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Easy Money by English Rose and Sean O'Hare

"Good afternoon, how may I help you?"

I feel a little out of place in this spacious, wooden-floored and elegant hairdresser's. The customers appear to have come off some glamorous TV show - even those who are clearly waiting. And here I am in my combat trousers, denim jacket and my rucksack.

"Hi. I saw the poster in the window for hair show models. It says you pay for women to be models? Especially those with long hair."

"Well, yes we do. We do expect you give us freedom in how we cut it of course. And there are different sorts of shows. Hmmm, with hair like yours we may be able to pay $100, perhaps more."

Phew. There is no doubt that I can do with that. I need that! It's always the same as I get near the end of term and the grant money starts drying up. But what will they do to my hair? "Can I choose the style, or...."

"No, I'm sorry it depends on the type of show, the styles that we will need to cut or present."

"Hmmm, I don't know...."

"But you'll have a really great cut, I can assure you of that."

I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't mind it cut - I think I'm ready for it, just to break away from what I've always worn - what my parents wanted. But, how will it end up - phew...

"And don't forget you'll have all that cash as well." Oh, why did I come in here if I can't make a decision? I feel a little flustered. A little hot under the collar. My hair feels damp at the nape.

"Well there's no doubt I could do with that. I'm a student you see."

"I thought you were." She reaches out to finger my hair. I feel more nervous. My hair has always been long, but since starting university the trims have got less frequent and my hair now reaches to the waist. Thick, straight, blonde.

I feel very apprehensive. But of course there's the other thing. The thing I've just discovered about myself.

"Well, what would I have to do?" There, I've said it... and feel I have started the next step of a journey which I'm not going to able stop.

"The next show we are doing is in two weeks. On a Sunday in the Arts Centre. We'll pay your expenses of course and around $10." Only $10. My face must be showing how I feel about that. "But if you're interested in making the most money then I could invite you along to out special show tomorrow afternoon. That will be at the same place. Would you be interested in that?"

I thought about it. "At least $100," the receptionist reminded me.

There is no other way I'll get that sort of money. "OK, I'll do it."

"Excellent. Now come along at around 2pm. The show is a demonstration for a local women's group which we hold monthly. A lot of them are our customers here, in fact."

"Now here's a card which you show at the door. And here's $20 to cover any travel expenses. You will of course receive the rest tomorrow." She runs her hand through my hair once more. "Hmmm, I certainly think we will be able to get a little higher than $100 for this lovely hair." What does that mean?

"Er, OK." I'm a little overwhelmed by this little windfall. It's not every day a University student 'finds' $20! At least I can have a few beers tonight. Perhaps I'm going to need it! I stuff it in the top pocket of my denim jacket.

"Oh, and your name please?"

"It's Cate."

"OK Cate. I'm Sandra, by the way. See you at 2pm tomorrow at the Arts Centre. And thank you." Sandra gives me a huge smile. As I leave I wonder if this was such a good idea. Then remember the $20 in my pocket!

---------------------------

I went down the pub and had a beer (or three!) with a few friends. I didn't talk about what happened in the salon - or what will happen tomorrow - even though it was filling my mind. And still is.

I remember looking around the bar, taking in the variety of cuts on show: long, short, braided, plaited, curled . Some hair was swept up, other girls had gone to town on the colour, but my attention was always taken as I paused and took in the cuts of the girls with the shortest styles.

I arrived home about 15 minutes ago. I immediately sat on the edge of the bed and began brushing my hair.

I'm still seated... and I feel a little sad. My hair looks so thick, alive and strong. And tomorrow... well who knows what it will look like. And then the newly-discovered warm glow starts deep inside of me and I reach to the pile of pages printed off from the internet. I lay them out on the bed - some are more dog-eared than others, particularly the ones showing makeovers. How would I look with that style I wonder? Should I perm my hair? Layer it like that? And I am starting to feel all, sort of, excited if you know what I mean.

I don't know why but I've always had this strange feeling about hair. But it's difficult to describe. I've always had long hair - it was how Mum and Dad wanted me to wear it. Janice, a friend of my Mum's would come round every couple of months or so and, after cutting her hair, would trim mine. Just a little off the ends. When I was 7 or 8 I asked Mum if I could have it cut shorter like some of my friends. I remember having this feeling of really wanting it cut. Mum said I was too young to make such decisions about my hair, while Dad said I would regret it when I was older.

