The Prunus Tree Café by Sabrina S. and Sean O’Hare
“Look, it says barber us!”
“You fool,” said Steph, playfully thumping Steve on the arm as she looked at the label on the plant, “it’s a berberis. Mind you, if I was yellowish blonde with purple streaks then I would probably want to be barbered.”
Both laughing, Steph and Steve continued their walk through the beautiful Motha Gardens high up in the hills, far away from the city. They had been enjoying their relaxing holiday weekend here after the excitement of the hair show. There wasn’t the great variety of hairstyles, or indeed haircuts, they had been lucky enough to witness the previous weekend but they enjoyed doing many other things together – walking, photography and a love of the natural world – and of course each other’s company.
As they turned a corner, hand in hand, they arrived at the entrance of the gardens’ café… and they both burst out laughing. “Prune Us!” they cried in unison, looking around to make sure no one heard, and then trying to stifle their giggles. The sign ‘Prunus Café’ hung innocently above the door, swaying gently in the soft breeze.
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“You game Steph?” asked Steve holding open the door for her.
“Yeah, of course … as always,” she replied. “But I’m sorry to disappoint you. Prunus is the genus of trees like peaches, and cherries, and plums. Soft fruits.”
“Ah, ones with soft fur just like a freshly clippered nape,” enquired Steve, eyeing up the nape belonging to Steph.
“Yes… well no, not all, as plums aren’t furry they’re shaved smooth… er, I mean they are smooth,” Steph giggled.
“Oh!” exclaimed Steve in mock disappointment. The inner door to the café itself was opened by a waitress from the inside and Steve asked her for a table for two on the balcony overlooking the valley… while attempting to get a good look at her hair… as you do!
Steph, whose eyes had initially been taking in the contents of the gift shop, followed by the vast array of fresh cakes on the counter, was brought up short by Steve’s subdued cry.
“Phwoar! Twelve O’clock! Look, straight ahead!”
“What? Oh… phwoar!”
Marching briskly ahead of them was the tall, elegant waitress whose head was covered by thick layers of hair pushed away from her face which met the back and sides which were uniformly clippered to a Number 4 or less. The hair at the sides of the nape curved in to an elegant point at the very nice indentation – whatever it’s called – at the hairline.
“Wow, that’s a nine out of ten at least,” stated Steph, and Steve nodded. Neither could avert their gaze from this heavenly vision as they were led to their seats. And their eyes continued to follow once the waitress had taken their order and departed from the balcony.
“I know it’s a bit nippy out here, Steph, but I’m feeling a bit warm aren’t you?”
She smiled in confirmation but, acknowledging the coolness of the air up in the hills, she moved her chair and cuddled in a little closer to Steve. “Have you noticed,” she enquired, “that quite a few of the waitresses have got short hair. It’s all rather nice for O’clocking of course but they must get cold working up here all year round.”
“Yes, it is a bit strange. And even the one or two with long hair have it up. Interesting…” They both lit a cigarette and sat in silent companionship for a few minutes.
The waitress brought them their lattes with scones and cream. As she placed them on the table Steve said, “Thanks. It’s a lovely day isn’t it, but a little bit chilly.”
She turned towards him, giving Steph a close-up of her perfectly cut nape. “Yes, it’s much cooler up here than in the city. Not that I go there much.”
“Aren’t you even colder wearing your hair that short?” Steph piped up. Steve spluttered into his hot coffee.
“I’ve no choice. The manageress insists we all wear our hair off our neck. Either we pin it up neatly or we have to cut it short to the hairline.”
“Really?” enquired Steve. “That’s a strange rule.”
“Yes it is, and it’s even worse if you pin it up and it falls out during the day. The manageress takes you along to the hairdresser as soon as she can and supervises it all getting cut off really short. That’s what happened to me last Thursday,” she added sadly. “It was lovely and thick and way past my waist. I used to wear it up but wispy bits kept falling around my face.”
