That Old Familiar Feeling by Sabrina S. and Sean O’Hare
“OK Sally, so that’s at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning with Jill. And that’s for just a wash and a trim.”
“Er, thanks… yes, I’ll be here,” I replied somewhat distractedly as I surveyed the salon I had not frequented before. It was disappointing not to see any real action – but that was so often the case – although it was a nicely furnished salon I did admire the leopard print capes draped expectantly over each of the chairs.
“You could have just rung you know. Do you have our number?” enquired the receptionist.
“Oh, I was passing anyway so I thought I would just pop in…” I replied vaguely. In fact I had made a special trip in to town during my lunch hour. I was wearing my normal business attire – a well fitted suit, with a shortish skirt to display my rather attractive legs – and my mid-back, blonde hair streamed glossily behind me and was held back efficiently from my face with a hairband. For my appointment the next day I would of course spend time on making myself look a little more glam to fully enjoy the pampering and the overall experience.
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My slightly dormant interest in hair matters had picked up once more and I felt a strong urge to walk my favourite walk around the country town to see what might be happening in the hallowed halls of the various salons along the route. I knew I wouldn’t see a great deal. I never did. Still, I thought, there was always my appointment tomorrow. Only a trim of course, but who knew what I might see then.
“OK see you tomorrow, Sally. Have a nice day.”
I stepped out of the chic looking salon and turned right, sneaking a final look at the beautifully coloured asymmetric haircut of the stylist chatting away at the back of the salon who I hoped was Jill. It would be soooo tempting to ask for a haircut like that… to watch my long hair fall away to be replaced by a cut that was as far removed as the moon from my current staid, polite look. But I’d never have the courage. It was fun thinking about it though!
I lit a cigarette and ambled slowly down one of the side streets almost not bothering to try and see into the net curtain salon – yes, the genuine article! But I did look, and of course my view was totally obscured by net curtains… I giggled inside, saying to myself that it had to be done!
Then I approached something completely different. A wide plate-glass window opened on to the street, fronting a spacious almost austere interior with dark chrome and leather chairs along one wall, disappearing into the back of the well-lit interior of the shop. Not a salon but a barbershop. And not a traditional one, although it did have a rotating pole above the door and a neatly written sign proclaiming it to be a Gentlemen’s Barbers.
Frequently, as I passed, I had been rewarded by the sight of clippers being thrust up the back of some guy’s receptive head by one of the female barbers who appeared to be exclusively employed there. Nice in itself but the private fantasies such scenes evoked were nicer still. How, I wondered, would it feel to enter such a place, await my turn and finally succumb to the clippers? A lovely fantasy for sure, but of course there was no way I could ever enter the domain of gentlemen.
On this occasion I slowed and took in the activity and saw that one of the chairs was occupied. But what grabbed my attention more was the line of chairs against the window. The waiting chairs. And, waiting on one of them – the only person seated – was a woman with the longest, thickest, blonde plait that I had ever seen. She was not just seated but fidgeting around on the chair as if to get a better view of the barber in action!
My imagination ran wild! I knew that the woman must be waiting for the guy being efficiently barbered. What other reason would she have for being in there? I lit another cigarette and gave the impression to all around me – not that anyone was interested – that I just happened to be waiting in the street for someone. But I was sneaking glances inside.
With a flourish, I saw the barber remove the cape from the guy in the chair who stood up smiling – and why wouldn’t he with hair so neatly cut – then he paid and left, walking right past me. The braided girl remained seated. I thought quickly… and excitedly. One unoccupied barber and one waiting client. Was the dream I had often imagined about to take place before me?
I stamped out my cigarette and found myself approaching the entrance of the barbershop. I felt the urge rising from deep within me. I pushed open the door and went inside and sat straight down next to the woman. If it was going to happen – if this braid was going to be cut off in a barber’s chair – I had to be there to see it. Later I would need to explain my presence in some way before making a hasty exit… but that was later.
I watched the young woman barber approach from the back of the shop smiling at the two of us when suddenly the door opened again and in walked another young guy. The barber’s eyes switched to him and she welcomed him with, “Good to see you again James! Come on over and take a seat.”
“Thanks Emma,” he replied simply.
