Archive for the ‘Creative writing’ Category

The Haircut

Sarah Ann pulled into a parking space directly in front of Thriftycuts, one of a number of small shops near Lucky’s supermarket that she and her mother had never set foot in. She had never needed to go to a hair salon before because her mother had always cut it for her. That’s because Sarah Ann’s mother saw no sense in paying someone for just a trim when she could do it for free.

The sixteen-year-old turned the car off, and the blasting noises of modern hip hop were silenced. She sighed heavily as she removed the glittery, sage green clip. Soft strands of dark blond hair fell into her face, but she saw no beauty in them through the rearview mirror. Instead, she was annoyed that they made her nose and chin itch.

Almost every girl at school had long hair until lately. People were cutting it to look like the models and the actresses on TV and the magazines. Short cuts were more sophisticated, and ever since Samantha Lewis had cut her wavy dark brown hair to above her ears, Brian Holland, the football player and student body V.P., had been noticing her more, Sarah Ann had observed.

When she had told her mother that morning that she wanted to get her hair cut short, her mother had tried to mask her surprise.

“I don’t know how to cut hair like that,” she said, chopping celery.

Sarah Ann was loading the dishwasher. “I was thinking of going to Thrifycuts. You know, that store by Lucky’s?”

“But isn’t it expensive?” “It only costs nine dollars. I checked.”

Her mother put a slice of celery to her mouth. “Well, I don’t see any reason to pay someone to cut it when I can cut it for free, but I guess if that’s how you want to spend your money –”

The girl sighed as she tucked her straight lengths behind her ears and reached for her purse. She wasn’t a little girl anymore. She was sure that a shorter cut would make her look more sophisticated, and it would help her to have, if nothing else, more of a chance to catch Brian Holland’s eye.

A cowbell on the door of Thriftycuts clanged as she entered the shop, and immediately the smell of a powerful chemical made the hairs in her nose twinge. All five people seated in the plastic chairs, to her surprise, were staring at her. She could feel her cheeks begin to burn, so she sat down quickly. The woman next to her was reading a magazine, so she picked up one in the seat between them and began rummaging through it without taking any particular interest to the contents.

A few minutes later, a handsome older boy, probably in college, walked in and stood at the front desk. He waited patiently until he had caught the attention of one of the beauticians. A woman with small eyes and mousy-colored, limp hair grimaced as she was interrupted from the haircut she was performing.

“Are you here for a cut today?” she asked in a polite but dry smoker’s voice.

The young man nodded with a friendly “yeah” as he adjusted his baseball cap and rested his elbow on the counter.

“Name?” she asked, as she approached the desk.

“Jonathan,” he said, and the woman scribbled it down with a blunt pencil.

“There’s about a thirty minute wait right now if you’d like to take a seat.”

“Is it OK if I run an errand and come back in a few minutes?” he asked.

“Just as long as you’re back when your name is called. Otherwise you lose your place on the list,” the woman replied in a singsong bluntness.

Sarah Ann’s ears perked up. “Um,” she said from behind Jonathan as she stood. “I guess I need to get on that list too.”

“Haven’t you been helped?” the beautician asked, squinting her tiny eyes.

Sarah Ann’s cheeks got hot again when she felt the young man look at her. She looked back at him only briefly and fluttered her eyelashes nervously.

“What’s your name?” the beautician asked.

“Sarah — I mean Sarah Ann,” she said, as she watched the woman butcher it, “with an H.”

“All right, Sarah Ann with an H,” the woman sighed.

“You heard me before. There’s a half hour wait, so take a seat.”

“OK,” Jonathan said. “I’ll be back in half an hour.”

Sarah Ann thought that the young man had either not noticed or had decided not to notice the beautician’s severity. The cowbell clanged again as he left the store.

Obediently, the girl sat back down and observed the people sitting in swivel chairs wearing black capes. One woman was getting pieces of tin foil attached to sections of her hair. An elderly woman in the front held a plastic guard over her face as the beautician gave her what appeared to be a final douse of hair spray. She observed a man get a flat top with an electric razor and a large blue pick.

