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This story is dedicated to the real "Maddy" who provided the inspiration for this story, by relating a true-life incident. She also contributed much to the final story. Where does fact end and the story begin? Well, only two of us know that... or perhaps three! Thank you Maddy, my dear friend.

Once in a Lifetime by Sean O'Hare... and Maddy

"Hello Simon, do you think you could come over immediately? A situation has developed which I think you may be able to assist me with."

"Well I guess so Maddy. Where are you? At home?" Alarms bells had started ringing. Our relationship had become a little rocky over the previous month or so. But we had remained friends and both of us intended this to continue.

"No, I'm at the salon today. If you remember Vera is on holiday and I'm working all week on my own." I did remember. Maddy and Vera are beauticians and tend to cover each other's clients when one or the other is away for any reason. The other half of the salon is given over to two hairdressers who have a similar arrangement.

My mood lifted a little. Work had been slow this week. The thought of entering the salon and viewing the activities inside was an opportunity not to be missed. As I had driven past on earlier occasions I had often contemplated what went on behind the net curtains of the small salon. Despite Maddy's insistence that it was only a typical village salon, the thought of having additional opportunities to view the workings of a salon was rather intriguing. Opportunities in addition to my own haircut every six weeks or so... or five... or four!

"Ah yes, well of course I'll come over Maddy. Be pleased to," I said honestly. "So what is it you like me to help with," I asked more out of politeness than anything as I was keen to go anyway!

"We have need of your skills and experience, Simon." What did that mean? Were they having problems with their computer? It was difficult to imagine they even knew how to work one in that salon! "Well I have a client with me, and there is no one else here at the moment as both our stylists are also away this morning." My briefly uplifted mood disappeared. No stylists. No hairstyling. But I had committed to go. What did she want me to do? I wondered. Look after the reception desk?

"Well OK then. But what do...." I was cut off as I spoke

"See you in ten minutes then. I've already explained to my client how you will be able to help her out, and she's very grateful that you can spare the time."

The phone went dead in my hand. So I'm helping out the client, not even Maddy. I guess it had to be that she needed to some advice with her computer! I grabbed my jacket and keys and, with a somewhat begrudging air, marched out to my car.

As I started driving the short distance to the nearby village I sang along to an old Talking Heads song on the radio, which I've always liked...

And you may find yourself,
working in a barber's shop.
And you may find yourself,
wearing a barber's white smock.
And you may find yourself,
behind a chair with your sharp hairclippers.
And you may find yourself,
with some beautiful hair, on a beautiful girl.
And you may ask yourself - Well...How do I cut hair?

OK, so I changed the words a little! I convinced myself it would still be fun to enter the salon and perhaps have a chance to wander around as no one else would be present. Indeed I was now looking forward to it and the lyrics of the song permeated my mind.

Letting the hair fall down,
let the clippers buzz it down.
Letting the hair fall down,
hair is flowing to the floor.
Onto the cape again,
after the cutting's done.
Once in a lifetime,
hair is flowing to the floor.

I turned into the village and took in the chocolate box cottages, the village pubs and the quaint little antique shops. The local country gentry meandered along the pavements, with a few city-types who had moved from the city to find peace and quiet and were now wondering how they could survive with it being so peaceful and quiet. A mixture of tweed-suited matrons wearing pearls and steely-grey perms, and the new influx with their designer clothing and their long, highlighted manes.

And you may ask yourself,
How do I cut this?
And you may ask yourself,
Where are those hair clippers?
And you may tell yourself,
This won't be her beautiful hair!
And you may tell yourself,
These won't be her beautiful curls!

"Oi, 'Miss Calvin Klein and Ray-Bans', let those words be a warning to you," I said aloud, as a long-legged woman in impossibly tight jeans sauntered across the road right in front of me, staring disdainfully through her shades, with her long wavy hair flowing down her back in the breeze.

Letting the hair fall down,
let the clippers buzz it down.
Letting the hair fall down,
hair is flowing down the cape.
Onto the floor again,
after the cutting's done.
Once in a lifetime,
hair is flowing down the cape.