Emma turned her eyes to us again and said, “Sorry, he has a regular appointment at this time. Won’t be long.” The woman next to me smiled, and so did I, despite my feeling of disappointment that I would be forced to wait a little longer to see what I had entered to see.
It was then I began to take stock of my situation. I had never been in a barbershop before so it was quite an experience to observe the large, functional looking chairs lined up before me. One was now occupied of course. The guy had been swiftly caped and the barber stood smiling behind him with clippers in hand.
This appeared to be a scene that had been repeated often before. The guy smiled and bowed his head and for the first time in my life I heard, close up, clippers coming to life. And what a noise they made as, without a pause, she began to run them up his nape and send clumps of hair tumbling down the cape. Not large clumps, perhaps, as the guy’s hair was already short but very little was left in their wake. Just a shining white nape. My throat felt dry as I marvelled at their efficiency as they bared his nape and then began work on the sides.
“Scary aren’t they?” my inner mind yelled at me… or so I thought. But no! I came out of my reverie to see the woman to the right of me staring intently with a questioning smile upon her face. It was she who had spoken.
I didn’t expect this. A complete stranger talking to me about a subject I had never discussed with anyone else. A subject which had my nerve endings raw with emotion. I knew my voice was going to let me down if I tried to answer. I simply smiled back and gave a non-committal nod.
I noticed the woman had pulled her braid over one shoulder and was, apparently absent-mindedly, running a hand up and down its length. No wonder she was scared as she considered its destiny.
I wanted to ask her so many things. How she felt about her impending shearing? Had she been thinking about if for some time or was it a sudden decision? And why? But no words came.
“He’s brave isn’t he? She’s not even using a guard on those clippers. There are different ones to cut to different lengths you know?” Of course I did! “But without a guard they almost shave the hair off.” Yes, I could see that!
My strongly held interest in hair matters furnished me with such facts, but now I could see it actually happening. “Yes, they do seem to almost, er, shave,” I ventured, surprised that the words came.
She continued. “I do like to see a nice clean nape like that, don’t you?”
Who doesn’t, my mind screamed! Was this the type of cut the woman had in mind? I felt it my duty to encourage her. I took a deep breath. “Yes I do too. It looks nice. A nice clean nape,” I managed to utter monosyllabically, as the butterflies in my stomach performed somersaults. Throwing caution to the winds I began to ask, “Are you thinking -”
“Really?” she cooed, interrupting my burning question. “You like a nice clean nape too, do you?” she added, clearly appraising the hair hanging down my back. I wondered if she was thinking the same as me about her hair.
With a toss of her head her gaze returned to Emma’s work and her braid flew back over her shoulder, almost hitting me in the face, and resumed its position down the back of the chair.
A loud clattering noise drew my attention back to the barber and I noted that the clippers were now running over the top of the guy’s head, only a large comb being skilfully manoeuvred, preventing him getting all his hair shaved off. The short hair on the crown now stood smartly to attention and I saw that a perfect flattop style of military precision had been fashioned by the experienced barber. It looked perfect. Immaculate. A familiar warmth was rising deep within me as they stylist pulled away the cape and showed the guy his new style from all angles with a hand mirror.
As he paid the barber she said, “See you in three weeks then Jim. Bye.” I then realised that this had been the sum total of their conversation since her initial greeting. Well, makes a change from stylists who are always talking about the weather and holidays. I’d had identical conversations with my stylist during my last six appointments and knew more about her holiday to Majorca than she herself did, I’m sure.
Once more smiling broadly Emma approached us with a slightly questioning look on her face. “So, you’re next it seems,” she said, patting her shoulder length blonde curls which, for some reason, seemed rather out of place on a barber.
I felt a giggle rising within me at the thought that I might be ‘next’. Knowing I was still unlikely to be able string together two coherent words I avoided eye contact with Emma. So I found myself once more admiring the endless braid next to me… for nearly the very last time it seemed. As she began to turn her head towards me I glanced down at my watch to try to mentally calculate when I would need to make my escape and avoid an awkward questions about by presence.
“Come along then, if you’re in a hurry,” Emma stated, clearly observing me looking at my watch. “It’s OK, I do work quickly.”
