A Once a Year Gift by JimB
Carri sat patiently in her car, waiting for the lady to arrive at her shop. Two cars pulled up but the people who got out walked away from where she was. Then, a few minutes later, a sports car pulled up and a lady got out. She began walking towards the shop Carri was parked in front of.
She could hardly believe what she was going to do. It had never come to her to do something like this, but in a way it was for a good cause. It was for little Jane.
Strange how things come about, for Jane it was a simple cold that wouldn’t go away. But, there it was as plain as it was black, that little spot. It stood out even though it was small. The doctor said, “Had she been a few years younger they would not have seen it.”
“Cancer,” was all Carri heard Pat say, as she was trying to hold back tears. “Cancer of the lung. Just a little black spot… You could hardly see it on the X-ray.”
For Carri it was just as hard. She could not have children because of an illness she had as a child. So, when her best friend, Patricia Norma Bergman, got married she promised her she would be called “Aunt Carri” by her children. This kind of made up for the loss she had, and hearing that word – cancer – hit her as hard as if little Jane were her own blood.
She would be starting chemo in a week. “Her hair would start falling out overnight,” the doctor told her mother. “It will be harder for her than someone who is older. Children can be extremely hard on each other when they don’t know, or understand, things.”
Aunt Carri was going to make sure she didn’t have to put up with one of the bad parts of chemo.
Carri had found out about ‘Magic Hair’, a company that makes wigs for children who have cancer, or even worse, alopecia. They don’t advertise, it is more like word of mouth among this group of needy people.
She had been looking for a way to make Jane feel things would be better, even though they could get worse. A way she would know Aunt Carri was there for her.
She attended a meeting of the local Cancer Association where she met mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and friends of children who had cancer, or were going through treatment for it. Mostly the questions were about what to do and what not to do. Like the fifteen-year-old brother who just a few days ago found out his thirteen-year-old little sister, who was a pain in the ass, had liver cancer. He sat there crying, some would say like a baby, because he could lose her. “I know it’s hard to believe,” he told the group, “but deep inside me I am going to miss all the little things she does and says to me that get me as mad as hell. I’m going to miss her calling me ‘jerk’ each time I get a call from a girl or just because she wants to.”
A man got up and walked over to him and put his arm around him. “You never know until something like this happens.” Then, someone wanted to know the ‘size’ of the cancer, what stage it was in when they found it.
It was after the get-together Carri was able to ask around about what she could do. But, to her the many answers were too little for her.
As she walking out the building a young girl, around sixteen, walked up to her. “I heard you asking for help,” she inquired of Carri. “I know you said she was not your blood niece, but to you she was. That in itself is good. But, you wanted to do more than that. Something that she would not forget.”
“Yes,” Carri said as her eyes began to tear in her need for something.
The young girl reached in her purse and handed her a card. “Magic Hair” was in big black letters that looked like the letters were made of hair. Under it was a telephone number. When she looked up to ask the young girl about it, she was gone. Carri walked around a little looking for her but could not find her.
It was a week later when Carri called the telephone number. It was answered by man’s voice. She held the telephone to her ear for a minute, not saying a word… nor did he. Neither hung up, like many would have done, nor did he ask if anyone was there.
Then, Carri took a breath… “Yes, I was given a card with the name of… and a telephone number… I… it’s about….” Carri could not find the words, nor knew what to say. She tried again but still nothing came out right.
“You have the need for a wig for a child,” the man’s said in her ear.
“Yes,” she replied stunned. “My niece… she has cancer. And the chemo will….”
“I understand,” his voice said. “How old is she?”
“She is only six… maybe a few months from seven,” Carri spoke. “But, why must you know… How do you know?” She stumbled asking questions to this man.
“Tell me your address and I will send you the information,” he told her. Then, he waited.
“Carri M…” she began.
“No,” he quickly interrupted. “I don’t want your name… Just your address.”
“927 Maple Avenue…” she replied hesitantly. “That’s in Johnsville….”
“In three days you will receive a package the size of a letter,” he began telling her. “Inside will be the information you want. All you have to do is read the letter… then make your decision. The second page will tell you what to do from there.”
Three days went by and the package arrived via special delivery. It had no name, just her address. The package was the size of a small shoe box, inside it was the letter, brown wrapping paper, and ten sheets of white wrapping pager.
As she read the first page she began to understand what the package was about. What “Magic Hair” was about. But now she had to make the decision.
After thinking about it she turned to the second page and being reading.
