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A Visit from Miss Protheroe by Sean O'Hare

I was amazed. I had really never expected a response. Well you don't, do you. It's just the sort of thing you do on the message board, isn't it.

"Free haircuts!

Professional stylist with own salon in London offers a free haircut to any women who want their long hair cut short, perhaps buzzed, maybe shaved. Please e-mail to discuss your requirements."

I'm not sure if I have a fetish as such but I do find it fun to hang around the various hair sites from time to time, giving advice when asked and finding out how haircutting is viewed from the client side.

As you might expect there were a couple of responses on the board, both from the States, one offering her hair if I was to pay their airfare to the UK. OK, I'll admit I was tempted but a barber doesn't make all that much even owning one of the top gentlemen's hairdressers in the City!

I had trained as a men's and ladies' stylist several years ago but found that I preferred haircutting to perming and colouring, and cutting short styles in particular. Although I enjoyed cutting women's hair I found that on a day-to-day basis there were few opportunities for precise cutting and so I moved into men's styling and a few months ago opened my own shop.

I've always wanted to practice my skills on women but, of course, none ever ventured into my rather traditional barbershop.

But yesterday I received an e-mail from a woman in London who said she was thinking of changing her hairstyle and, once she learnt I owned a barbershop, she seemed even keener on paying me a visit. We hadn't discussed styles in detail but she clearly has a very strong interest in hair and sounds quite adventurous. And the offer of a free haircut was clearly tempting.

I have built up this picture of a young, rather adventurous woman, perhaps a student or working in a fashionable clothes store. She mentioned her hair was quite long and I imagine it to be straight and hanging down to the shoulders. I expect her to be wearing casual clothes - jeans probably, and a T-shirt.

So at 6pm today, after my usual closing time for a Tuesday, one rather adventurous young lady would be visiting me. Miss Janet Protheroe.

It is 5.15 and I have just started my final client of the day and we are the only two in the shop. Jim, the stylist who works for me, has had today off. Mr. Blake, a regular client in his 30s, is in the chair having his regular short cut.

As I began to move the clippers up his neck the door opens and a tall, elegant woman of a similar age to Mr. Blake marches in. She stands for a few seconds, clearly taking in the environment. Presumably Mrs Blake. The only women to enter my shop are wives and girlfriends.

Her glossy black hair is tightly pulled back from the hairline, and is swept up into an elegant updo. She is wearing a smart black and white, checked suit - the skirt at least 6 inches above the knee, the jacket tightly pinched in at the waist and covering a simple and barely visible black, silk top. An expensive loop of large pearls circles her neck, and a lot of gold hangs from her wrists, her ears and on her fingers

She smiles, says nothing and moves to the leather armchair against the back wall. I have tried for the traditional look, but placed in a modern setting. So there is a lot of wood and leather, but plenty of plants to soften the look. Of course I have installed traditional barber's chairs.

She says nothing and hence she must be waiting for her husband. She perches herself on the chair, crosses her legs and demurely pulls down the hem of her skirt although this does little to hide the long, thin legs that emerge.

I return my concentration from this attractive, but rather mature woman (at least for me!) to her husband and continue clippering the back of his head.

A few minutes later I look up. The woman remains in the same position. Her gaze is fixed on her husband or, more precisely, his hair as I prepared to shave his hairline. Mr. Blake also notices. Our return of her gaze is met with a disarmingly powerful smile - we both smile back although I feel unaccountably flustered and quickly return to the task in hand.

However I can not help the occasional glance, and notice her position is unchanged and her gaze is unmoved as if she is trying to take everything in.

Ten minutes later, and I have finished Mr. Blake's hair. I remove the cape, ensuring all the fine clippings are dusted from his face and neck. We walk over to the till where he pays, giving me the usual generous tip, and I help him on with his suit jacket.

And then surprisingly he begins to walk towards to the door, without a backward glance towards his wife. My gaze switches from one to the other, as if I was watching tennis at Wimbledon. The door opens. He leaves.

Unless Mr. Blake is particularly forgetful I guess this woman isn't his wife!

But she's been here nearly half an hour, Janet will be here in 10 minutes and I do want to tidy up and get ready. What does she want and why has she not said anything? I'm feeling puzzled and a little frustrated too. I don't want to be rude, but...