I looked up with a start and noticed both women staring intently at me, with their eyes slowly moving towards my hair. My nape felt uncomfortably warm under their gaze.
My mind raced. Should I have pointed out that the waiting woman was before me? But surely they both knew that. I could hardly say that I had just come in to see this woman get her braid cut off, after which I was going to leave!
My throat was dry. My legs felt like jelly.
“I, er -” was all that came out, my lips remaining incapable of forming a rational phrase let alone a whole sentence.
With a touch of exasperation in her voice she said, “If you would like to come over and pop yourself down in the chair we’ll get started.” She waved her hand expansively.
Hardly believing what I was doing I struggled to my feet and followed Emma towards the barber’s chair, which she was now standing behind.
Panic was rising in me. I wanted to run. What would happen if I did? Not much, I guessed. Emma might think she had had a lucky escape from attending to a mad woman but she was hardly likely to set the police on me!
But I didn’t. I approached the chair and sat down. I was trying to think rationally. I needed a trim – I had booked one for tomorrow anyway – and having one in a barbershop was going to be a very different experience. Exciting. Fun. The familiar stirrings of my urge were starting to envelop my whole being.
A cape was thrown over me and fastened securely around my neck. No silky leopard-print gowns here but a heavy black cape with a plastic-like feel to it. It seemed to be encompassing me, almost imprisoning me, a feeling that was reinforced as she manoeuvred a rubber cutting collar under my hair, and around my neck. The cape felt cool on my bare legs. I felt a shiver run up my spine.
Emma removed my hairband and placed it on the shelf before me and then combed through my hair a few times. She suddenly stopped, appraising me in the mirror. “Right then, what are we going to do today?”
My mind was screaming, ‘Nothing!’ Really, I could just simply squeak that I’d changed my mind and walk out of there without feeling like too much of an idiot. Emma would have a good laugh at the women terrified by the barbershop experience and that would be the sum total of it. But I felt the eyes of the braided woman behind me boring into my back and knew I couldn’t move.
“Er, well my stylist usually just trims my long hair to keep it looking nice. You know, just the ends…” I said lamely.
I observed Emma nodding slowly in the mirror – a flood of relief washed through me as she considered my statement with a thoughtful expression on her face. Suddenly her hands came up to the side of my head and she held my hair firmly back from my face. She cocked her head to one side and then the other, followed by a decisive nod. “And now you feel like having something completely different and that’s why you have come to us. Something much shorter perhaps? Yes, that will suit your features perfectly. We don’t actually get too many women coming in here but, of course, that’s not a problem at all. Hair is hair, whether on a gent or on a woman.”
I stole a quick glance towards the waiting chairs and saw the woman leaning forward in rapt attention as if to hear every word of the conversation. Right now, it’s a problem to me, I thought. Something shorter she said? Just how much shorter was she thinking? I returned my gaze to the mirror and caught sight of the large set of clippers hanging ominously from a hook to the right of it.
“Oh, but – ” I began to say, but was startled into silence as my feet suddenly left the ground like a fairground ride and I felt, and saw, myself rise up as she pumped away at a pedal on the base of the chair.
I hastily placed my swinging feet on the footrest of the unfamiliar chair, increasing my feeling of entrapment and isolation. And I felt I had left my stomach firmly anchored to the ground.
“With features and hair like yours you could take a really short cropped look. Short on the crown, and we then take all the rest really short,” she stated, decisively grabbing my loose hair at the back for emphasis.
My mind was in free-fall now. How many times had I fantasised about having my hair cut short, but knew I never would find a genuine motivation to do so – it always looked nice and I often received compliments on its length and condition. Nor indeed would I find the courage. Now I could. Oh my God!
“Do you think so? Just how short,” I squeaked, nearly stuttering on that last word, “do you think I should go?”
“Well that’s up to you of course. Depends what you like. We specialise in cutting hair short here of course. It is a barber’s after all, which you realise, I’m sure.” My eyes widened, and were once again drawn to the clippers hanging beside the mirror which acted as a very appropriate reminder of where I was. “I wonder if this time you could just -”
The woman with the braid suddenly interrupted by saying, “Emma, she said she really liked that guy’s cut you were doing just now. She told me she really likes to see a nice clean nape.”