“And what if you don’t agree?” asked Steph.
“We lose our jobs. And I need this job. Employment is pretty tough up in the hills. This isn’t the city. We need all the work we can get up here, and we are paid well. You only have to look at our prices,” she joked. “But we have to be immaculate to justify these prices. So we need to keep our hair out of our face…”
“And out of the jam and cream too!” added Steve, giggling.
“Exactly,” the waitress replied without humour, as she began to walk away
“Well your hair does look really nice,” called out Steph, as both she and Steve followed her retiring nape with their eyes. There was only a non-committal grunt in reply
“Yes, as I said, interesting isn’t it!” reiterated Steve, momentarily distracted from the parade of haircuts in the café by the blob of cream that had appeared on Steph’s cheek as she tucked in to her scone. “A bit heavy handed with the mousse today aren’t we?” he joked, thinking of licking it off but rather more gentlemanly deciding a dab with the napkin would be more appropriate.
“Oh dear look at that one,” mumbled Steph through the mouthful of her cake. Their gazes followed another waitress who clearly had long hair which was braided and twisted around her head, with odd little flowery clips either holding up stray strands or purely for decoration. It was an artful but strange concoction which could be compared with the overflowing jam and cream filled confection that Steve had assembled in front of him.
If the clips were for practicality then they failed in their task. Just as she was leaving the verandah a gust of wind sent wisps flying around her face. Still holding her tray with one hand she attempted to tuck the wayward strands behind her ears. But too late it seemed.
A woman, clearly the manageress, marched over towards her and while voices could not be heard Steph and Steve could easily make out the course of the discussion following their conversation with the other waitress. The manageress fingered loose strands around the face and pulled other tendrils that hung around her nape as she spoke. The waitress looked flustered and shook her head. The manageress simply smiled, held up three fingers and shrugged.
Through a mouthful of creamy scone Steve pondered, “So what do you think, she’s got to get a Number 3 crewcut?”
“Wow, let’s find out where the salon is!” Steph answered with undisguised excitement. “Just think, we could -”
“Have you finished with these?” interrupted the waitress who had just been the subject of the manageress’s attention.
“Er, nearly,” said Steve, mopping up the last of the cream on his plate with a finger. “Are you OK? You seem to be shaking. Is it the cold?”
“No. Well yes, er …” she mumbled, clearly upset by what had happened earlier.
“You must feel the cold wearing your hair up like that. Why not let it loose to keep a little warmer,” said Steph, rather naughtily, given what she had learnt from the earlier conversation with the waitress’s colleague.
“I can’t – it’s the rules,” she stated, looking towards the manageress through the café windows. “At least when I leave for home I can let it down and keep warm. Or could. I’ve just been told it’s got to go. I’ve just been given my third and final warning by the manageress about not keeping it neatly up and out of the way. I’ve tried everything but, as my hair is so thick, nothing seems to work. She says I must cut it short before my next shift or lose my job.”
“Oh that’s such a shame,” comforted Steph, while giving Steve an obvious wink.
“But it’s impossible. Today’s a public holiday – the salon is closed – and I’m on early shift tomorrow. I need this job!” she wailed, clearly needing someone to vent her frustrations on.
“I see,” acknowledged Steph. “Look, I think we can help you. I’m Stephanie by the way, and this is Steve. Do you have a break coming up, er…?”
“Leonie. Well yes, I…”
“Then meet us under that big tree over there, Leonie,” instructed Steve, “the prunus tree. OK?”
The waitress nodded, but looked puzzled as she walked away.
Steve and Steph almost ran back to the car and collected their magical bag of goodies and made for the nominated tree to find Leonie already there, seated on one of the rocks that made up the small wall surrounding the tree.
Steve placed a small black case from their bag next to her and unrolled it to reveal a two combs, a selection of sectioning clips (of the non-flowery variety), a shiny pair of scissors and a set of glittering Wahl Envoy clippers with an assortment of cutting guards. Leonie’s eyes nearly popped out of her head.