"Protheroe!" The woman has jumped and marched towards me, holding out her hand. I'm feeling startled by the sudden movement. "Miss Janet Protheroe." We shake hands. Her grip is cool and firm. Then suddenly WHAT she said sinks in. "I believe you were expecting me, Mr. James." Expecting her?

"Oh, er, yes." Er, no, I was expecting someone a little younger actually. I feel it would be unwise to voice this opinion. "Er, hello, Miss Protheroe."

She releases her grip and we stand facing each other. She looks very confident. I'm tall, but she's a little taller. So her head, and more particularly her piercing grey eyes, are cast down slightly - almost seductively.

"Well Mr. James, where would you like me?" I gulp. Why do I feel so nervous - or should that be intimidated? "Here?" she asks pointing to my chair. I see the cut hair from my previous client - I haven't swept up yet - and indicate Jim's chair.

We walk the short distance and she lowers herself elegantly into the barber's chair as if it is something she has done frequently. But looking at her clothes, her hairstyle, her whole manner I realise she hasn't. I also now realise that this has been a set-up of some kind. She clearly isn't going to want me - a barber - touching her smart hair. She leans back, her arms on those of the chair, adjusting her position as if she is trying out new furniture for her home.

"Gosh, this is rather comfortable isn't it. I always feel they look so cold and uninviting, don't you? Not that I've ever sat in one before. Yes, most satisfactory." She launches that smile at me once more as she catches my eye in the mirror. I still feel somewhat surprised by the turn of events. I nod and smile back. But I feel a little lost as to what to do or say next.

I decide to raise the chair a little. "Ooo, gosh, that's nice. Are you trying to make it difficult for me to run away?"

"Er... no." Well, what was I supposed to say!

"Just teasing, Mr. James." She moves her right hand to smooth a non-existent unruly hair on her hairline - I'm sure none of her hairs have ever had the nerve to be unruly - and she then pats the elegant knot at her crown. "Now," - her voice has become crisp and business-like but the smile remains on her face - "I believe you intend to cut my hair, young man." I nod. "So, would you care to start?"

"Yes of course, Miss Protheroe." Feeling on slightly firmer ground now - after all she's now just a client, I kid myself! - I ask her if I can take her jacket. She slips it off revealing the simple black top which barely covers all it needs to. It is supported by two extremely thin straps and her smooth, white shoulders and much of her back is laid bare. She fingers the pearls which now lie on her long, elegant neck.

"May I take down your hair?"

"Please do. But I wonder if I might ask a little favour." She retrieves her handbag which she has placed on the counter before us, and removes a small camera. "I wonder if you would take some photographs as we proceed."

I had wondered about this earlier. Asking if I could take photos, or even setting up a video camera. But I felt a little uncomfortable it. Now here she was asking. "No problem, Miss Protheroe. I will be happy to."

I'm no David Bailey but not too bad a snapshooter - at least I don't have trees growing out of people's heads... well not too often. I take in the controls, switch on the flash and take several shots from different angles. I place the camera on the counter. "Thank You."

I now stand behind her and study her hairstyle to work out where all the grips and assorted ironmongery would be hidden to hold up such an elegant style. I remember doing these styles in the past and it was never a particular favourite of mine.

At this stage it is impossible to gauge the length of her hair in this style but, given her age (with apologies to all out there of a similar age or older) and the excellent condition it appeared to be in I assume it would not be all that long.

I identify a couple of large clips which I reach in and snap open. And I am amazed as wave after wave of hair seems to tumble down as I remove these solitary fastenings. Instinctively I reach out to catch her hair as it is released.

I hear a little giggle - almost a schoolgirl giggle. "You don't need to catch it. It's still attached... well, at the moment." I look up and, unbelievably, she winks.

I look down and I am confronted by masses of thick, black, glossy hair covering her shoulders, the back of the chair and reaching halfway to the floor.

I am captivated by its appearance. Without really thinking I pick up a brush and begin to smooth it through. I remember about starting from the ends but this hair is in such excellent condition that it simply glides through from the crown to the ends without obstruction.