However I did demand a fringe on another occasion and this was met with reluctant approval. So Janice, after trimming the ends, combed down the front hair, which I normally wore held back with a hairband. I could see nothing. I felt the cold of the scissor blades against my forehead. And with three quick snips I felt the hair sliding down my face. I looked down and saw two-foot lengths of my blonde hair on the floor.

I felt distinctly odd, sort of queasy in the stomach. Even now I can remember that feeling as Mum lovingly gathered the severed hair. I was happy, but somehow there was a feeling that something was missing, and my happiness wasn't all it could be.

Janice held up a mirror and I could see it looked great. But I can remember wondering how it would feel to have it all cut to that length. I felt disappointed. Let down.

As I got older friends at school would often talk about new styles, trying new colours, even having perms. And then turn up after the holidays or on a Monday morning with a completely new look. They seemed able to have whatever style they wished, they copied the latest movie star or singer, whilst I always had what my parents wanted... and, of course, mine never changed, I wasn't allowed to decide how I should look.

Naturally I joined in the chat but I always felt a little awkward and nervous. Older still and I began to realise that hair sort of turned me on, if you know what I mean. But it didn't appear to have the same effect on my friends. So I hid these feelings from them. Repressed them. I bet you think this really odd, don't you?

I sometimes used to analyse these feeling. By the time I got to the final year in school I was thinking that I wanted to cut my hair but, even then, I knew Mum and Dad wouldn't approve. But it was sort of symbolic - an act of rebellion if you like. I used to kid myself that I didn't want to upset them. But if I looked a little deeper inside myself I realised that I was scared, nervous... and a little bit excited too. Once I even found myself in the bathroom, with a pair of scissors in my hands. I looked in the mirror but could not go through with what I was thinking, wishing for, deep down.

I sometimes bought styling magazines as a sort of release for these feelings. Other than just looking at friends and other women's haircuts in the street. But it never felt quite enough somehow.

My first year at University had kept me pretty busy - parties, work, parties, being independent... and parties, so I hadn't spent much time thinking about my hair.

But I was surprised recently. A few days ago I was on the Internet and typed in 'haircut' to one of the search engines as I had begun to consider displaying my new independence now that I was away from home. It came up with all sorts of things about hair.

One site even had a message board where I let people know I wanted to talk about hair, and suggested I might be thinking about cutting mine shorter. I had quite a few replies, including one guy with whom I had quite a correspondence about different styles and he pointed me to various sites and pictures all over the web. I've printed off quite a selection which now lie on the bed in front of me.

I push the pages to one side and lie back on the bed. I'm thinking about what might happen tomorrow and then my mind drifts back to when Janice cut my fringe all those years ago. Seeing the long tendrils of hair on the floor and then my disappointment that she didn't cut more. Those feelings of excitement, and apprehension resurface, and I relive the cut as I lay back and closed my eyes

I do wonder if this was the origin of my fascination with hair... as I fall asleep.

-------

The morning went quickly. I had a couple of lectures first thing. I am now walking through the park on this beautifully warm spring day. I'm wearing my favourite light purple dress today - it goes so well with my hair colour and makes me feel so feminine. I've worn my hair completely loose today and I can feel the light breeze lift it on my shoulders as I stroll towards the art centre.

I've found myself looking at nearly every woman's hairstyle today - on the bus, in the lectures, on the street. Wondering how mine will end up. Wondering if I should go through with it.

"Hi Cate, come on in." Sandra is waiting by the door.

I follow Sandra into a small office. "In a few minutes we'll go into the hall, Cate, and I'll ask you to sit next to the other models who have already arrived. You'll be on last I think. Yes I think you'll be the prize today." She gives a little laugh.

The prize? I look questioningly but receive no reply.

Sandra leaves. I being to brush my hair... it feels strange knowing that it's the last time my hair will this long... at least for a while.

After about ten minutes Sandra calls me out and leads me to a seat by the side of a slightly raised stage. Two other women are already sitting there. One, about my age, has mid-back curly-ish hair while the other is around 30 whose shoulder length hair is a beautiful ginger colour. She smiles at me as I take my seat on the stage next to her. "They'll have fun with you, dear," she said. I shrugged and mumbled a reply as I took in my surroundings.