A moment later, two active boys — one, young grade school age, and the other, his younger brother — bounded into the store in front of their mother, who looked exhausted. An energetic beautician with a pretty smile and a pink cardigan sweater greeted the family immediately by getting their names and directing them to the TV/VCR in the far corner. She brought out a plastic case with a video tape inside, expecting to catch the boys’ attention. Instead, the two were already exploring the toy box. She turned the video on anyway, at their mother’s request.

When one of the children started crying, Sarah Ann began rummaging through her magazine, so as not to appear as staring. She closed it when she reached the back pages, as nothing had caught her eye.

Her friend Becca and she had looked through a stack of magazines when Sarah Ann spent the night at her house two weeks ago. She had brought issues of Seventeen, and Becca had supplied the Mademoiselle. That’s when the idea had popped into her head to get her hair cut. Becca had always had short hair that she kept permed. Becca thought pony tails and french braids looked childish.

Another strong whiff of the chemical twinged in Sarah Ann’s nose, and she hoped the girl with tin foil in her hair was almost done. A jingle from the cash register announced that the elderly woman was ready to go. A gracious “Thank you, Merlene,” and a “See you next week,” came from the peppy hairdresser with the pink cardigan sweater. Merlene’s face radiated as she left the store, and Sarah Ann smiled. She wondered how many years the woman had come to a salon each week to get her hair done and how long she had maintained the same hairstyle. It would be nice to have a specific hairstyle that you stuck with and were satisfied with, she thought.

“Julie?” a name was called, and the woman sitting next to her gathered her purse and met the pretty beautician at the front desk.

“Hi,” the woman said.

“What were you wanting today? Just a trim?”

The woman, who wore her hair in a shoulder-lengthed bob, opened a magazine to a page she had ear-marked. “I thought I would try to find a picture of what I wanted, since I’m not very good at describing.”

“Oh that’s wonderful,” the pretty beautician thanked, as she welcomed the woman back. “That will really help me.”

Sarah Ann wondered if she could find a hairstyle in a magazine similar to what she wanted. Timidly, she walked over to the rack near the front desk and noticed that some of the magazines there were hard-bound. She picked one of those and a couple of magazines, then sat back down with them quietly. The two little boys were now sitting somewhat reserved in front of the TV, now that Hercules had begun. The hard-bound book had a variety of long and short hair styles for both men and women. She turned to the short hair section and began turning pages. She didn’t want anything too drastic or too extreme, but not too little girl-ish or young mom-ish either.

After analyzing the section for some time, she decided it was something in between two styles in the book, one on page 23 and the other on page 26. The one on 23 was pretty close except that the model in the picture had dark brown wavy hair, so she knew the cut would turn out more like the one on 26, which had a model with straight hair. She hoped the beautician would be able to figure out the rest.

A number of people had been called back since she started thumbing through the book, but she was still startled when she heard her name so quickly. She looked around to find the young man named Jonathan, but he had not returned yet.

“You’re Sarah?” asked a beautician she had not seen yet.

“Hi,” Sarah Ann said, walking towards her. “I found these two pictures in this book that look sort of like what I want.”

“You want it cut short?” the beautician asked.

She took a deep breath. “Yeah.”

“You’re sure?” she asked again, standing close to her.

Sarah Ann nodded, trying to appear confident. “I think I’m ready for a change.”

Her beautician was chubby and had shoulder-length, permed hair that looked wet, even though Sarah Ann knew it was just the gel she used. The girl who sat in front of her in history class used gel like that.

The woman led her to a room in the back with wash tubs and chairs. There was a big man with a big smile who was just getting up from having his hair washed, and Sarah Ann knew she was going to like this. The beautician, who was chewing spearmint gum, was careful not to get Sarah Ann’s clothes or face wet. The shampoo and conditioner that the woman used made her scalp feel very clean and healthy.

