian on that subject – just a ‘very nice dear’ when she returned from the salon.
“So how do I section it then?” I asked a little helplessly.
“Oh, I’ll do it,” said Marian with a familiar touch of exasperation in her voice. She rummaged in her bag and came out with a bunch of different coloured hairgrip thingies that she used to put it up in odd-shaped buns when it got in her way.
As she did, I began to wonder what I would do with the hairclippers. They had the guard on so I assumed that if I placed them on the neck and then combed them through the hair they would work out in some way when they were half an inch from the ends and snip them off. Well at least that seemed easy.
Sectioning finished and settled in the chair with a towel around her neck, Marian said, “Well go on then.”
The hairclippers vibrated in my hand and I realised that Marian’s earlier comment was well founded! I rested them on her neck under the loose section of hair and began to ease them through her hair to the ends. Except that as soon as I pushed them into the hair at her nape their buzzing tone changed to a loud SHRIIIK!
“What the hell was that noise?” exclaimed Marian.
I looked down in shock to see that a small patch of hair on Marian’s nape had disappeared and a fine pelt, like that of a small furry animal, was left behind. Marian’s temper if I did anything wrong was legendary. I seriously began to consider whether I could make it to the car before she realised anything had gone wrong. But I knew I wouldn’t make it.
I thought quickly. If I brought down the other sections then she probably wouldn’t even notice. Well, she might not.
I needed to do the same to the whole of the section though. So I moved the hairclippers to one side and repeated the operation.
“My neck feels a bit cold,” said Marian. I began to panic. “But it does feel rather nice actually,” she added in a relaxed tone.
“Er, yes. Well, I’m lifting it up as I trim it.” Indeed I was. I had 10 inches of severed hair lifted up in my hands, and didn’t have a clue what to do with it. I couldn’t drop it in case she saw. Without thinking I threw it on the fire and there was a loud sizzling noise, an acrid smell and a flash of green flames in the fireplace. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, I thought wildly, glancing from the fire to Marian’s newly-silky nape, realising that I might as well be dead if Marian didn’t like what I’d done to her hair.
“What’s that Malcolm?” Marian enquired abruptly.
“Oh, just a damp log on the fire I expect. Don’t worry,” I said reassuringly, but looking at the now completely shorn lower nape of my wife. I was thinking it did actually look rather good. A nicely shaped hairline was revealed. But she wouldn’t think so. I quickly dropped down the next section and it all looked back to normal again.
What now I wondered. She’s going to kill me. “Don’t stop Malcolm, it feels really good. Go on, keep doing it.”
When Marian says do something then I do it. This is something that it took several years for me to learn and understand. My hands were shaking, but once again I began to clipper away the next section… cutting it to the same length as the one below as I had been instructed.
“Phew, that sounds so loud close to my ear. I wish I could see what you’re doing as it feels so good vibrating against my head.”
I’m bloody glad you can’t, I said to myself.
The section completed, Marian’s fine pelt of short hair had extended much higher up the back of her head. I threw my latest haul of hair on the fire.
“Go on Malcolm. Keep going. It feels wonderful. Like a head massager,” she almost purred.
I let down the final section at the back and now with almost practiced ease clippered all the remaining hair at the back of her head all the way up to her crown. From the back, her head had been denuded with only the sides remaining.
I felt nervous. She would be able to see what I was doing. “Come on, do the rest. You’re doing a great job. It feels so nice.”
Encouraged, I combed the some of the side hair to the front, covering her eyes. I gathered all the hair on the right side and, with no pretence of sectioning, pushed the clippers forward from behind her ear. I was soon left with another great hank of hair flopping in my hand.
“How’s it looking Malcolm?” asked Marian.
“Er, great. Really healthy actually. No split ends,” I replied. No ends at all, I thought. Hardly any beginnings either! “It looks darker too. I’ve got rid of all those sun-bleached bits.”
“Sun-bleached? I paid a fortune to have those foils done!” I thought back to my credit card bill again, and groaned inwardly.
After throwing the large hank of hair on the fire I moved to the other side and repeated the operation. The only long hair remaining covered her eyes.
“Can I feel it yet Malcolm?” she asked, tentatively raising a hand.
“No, not yet,” I cried almost hysterically. “You can run your hands over… er, through it, in a minute… um, when it’s finished.”
“OK, but what are you actually doing with it. It doesn’t feel like its hanging around my head any more.”
“Well I’m sort of holding it from your head. Using the grip thingies.” And I began to wonder what was going to happen to me when she saw the finished haircut. The car keys were sitting on the bench. In one stride I could have them in my left hand, and be pushing the door open with my right… in spite of the cold night, I began to sweat. I checked Marian’s expression.
Under the hair at the front I could see she was grinning away like a fool. Perhaps the wine was taking its toll, or perhaps it does just feel nice. I had no idea. I knew she had no idea she was getting a crewcut!
“Fringe trim?” I asked.
“Well it is hanging in my eyes.”