I look out to the audience. All are women and all are well dressed. Clearly the clientele from the salon. They all look very attentive.

"Good afternoon Ladies. Welcome back to our monthly styling show. I know how much you all like this type of get-together. And you all know the format of the show so we'll just get started. We have three models this afternoon - Anna, Beverley and Cate. Beverley will be on first - Beverley." Ginger gets up and walks over to the styling chair in the middle of the stage. I notice all the ladies are holding what appear to be raffle tickets. "And the person to choose Beverley's style is the holder of ticket 432."

"Yes!" A middle aged woman jumps up and looks expectantly towards the stage.

"OK Mrs Thomas. What style would you like Beverley to have from the sheet in front of you?"

"Number 5 please Sandra!"

"Very well, a chin length bob. A good choice. And do you wish to pay the extra $20 to start the cutting."

Mrs Thomas nods and marches forward, removing a $20 note from her purse.

Sandra wraps a gown over Beverley, gathers up the glossy, ginger hair, pulls it into a ponytail and hands the scissors to Mrs Thomas. Mrs Thomas has a gleam in her eye as she licks her lips and approaches.

Suddenly the quiet women of the town who are in the audience start murmuring. "Cut it off, Cut if off, Cut if off," getting louder as the scissors are placed on the hair. 12 inches of my neighbour's hair appears in Mrs Thomas's hand and she marches back to her chair looking very happy. Indeed there were smiles all around the audience.

Sandra now sprays Beverley's hair - who in this short time hasn't said a word but doesn't look particularly happy - and begins to cut a cute little bob. Sandra chats to the audience about the style as she cuts. Talks of the different types of bob, graduating the nape, etc. The finished style is well cut and a definite improvement.

"Thank you Beverley." She walks back to her seat.

"OK, second model today is Anna and the person to choose her style is Number 213. 213 anyone?"

A small, older woman gets up, waving a ticket. Anna stares coldly at her.

"So what style shall Anna have, Miss Taylor."

"Er, I..." - Anna continues to stare - "I think Number 2." She sits down quickly.

"Number 2. A medium length layered cut." There was a distinct murmur of what sounded like disappointment from the audience.

"Hmmm not much change really. But it's your choice." Anna looked pleased. Presumably she gets the cash and won't lose too much hair. "Would you like to pay for the bonus Miss Taylor?" She starts to get up, but Anna once more is staring at her, and she shakes her head as she settles back in her seat.

And Sandra proceeds to trim Anna's hair. About 3-4 inches falls from the length, while some longer layers are trimmed from around the face. The final result is stunning. I begin to feel a little more comfortable. Clearly Sandra is a very good stylist and I should end up with a great style and hopefully not too short.

"OK thank you Anna. Cate, perhaps you could come forward. Please stand here. As you can see Cate has beautiful long hair, almost down to her waist. And doesn't it look beautiful against the colour of her dress. It is not often we have such long hair to work with here so perhaps the winner this evening will take this into account. And that person is the holder of ticket number 521."

"That would appear to be me!" A 40-something, rather attractive woman stood up. Blonde hair swept in to an elegant updo. Expensive clothes. Artfully applied make-up, expertly applied to her lightly-tanned face.

The overall impression she gives is a rather conservative businesswoman and with a very confident air about her. I feel rather fortunate that she is one of the few long-haired women in the audience. I, and more importantly my hair, feel quite safe.

"So what style have you selected for Cate, Miss Evershed-Smythe?"

"Hmmm, Number 21 I think. And yes I would like to assist you Sandra."

There is silence, then a collective assent of what sounded like approval from the audience as she marches towards me. As she reaches the stage I notice her smiling at Sandra and, I'm fairly sure, giving her what appeared to be a conspiratorial wink.

Sandra now guides me with one hand towards the styling chair.

"Really, Miss Evershed-Smythe. Number 21, that's perhaps not unexpected from you. It will be an, er, interesting choice for Cate!"

She is looking straight at me then hands me a $50 note and places another on the table next to Sandra. I look down at it in amazement as if I have never seen one before... actually I haven't!

I feel a slight breeze as a cape floats down and covers me.