Maybe a good shampoo and conditioning was all her hair needed, she thought, but only briefly. Brian Holland was in her history class. He sat next to Samantha Lewis on the far side of the room. He wasn’t necessarily with Samantha Lewis, Sarah Ann knew. They were just well acquainted because they were both in the student body presidency. Sarah Ann had never thought of a legitimate reason to go over to the other side of the classroom, a reason that was legitimate enough to start up a conversation with Brian. Of course, that was just her excuse. The reality was that she feared he wouldn’t even know who she was, and even worse, wouldn’t care. Brian had a tendency of being cocky sometimes.

As the beautician guided her back to the front, Jonathan arrived, looked at Sarah Ann, and knew he had been passed up in line. With a smile, he shrugged his shoulders and took a seat in the same chair she had been sitting in.

The beautician put one of those black capes around Sarah Ann’s neck. She began combing her wet hair and catching the drips with a towel. Then she made eye contact with the girl through the mirror one more time.

“Now, you realize once I start cutting, we can’t hit the rewind button,” the woman pointed out. “I’m going to start in the back, and you tell me what you think once we get started.”

Sarah Ann felt the beautician’s skillful comb as she parted her hair into sections between whiffs of spearmint. She adjusted the girl’s head with her chin down, and then started snipping. The blades of the beauticians scissors felt cold against her neck, and her heart started pounding. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see one lock of seven-inch, wet hair that belonged to her on the floor below.

“You know,” Sarah Ann said in an ever so soft, timid voice. “Maybe we should do something a little less drastic.”

With a fearful look, the beautician immediately looked up at the girl through the mirror. “You don’t like it,” she said. “Maybe I should do something more like that lady over there.”

She pointed over to the woman who had been sitting next to her in the plastic chairs. She was getting her hair blow-dried now. “Maybe something to just below my chin.”

“You have very straight hair, and you have a lot of hair, so you realize that a short cut like you showed me would look different than it does in the picture.”

The beautician took out the clips and began combing Sarah Ann’s hair.

“Just below your chin would look like this,” the woman illustrated by putting her finger in the place where she would cut. “At this point, we could still give you some length in the front, but it would be a little shorter in the back. I’d give you what is called an A-line cut.”

There was no reply. Sarah Ann was deep in thought. She hadn’t heard half of what the woman had just said.

With emphasis, the beautician said, “I can do this, Sarah Ann,” combing her hair again to make sure she had her attention, “but you’re the only one who can decide what you want.”

The words “decide what you want” seemed to repeat in Sarah Ann’s mind. It was really up to her — and her only — to make a decision. In some ways, that was really scary because there was no right or wrong decision here like there was in other choices, such as whether to cheat on a test or whether to make it home before curfew.

She looked at the beautician who was waiting for an answer. The woman’s green eyes sparkled, and Sarah Ann noticed for the first time that her face looked soft and kind.

“OK,” Sarah Ann said with a smile. “Why don’t we do what you were showing me — whatdoyacallit? An A-frame?”

“All right,” she said in a calm voice. “We’ll do it like that.”

The black triangular scissors case the beautician had left on the counter reminded Sarah Ann of her mother’s bright green scissors case. Her mother kept the case and her electric razor in the white metal cabinet next to her father’s desk in the study. Haircuts were always done in the kitchen after the dishes were done or out in the back yard in the sun. Sarah Ann preferred the kitchen, even though she had to sit with her knees pressed against the cabinets so her mother would have enough room to move around. Sarah Ann’s mother knew how to cut girl’s hair one way, and that was all one length, straight across. She did a pretty good job, most of the time. Every once in a while after a haircut, Sarah Ann’s bangs would catch her mother’s eye and she would take out the clippers to straighten something she had missed.

The last time Sarah Ann had short hair was in the fourth grade. Her mom had asked her where she wanted it cut to, and Sarah Ann demonstrated by placing her finger at the back of her head along the hair line. Sarah Ann ended up with a short bob that stuck out funny. She looked like one of the French voyageurs that her school teacher had drawn on the chalkboard.