I looked for somewhere to park amongst the line of four-wheel-drives that lined the wide street, the farmers' muddy Land Rovers looking quite different from the Japanese imports that had never seen a muddy field in their lives. I pulled up just opposite the salon, and reversed into a space which faced the entrance as the song on the radio was about to finish...

Short as it never was...
Short as it never was...
Short as it never was...
Short as it never was...
Short as it never was...

As I strolled across to the entrance I noticed the net curtain in the window of the salon move a little. I could make out the profile of Maddy just behind it. I walked through the door and, despite the absence of stylists today, the whiff of perming lotion still seemed to linger strongly in the air.

"Hello Simon, thanks so much for coming," Maddy almost gushed at me. She looked very efficient in her white overall, with her long dark hair pulled neatly back from her forehead and streaming down her back in a mass of curls.

"My pleasure. But...," I started to ask what it was she wanted.

"Can I introduce you to Sarah. She is the client I mentioned on the phone."

I turned around and sitting on a rather uncomfortable-looking sofa in what must have been described as the reception area, was a rather attractive woman, in her mid-30s. Attractive perhaps, but not a great beauty. She wore a calf-length, floral skirt, teamed with a white cotton top. Her dark blonde hair was parted in the centre, and pulled loosely away from her face, and gathered behind her. She evoked a 'Laura Ashley' feel which seemed to fit with the country village atmosphere.

She was reading a magazine, and several more were scattered over the cushion beside her, and her gaze appeared to be held intently upon a picture on the open page.

"Hi Sarah," I gave her a small wave. It was difficult to imagine how I could help her... well, perhaps not in a way that Maddy would approve.

She raised her eyes from her magazine that she so intent on, and smiled back. A lovely smile, although it seemed to be concealing something. A slight nervousness about something perhaps.

I turned back to Maddy. "OK, so what can I do for you this morning Maddy?" She winked, and a warm smile curled around her lips. Hmmm, I had seen that wink before. From our past. I couldn't help but smile back and whispered, "Now, you know...."

She winked again. I thought that odd, particularly with a client nearby. "Simon, I've told Sarah about your skills and experience and she is really pleased that you can help her out at such short notice."

"Sure, but I...." I didn't believe it. She winked again! What on earth was going on, I said to myself. She mouthed two words as Sarah's head returned to the magazine... "just listen."

"Sarah was rather disappointed this morning. I've been doing her nails, and other bits and pieces, for an important function she is attending on Saturday." Yawn... well nearly... particularly as I had noticed the nails were only a rather insipid shade of pink.

"She had tried to get an appointment to have her hair done after she was due to finish here. But unfortunately the salons in town - at least the ones that she has had recommended - are all fully booked. And of course our two stylists are away this morning so they couldn't fit her in either."

I looked around the walls of the salon taking in the old-fashioned hood dryers, the pictures of rather dated styles adorning the walls... and of course the net curtains hanging at the windows. I caught Sarah's eye, and noticed she was doing the same at the mention of this alternative. And, like me, she appeared to be trying to stifle a giggle, both us not wishing to upset Maddy's feelings over working in this somewhat old-fashioned establishment. It was not the place where an attractive woman like Sarah had her hair styled. "But she really does want to get it done. Don't you Sarah?"

She nodded. I noticed her put the open magazine beside her, cross her legs with hands held lightly in her lap, as she looked at me intently.

I found this all very interesting. And believe me I was interested in the conversation, but what bearing did it have on me being there?

"So I explained that you had just left one of the top London salons and were currently preparing to open your own salon in town. I said if you were free you may be able to come along and help her out as we are such good friends."

What! A top London stylist! Odd, to say the least! I thought I knew something about computers and had an interest in hair. What was Maddy playing at? I didn't know what to say.

"Maddy? Well, I, er...," I muttered ineffectively.

"Of course Sarah jumped at the chance of a top London stylist attending to her hair. So Sarah, if you would like to come over to the styling chair, Simon will join us to discuss styles."