"May I?" Miss Evershed-Smythe lifts my hair as I feel Sandra tightening the cape at my nape. My hair is released and then I feel it being tugged with a brush. "Mmmm, you are a pretty girl Cate and with such lovely long hair. Mine is long too, but not as long as yours. I must say I do like to see and handle long hair."

I feel a little embarrassed by this exchange, although it seems to be of no interest to Miss E-S as she picks up a hairbrush from the table beside the chair and proceeds to brush about half my hair - parted horizontally an inch or so above my ears - straight up towards my crown.

She holds it firmly at the crown and I see her hold out her other hand to Sandra. "Rubber band please." Sandra searches the table and finds one.

I can feel my hair being pulled tighter and tighter as successive turns are applied to the band. She releases it and allows it to stream over my right shoulder and down my chest.

She then vigorously brushes the remainder and pulls it tightly into another ponytail at the back of my head.

"Another band please." Miss E-S is clearly used to getting her own way. Sandra stood close by, ready with the bands and as soon as she had handed one to my stylist I could feel the remainder of my hair firmly secured and allowed to swing free over the back of the chair. She stood back and looked towards Sandra.

"Excellent Elaine. You have prepared Cate's hair very well." Prepared? I guess I do feel a little trussed up like a turkey - the rubber bands are holding my hair taut. I get the impression that Miss E-S knows what she is doing. That she has done this before. As she proceeds Sandra seems to know exactly what Mrs Evershed-Smythe will need next.

"Thank you. May I have the scissors please." I look back, over my shoulder and see she is holding up the scissors - half opened - the glint on the blades matching the glint in her eye.

I feel uncomfortable. "How much...?"

"Silence... please. Number 21 I requested." She tapped the $50 note on the table with the tip of the scissors. "I have given you the money and you have accepted payment. I am able to do as I choose - that's the good thing about having cash."

I don't like her tone at all - she's almost gloating.

"But I haven't seen... I mean what is 21?"

"Please turn to the front Cate." Sandra almost shouts this as an order. I continue to stare but then feel her pull the lower ponytail and almost wrench my head round to face the front.

She continues to pull, then I hear a crunch and feel a sort of sawing motion at the back of my head. What? No, surely not!

Sandra is standing beside me and peering behind to where Miss E-S is wielding the scissors. "Yes, that's very good. We don't need any of that so removing it all at the nape is fine."

She must be winding me up, surely. All of it?

Another crunch! I feel a tugging at my nape. Again and again. She can't really be cutting it all off, can she?

I feel a little panic. I try to turn my head but her firm grim prevents much movement. Suddenly though I feel the pressure released.

"Yes! There we are Cate. There's half your hair - or rather was - it's mine now! Thank you."

There's spontaneous applause from the audience. I look to one side and she is holding up three feet of thick blonde hair. It may only be half of what I have - had - it but it still looked a lot.

I let out a long gasp. It might have been a scream but I couldn't catch my breath. I lift a hand to my nape and feel short, uneven lengths of hair and, in one place, almost stubble. There must be some mistake. Where is my long hair?

I feel a little shocked. Disorientated. As I ponder this I feel Miss E-S lift the fall of hair fastened at my crown. Oh no, not this too.

"Now this doesn't need to be cut quite as short, Miss Evershed-Smythe. If you leave about 3 or 4 inches to work with."

"Of course, I am well aware of what is required," she said in a clipped tone which didn't hide her disappointment. She was enjoying cutting my hair. And I got the feeling that she wanted to cut it shorter - a lot shorter.

Suddenly I'm almost raised out of my chair as I feel the hair at my crown tugged upwards. I let out a little exclamation.

"Ooops, sorry," she says, and I hear her give a little laugh, and she doesn't relax her grip. CRUNCH! The sawing motion restarts and within a few seconds the grip is relaxed. A short ponytail flops in front of my eyes while Miss E-S once again holds the bulk of my remaining hair aloft. Another round of applause.

She places the second tail next to the first on the table beside me.

"Sandra I would like to assist with the next stage." She places a further $50 on the table. Sandra nods and picks up clippers, men's hairclippers!

I can't believe they're going to use those on my lovely hair. And then my eyes are drawn to my hair - on the table.

"Take these and use them all over the lower section to remove all these uneven layers and take it all down to a nice even length. We can then style the top."

