While You Were Sleeping By Sabrina S.
Jackie was exhausted. The long, long flight from Sydney to Paris had been a nightmare. Travelling economy class, she had been seated next to a footballer who, after getting smashed on scotch, fell asleep and snored so loudly she herself couldn’t sleep. In the row in front a baby cried almost ceaselessly. The ten-year-old boy sitting behind appeared to get peculiar pleasure out of kicking the back of her seat. Only her snarling temper as a result of twenty-two hours without sleep kept Jackie awake enough to get through customs.
Now, here she was in Paris for three weeks’ holiday. The last weeks had been a rush, trying frantically to finish a project at work. She couldn’t remember when she’d last had a day off, and had only packed the morning she caught her flight. In a week’s time her boyfriend Patrick would be joining her, and they would explore Paris together.
But at the moment, Paris was hers alone. Jackie was looking forward to it – her first overseas holiday ever. Much as she loved Patrick, a week by herself was essential at the moment.
Feeling brighter as she surveyed the scene outside the airport and took in the polyglot of languages around her, Jackie made her way to the taxi rank and parted with way too many francs when the driver dropped her off at the little pension hotel she’d booked from Sydney.
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The drive through the suburbs kept her wide awake. Only Italians drive with less regard to life, limb and car than the French. Her taxi driver cut mercilessly across lanes and barged his way through roundabouts, and deposited Jackie, her luggage, and a thudding heart outside the hotel. She had had a whirlwind glimpse of the city, hideous new buildings and soulless apartment complexes intermingling with mellowed stone, brash neon with hand-lettered signs that desperately needed repainting.
Jackie’s hotel was only a two star, but featured a juliet balcony in the room with geraniums sprouting in colourful profusion all over it. From it she could look up and down the street, and she stood there for ages surveying her temporary new home.
The hotel wasn’t in the more touristy or expensive areas. Dogs roamed the street in packs of two or three. A boulangerie, charcouterie and fromagerie were across the road. Jackie was enchanted. She had never before encountered a shop which sold only cheese. Further down there was a sign: ‘Cheveux’. Horse? Horsemeat? Jackie peered closely. No, cheveux meant hair, of course it did!
What a treat, Jackie thought. A shampoo, cut and blow dry in Paris! She fingered the ends of her hair. She’d had it spiral permed about six weeks ago, and it needed a trim. The long, wavy brown layers hung halfway down her back. Jackie noticed a few split ends and decided on the spot that the first thing she’d do after a quick shower would be to head to the hairdresser’s. She couldn’t spend three weeks in the world’s chicest city with sub-standard hair!
Forty minutes later, Jackie stood outside the hairdresser’s. It was small, but looked clean. The usual pictures of women with great haircuts were plastered on the windows and inside. Jackie pushed the door open and smelt the familiar smells of perm lotion and peroxide.
There were no other clients in the salon. A man in his thirties with short dark hair and a thick moustache approached her.
Jackie hesitated. One of the things she wanted to practice was her non-existent French while she was in Paris. “Bonjour, monsieur. Je desire…um….je voudrais…um…. A haircut.” She held up her hair, then held up her other hand and indicated half an inch between finger and thumb. “Un peu.”
The man nodded. “Oui, oui.” Then headed off into a long spiel in French, the only word of which Jackie understood was “brosse”, which she knew meant “brush.” By the inflection of his voice she knew he was asking a question.
Well, of course she wanted her hair brushed! “Oui, oui,” Jackie nodded. “Brosse.”
“En brosse? Eh bien. Ici, mademoiselle.” He held out a chair and indicated she should sit down. “Vous êtes Anglais? English?”
“Australian,” Jackie confirmed. “Do you speak English?”
He shook his head. “Je regrette, non, mademoiselle. Je m’appelle Jean-Louis.”
Ah, Jackie understood that. “Je m’appelle Jacqueline,” she offered, sitting in the chair in front of the mirror. Wasn’t he going to wash her hair first? Obviously the French did things differently!
Jean-Louis fixed a towel around her neck and a blue vinyl cape over the top, and stroked her shiny, long hair. “En brosse, eh?”
“En brosse would be nice, oui,” Jackie said, smiling. Her French was failing her by the minute.