Was this really happening, I thought to myself? What has Maddy got me in to? I watched Sarah get up and walk towards the styling chair that Maddy had turned around to accept her elegant frame. But what I noticed most was her hair. It was long. Not just long but, braided, it fell way past her waist, the ends bouncing on her bottom as she walked. She perched on the edge chair of the chair like a delicate bird.

My mind was in turmoil. I couldn't believe what Maddy was doing. Clearly I couldn't cut this woman's lovely hair, but I didn't know what to do to save the face of all three of us. Then it struck me. Of course! Sarah was a friend of Maddy's, and they were winding me up. Weren't they?

Well, they certainly didn't seem to be particularly close. I needed a little time to think so, without saying a word I walked towards the chair with my eyes being unable to look away from the long braid that now hung over the back of the chair, almost touching the floor.

Maddy was busying herself, laying out a selection of brushes, combs and haircutting tools on the counter in front of Sarah. She held out a hairbrush as I reached the chair, while Sarah continued to observe me intently in the mirror. I needed to play for a little more time to decide how to approach this.

I tentatively lifted her braid and that action appeared to relax her a little. It certainly didn't relax me! Never had I had the opportunity to touch such long and lustrous hair.

I took the hairbrush and removed the scrunchie which fastened the end of her braid, which then began to unfurl. Sarah reached back and took it from me, doubling it over and pushing it onto her wrist in what was clearly a frequent action. I ran my fingers through her hair from the crown and was amazed at how the rippling waves of the previously braided hair cascaded like a waterfall as they glistened in the sunshine peeking through the curtains. It was irresistible.

Almost without thinking I began to brush the luxurious hair with deep, long strokes. I had always loved long hair like this, but I had only had the opportunity to admire it from afar.

"Mmmm, that's nice Simon. So what would you recommend I do with my hair. What are the fashionable styles in London at the moment?"

I had almost been hypnotised by the action of brushing her hair, that Sarah's question brought me back to my situation with a start.

"Well, I, er... what sort of thing were you thinking of? Just a few inches off the ends to even it up, perhaps, followed by a deep conditioning treatment." What was I saying? I had never cut hair before - unfortunately - and here was I offering to trim a few inches from this woman's long locks.

"No, no, no! I want something shorter. More fashionable. I'm fed up with this length. Besides, it's getting so thin and straggly that I just wear it tied back all the time."

Thin? I had never seen such luxuriant hair! Well, what could I say now? What styles were fashionable in London? Well I knew of course. After all I kept up-to-date through magazines and the Internet! I still wasn't sure whether this was a wind up or not. So I decided to continue playing along.

I noticed Maddy standing off to one side with a big smile on her face. As if she had just given me a Christmas present I had always wanted. Gulp, perhaps she had!

I pictured one of my favourite styles of the moment. "Well, the most popular styles for shorter hair are the messy, textured looks. Longer hair around the face, uneven layers through the top and blending into a short nape. Very difficult to describe in words...."

"Something like this?" Sarah held out the magazine she had been reading which, unnoticed by me, she had brought to the chair with her. The magazine was open at a page of hairstyles and almost filling the page was a photo of a style very similar to the one I had been describing.

"Well, yes, exactly like that."

"Well that's great. I've leafed through several magazines and that's without doubt my favourite look. That's how I would like you to cut my hair."

"What! Well, I mean, that's a big change." Is she really serious, I thought. "Er, I normally, er, recommend that my, er, clients go this short in stages. Perhaps I should just take a little off the ends and then we can see if you want to go even shorter next time."

"That's no good. I have an important function at the weekend and I need it done now. If you aren't willing to cut it I wish you had just said so and I could have tried elsewhere, rather than wait here for half an hour." She started to get up.

I breathed a sigh of relief. Much as I would have liked to attempt cutting her hair, my non-existent skills (although plenty of knowledge from my "studies") were not up to attempting it.

Maddy moved forward and placed a reassuring arm around Sarah. "Now Sarah, Simon was only thinking of you. As you heard him say he has built up great expertise in precisely the style you would like. Isn't that right Simon." I could tell it was for real now. Maddy was giving me the opportunity of a lifetime.

