The Way You Always Wanted It – Cut Ups
Laura made the deposit and left the bank in her small hometown. She had worked in the federal government for forty years, beginning in the Navy and ending as a federal judge. She had come back to the little town and the ranch upon which she had grown up. Laura had retired.
She walked by the town’s little barbershop on her way to her car. The woman under the cape and getting the bangs of a white crewcut trimmed to an inch was Arlene. Arlene was sixty, too, same age as Laura. Laura had met Arlene the first day of Navy boot camp, had been best friends with Arlene since about five minutes later. Laura walked away to her car, pushing the steel gray flip that just touched her shoulders off her forehead. Arlene was going to get buzzed to the skin. She had worn the crewcut buzzed to the skin for thirty years, had never wanted anything else. Laura had always loved Arlene’s hair. Laura had never said, but she had always wanted a crewcut of her own.
Arlene was putting potatoes peeled as close as she’d had the barber peel her head on to boil when Laura rang the doorbell. Laura was expected for dinner that night, just as she had expected Arlene for lunch. These friends had hardly spent a minute apart since Laura had come home.
Arlene was the better cook. They knew she was. She noticed the wine in Laura’s bag. “Cabernet?”
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“You said you’re doing steaks.” Laura set the wine in a bucket of ice, drawing her steel gray flip hairstyle over her head again.
“We… you haven’t talked about your plans now that you’ve retired.”
“I’ve traveled the world in one government department or another and helped make the law from the bench. You’ve stayed here, in what was my home, and after Mother died, you took care of my father for twenty-five years. I will never be able to tell you how much I’ve appreciated that.”
“You just did, and I’ve never regretted it. Your dad was a wonderful husband.”
Laura and Arlene ate by candlelight, Laura picking at salad as she thought. “I guess, to answer your question, that I will buy a fly rod and a rocking chair and rock my days away fishing, when I’m not taking Arlene anywhere in the world she would like to go. I have had another thought. I’m either here, or you’re at my house. We might as well share a house.”
“I was thinking that, too, and I would love it.”
“I haven’t gotten around to unpacking yet.”
“It’d take me a month to move, and I’ve got the barber chair and clippers.”
“So you do.”
Arlene sipped wine. “Laura, you’ve always loved my crewcut. I’ve seen you watching through the window every time I’ve gone to the barber shop when you were home, including today.”
“You noticed. Arlene, I hate this mop of hair, and this flip is… UGH!”
“Then it’s settled. We’ll move tomorrow, and after you’re all settled, we’ll go to the barber shop, or I will cut your hair the way you’ve always wanted it.”
Shivers raced up and down Laura’s spine. She had been shot at in war. She had argued with Congressmen and Presidents. But never had her hands shook so much as when she lifted her hair high up off her ears. “You think so?”
“I think that neither one of us can wait until tomorrow night.”
Laura thought she’d pin up her hair while she moved, but she didn’t have the patience to put in all the pins. It wasn’t long enough for a ponytail, just an old steel gray mop.
She had bought just a bed and a table and chairs over the years, but Arlene had furniture, so there were just books and papers to move. And clothes. Laura and Arlene spent the morning folding and hanging clothes, and every time Laura carried something through the kitchen, she couldn’t help glancing at the big red barber chair. She couldn’t help but think of her appointment with the big black clippers. She shivered just thinking, dreaming of the buzzing and watching hair, hair, hair piling up on the floor.
Arlene had been right, just like always. Laura HAD always wanted a crewcut, her head shaved like a butch haircut to bangs that were always trimmed to an inch long, the way Arlene had always cut her own hair. She hung her last blouse on the closet rack. Arlene had disappeared.
Arlene had gone to the kitchen, was chopping up the last of the little red potatoes.
“You moved me over. The least I could do is help make lunch.” Laura set the table.
“You just did. We’re having potato soup and finger sandwiches. The soup’ll take about half an hour, plenty of time…”
“To give someone a crewcut.” Laura snapped Arlene’s white pinstripe barber cloth around her neck and spread the cloth over the arms of the barber chair.
Arlene made a front part in Laura’s hair and combed the hair over Laura’s face. “Don’t raise your eyebrows, unless you want super short bangs.”
“I wasn’t even thinking of it, until you said that,” Laura said from under all that hair.
Arlene snipped thick steel gray with scissors. Strand after strand, hair fell, uncovering Laura’s forehead. Laura blinked as hair slid down the cape to the white tile kitchen floor. Laura now wore a flip with bangs.
“Scissors or clippers?”
Laura totally relaxed. She had no reason to keep hair she hated having to spend more than it was worth in beauty salons, to keep from looking like a mophead. “Which do you like?”
“You have to ask, as many times as you’ve watched?”
Potatoes simmered. Arlene, the white crewcut peeled to the skin, oiled Osters and switched on the motor. Clippers buzzed low. The women said nothing between them, just enjoying the hum. Arlene touched the clippers to Laura’s cheek.
“Oh. Oh, my. I want a haircut, Arlene. Right now.”
Arlene steadied Laura’s head and shaved her left sideburn off skin short. Laura folded hands in her lap and watched her lifelong friend roar clippers around her left ear. Laura actually heard the heavy hair hit the cape. Her ear was bared. She couldn’t hide her ear if she tried now. As Arlene stripped thick hair to the top of her head; as chunks of hair floated to the cape, she couldn’t hide her widening smile, even if she wanted to. Laura was frozen, eyes on the mirror. Left side shaved; flip that touched her shoulders in back and on the right side, Laura was amazed at the contrast of before and after.
Arlene offered her a hand mirror. “You have to lower your head while I cut the back.”
Laura took the mirror and lowered her head. Arlene turned the clippers over and let the blades mow steel gray off at Laura’s nape. Cut. Flick. Cut. Flick. The haircut moved higher up the back of Laura’s head with every pass of the Osters. Tickled, driven wilder than she could remember anymore, sixty-year-old Laura shivered another sigh.
“Now you know why I go to the barber shop.”
“Our haircuts. Next time you go, they’re on me,” Laura said.
Laura was buzz bald up the left side and the back of her head. Arlene shaved her neck and pushed Osters around her right ear. She shaved the right side of Laura’s head as close as the left, down to stubble. Hair plopped on the floor like scoops of ice cream into a bowl. Laura’s eyes bugged again.
Arlene patted her shoulder. “Yeah. Wow.”
Arlene shaved the top of Laura’s head to her bangs in three passes. Laura merely blinked. Without hair to slow them, clippers flew over Laura’s entire head, as Arlene shaved her skin close. Then short bangs stood out. Arlene thinned the bangs with clippers and a comb.
Arlene stopped the clippers. Laura did not blink, staring at her shorn head as the hot shave machine ground. With her straight razor, Arlene cleaned up sideburns and neck.
Arlene massaged Laura’s neck. She pulled the cape away. “There’s the look of someone who loves her new haircut.”
Laura rubbed her head shaved to stubble. Another smile spread across her lips. “The way I’ve always wanted it.”