Jean-Louis produced a vent brush and began to brush her hair, firstly stroking the bottom six inches and gently detangling any knots as he moved up. Jackie leant her head back – the chairs were almost a female version of barber’s chairs, with a neck rest just touching the base of her neck – and closed her eyes in pleasure as she felt the brush pull the hair away from her forehead and ears, tingling her scalp and stroking her locks to the back of her head. Ah, this was bliss!
Then Jean-Louis put the brush down and began to massage Jackie’s scalp, starting at the front and rubbing in circles all the way around her head.
Exhausted, Jackie fell into a doze. She loved scalp massages! She barely noticed when the massage finished and Jean-Louis’ hands disappeared from her head.
So she didn’t see her hairdresser plug the clippers in beside her chair, change the guard on them and oil the blades. Jackie was asleep.
Jean-Louis picked up the mass of her hair lovingly in one hand. What strange women these Australians were! Beautiful hair like this and she wants it cut “en brosse” – like a brush! – only a centimetre long! He sighed and looked at his sleeping client. He’d wake her in a minute when he’d cut the bulk of it off. He was used to cutting the hair of sleeping women – Madame Flauvert from number 22 routinely fell asleep during each shampoo and set!
As gently as he could, so he didn’t wake her, Jean-Louis gathered Jackie’s waves into a ponytail at the back of her head.
Then he drew his largest pair of scissors out of the copious pocket at the front of his smock, and began to cut the ponytail off.
It was hard work. He could only cut a little at a time as Jackie’s locks were so thick. After twenty seconds he’d severed only a little, the hair that would normally hang over Jackie’s right ear. He sawed on vigorously, watching in satisfaction as more hair fell free.
The hair on Jackie’s head at the very middle of the ponytail was just over an inch long once Jean-Louis had hacked it off. It sprung away from her scalp in joyous abandon as the weight of hair was cut away.
Jean-Louis changed tack and started to cut through from the top of the ponytail to the bottom, the scissors grinding as they parted most of Jackie’s hair from her head.
Finally there was just a little left to cut, a lock about a centimetre thick. Jean-Louis gave a sigh of relief and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. Putting the scissor blades firmly around it, he crunched it off. He looked at the long ponytail he now held in his hand, and caressed it. Beautiful! Soft! Reverently he placed it on the counter in front of Jackie in case she wanted to take it home. If she didn’t, he certainly would! He couldn’t remember the last time he had cut off so much hair at once!
Jackie’s cropped hair now hung unevenly, from a ragged bob to her jaws in the front to short tufts at the back of her head and longer locks touching her neck.
Jean-Louis shook his head. What a sight! If he should wake her now…! No, no, better to cut as much as he could with the clippers, then wake Mademoiselle Jacqueline to see her new haircut almost complete.
His big clippers with the number four guard were ready. Jean-Louis clicked them on and they hummed like bees. He checked that Jackie was still soundly sleeping, and nodded, satisfied. He oiled the clippers and then put a hand on top of Jackie’s head to steady it and stop it lolling against the chair. Jackie didn’t stir.
Jean-Louis placed the clippers against Jackie’s cheek, and slid them up into her hair. The first clumps of shaggy bob slithered onto the blue cape, across Jackie’s knees and onto the floor. Up, up, up the side of her head, all the way to the temples!
He looked at the path he’d shorn through her silky brown hair. She would look good en brosse, would Mademoiselle Jacqueline, he decided. He knew from the scalp massage he had given her that she had a well-shaped skull. She would carry this striking, if not particularly feminine, cut very well. The clippers had removed all of Jackie’s expensive perm, and the short hair now sat close and shiny to her head.
Jean-Louis continued, drawing the clippers up behind Jackie’s ear and shearing the left side of her head completely to a crewcut.
Gently he pushed her head a little forward so he could attack the back.
He placed the clippers at the nape of her neck, and Jackie twitched involuntarily. She didn’t wake, though, and Jean-Louis sighed with relief. Swiftly he began clipping the back, taking off the long hair still left at her nape, and the inch-long tufts that hung over her occipital bone. He clipped a path up to the crown of Jackie’s head, shaking off the hair than fell onto his hands.
She had a lovely hairline, he noted, a pronounced “vee” at the back of her neck. He would recommend leaving it rather than shaving it into a straight line.