“You have made a decision that is very giving. It is a hard one but one that will bring the joy and laughter to a child who must endure sadness. Your gift will be kept a secret, even if you wish it to be known. No one will tell her, nor her parents. Only you can make that decision.
“You must call (—) 987-9909 within the next forty-eight hours and ask for Brenda. Tell her you have arrangements with “Magic Hair” and she will know why you are calling. She will give you instructions you must follow. She will handle everything when you decide to accomplish this gift.”
There was no signature on the letter. No company, or group name, just two sheet of page with information on one and instructions on the other.
She held the pages in her hand, thinking about what she was going to do.
She pick up her cell phone and dialed the number. “Roberta’s Barber Shop,” a female’s voice answered.
“Roberta’s Barber Shop,” Carri said to herself and hung up disconnected quickly. She looked at the telephone number again and redialed it. Again she heard, “Roberta’s Barber Shop… how can I help you?”
“I’m sorry but I was dialing 987-9909,” she calmly answered. “By chance there wouldn’t be someone by the name of Brenda there?”
“Yes,” the lady said. “Brenda… it’s for you,” the woman called out.
She heard another telephone being picked up. “This is Brenda. How may I help you?” she said.
“Yes… Well… I received a package today,” she began telling Brenda, “I am not really sure if it is you I am trying to contact!”
“Yes,” Brenda replied. “I am the one you are calling for. The package… is it from Magic Hair?”
Carri was somewhat rattled. How did she know this? “Why yes,” Carri replied surprisingly.
“When would you like to make your appointment?” Brenda asked.
Carri sat, her mind a blank. “Appointment?” she inquired.
“Yes,” Brenda replied. “Just tell me the date you want to come in and I will take it from there when you get here.”
“Sat… No, Friday,” Carri answered. “No… Thursday would the best day for me. What time?”
“Just drop the package off Thursday morning,” Brenda began telling her. “I’m the one working the chair in the middle.” With that Brenda hung up and the sound went dead.
Carri turned off her cell phone and began to wonder what she had gotten into. Then, she just thought of Jane and how it would make her feel.
As the woman reached the shop and began to unlock the front door, Carri got out her car.
“Excuse me,” she called to the lady. “Are you… I mean, I’m looking for Brenda?”
“You must be my Thursday appointment,” she said as she pushed the door open.
“Yes, I am,” she replied as she handed the box to the lady.
They walked into the barbershop, Carri still holding out the box. The lady walked to the middle chair and put her purse on it, and looked at Carri in the mirror.
“What time would you like come back for it?” she asked as the opened her appointment book.
“Ummmm… Time…?” Carri asked questioningly. “Time… I don’t… really didn’t… I….”
The woman turned to Carri and took the box from her. “I know this going to be hard for you. But just think of the happiness of the young girl. No name calling… no jokes made about her.”
“I didn’t think it would matter,” she replied.
“Fine,” Brenda said. “Why don’t we do this. You just come back later today when you want. I’ll know why you are here and we can discuss it when the box is ready to be mailed off. But, remember, there may be other customers in the shop at that time, too. So, you’ll have to just put them out your mind!”
Carri agreed and left the shop. She got in her car and sat there with her face in her hands. Slowly her hand moved back off her face and into her hair. She looked in the little mirror and saw Jane’s face. “It would be fitting,” she told herself. “I’ll just go to work and tell them what I am going to do. Then, when it is time… I’ll leave and come back. It’ll only be hair… just to here.”
At work her co-workers were behind her. Her boss put his arm around her and gave her a hug. “If there is anything else we can do just ask,” he told her.
It was close to two when she felt she had gotten the nerve to do it. “It’s now or never,” she told herself. She told everyone she was going and would see them tomorrow. The barbershop was a few minutes from where she worked. The traffic was not that bad and there was an open parking space in front of the barbershop. Quickly she pulled into it. As she got out her car she tried to see if there were any other customers there, but the window was dark and she could not see in.
When she opened the door she heard talking. Not just the voices of men but of women and children. Slowly she looked in the shop and saw two customers seated in the chairs along the wall. She walked in the shop and noticed each chair had a customer in it. Brenda had a woman in her chair, the other two barbers, both women too, had men in theirs.
Brenda noticed her walk in. “Hi, Carri,” she called out. “Have a seat… You’ll be next for me.”
Carri walked to an open chair in front of Brenda’s chair. She noticed there was hair on the floor around Brenda’s chair, but none on the cape. Then, Brenda began moving the long silver handle on the right side of the chair and the chair rose until she stopped.