I estimate it must be around 3 feet long - probably well past her waist if she was standing - and as thick and healthy at the ends as at the crown.

After a few minutes I return the brush to the counter and point questioningly to the camera. She nods, so I shoot off a few more snaps - the same angles but she's looking quite different. I can't decide if she looks younger with her hair loose. Perhaps, just different. More like an actress of the same age, rather than the businesswomen that she seems to be.

I step back a little. "You have very beautiful hair Miss Protheroe." Well it is true... and I can think of nothing else to say, as I just take a minute to admire it.

"Thank you. Yes I do." She lightly runs the long, blood-red fingernails of both hands through the crown hair. "And that's a problem."

"Really? It seems...."

"It is just about perfect - I know that - but of course I can not wear it loose. Not like this, can I?"

I'm thinking, why not? It looks sensational - but perhaps it wouldn't be quite the thing in the boardroom. "And it's always been like that. From pigtails at school, to ponytails at college, to buns at work. I've always worn it that way. It only takes minutes to style too - so much practice at putting up, you see - so I can't use that as an excuse for a restyle and hence the problem."

"But, you can...."

She clearly had something worked out in her mind and my interruptions weren't part of the picture. "I will admit to you I've always had a thing about hair, long hair in particular. Don't ask me to explain it. When I first got access to the Internet I realised I wasn't alone and enjoyed talking about my hair, talking to others about theirs and picking up hints and tips for hair care." She had been talking quite fast and sounded a little breathless. "But then I found some of the other sites - the short hair sites - and found I was equally absorbed by them." I may be mistaken but her face seems to be colouring a little. A small blush. "Talk of haircutting, the photos and video clips of makeovers - it all seemed so different. A whole new world. And such fun. And of course that's where I found you. So here I am." The elegant, confident, no-nonsense manner seems to have dropped a little. She has pulled a lock of hair over her shoulder and it passes over the black silk top and curls in her lap. She fingers it nervously.

"Indeed, you are here." I had accepted that this woman was nervous of change. She had no reason to change her hair - it looked marvellous - but perhaps she wanted a change to fit in better with her work appearance. From all she had said I realise that a lot of hair may fall but she will want a lot still left - just past shoulder so she can wear it loose, or perhaps a shoulder-skimming bob - and I have resigned myself to this. But it will still be enjoyable and make a pleasant break from the men's styles I perform all day. "So what can I do for you, Miss Protheroe?"

There was silence. She stares straight ahead. She still fingers the lock of hair she has separated from the rest. I wonder if I have asked the question as her expression has not changed.

Then I hear a little cough as she clears her throat. "Mr. James, I would like you to cut off all my hair."

"Into a bob perhaps, or something a little longer?"

"ALL my hair, Mr. James. I wish you to cut off all this" - she places both hands at her nape as she says this, and then flicks up all her hair and it falls back precisely in the same position - "so that is short." She takes a deep breath. "Very short."

My turn to lose my voice. I cough. I try to sound cool and professional... detached. Fat chance! "Very well. If you are quite sure then I will be pleased to." I still don't expect this to happen. And I'm not sure if I want it to. She has such lovely hair.

"Excellent. Then please proceed."

I know she will stop me. I've played games on the Internet too!

"Very well."

But I begin to brush her hair once more, this time from a centre parting with as much lying in front of her shoulders as down her back.

I reach down to the drawer under the counter and remove a case containing my lesser used haircutting tools. I pick up the large pair of scissors that I had so rarely used. They look new and shiny... and very sharp.

I make sure this is all in Miss Protheroe's view. She watches each movement and I hear her let out a little gasp as I test the scissors with a few sample clicks. "Oh my! They look rather efficient."

"I shall use these to remove the bulk of your hair. They are very sharp and so it shouldn't take too long, even to cut through such thick hair as you possess...." She looks composed still - a typical businesswomen I guess - but I can hear her breathing and its rate seems to be increasing. "Or perhaps I should say as you currently possess." She lets out the nervous little giggle once more.

I separate and lift a three inch chunk of hair and place the scissors just above her shoulders. I didn't know how short she intended me to cut her hair - if indeed she would let me cut it at all. I still feel this is some sort of game. But if I did indeed it cut it, it wouldn't be too short to consider other styling options when she saw the hair begin to fall.