"Well, as I said, I er... OK, well if you're quite sure." Sarah settled back into the chair, and Maddy reached for a cape which she passed to me.

I shook out the cape and allowed it to billow over Sarah's seated form. I fumbled as I tried to fasten it about her neck, under the masses of golden hair. Maddy came forward and gathered the hair out of the way, allowing me to complete the task. She then handed me a rubber band.

"I expect Simon will cut the bulk of your hair off in a ponytail while it is dry, won't you Simon?"

"Er, yes that's right." Sarah now looked a little less sure about her decision, having heard those words. I began to feel a little too excited at the prospect that lay ahead. Enveloped by the black cape, Sarah looked very vulnerable as I gathered her hair into a ponytail at her nape and began coiling the rubber band to hold it in place. Her hair was so heavy.

"So Simon, which salon did you work in while you were in London. Would I have heard of it?" Which salons are there? I know them but my mind had gone blank. Shall I make one up? I looked around for inspiration.

My eyes settled on a can of mousse. "Well actually my last job was product testing for Wella. So it hasn't been working for a salon as such. Have you heard of them?"

"Really! A friend of mine works there." Oh bugger! "Do you know Jenny Claydon?"

"Er, I don't think so...." Deeper and deeper. Maddy and I were going to get found out.

I reached towards the counter and selected the largest pair of scissors that had been laid out, and clicked them together a couple of times. I noticed my palms were starting to perspire. I was feeling a little hot under the collar too.

"Well, she works on the research side, whereas I suppose you are more of an artist," she said with a distinct nervousness in her voice, as she eyed the scissors in my hand.

I tried to give the impression I knew what I was doing, and so I smiled at Sarah in the mirror in an attempt to reassure her. "OK, I think these should be quite effective in cutting off the bulk of your hair," I said with a lightness I did not feel. I wondered if that was quite the thing to say as I noticed her lips part, and felt her breath quicken a little.

Indeed, the long blades looked as though they would very effective for their chosen task. A fact not lost on Sarah who continued to stare straight ahead with her eyes slightly wider than earlier. "Well I think I shall start now Sarah, if you're quite sure this is what you want."

I couldn't believe what was happening but I was now taken over totally by my interest. Fantasy was turning to reality, and the level of excitement was mounting in me.

"Well I... er, do you think short hair will suit me. Perhaps...." Oh, now she has doubts! Why did I have to try to sound professional? Bugger!

"Of course it will Sarah," Maddy interjected. "As we discussed earlier, short hair is much more fashionable these days. A lot of women are coming in here these days to have their hair cut short. It will suit you perfectly and you'll find it much easier to look after."

"But you still wear you hair long, Maddy," she commented accurately.

"Well, I'll discuss that with Maddy later," I said, turning towards her and giving her a playful wink. "But now are you ready to have yours cut, Sarah?" I asked, trying to regain control of the situation.

"OK, I suppose...."

"Excellent!" I lifted the ponytail, admiring the length and sheen of her rippling mane. And I then rested the scissors on the base of the ponytail, touching her nape. She shivered a little and her eyes widened a little more.

"OK, now hold still Sarah, I'm going to cut off your hair." CRUNCH! I closed the scissors and the resulting sound of strong, thick hair being severed sent a shiver through my body. Was I really doing this? Cutting off nearly three feet of hair from this attractive woman.

Well no, not really! Her hair was so thick that the blades barely closed. I watched a few severed strands refract the sunshine, a little like one of those lamps with the swaying fibres. The cut ends were just swinging loose.

Maddy moved forward and tilted Sarah's head forward, and held it there, while I now gently pulled on her ponytail. A fire was burning within me as I took in the magnitude of what I was doing, and the almost guilty enjoyment that I was experiencing.

The effect of making the hair much tauter was most satisfactory as I closed the scissors for a second time. CRUNCH! A significant chunk was severed and the hair slid forward from her nape, and brushed her cheek. Maddy maintained her hold, I continued to pull the ponytail and cut again, and again...

