Welcome to the Farm by Sabrina S.
Stephanie didn’t cry at the funeral; dressed in black with her long, wavy hair pulled into an almost painfully tight chignon, she bit her lips until they bled while her parents were lowered into the ground. Perversely, she felt tears welling the most as she watched the beautiful spray of white lilies and orchids on her mother’s coffin get covered with heartless shovelfuls of dirt. The flowers are still alive! she cried inside, please don’t bury them alive!
She managed to stay brave during the function afterwards, when her father’s business associates shook her hand and told her what a wonderful man he’d been, and her mother’s bridge friends hugged her, jangling bracelets and wearing too much perfume for a funeral, and said what a tragedy the car crash had been and how lucky Stephie was not to have been in the car with them.
Lucky? thought Steph. She was fifteen years old, newly orphaned, and about to leave the only home she knew because it was mortgaged to the hilt and had to be sold. She almost wished she’d died too, she was so desperately unhappy, missing her parents’ wonderful love and warmth.
Her Aunt Jean, her father’s sister, was going to “take her on”. Jean, unlike her brother, was cold, hard and to the point. Divorced, childless and middle aged, she lived on a farm in the Okanagan Valley, where she reigned martinet over her itinerant farm workers.
“Pack your stuff, Steph,” said Aunt Jean, the day after the funeral. “I can only take a carload so choose carefully.” Aunt Jean had arranged for almost all the household possessions Steph had grown up with in the beautiful West Vancouver house to be sold or given to charity.
The farm, when they reached it, was depressing. Steph had great childhood memories of her last visit, ten years ago. But five-year-olds are happy chasing chickens, and don’t notice shabbiness and the awful state of the fences.
She was shown to her room in the wooden cottage. Paint stayed on the walls by luck and willpower. Her room was furnished simply: a 1960s wardrobe clashed with an antique dressing table with huge flyblown mirrors, and the old cast-iron bed was hard as a rock.
Steph sighed and sat with a thump onto the dressing table stool, which almost gave way. She stuck out her lower lip and blew, sending her thick chestnut bangs skywards. God, but this place was a mess! Even her hair felt dusty.
Steph tossed her hair, which was almost waist-length, back over her shoulders and rummaged for a brush. The familiar routine of brushing comforted her. All her life she’d been used to her mother brushing her hair in the evenings while they watched TV, the brush tingling her scalp. Doing it herself wasn’t quite the same, it didn’t have the same luxurious effect as someone else doing the pampering. She wondered idly if Aunt Jean would be willing to take over the brushing. It might build some kind of affectionate bond up between them. It was worth a try, anyway.
She found Aunt Jean in the kitchen, her harshly lined face screwed up in disgust as she read the newspaper.
“Goddam government!” Aunt Jean growled. “What is it, Steph? Have you unpacked? I’m cooking up supper. Hope you’re not vegetarian!”
Even if she were, Steph wouldn’t dare admit it to the gimlet eyes glaring at her under the closely-cropped helmet of gray hair which looked like it had been cut by an amateur with horse clippers.
“Er, no, meat is fine,” said Steph bravely. Visions of broiled chicken breasts and a little salad vanished when she saw the size of the steak on the sink.
“What’s in your hand, Stephanie?”
“A hairbrush, Aunt Jean. I was wondering… Mom used to brush my hair for me each night. Could – would… would you do the same for me?” she blurted out in a rush.
Aunt Jean raised her eyebrows. “Sit down, then.”
Hesitantly, Steph sat and flicked her hair over the back of the chair expectantly. Aunt Jean took the brush and began. She wasn’t as good as Mom; she brushed like she was getting mud off a cow.
“Honey, you won’t need all that hair out here,” Jean said, tugging painfully at a knot. “You can’t live on a farm and help me out and be fussing with your hair.”
“I usually tie it back,” Steph said comfortably.
Aunt Jean was brushing Steph’s hair into a ponytail, which she held tightly with one hand at the nape of Steph’s neck. There was a clattering noise as Aunt Jean rummaged for something in the drawer behind her. A rubber band, perhaps, to secure the pony?