The woman was pretty, Carri thought to herself. Usually women with her looks spend big dollars at one of the top hair salons, so why was she here.
Brenda caped the women and began undoing her hair. As she pulled hair pins out the woman’s hair began to cascade down behind her and in front of her. As her hair came to a flowing rest the woman shook her head, causing her hair to move freely around her head..
Using a large comb, Brenda combed her hair out from a center part. She worked the part down the back of the woman’s head, combing forward causing it to fall over the woman’s shoulders. She tossed the comb on the shelf and reached under it.
Just then the men in the other chairs were walking out, one passing in front of Carri. She looked at them as they walked by, noticing how short their hair had been cut. She had seen her father and brother get the same hair cut every summer when she was young. Then, she noticed the two barberettes sit in their chair, each began reading a magazine. The other two women sat in their chair, waiting for Brenda, Carri thought. They were there before her, that was good as far as she was concerned. She was still trying to figure out why she was there!
As she watched the men walk out the shop she heard a ‘click’ then a ‘popping’, followed by a steady humming sound. A sound she knew from her years as a young girl going to the barber shop with her dad and brother. She looked around the shop noticing the chairs occupied by the barberettes, they were still reading their magazines.
Then, her attention was turned to the chair in front of her… Brenda’s chair.
The chair with the lovely lady with the long flowing hair that moved freely around her head as she moved it from side to side. It cascaded down behind her, slowly it had been combed forward.
Carri noticed Brenda had her left hand on the top of the woman’s head. Then, she heard the humming sound change. She looked up just as hair slid down the front of the woman coming to a gentle rest in her lap. This was followed by another, then another, as Brenda moved across the back of the woman’s head.
Carri was shocked. She tried to say something but the words wouldn’t come out. Her eyes grew as more hair slid into the woman’s lap. As Brenda moved to the right side of the chair she watched as Brenda slowly moved the clippers up behind her ears, causing more hair to slide into the woman’s lap.
“My God,” Carri said to herself, “she’s cutting all the woman’s hair off. And, the woman was just sitting there like it was nothing. How could she?”
Soon, Brenda was walking around the back of the chair to the left side. There she began the slow upward movements with the clippers, sending the rest of the woman’s hair into her lap. Then she combed what hair was left on top her head and placed the clippers on the back of her head and slowly moved it forward. A pile of hair grew as the clippers were moved forward, then as the pile reached her forehead it fell into her lap.
Brenda made another pass over the woman’s head, sending it into her lap.
She walked around the back of the chair again to the right side. There she began the slow movement of the clippers over the woman’s head, as she did on the left side. Two passes and what hair was left was in the woman’s lap.
Brenda began smiling as she wiped her left hand over the woman’s head. The woman smiled as she brought her hand from under the cape.
She reached in her lap and grabbed a pile of the hair. She raised it up as if she was offering it to a God.
Then, her eyes caught Brenda holding a box, a shoe box. The woman placed the pile of hair into it, then grabbed another handful of hair and put it into the box. She did this two more times until she had pull all her hair into the box. Brenda put the top on the box and placed it on the shelf behind her.
She undid the cape as the woman was gently moving her hands over her buzzed head. Brenda brushed her face then her head with a hair duster. The woman uncrossed her legs and shook her skirt sending some strands of hair to the floor.
The sound of running water was filling the shop, then the large mirror began the chair began steaming up. Brenda was standing where the steam was coming from. Her upper body was moving from side to side, as if she was washing something. Then, Carri found out what it was!
Slowly Brenda wrapped the woman’s head with a large warm towel. This caused the woman to close her eyes in pleasure. Brenda gently pushed on the towel, then she rubbed it over the woman’s head. Brenda returned to the steam and the water sounded like it was flowing into something. As she turned the steam stopped.
Just then, a man walked into the shop. He had short hair, a crew cut, Carri observed. It was in need of cutting. He walked past her and sat in the chair of the barberette to the right of Brenda’s chair. Then, her eyes caught sight of Brenda.
She was standing on the right side of the chair. She had a cup, no a mug in her left hand and her right hand was holding something she moved around in a small circle. Her eyes still watching they saw Brenda raise the object, a shaving brush, covered with shaving cream. Slowly she began lathering the woman’s head.
Still the woman didn’t say a word.
Brenda worked, lathering the woman’s head. First the right side, then the top of her head. She stepped behind the chair and lathered the back of the woman’s head, then worked around to the left side of her head. Finally, she lathered the top of the woman’s head.