I held myself in that position and looked enquiringly into the mirror. She appeared almost exasperated. "Mr. James, did I not say I wanted it cut short!"

"Yes, but I thought...."

"Did you indeed. I see - 'you thought'. Rather than doing what I have asked you to do. Please raise the scissors higher."

Under the force of her words the scissors almost seem to glide slowly along the hair shaft. I expect her to say something as they make their way closer to her scalp. But no they finally come to rest just above her ear.

I feel her flinch slightly as the cool metal touches the top of her ear. "Ooh, they are, er... ooh." Her expression has changed slightly - a mix of perhaps excitement, even a little fear... I don't know really, it is difficult to fathom.

I don't know whether to cut... or not. Will she give me an indication? She seemed to be almost revelling in the delay, various small changes in her expression betraying a cocktail of emotion.

"I'm now going to cut your hair, Miss Protheroe," I say with more confidence than I really felt. I feel this is the end of the game.

"Please do, Mr. James." A short pause as she tries to breathe in, although she appears to be having difficulty. "I'm waiting." Her piercing eyes stare back at me from the mirror. "Will you please cut off my hair," she almost commands.

And the scissors close as if I have no control. Schnick! The hair which belongs on this attractive woman's head, which looks as though it will be attached forever, is now severed. I hold it in my hand and she reaches out for it. I expected her expression to be one of horror, but it is close to amazement. She takes the severed lock and rests it over the bare knee of her crossed leg.

I am surprised - almost as much by her, apparently casual, reaction as by the removal of a lifetime's growth of hair. At her age it is unlikely to grow to such length again, and certainly not in such thickness and condition.

But I suspect her job has taught her to control her reactions. As she stares down at the severed lock I detected a slight tremble course through her body. And then she tried to speak "Mr. James," came out almost as a squeak. She took a deep breath, and tried again. "Mr. James. Thank you, but you still have a way to go. A photograph first, perhaps?"

I comply and then lift the next lock from her temple. Her right ear is temporarily exposed. Schnick! And now permanently exposed as the severed ends of the hair fall away. I hand it to her and again she takes it, adding it to the first.

I pause again, unable to take in quite what is happening. She raises an eyebrow, and I quickly take the next lock and snip it off. And several more follow.

Even though I am cutting to simply remove the bulk, the quality of her hair is such that it falls into a neat bowl-shaped bob - a precise line forming just above her ear. All the hair brushed in front of her right shoulder was now removed. I take another photo.

She smiles and I smile back, both conscious that neither has spoken for several minutes.

"How are you feeling Miss Protheroe? You appear quite relaxed."

"Somewhat nervous actually, but rather excited too. I've wanted to have my hair cut short for some time, but I can't really believe it's happening. That I'm sitting in a barbershop and a barber is chopping off all my hair. I wonder if I am doing the right thing." She holds up the hair she has collected in her lap. "It is so long and beautiful isn't it."

"Yes it is. You are certainly a very brave woman. I can't imagine many other women so willing to risk their whole appearance by cutting off the hair most women would die for!" I voiced what I was thinking and wonder if I had gone too far.

She looks so incongruous there. I purposely hadn't covered her with a cape during this stage of the operation, for purely selfish reasons. I wanted to admire this woman, in her elegant formal clothes, as she gradually loses her magnificent mane of glossy hair.

"Do you think so. Do you really think it is such a big risk. Oh dear." As if she doesn't know! So, why would such a woman want her hair cropped short?

"Don't worry. It will be fine." I rest a hand on her now bare shoulder and she smiles back rather nervously.

I now move to the other side, lift the first lock and snip it off. I lift the next. Schnick! And the next. Schnick! And soon her left shoulder is bare also, and an enormous collection of hair has been gathered on her knee. I notice she is caressing it and that as she does so, it moves rhythmically in her lap. She looks up a little guiltily and I quickly avert my gaze, allowing her to do as she wished without my observation. Although I use the opportunity to take a few more photos.