Not for long! Not long at all!
I stood in front of her, quickly pushed back the hair from the face and raced the clippers straight down the middle of her head several times, taking off all her remaining long hair.
I tried to collect it all but it was too thick. A long strand floated down – in slow motion it seemed – and settled in Marian’s lap. We both watched it settle.
“What are you doing!” she exclaimed, a note of panic in her voice.
“Well you said you liked the feeling,” I countered. There was a pause. Quite a long pause, during which we seemed to be playing statues. “Er, well, I don’t know if we read instructions quite right. They were a bit confusing. The hair actually comes off the other end I think. Or something…” I added in a confused tone.
A horrified expression came to her face as comprehension began to dawn. She jumped up from the chair and knocked my arm which was holding the still buzzing clippers with the result that they shot along the side of my head ploughing a deep furrow along my temple. My eyes swung from the locks of my own hair floating floorwards to Marian’s desperate bolt from the chair.
Marian didn’t stop. She rushed to the bathroom and suddenly the whole cottage was filled with her loud screams. I didn’t dare follow until they subsided… the car feeling like a better but probably not realistic option. I had to stay and face the music, really.
The screams subsided and there was a silence from the bathroom that was almost as eerie as her ear-splitting siren wails. Tentatively I crept across the floor and peeked around the door.
I saw Marian looking almost calm, a waif-like face staring back at me from the mirror. She cocked her head from one side to the other running her hands over her head and up the back. I swear I could almost hear her purring once more. But she didn’t say a word.
After a few minutes she turned around and stared straight into my eyes. Her own eyes seemed so wide not being framed by her hair.
“It was just… well you said… and then it…” I stammered, not sure what to make of the expression on her face.
“Malcolm I like it. No, I love it. Thank you.” And she kissed me deeply.
The relief I felt was incredible. But short-lived. I ran my fingers over her shorn locks and found them terrifically erotic.
“And now it’s your turn to feel the same. Back in the kitchen Malcolm.”
“But you never let me have my hair cut short. Not in ten years…”
“Sit!” She turned off the oven and I watched her exchange the plastic guard for one much smaller. She had an almost evil gleam in her eye. She fastened a bath towel around my neck so tightly I was afraid to breathe.
With unrestrained abandon I felt Marian wielding the clippers over my head, chuckling away, and saw my hair falling all around me. She was right… that vibrating feeling against my scalp felt wonderful! My head was starting to feel cold where she’d peeled the hair away. I was very aware of each path of the clippers as they sheared off my hair, from the hairline to the top of the scalp. And a deep feeling stirred deep within me.
When she had finished we sat down in front of the dying fire, drank the rest of the wine and retired to the bedroom for what can only be described as a wonderful night of passion. We couldn’t keep our hands off each other’s heads. I hadn’t even seen my hair in the mirror by the time we fell asleep, and I didn’t care what it looked like… just how it felt when she touched it, and I touched hers.
When we woke up the next morning we were both a little shocked, both thinking at first that it might have been a dream. But we had grown to love our, and each other’s, new looks. I must admit I got a shock when I caught sight of myself, my hair shaved to a quarter inch all over my head. Marian couldn’t stop rubbing it; I hadn’t seen my wife so delighted in years.
We spent a happy day going around the vineyards with Marian receiving odd looks from the country folk. It was as if they had never seen a woman with a crewcut before. They probably hadn’t. I’m not sure I had at that time.
We decided to return to the club that evening. Try our luck once more for that large cash prize. The one-armed bandits were a dead loss but surprisingly the first raffle number to come out was again Marian’s.
She danced up onto the stage, looking like a rather feminine young boy with her slim body and shorn head. She grabbed the wheel firmly – an old hand now at this – and gave it a flick.
The wheel spun once more and once again it clicked past the jackpot and, against the odds, settled on the mystery prize again! I thought what are we going to do with two haircutting sets. One is delightfully sufficient.
The compere asked, “Marian, are you married?”
“That’s my husband over there. The one with the really short hair,” she said proudly.
The mullets on the bar stools swivelled around and seemed to be laughing at my abbreviated hair. I stared steadfastly at the stage, hoping my neck wasn’t turning as red as it felt.
“Well, he’ll be able to keep nicely clean shaven with your mystery prize today. A beautifully made gentleman’s shaving kit with a hand-crafted razor, shaving mug and brush in a presentation box”
I was laughing now! Oh, the expression on Marian’s face! The old men were clapping and the old women nodding at Marian as she stepped down from the stage.
Marian was red-faced as she left the stage. A crewcut woman winning a shaving kit!
As we got back to the cottage I was still giggling.
“What are we going to do now Marian,” I said, mimicking Marian’s usual whine. “Shall we…”
But before I could say any more Marian had pulled up the chair by the fire, pushed me into it and began to mix up shaving foam in the mug and eyed my almost denuded head with glee. With that affectionate, but slightly evil chuckle she had now developed, she cooed, “Heads! I win!”