Then, there was a click followed by a humming sound. Carri quickly looked to the other barberette just as she began pushing the clippers over the man’s head. Her heart jumped into her throat. What was she doing here, she asked herself as she tried to stand up. But something held her there.
She looked back at the woman in Brenda’s chair. Her head was white… white with shaving lather. Then, her mind began telling her what was going to happen, just as Brenda raised the straight razor to the woman’s head.
She began to slowly shave the right side of her head. With each stroke of the straight razor she wiped the lather, and the buzz it removed, on a towel she had placed across the woman’s right shoulder. Slowly she shaved back revealing more of the woman’s scalp. It was pale in color with a touch of a tan.
Slowly Brenda shaved toward the back of the woman’s head. The woman lowered her head, as if she knew what to do. Brenda shaved short strokes downward and across the back of her head. Then, she raised her head for Brenda to start shaving the left side of her head.
The sound of the clippers stopped. Carri took a quick glance to the chair. The barberette had buzzed the man’s head of what hair he had on it. She removed the cape and was tucking a large white towel in his collar, just like Brenda had with the woman.
Her eyes moved back to Brenda’s chair just as she was removing the towel she had wrapped around it. The woman was smiling. This puzzled Carri, as did the event that had happened before her.
Brenda gently wiped her hands over the woman’s head as if she was applying something, lotion maybe, to her head. The woman had her eyes closed in pleasure. This too puzzled Carri.
Her attention went back to the other barberette who was dabbing shaving cream along the man’s hairline. When she was finished the stropped her straight razor and began shaving a short quick stroke around the man’s head. After wiping his head of what shaving cream was left she dusted his head and face, pulled the towel out of his collar, and he stepped from the chair.
As he walked past her he looked at the woman in Brenda’s chair. They smiled at each other, then she stepped from the chair.
As she approached Carri she was able to get a closer look at the woman. Carri could not believe how lovely she looked with her head shaved. Every feature of her face showed. She had the right makeup on, and her earrings were large bring attention to her face. The woman picked up her purse, paid Brenda, and walked out the barber shop as if she had just had a trim.
Then, Carri heard a popping sound and looked toward Brenda’s chair. She was knocking some hair from it. Then, she looked to Carri. “I think you’re next,” Brenda said as she shook the cape out.
She sat there, her mind trying to make since of what it had just recorded. Were her eyes playing a trick on her? Was she still sleeping and having a dream!
“Carri?” She heard her name called. “Carri… you want to have a seat?” Brenda was saying to her.
Her body wanted to leave, but her mind wanted her sit in the chair. Why? Carri thought. Then, before she could say anything her body gave in and she was stepping on the footrest of the chair and sitting in it. As she sat Brenda tossed the cape across her and pulled it up and around her neck. Brenda pinned it in place.
“I know this is your first time,” she heard Brenda telling her, “but you’ll find it will bring pleasure to your niece.”
“My niece,” Carri thought to herself. “What did she mean by ‘my niece’?”
“Gwen,” Carri heard Brenda say, “was a little uneasy her first time, too. But a year later she came walking in and has been doing it for the last fifteen years.”
“Gwen?” Carri asked. “What has she been doing for the last fifteen years?”
Brenda stepped to the front of the chair. She gave Carri a surprised look. “Giving her hair!” She stepped to the right side of the chair and began combing Carri’s hair from a center part.
“Each year she has all her hair buzzed off and her head shaved,” Brenda began telling her as she combed Carri’s hair forward from behind her head. “Her niece had cancer, like yours. She came to us to cut all her hair off and have it made into a wig for her, as you are.”
Carri’s heart almost came out her body. She had thought about it, but all her hair! Maybe ten or twelve inches, that’s all. But, she wasn’t going to walk out bald like “Gwen” did. Then, as she tried to speak, she heard Brenda’s voice.
She felt her body take a deep breath, then she felt the warmth of the humming clippers touch her neck.
The breath rushed out of her nose and her body rose. The clippers moved upward. Her eyes looked down as the first of her hair slid into her lap. She felt the clippers move away from the top of her head. A gentle breeze touched her buzzed strip. She inhaled again, her eyes closed with pleasure. A pleasure she had never felt before. A pleasure that confused her. A pleasure she wanted to continue, to never stop until all her hair was in her lap.
Soon, the back of her head was cool from the touching air from the fan above her.
“Jane would be pleased,” Carri told herself. She had wanted to give her something she would remember. A wig of her hair was just the gift.