“Really?” Emma said with a touch of surprise in her voice. “I see. Right, now we know where we’re coming from. So you do want something really short?”
It was hardly a question she was asking but, after she picked up her scissors, she stood behind me staring into the mirror at my slightly startled expression.
What choice did I have? Loads, and deep down I knew it. To my horror I saw myself nod as if some unseen hand was pushing it forward.
“OK then. Seems such a shame to cut all of this off. You’ve looked after your hair so well,” she added with a touch of genuine regret in her voice.
That was my last opportunity to say something. But it was a very brief opportunity as I watched her move the scissors swiftly to my cheek and close them with a sickening crunch. A large hank of hair slid down my shoulders, down the cape and in to my lap.
She continued cutting with an easy rhythm, and hair – my hair – continued to separate and slide into my lap or straight to the floor. I could feel the weight of hair building in my lap. I could feel the weight of hair on my head reducing. Seven or eight swipes of the blades and I was left with a hacked-off bob that finished just under my earlobes. I’d had the same cut when I was seven, but it had been achieved by my mother putting a pudding bowl on my head and chopping around it. And in those days my hair had been shortish anyway… not like today, as five years of steady growth, healthy growth, lay uselessly on the floor and my feet and my lap.
“Right, let’s get started,” she announced as if having cut 18 inches of hair from my head was an inconsequential appetiser. She kicked the small mountain of hair on the floor to one side and reached forward to unhook her clippers from their place beside the mirror.
I noticed they had no guard on them. Well they wouldn’t, as they were last used on the guy who preceded me. The urge deep within me was now willing the clippers towards my head, such was the pent-up desire almost exploding inside me. I thought back to that guy’s white, almost shaven nape and tried to formulate appropriate words to confirm with her that she was going to use a guard. At that moment she reached forward again, glancing at my hair, and selected a guard from the array lined up on the bench before me. Not the largest, but not the smallest either. I breathed an audible sigh of relief.
“Emma, she said she liked a nice clean nape. Like that guy before her,” the braided woman piped up.
“So she did. Sorry, nearly forgot. Don’t want to have to clipper it twice, do we. I know we’re both in a bit of a hurry.”
She tossed the guard back on the counter and turned on the clippers. Oh no! The clippers sounded loud when I watched her buzz the guy. A few inches from my ear they were deafening. And they soon got louder.
I watched her place her free hand on my crown and lightly, but firmly, she eased my head down so that all I could see was the collection of hair coiled in my lap like a sleeping kitten.
And then I felt the remaining hair at the back move and I could imagine her easing the clippers through it to find my nape. Which they did, as I suddenly felt a coolness of bare metal on my sensitive skin and an insistent vibration which matched the screaming sound of the clippers’ motor.
I felt her push the blades with deliberate pressure on to my skin and then sensed them rising up my nape. The tone of the clippers changed as they bit into my hair and began to slide upwards. I could see tufts of hair raining down out of the corner of my eyes, and then felt a coolness on my nape I had never experienced before mixed with what must have been the warmth of Emma’s breath. I didn’t need to imagine how it looked. I just thought back to the guy before me… and my heart skipped a beat.
“Wow, so brave,” I heard from the direction of the waiting chairs.
When it seemed the clippers could go no higher their pressure on my head was released and the clippers’ motor raced like a car engine out of gear. But not for long. With my head still held securely in place, the clippers traced another path up my nape. And another, followed by several more.
With practised ease Emma manoeuvred my head to one side and now I could watch her progress in the mirror. Watch as she placed the clippers in front of my ear and push them up towards the crown. She blew the hair away and it felt like her breath was meeting bare skin. When the clippings fell to the floor I saw that her breath very nearly was hitting bare skin!
She ran the clippers around my ears and the noise became so loud it almost wiped out all my senses. Almost, but not quite. A lifetime of fantasy was unfurling before me, and my body was reacting precisely in the way I had always imagined it would! I tried not to squirm awkwardly on the seat but to hold still and watch, as if in slow motion, the passage of the blades through my silky hair, and the stubble left in their wake.