Now he could expose it! Jean-Louis nuzzled the very middle of Jackie’s neck with the quivering blades, and started his way up her head again, turning her hair into a short pelt. More waves cascaded over the clippers and his fingers on their way to the floor.
Even though Jackie’s hair had been cropped by the scissors, there was quite a lot of it piling up around the chair in snaky waves on the floor. Jean-Louis stepped on it heedlessly as he moved around her head, reducing the rest of the back to a sleek centimetre in length.
He looked in the mirror. One half of Jackie’s head was shorn; she looked almost naked. The ragged hair on her other side and on the top looked messy by comparison.
With renewed vigour Jean-Louis set about removing the rest of Jackie’s long hair, clipping up behind her right ear and tossing the shorn locks onto his client’s lap. Finally there was just the hair in front of her ear before he attacked the top, and he expertly clipped it off, buzzing her temples with a flourish.
Jackie now looked like a brown pineapple. The hair on top of her head was a variety of lengths depending on how far up Jean-Louis had pushed the clippers. She had a shaggy fringe over her forehead.
Delicately he rested her head against the neckrest. Jackie murmured, but remained asleep. He steadied the side of her head with his left hand and contemplated the top.
The fringe must go completely, he decided. Not even a wispy fringe over her forehead – all off! He then acted on his thoughts, placed the clippers against the middle of her forehead and pushed them back, mowing a path all the way to the crown. Jackie’s head was leaning back and the hair fell with an almost audible thud straight to the floor.
Jean-Louis couldn’t resist stroking the shorn hair on top of Jackie’s head – it was soft, like velvet. Blowing on the clipper blades to clear any hair from them, he proceed to clip the rest of Jackie’s hair; first a path to the right, then a path to the left of the centre. Again and again he clipped over the top, making sure the hair was even.
Then he picked up comb and scissors and trimmed a little more, blending the hair at the sides and the top, and cutting it into little points in front of her ears.
He looked at Jackie assessingly. Even with such a harsh haircut, she looked beautiful. But…he thought the back and sides could go shorter still, perhaps a number two even. For this decision, he must wake her.
Gently he shook her shoulder. Jackie murmured. He shook her again.
Jackie groaned. “Oh, I was having SUCH a good sleep! Where am I?” She gazed around blearily. Of course, the hairdresser’s! Her head felt strange. Had he put a treatment in her hair?
She raised her hands up to her head and shrieked when she encountered her clippered scalp. “My God!”
Jackie had never woken so quickly. She sat upright in the chair and looked into the mirror, horrified. “My hair, my lovely hair! What have you done?”
Then she saw the severed ponytail sitting in front of the mirror, and recognised her own hair. Jackie groaned. It had taken years to grow!
Jean-Louis’ English was almost non-existent except for “please”, “thank you” and “bloody English!” (or, as he heard the English say, “Bloody French!”), however, he got the gist of her complaint. But she had wanted her hair cut like that, hadn’t she?
“En brosse,” Jean-Louis explained, picking up a bristle brush and running his fingers over it, then running his fingers over Jackie’s shorn crown. “En brosse. Like brush.”
Jackie’s heart sank. Dear God, what a stuff-up! She only meant she wanted her hair BRUSHED! She kept gazing in the mirror at the stranger sitting in her chair. Jean-Louis’ hand was still on her head, and she had to admit she rather liked the tingle when he ran his fingers over her bristly hair.
Jackie turned her head this way and that. Jean-Louis obligingly produced a mirror and showed her the back of her head. Jackie gulped when she saw her exposed neck and hairline. She looked like a boy! Although she had to admit that it was, in its own way, rather sexy.
Jean-Louis looked too. Yes, her hair COULD be even shorter at the back and sides, but how could he tell her this.
“Un moment, mademoiselle,” he began, and picked up the clippers again. “S’il vous plaît, un peu. A little more,” he said hesitantly in English.
“More?!” Jackie gasped, running her hands over her cropped hair. Dear God, was he going to shave her completely?
Jean-Louis touched the sides of her head with his hand. “Ici, ici. Here. And back.”
Jackie contemplated her reflection. Well, if he cut the sides and back shorter the top would look longer – which, in her opinion, it definitely needed to! Slowly she nodded. “OK.”