A half-hour later, the beautician was applying hair spray. Sarah Ann looked at herself in the mirror with fascination.

“Do you like it?” the beautician asked as she handed the girl a mirror so she could see the back of her hair.

“Yes,” she said, still in her timid way. “It’ll take some getting used to, but it’s about time I started looking more grown up.”

The beautician brushed away the hairs and took off the black cape from around Sarah Ann’s neck. Then she led her up to the front desk. “That’ll be nine dollars,” the beautician said as another beautician joined her behind the cash register, followed by the young man named Jonathan.

Jonathan, apparently, had been getting a haircut at the same time that she was. As Jonathan walked up to the front, he looked surprised. “You cut it short!” he said, pulling out his wallet. “Why? It was so pretty long!”

Her heart began to pound again and she felt her cheeks get hot very fast. “It was?”

The young man bowed his head, and little patches of pink started forming near his well-defined cheekbone. He had stuffed his baseball cap into his back pocket. In its place was gelled light brown locks and a clean shave on the back of his neck.

“I mean,” he said, almost apologetically. “It’s very pretty now, too –”

“That’ll be nine dollars, Jon,” his beautician interrupted. He had gotten the unpleasant woman with small eyes.

“But there’s something different about you,” he continued, “ in you’re face.”

“In my face?” Sarah Ann repeated, her eyes spellbound on his.

Jonathan placed a ten on the counter.

“Oh,” Sarah Ann said, breaking their stare, and she pulled out a five and four ones.

After another evaluation, there was a spark in his eye. “I guess it’s because you’re smiling now,” he said.

Then Sarah Ann smiled, and with confidence she said, “Thank you.”

She walked out of the store briskly, perhaps a little too briskly, with her face glowing. Just as she started unlocking her car door, the girl spotted her mother walking into Lucky’s supermarket.

“Hey, Mom!” she called, but her mother didn’t hear her.

“Mom!” she called again, walking towards her with a laugh. There must have been ten people called “Mom” in that parking lot. Finally, she caught her mother’s attention.

The tall chubby woman with sunglasses and a loose french braid scanned the parking lot in the direction of her daughter’s voice. “Sarah!” she said, cheerfully, walking towards her. “Look what you’ve done!”

“Do you like it?” When they met, her mother brushed her hand through the side and then the back of Sarah Ann’s hair. “It looks like the beautician did a good job.”

“Do you like it?” Sarah Ann repeated.

“I guess the real question is, do you like it, Sarah Ann?”

“Yes,” she replied. “I think so.”

Her mother smiled with satisfaction. You want to come in with me to get some soda crackers and deli rolls?” she asked, referring to Lucky’s.

The girl almost nodded but looked back at the entrance of the hair salon instead. There, watching the two women, was the young man named Jonathan. With a smile, he put up his hand up in greeting.

“You from around here?” he called to the girl.

“Yeah. I go to BHS,” she said. “How ‘bout you?”

“I’m over at the college,” he replied, walking over to her.

“This is my mother,” Sarah Ann introduced. “Mom, this is — Jonathan, is it?”

Sarah Ann’s mother took off her sunglasses and cleared her throat. “Well, I’ll let you two talk. I’ve got some errands to run. See you a little later, Sarah,” she said, walking towards the automatic doors.

He put out his hand. “Jon Holland,” he said. “You might know my brother, Brian? He plays football.”

“Yeah, I know Brian.”

“He’s kind of hot-headed and all. That’s just because he gets all the attention.” Jon was shorter than Brian by a few inches and was more reserved.

“I’m Sarah Ann Finch,” she said, shaking his hand. There was something different about how she pronounced her name that time than when she had said it before. Somehow, her name seemed more beautiful and dignified. And somehow, any visions of this man’s younger brother had suddenly lost status in her mind.


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