SCHNICK! With one last decisive cut from my trembling fingers, the ponytail came away in my hand and Sarah's head jerked forward a little, while the bluntly cut ends slid forward onto her face.

"There we are Sarah. That's most of your hair cut off. Will you look at that... you had so much hair." I handed it to Maddy who held it up for Sarah to see. There was certainly a tear or two escaping from the corner of her each eye. "Sarah, are you OK?"

There was quite a long pause before she said, "Yes, I'm OK Simon. Sorry."

"Don't worry. Most women feel the same when they have their hair cut short." Hmm, I'm not sure that helped her! And how did I know that for sure?

"Do they. Oh...," she mumbled without much conviction.

"Wow Sarah, that's looking so much better already. I bet you feel great without the weight of all that hair," piped up Maddy.

"Does it really look good? Yes it does feel... well, different," whispered Sarah.

"Oh yes, it looks great," I said with a confident air. A much more confident air than I actually felt as I surveyed the roughly cut bob, slightly shorter at the back than the front. I picked up a comb and ran it through the hair. Actually it looked surprisingly good and I was very tempted to say that perhaps I should just even up the ends and leave it that. But no, this was once in a lifetime, as I quietly hummed to myself.

"Well now you'll be damping down the hair a little won't you Simon, to style the remaining hair?" Maddy held out a spray bottle which I took and proceeded to make the remaining hair wet.

From a parting at the crown I combed the front hair forward, covering Sarah's eyes and, with a decisive cut, I once again used the large scissors to chop off her fringe to eyebrow level. I heard a loud gasp escape from Sarah's lips as the cut hair slid down her face

"Ah., there you are Sarah, you'll be able to watch the rest of the cut a little more easily now," I joked.

I combed down the left side and with a few sure snips cut a straight line from her cheekbone, skimming the top of her ear and ending at a point a little higher up her nape, just below the occipital bone. I did the same on the other side.

Perhaps not as accurately as a real stylist, but I had fashioned a rather fetching angled bob - perhaps more a testament to the thickness and condition of Sarah's hair than my own skills. But I was certainly enjoying myself immensely. I looked at Maddy and we exchanged broad smiles.

Again I was tempted to ask if this was short enough. But I didn't - I felt compelled to go on.

I looked towards the counter and saw what I was looking for. I picked up the texturising scissors with the large notches in them. I combed up a section of her hair near the crown and closed the scissors upon it. I held on to some strands while others fell away. I continued to texturise Sarah's hair through the crown, the sides and then the fringe, running my fingers through it from time to time to gauge the effect. It looked surprisingly good.

Throughout this period Sarah remained quiet but watched intently. She was seeing her once long, wavy hair being reduced to a messy, textured crop by a person untrained in the use of these scissors. I was careful to leave much longer lengths around the face to contrast with the spiky fringe.

I moved to the back and combed through the uneven, short layers that remained there. I was a little unsure what I should I do until I looked at Maddy. Her lips seemed forced together, but I could hear a sound emanating from her.

"Mmmmmmm." What did she mean, I wondered? And then it struck me and I couldn't help but give a small laugh. "HUMMMMMMMM." She smiled broadly and moved her gaze towards the counter.

"Er, Simon, what's so funny? It's OK isn't it?" she asked with a strained nervous air in her voice. "It's not too short is it?"

I saw what Maddy meant. I reached forward and picked up the hairclippers that she had placed on the counter earlier, uncoiled the flex and plugged them in.

"No Sarah," I smiled. "Not yet." She looked startled as she watched me busy myself with the clippers. "Well, not that it will be TOO short of course."

She didn't look at all convinced as she saw me sift through the assortment of plastic guards on the counter. "OK if you're sure. But do you normally use those things on women's hair?"

"Oh yes, all the time. Have you not had your hair clippered before?"

"Well, no actually, I haven't. My hair's always been long you see...."

"Has it? Has it really?" I responded without really thinking as I selected the smallest of the clipper guards.

CLICK! HUMMMMMM!