Slowly she felt the clippers moving up the right side of her head. The coolness slowly moved forward. Then, the left side and finally the top of her head. Her eyes remained closed throughout her buzzing. They were looking down, into her lap, when she opened them. Her body felt a shock, a gently shock, when they saw the pile of hair in her lap. She let out a rush of breath, in relief that it was done.
She felt someone standing to her right. It was Brenda holding a box, a shoe box like she did for Gwen. She looked at Brenda. She was smiling. “They will be able to make three wigs.”
Carri slowly moved her hand from under the cape. Her fingers opened and slid into the pile of hair. The pile of her hair, hair she had grown for the last ten years with care. Now it was in a pile in her lap. Her fingers working their way into it. Slowly her hands rose and the pile of her hair was dropped into the box, the shoe box.
When she had placed all her hair into the box Brenda put the cover on it, then placed it next to the box with Gwen’s hair.
The cape was removed. Carri uncrossed her legs sending some strands of hair to the floor. She tried to get out the chair but her mind wouldn’t let her, nor would her body. She looked into the larger mirror above the waiting chairs. Brenda was tucking a large white towel in her collar. A large white towel like she tucked into Gwen’s collar, like the other barberette did the man. Her head rocked backwards as her mind told her what was going to happen next.
Her head was going to be shaved. Shaved like Gwen’s. Were there others who sat in this chair? Others who had all their hair buzzed from their head, then their head shaved smooth?
She watched as Brenda lathered her head. First the right side, then the back. Finally, the left side. She saw a woman she knew, her head all covered in white.
Razor in hand, Brenda stropped the straight blade over the leather strap. Stropping it until it was sharp enough to remove the lather-covered fuzz that was on her head. To show her scalp, white but slowly tanning with the rays of the sun as she walked.
Her throat became dry as Brenda raised the shining blade to her forehead. Her eyes watching in the walled mirror as the first of many short strokes was made. Little by little her scalp, a pale white, began to show. Her eyes caught a dark shadow left behind by her dark hair.
Her mind began to wander… Wander back to the night the young lady handed her the information she had been asking for. The day she called. And, of this morning when she met Brenda, later Gwen. Were there others like her and Gwen?
Her mind and eyes were brought back to the present when she felt the coolness of the fan, overhead, on her smooth scalp. Her eyes saw a head half shaved and half with lather, white and soft. Soon, her head would be completely smooth, like Gwen’s. But, why?
Still as she watched Brenda shave her head smooth, she could not reason why. But, deep in her heart, and her mind, she knew it was for something. It was for Jane.
The last stroke made Brenda walked to the shelf and put the straight razor to rest. But for how long? she wondered. Who would be the next victim of its sharpness and the skill of its handler?
Brenda slowly wiped her head of the lather that remained, revealing a smooth scalp. A face she knew was hers, but the hair that was on it was now in a shoe box. A box that sat with others. What would happen to them?
Brenda was spreading a cool lotion over her head. This caused her body to react by rising and a little shiver ran down her spine. Her legs jutted outward from the footrest, her toes pointing as if she were a dancer rising up on her toes.
The towel was pulled from her collar, the chair lowered. She stepped from it when it came to rest.
As she walked to where she had been sitting, watching Gwen getting her head shaved, she looked at herself in the mirror. A smile came to her, one that was worth the loss of her lovely hair. Her mind told her how beautiful she looked, as her fingers gently wondered over her smooth head.
Picking up her purse she turned opening it, to offer money to her barberette.
“No,” Brenda said as she waved off Carri’s offering. “It is a gift you are offering. The taking of the gift is what we do.”
Confused she offered a tip, again it was refused.
Thanking Brenda she turned and walked to the door. As she looked out the shop she noticed a UPS truck pull up and the delivery man come cheerfully walking in the shop.
“Here for your pick-up,” he announced as he walked by her. He did not look at her, just pushing the door wider open for her to walk out.
She stopped in front of the large window, the one she had looked into that morning. There was a gentle breeze which she felt on her scalp. A man walked by, he smiled looking at her. But said nothing, nor did he turn around to look twice.
She turned to look in the window as the delivery man came humming out the shop. His hand cart was pilled high with shoe boxes all tied together as if they were one big package. She glanced inside the shop just as another lady stepped into Brenda’s chair, her hair softly hanging from her head.
She too handed Brenda a shoe box.
“Yes,” Carri said to herself. “This was a gift I will not forget about. One I can give again and again, once a year.”