“No, I mean the hair’s going,” said Aunt Jean firmly. “I don’t have time to waste on it like this and I don’t want you wasting yours.”
Steph felt a tugging at the ponytail and realised Aunt Jean hadn’t got a rubber band. She’d picked up scissors! “No!” Steph screamed, trying to get out of the chair, but one of Jean’s big, work-callused hands pushed her back down; the other held her hair so tightly and painfully Steph thought it would pull out at the roots.
“Sit down!” Aunt Jean commanded. “This won’t take long!” She pushed the scissors into the thick chestnut mound of hair and began to crunch through it.
Disbelievingly, Steph felt her hair spring free around her face in a ragged chin length bob. This couldn’t be happening! She hadn’t cried since her parents died, but feeling her beautiful hair being reduced to this, tears filled her eyes and dripped down her cheeks. The awful shrieking sound as the scissors fought their way through her hair continued, loud in her ears.
The scissors were at the nape of her neck now, and the left-hand side of hair swung free. Aunt Jean was cutting her hair to the hairline at the back. Steph had never had her hair so short. With a shaking hand she felt the blunt ends of her chopped hair and whimpered.
“Oh, be quiet,” said Aunt Jean, not unkindly. “It’s only hair. I’ll tidy it up for you after this.” She continued to crunch and hack her way through Steph’s hair. The only good thing about it was the pain relief once the hair was cut off.
In no time at all – but to Steph it seemed an eternity – her hair had been roughly bobbed. Her head felt light and strange without the weight of her beautiful, wavy hair flowing from it over her back and shoulders. Her neck felt naked and cold, and when she touched it the hairs at her nape were little more than bristles. Steph gulped back a huge sob.
Aunt Jean threw the ponytail onto Steph’s lap. “Lot of it, wasn’t there? This’ll be much easier to take care of once I’ve finished!”
“No more!” pleaded Steph, running her hands into the shortness of her hair, and crying harder at the sight of the waterfall of long, long hair sliding off her legs onto the vinyl floor. “Please, you’ve cut enough off!”
Aunt Jean was rummaging in the drawer again. Steph considered making a dash for it but realised she was suffering from shock. Her legs were shaking and she doubted they’d take her weight.
“Stay right there, honey,” Aunt Jean commanded, and then Steph heard a buzzing sound, like a large fly was trying to get out the window.
Aunt Jean put a big, warm hand on the top of Steph’s head, and pushed it forward so her chin was almost touching her breastbone.
The buzzing sound came closer and then Steph froze all over. The reason for Aunt Jean’s horrible haircut was suddenly very clear!
She felt the clippers nuzzle the back of her neck and then Aunt Jean was pushing them ruthlessly up through her hair.
“No!” screamed Steph, and tried to wriggle away. Aunt Jean’s hand came down harder on her head.
“Honey, I’ll shave the lot off to your scalp if you try to run. This is just a trim.”
The blades felt alien against Steph’s scalp. Alien, but, she realised with a jolt, somehow caressing, slightly tickling as they gobbled up her hair. Her skin tingled after the clippers had cut a swathe of hair off. Aunt Jean began the second sweep up the back of her head, drawing the haircut out with malicious slowness.
Steph felt a coolness on her head and supposed that her aunt was clipping her hair so short the scalp was showing through it. She shuddered. Thank God none of her Vancouver friends could see her now, sitting in a country kitchen with all her hair on the floor and her aunt making her look like a freak.
The third pass went up the back, and Aunt Jean ran the clippers all the way up to Steph’s crown, which made her quiver.
Aunt Jean pushed Steph’s head to one side and pushed the clippers up behind Steph’s ear. For the first time, wavy locks fell onto Steph’s lap. Aunt Jean had somehow guided the cut hair from the back out of Steph’s sight, but now she had no pity for the girl.
The clippers ran ruthlessly up the side of Steph’s head, stopping at the top and lopping the thick hair into a rough, blunt mohawk.
Aunt Jean moved Steph’s head again and prepared to attack the hair in front of Steph’s ears. Steph closed her eyes in anguish as she heard the clippers, outrageously loud, come closer and closer to her head.
This wasn’t happening! But it was.