"So, wha... what are you going to do with those," asked Sarah with a concerned air to her voice. "You won't shave off all my hair will you," she asked almost plaintively.

"No of course not. I just need to tidy it up a little at the back, to give you the look you asked for," conveniently forgetting the rear of her chosen style was invisible in the photograph. "Sarah, could you put your head down please." Not willing to wait, I placed my left hand on her crown and eased it forward as I placed the blades of the clippers on her nape. And pushed upwards.

Hair flew everywhere. I was surprised how much remained. But even less as I saw what remained behind on the path the clippers had taken. Her hair had been reduced to a fuzz - her blondeness made it look invisible. It actually did appear that her neck had been shaved!

I continued to ease the clippers up her nape, very slowly, to savour the moment. I didn't want to stop but knew I should so resisted going any higher than the line I had cut earlier below her occipital bone.

I returned to the hairline, just left of the previous path and then once more eased the clippers along Sarah's nape. I was spellbound as I watched the hair fall away and saw the bare neck become exposed.

I noticed her squirm a little in the seat. She was silent, but her breathing was significantly faster. "Please keep still Sarah. I don't want to cut off more than necessary."

"Er sorry, they sort of tickle." She raised her eyes in the mirror, trying to smile but with an almost guilty expression on her face. And then she gently closed her eyes as I continued.

Several more times I pushed the clippers along her nape. To be honest, I didn't want to stop. I removed the guard and carefully shaved away the hair from her hairline. The rear now looked very stark, very bare, in complete contrast to the textured hair that remained elsewhere. I reluctantly turned off the clippers and put them back on the counter. A silence descended on the salon.

The hair was still damp so I picked up the can of mousse, squirted a blob in my hand and worked it through Sarah's hair. I picked up a hairdryer and with my fingers lifted the textured layers until they framed her face without looking too wild. The short hair on the crown stood up without any encouragement. That was precisely the effect I was after.

I didn't know where all this was coming from but, to my eyes, I felt I had performed a creditable job under the circumstances.

I pulled away the cape and large clumps of hair fell to the floor. Sarah sat there silent and looking spellbound, looking straight ahead. I walked over to another styling station to pick up a hand mirror to show Sarah the finished style. As I did so, I said to Maddy, "thank you so much Maddy, I don't quite know what to say. I'm a little overwhelmed. What CAN I say?"

"Well how about asking me for dinner this evening?" Maddy suggested. "You've done a great job Simon. She looks amazing. On the evidence of Sarah, perhaps one day I will let you loose on my hair."

"Dinner it is. And thanks again. And well, I guess I'll have to check my appointment book but I'm sure I can fit you in... for a trim." We smiled at each other.

"Thanks Simon. Now don't you think you should finish with your client?"

I turned around, mirror in hand, to see Sarah running her hands along her nape feeling the short bristles that remained. She moved her head from side to side to take in the finer points of the style. I held up the mirror to give her a better view of the rear.

"Well Sarah, what do you think? It's not too short at the back is it?"

"Yes it is very short" - I began to feel a little worried over how this woman might react - .".. and I love it! Simon, you are amazing. I don't know if you realise but I was really nervous about having my hair cut short. I bet you think that's really silly. But you're the best stylist I have ever had. Please let me know when your new salon is opening and I'll be first in the queue for an appointment. And I think you'll find several of my friends behind me. Now, how much do I owe you?"

How should I know? What does a woman's haircut cost? "Well shall we call that an introductory offer. I won't charge for it, as it has been my pleasure. But I warn you I'll be charging London prices in my new salon to compensate," I said happily, admiring her delectable nape as I helped her on with her coat.

"Well Simon, if you're sure. That's really sweet of you. Make sure you give Maddy the details of your new salon when it opens." With that she smiled broadly, gave me a quick peck on the cheek and left.

I watched as I saw my first ever cut disappear down the street and pondered the words of the song that had been going around in my mind all morning. Had it really been -

Once in a lifetime!!

THE END

(c) Copyright Sean O'Hare 2000 If you have any comments then I would be pleased to hear from you at psharp55@altavista.net