Jean-Louis’ hand steadying the top of her head felt warm against her skin. She scrunched her eyes closed as she heard the clippers fire up near her right ear, and then gasped as she felt them against her cheek and moving up into her hair.
She opened her eyes to see a little rainfall of tiny hairs drop from her temples to her shoulders, as the hairdresser buzzed her head with the number two guard on his clippers.
“Ah, oui!” Jean-Louis said in satisfaction after he’d clipped one path. He stood back and studied her head. “Oui, mademoiselle, parfait!”
He bent her ear forward with one hand and placed the clippers behind it. Jackie felt almost embarrassed. This was very personal, this haircut! She was not used to having hands touching her ears and clippers at her neck.
She quivered as she felt the clipper blades nuzzle her hair, and was surprised to find she was actually enjoying the sensation. Her clipped hair felt tight against her skin after Jean-Louis had buzzed it.
With interest now, Jackie watched intently in the mirror as her hair was reduced to a close mat covering her skin. She couldn’t believe that only half an hour ago it had hung halfway down her back!
Jean-Louis pushed her head forward, almost onto her chest. He placed the vibrating blades at the back of Jackie’s neck and she bit back a gasp. She’d never realised her nape was so sensitive!
Then the clippers were moving up the back of her head. She felt their path as they negotiated the hump of her occipital bone and continued up, almost to her crown.
Again and again Jean-Louis buzzed the back of her head, and then he was round behind her other ear, tenderly holding her ear away from the clippers as he cut her hair off to the hairline.
The little rainfall of clippings fell over Jackie’s cheek and shoulders as Jean-Louis nibbled away around her temples, shearing her hair so short it was barely there.
Then he turned the clippers off and removed the guard completely. Jackie watched in a mixture of anticipation and terror. How much shorter was he taking it?
Jean-Louis turned the clippers on and moved to the back of her head. Slowly and carefully he began to clip the nape of her neck, tapering her hair from non-existent – a five o’clock shadow – to meet the remainder of the number two clip. Jackie was astounded at how good it felt to have her hair shaved away by the eager blades. If she’d have realised it, she would have had her hair cropped years before!
Finally he gave a satisfied nod. “Oui, mademoiselle. Vous êtes belle,” he said triumphantly. You are beautiful.
With a brush he dusted the clippings off her neck, and produced a mirror to show her the completely finished product.
Jackie said, “Ohh!” in wondering tones. Her hair was shaved almost to her scalp at her nape -she could see her skin through it. She lifted a hand and touched the prickly little bristles, and couldn’t suppress a shudder of delight as she felt her shorn hair against her fingers. She ran her fingers up the back of her head and onto the top. God, it felt wonderful! A huge grin slowly spread over Jackie’s face and Jean-Louis sighed with relief. Mademoiselle was pleased after all with her en brosse.
Jackie fished out her wallet from the huge shoulder bag which lay covered in little clippings on the floor.
“Non, non,” said Jean-Louis, shaking his head. He couldn’t take money from her – why, he couldn’t explain. But this experience – creating a beautiful butterfly by removing the chrysalis so suddenly and irrevocably – had been his pleasure. “C’est libre, mademoiselle Jacqueline. Free.”
“Merci, Jean-Louis!” Jackie couldn’t resist planting a kiss on the Frenchman’s cheek. She held up the severed ponytail. “Pour vous!”
Jean-Louis grinned as he took it from her, and absently held it against his cheek as he watched her walk out of the salon.
Jackie sashayed down the street, rubbing her head in delight and astonishment. She’d have to get Patrick to get his hair cut like this. Patrick! She gasped. What would Patrick think of her newly-shorn head? What if he hated it?
She stopped, suddenly worried. Well, she could always wear a wig, she reasoned, if he really loathed it.
She felt a jostle as a passerby pushed by her, and realised she’d stopped in the middle of the footpath.
“Pardon,” said the man absently, and then turned to look at her. He was indefinably French; the clothes, the dark hair, the saturnine skin. About Patrick’s age, in his mid twenties. His eyes travelled up and down her body and rested on her head. Jackie felt herself blushing under such Latin scrutiny. Then he smiled in appreciation at what he saw, and let out a low whistle as he continued on his way.
Jackie grinned. If Patrick hated her hair, there would be plenty of men who didn’t. Holding her shorn head high, she fished out her map of Paris and headed for the Eiffel Tower.