Steph busied herself by removing the multitude of flowery clips from Leonie’s head which finally led to two thick long braids tumbling down past her waist.
“Wow, I would never have believed your hair was so long Leonie. You put it up so artfully,” remarked Steve as he clicked the clippers on and off to check they had sufficient charge for the task ahead. “Yep, they’re fine Steph.”
“Thanks,” said Leonie nervously, “but I… well was wondering who… OW!”
“Sorry,” said Steph as she removed the bands securing the braids and used the large comb to arrange the thick wavy hair in a glistening waterfall down Leonie’s back. “I can imagine this keeps you very warm on the cold nights in the hills. Perhaps too warm?”
“So we’re going to help you Leonie – help you to keep your job and you’ll feel much more comfortable too,” explained Steve as he picked up a couple of large sectioning clips. “Where do you think Steph? Here?”
“No, no, no, much higher Steve. Leonie has such thick hair that I think… here!” she said, indicating a line high up the temple.
“Mmm, great idea,” he confirmed as he deftly sectioned the crown hair into a ponytail from a horizontal parting at least two inches above her ear tips. He clicked on a No 4 guard and passed the Wahl Envoys to Steph whose expression changed from one of delight at handling such lovely hair to one of determination as she clicked them on.
“Look I know I have to do this… to keep the job and everything… but I am very attached to my hair. I wonder… I mean you are…”
“Well, not for long!” laughed Steph. “We’ll soon be curing you of your attachment!”
Steph switched on the clippers and a loud buzz like a swarm of bees filled the air. She placed them on the parting at the back of Leonie’s head and began to ease them downwards. The clippers growled loudly as they dug in to the thick hair.
She began to wonder if the hair was too long and thick for the rechargeable Envoys. But she needn’t have worried as very soon long skeins of hair began to slide down Leonie’s back leaving a nice even pelt behind. Steve and Steph exchanged delighted glances.
More and more hair fell until all the long hair below the sectioned off crown had fallen onto to the rock on which Leonie sat. The gusty wind which had, a few minutes before, kept lifting the long hair now had no influence on the short hair remaining. However the cut hair was now blowing away in the wind.
Admiring Leonie’s nape as she continually ran the clippers over the nape and temples, Steph stated, “Just like your friend’s. Mmm, lovely…”
Steve looked up to the verandah and noticed several people observing the tendrils of hair blowing in the wind. One was the manageress. “Er, Steph I think we should do the top now,” he said lifting the remaining hair on the crown high, and nodding towards the verandah.
He pulled the hair taut and, with no time for scissors, Steph licked her lips and placed the blade of the clippers a few inches above the crown and drove them in a number of times until the remaining long hair was severed. She combed back the remaining hair and it fell into almost perfect style – thick, layered and graduated high up her neck giving an elegant line to her profile. She made a few minor adjustments using the clippers and comb and finally said, “Finished, I hope you like it!”
She had no idea of course as there were no mirrors in this outdoor and impromptu salon.
“Leonie what are you doing sitting out here. Your break is over and you should have used the staff room we provide,” the manageress shouted as she approached.
Steph and Steve quickly gathered up their equipment. “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine, Leonie. Once she sees your hair has been cut nice and short like your colleague you’ll have a job for life.” They took one last look at the result of their skills, smiled at each other… and legged it!
Leonie stood up smiling as the manageress reached her. She ran a hand through her hair, trying to look pleased rather than shocked as her hand touched the fine pelt of her nape. “Hello Mrs -”
“I went to the staff room to find you,” the manageress interrupted her. “I’ve just had a call from the owners and they’ve told me,” – she paused, taking in the shorn Leonie and smiled wryly – “ah, yes, well the owners have just told me that due to lower than expected number of visitors I have to let one of my waitresses go. It’s last in, first out I’m afraid, Leonie. You’ve only been here three weeks so I have no choice… you’re retrenched.”