"Thank you, yes I will be extremely pleased to use the clippers on Cate. So are you ready for this Cate?" Without allowing me to reply, I see her hands, her thumb nail painted with black nail varnish, as she purposefully switches on the clippers. Click, BUZZZZ!

I feel pressure at the nape, and then a vibration which soars up my neck and suddenly halts. This is followed by masses of hair falling down to the cape and onto the floor. So much hair - despite so much already having been cut off.

I feel the clippers again and again. On my neck, around my ears over my temples. Buzzing, chewing, removing. Then, suddenly, silence.

"Excellent. We'll attend to Cate's hairline later but that's a very satisfactory foundation to her completed style."

Sandra pulls the band from the crown hair and short lengths of my hair flick around my eyes and the tops of my ears. So short!

She combs the hair through and begins to carefully snip the ends. I can feel the scissors against my temples. She must be cutting above my ears!

"Well Cate, the chilli-bowl cut is taking shape as the audience can now see. One of the more dramatic styles on our leaflet. But it does seem rather a shame you have lost nearly all your hair. But on the right model it looks stunning, and I am sure that our audience will agree that on you Cate, it looks magnificent. It does look nice, doesn't it audience?" A few murmurs and I'm sure I heard a couple of 'not short enough's! Miss E-S looks at me and smiles as if she agreed with the louder members of the audience.

I am feeling shell-shocked. For a moment I wondered if all my hair was being shaved off. Well, half of it has but the remainder is at least styled into a bob. Bobs are OK - not too short are they?

The cutting continues and I am relieved to see smaller and smaller lengths hit the cape now.

"OK Miss Evershed-Smythe, as you have been so generous perhaps you would like to tidy up the hairline."

"Yes I would, please." She takes the clippers once more.

"A number 1 guard will take it down to 1/8 inch."

"Will it. Will it indeed. And if I remove the guard?"

"With those clippers, you will leave just a velvet-like finish."

"Will I. Will I indeed." Very purposefully she removes the guard and drops it on the table. I hear their buzz once more. "Head down Cate if you please. I wish to tidy up your hairline."

I gulp but feel compelled to comply. I feel cold metal on my neck and feel the hair becoming even shorter. I feel a little uncomfortable now. I know I sort of want this... but I never asked for it. I wonder what it looks like. I wonder what my friends will say. I wonder what Mum and Dad will think.

"Oh my, they do work well don't they. I think we'll tidy up around the ears too." The clippers stop. The cape is pulled away and more hair falls. A mirror is held up.

I look so different. My Mona Lisa frame of hair has gone. A very smooth cap of hair covers my head... and finishes sharply about an inch or so above my ears. My fair hair is so short over the ears that it looks almost shaved. I put one hand on my neck - I feel the edge of the smooth cap and, as my hand moves down, this sharply switches to a velvety smoothness.

I can't believe the sensation. I really don't know what people will think but I don't care as, for now, I just need to get back to my room.

"Thank you Cate. I hope you like the cut I selected for you. I think you were very attractive before but now you are quite stunning." This time she smiles and I see a new warmth in her eyes that wasn't there when she started the cut... when I had long hair.

"I, er,... hmmm." I do, I really do like the cut, I want to say but my throat is dry. I simply nod, but want to tell her how I felt when she was preparing it, cutting, clippering it. And I wanted to tell her that I was pleased that it her who was cutting my hair for me. But why did I want to say that? All very strange.

"Don't forget your money." She picks up the $50 note and hands it to me, smiling, and makes it obvious she is pointing to something on it. I follow her pointing finger, there at the end of another black, glossy nail, I can see something written, very clear, very deliberately. A number? Her telephone number?

Miss Evershed-Smythe, still smiling, pats her elegant top knot, picks up my hair from the table and leaves.

"See you Cate."

-------------------------

My emotions were in uproar as I left. I rushed home and, unlike yesterday, just looked at myself in the mirror. Admiring my new haircut. My statement of independence. It felt so good.

I take out the $50 note and I am reminded of the number. I walk out to the hallway and dial.

"Elaine Evershed-Smythe." I hear the now familiar clipped tone.

"Er, hi. This is Cate," I say a little nervously.

And in a much warmer tone she asks, "So Cate, what do you think...?"

THE END (or perhaps just the beginning?)