I move behind her now and gather the mass of hair that still streams down behind her. Held like that, it appears she sports a very short bob. "Hmmm, looking good Miss Protheroe but there's still a lot of hair to remove. I'll cut all this off in one go. The last of your long hair."

"Very well." I pull it taut and slide the scissors in at the nape and attempt to close them. "Oooh, you are pulling rather hard." The hair is so thick then it is difficult to cut.

"I'm sorry. If you would lean forward and keep your hair taut then it will be come away much more easily." She complies, without a word. "Thank you."

I force the scissors closed and a few strands are severed. Again, and more are cut. I feel her leaning forward and tugging against my grip. I sense that she is a little uncomfortable - a slight grimace crosses her face but this is mixed with a smile - almost a grin. She's enjoying this.

I continue to chop through this glossy black rope. I could do it quicker perhaps but it is such an unusual sensation and she is clearly enjoying it too that I take my time.

A final cut and her head jumps forward. "Ohhhhh," she exclaims. Her head comes up and she looks in the mirror, "Oh, wow!" I hand her a ponytail to match the hair collected on her lap. She grips the hair but runs her other hand through the remnants of her hair. "Oh! Gosh! I've really done it haven't I. Phew!"

"Well, you're getting there!" I take a comb and begin to run it through the roughly-cut bob. I'm tempted to say that perhaps she should go with a similar style but I was beginning to think shorter.

I section off the hair at the crown and comb down the hair at the back and the sides from a parting a couple of inches above her ears.

I now pick up my heavy duty Oster clippers and adjust the blades. I could see that she had the head shape and features to carry out many short styles. "Please hold these while I place a cape around your neck."

The clippers look enormous in her small, long-fingered hands. She turns them over and appears to be admiring them, almost in awe.

"Will you be using these... on me?" she asks in a quiet voice.

"Oh yes, Miss Protheroe. The style I have in mind is very short at the back and sides. All this will go." I pass my hand through the hair at her neck. "Is that OK?"

"I... I, er."

She sounds very unsure now. "Very well." I fix the cape securely and hold out my hand. She returns the clippers. I turn them on and place them at her nape.

"Oh, I say!" she exclaims.

As the clippers vibrate against her nape I wait. She appears frozen, not wishing to move her head.

"Mmmm, I... oh gosh." She is looking in the mirror and perhaps realises that she could still walk away with a short style that would perhaps be a little longer than I intended. Short, for sure, but elegant to match her nature. "I...."

"OK, I'll now shave your neck." I pause for a few seconds. She remains frozen. Her eyes are wide, showing a little fear - the deer in the headlight look - trapped. The bare blades of the clippers continue to vibrate.

I slowly ease the clippers up her neck. The even buzz of the clippers is replaced by an uneven, popping sound as the clipper blades begin to chew her remaining hair. I love these clippers - however thick the hair they remove it efficiently to the desired length, even with this, the shortest, cutting head fitted. The path behind the clippers was showing barely a hint of black stubble

"Ohhhh!" The clippers move up to the curve of her smoothly shaped head. "Gosh, that tickles!" She giggles. Did it, or was she just trying to hide her feelings over what was happening.

As I flick the clippers away a surprising amount of hair falls, some straight to the floor and the rest onto her shoulders and slid down the cape. A clean, bare path devoid of hair now sits at the back of her neck.

"Oh my!" The cape was moving as the hair tumbled down. It was obvious her hands were moving, still holding the cut length of hair. Her legs also seemed a little restless, almost in a rocking motion.

Without further ado I make another pass of the clippers, easing them slowly past the previous path. Again and again I slide the clippers until the neck is bare. I now move to one side and place the clippers at her temple. Her movements had slowed but as I ease the clippers up the side of her head she sees the hair fall away and the white scalp showing through, and her movements restart.

I move to the other side and steal a look in the mirror. Her eyes are partly closed now and she seems to be in another world. It was clear to me that she would look good with her hair short. But what will she think? What will her friends and family think? What will they think at work? I got the feeling this matters little to a woman brave enough to undergo this exercise in the first place.

She is clearly enjoying the sensation of the clippers. I continue to use them long after there was no more hair to remove. It was obvious she was getting off on this. And totally lost in it.