I gazed, fascinated, as the expanse of clippered hair at my temples became larger. First on one side and then, following a gentle push of my head to lean the other way, on the other side. I saw an unruly mass of longer hair – relatively long that is – was still perched on the top of my head. The very top as the buzzed sides went very high and I could imagine that it was the same at the back.
She straightened my head and began to comb through what little hair remained, presumably to ensure it was cut to a uniform evenness and that the hairline was precisely fashioned. Repeated nibbling of the clipper blades seemed to confirm this.
With the clippers still buzzing away she picked up the large comb she had used previously and combed the remaining crown hair straight back. It appeared that I had a short back and sides look of some 1930s matinee idol.
“You have good thick hair. I won’t cut it quite so short on top as the guy before you. It will look a little more feminine that way. But it’s still going to stick straight up.” And as if to prove the point she lifted a three-inch lock of hair with the comb at the front and sheared it off to at least half its length with a deft swipe of the clippers. And there was an accompanying rattle as the clipper blades touched the comb. It stood straight up as if in shock. So was the rest of me!
Emma nodded with professional pride and her accurate assessment of my hair and then, with expert hands, she began to reduce the rest of my crown hair down to a uniform evenness like a field of wheat but one that even a strong breeze was unlikely to shift.
Once all the crown hair was harvested she busied herself blending it into the sides so that there was a gradual transition from the clippered sides to the longer top.
Finally the clippers ceased. She put them down. She ran a comb through my crown hair and pronounced, “Perfect! I wish some of my guys had such healthy hair as yours. Much easier to achieve a precise flattop.”
She brushed away the hair on my shoulders, removed my collar and whisked away the cape. More hair joined the sizeable pile already on the floor.
I just sat there in shock trying to absorb the fact that the cropped woman staring back from the mirror was in fact me. I wanted to reach my hands up and feel it. But almost felt too scared. I wanted to jump from the chair and quickly leave. But the chair was still pumped up – as indeed so was I – so I turned my head first one way then the other.
Emma had been looking at her watch. “Oh sorry, you want to see the back don’t you!”
Did I? She held up a mirror and I saw the back of my head. Quite literally the back of my head, as very little hair remained there. The bareness of the sides continued around the back and almost to the highest point of the back where the slightly longer hair started.
“I hope that’s clean enough for you? You did say you like to see a nice clean nape.”
I couldn’t say a word so I merely nodded.
“Good, I’m glad you like it.” The chair was released and I slowly sank down, although my stomach was still turning cartwheels in the wild blue yonder.
I tentatively stood up, as I knew my legs were trembling and didn’t want them to give way… and further up they were extremely damp!
“I could run some product through it but it stands up perfectly and shines well from its excellent natural condition that it doesn’t really need it. It will hold that shape perfectly for the next few weeks whatever you do to it. Go on, try running a hand through it.”
I did – the first time I had touched it. In the mirror it looked so harsh but it still felt soft as my hand passed through it. And true to her word, once my hand had passed it sprang up again. My hand continued down the back of my head and I began to feel the bristles shaved almost down the to skin. It was electrifying and a shock went down my spine. It felt so fresh and, of course, so short.
At that moment the door swung open and a rather breathless woman entered. “Sorry I’m late Emma. I had to queue for ages at the bank.”
“That’s all right Caroline, I’ve kept busy,” replied Emma, nodding her head towards me. “Would you mind paying my colleague? I need to shoot off for lunch. My sister’s waiting.”
“No problem… er, thanks,” I said, not quite sure if I meant it despite it being one of the most intense experiences of my life.
“Ready Sis?” Emma called out.
“Of course.” The woman from the waiting area jumped up, her heavy braid bouncing around behind her. “You really are brave, you know. I could never do that. I feel nervous enough even coming in here to meet my sister,” she laughed.
I felt very indignant. She had had no intention of cutting her hair, but because of her I ended up getting mine cut! I wanted to say something to her but of course there was nothing I could say.
As I was paying, and the two sisters were just leaving, the braided woman turned around. “Thanks though, it’s great fun watching long hair being cut short! I’m so glad you felt the urge.”
With a wink she span around and the fully intact braid followed her.