Relentlessly Aunt Jean moved the clippers against Steph’s warm scalp, and the longest hair she had left tumbled to the floor.
Aunt Jean changed the position of Steph’s head again. Steph took the opportunity to touch the damage that had been done, and discovered her hair was cut to within a quarter inch of its life, and felt like velvet to the touch. It was so short she could barely pinch a lock between her fingers. Short as a boy’s, shorter than most boys’. At that moment Steph truly wished she’d died with her parents.
Then her aunt was starting behind the other ear, taking the hair off close to her head and flicking it heartlessly onto Steph’s knees. The buzzing was hideous in her ear now, and the hair that had swung onto her cheeks dropped to the ground.
All that was left was her bangs and the thick hair on top of her head, which was, depending on how carelessly and how high Aunt Jean had clippered the sides, between a half inch and two inches long. To Steph, it suddenly seemed very precious.
“Aunt Jean, please,” whispered Steph, “please no.”
But Aunt Jean was like a steamroller with the accelerator stuck on full throttle. She straightened Steph’s head and ignored the trembling hands that tried to push her away.
“For heaven’s sake, girl, you’re fifteen years old. Haven’t you ever had a haircut before?”
“Not like this,” Steph replied through chattering teeth.
“Hummph.” Before Steph could protest further, Aunt Jean came in for the kill. The clippers buzzed and hummed hungrily. Swiftly she placed the clippers at the top of Steph’s forehead then moved them back, slowly, slowly, over the top of Steph’s quivering head. The middle of her bangs no longer existed, and her forehead felt naked.
“That’s better,” grunted Aunt Jean, tossing the cut hair off the blades. She moved to the right side of the stubble she’d shorn down the middle of Steph’s head, and began to shear another path, keeping her other hand on Steph’s head to steady it, for Steph was trembling all over with shock.
Because her hair was now so short, Aunt Jean’s hand felt almost hot on Steph’s scalp. Aunt Jean rubbed her hand up and down Steph’s buzzed pelt in satisfaction.
There wasn’t much more hair left to cut, and Aunt Jean had no hesitation in cutting it. The last of Steph’s bangs disappeared as the clippers sang and snarled through her thick chestnut hair, going all the way back to her crown and then starting again at the front for one final pass.
Aunt Jean ran her big, farm-roughened hands over Steph’s now downy head. “That’s better, girl. Looks good, too. You didn’t need all that hair.”
Yes I did, Steph wailed inside herself, feeling naked and ugly without her beautiful chestnut waterfall of hair. Slowly she raised her hands and ran both of them over the stubblefield of her head.
God, it felt peculiar! Like an animal’s coat, like fur, like velvet.
Suddenly Steph wanted to know what she looked like with her hair clipped so short.
She stood up shakily and walked to her room, and sat down with another thump on the tired bedroom stool. Barely a quarter hour ago she had sat here, brushing her lovely hair.
Steph took a deep breath and looked in the mirror.
She was beautiful! Now her hair wasn’t hiding her face, she realised her green eyes were huge, and her ears small and neatly shaped to her head. Again and again she ran her hands over her cropped head. It was beginning to feel rather good and she started to get used to it after the initial shock of seeing herself with a short crewcut.
Suddenly she had the power to cope with life without her parents and with Aunt Jean and the farm. She looked like the tough kids you found in the smoking end of the schoolyard, with cropped heads and noserings, girls and guys hard enough to take any knocks.
Aunt Jean had actually done her a favour, she realised, brushing all the tiny little clippered hairs off her face and clothing, and turning this way and that in the three-way mirror to admire the newly visible shape of her skull.
“Aunt Jean!” she called out, and heard the heavy thump of boots as her aunt walked down the hall.
“Hmm, you’re not howling your eyes out, at least!” Aunt Jean said with approval. She looked quite different when she smiled – almost kind. “What do you think of your haircut?”
“I need to know, how long before it grows this long?” Steph held up a thumb and finger and indicated an inch.
“Coupla months,” said Aunt Jean laconically, helping dust the cut hair from Steph’s clothes.
“Then… Aunt Jean… could you cut it again next week?”