At an appropriate point - when her half-closed eyes reopen and she looks up with a little embarrassment - I turn off the clippers and turned away. There was a strange silence in the air after the roar, whine and popping of the clippers.

Hair seemed to be everywhere although in reality this was only a small proportion of what she started with. I release the hair at the crown which now seems long by comparison. I dampen it down a little, with a spray, and begin to layer it through with scissors and comb, graduating the back and sides to a leave a neat step just covering the clippered area.

The last of the long hair is her fringe. I comb it forward and it falls unevenly into her eyes, giving her a sultry sort of look. Something to hide behind. She looks sort of enquiringly at me but says nothing.

I place my scissors on her eyebrows, but then slowly move them upwards. Her eyes widen as they stop just short of the hairline. I allow myself a small smile which she returns rather nervously. And then I close the scissors and we both watch the last of her longer hair slide down her face and bounce into the cape. I cut the fringe almost to the hairline, leaving a few slightly longer lengths to add interest.

The crown hair looks nice and neat, but rather heavy. I feel it needs something more. I begin lift sections and cut into them to texturise the hair. She looks a little shocked at this - used to the sleek and smooth look - but as the style begins to take shape her face relaxes a little.

Nothing had been said for some time but this didn't seem to matter to either of us.

I now take the smaller edging clippers and begin to shave around the hairline, around the ears. Her eyes go from wide open to almost closed. This new sensation is clearly all she hoped it would be, as the smile forms on her face and seems difficult for her to remove.

I turn the clippers off and, without a word, pull the cape away. Rather self-conciously, she attempts to pull down the hem of her skirt which has ridden up a little. Sat on a leather chair, she has little success.

I stand behind her. Finished. After a short silence she says softly, "wow!"

"Yes, indeed. Wow!" No other words seem necessary. I take some more photos.

She gets up and I help her on with her jacket. There is some disparity between the expensive clothes and accessories, and the extremely short hair that she now sports. Surprisingly she looks much younger, and perhaps even more elegant. As she has such a confident air and perfect posture, she doesn't look unusual with her severe short back and sides. It was remarkable just how well it suited her.

She opened her bag and stuffed the camera and the long ponytail inside and removed her purse. "Thank you Mr. James. So what do I owe you?"

Momentarily flustered, I try to think. "Nothing Miss Protheroe. I offered a free haircut," and was secretly hoping that I would like a few more replies to my message.

"Ah, yes you did. Well perhaps I could buy you a drink. If you've finished here."

I didn't need to think twice. "Well that would be rather nice. Shall we go?"

I switch off the lights. The tidying up can wait until tomorrow. I shut the door and we begin to walk through the precinct.

Heads seem to turn. Miss Protheroe attracts a lot of attention. And she clearly loves it.

A few minutes later we sit outside a cafe with a glass of red wine each. People stare and she plays up to it by running those blood-red fingernails over her temples and down her nape.

Two young women at the next table seem particularly drawn. Both are very attractive and more the type of woman I had been expecting earlier. One wears jeans, the other has a short leather skirt. Both wear white T-shirts and denim jackets. The mini-skirted woman has her mid-back hair in deep spiral curls - natural or permed, it isn't obvious but her hair looks immaculate. Her friend has hair of a similar length - blonde and thick, worn in two long braids. Curly says, "We think your hair's really stunning. Where do you get it cut?"

"No my companion here is the culprit. He owns the shop just along there and I'm sure he would be happy to assist you in a trim... or something more."

I feel a little uncomfortable about this woman talking so openly about me. The two women stare at me and, almost as one, ask, "When?"

"Well he could open again in 10 minutes if you are ready now. I think you are ready aren't you?" It wasn't a question. Those grey eyes were working on me once more.

Both women nod, and giggle a little and begin fingering each other's hair, thinking about their respective styles.

Before we return to my barbershop Miss Protheroe gives me a little peck on the cheek. "Thank you so much for this. May I now come along and watch you? Perhaps assist you?"

"Of course you may. I would be so pleased if you did."

And we walk back to my shop, discussing possible styles for my next two clients.

THE END

[I hope you enjoyed this story. If you have any comments on this story or ideas for future stories then please drop me a line at psharp55@altavista.net]