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A SURPRISE IN STORE by Sean O'Hare

"Good morning everyone. I'm Janice Pearson the store manager and I would like to welcome you all on your first day in the store and to the start of your induction program. I hope you've all read your starter pack, particularly the section on appearance. An important part of the job is to look smart and this is why we emphasise the need to conform to the dress code set by head office.

"I see that many of you comply in most of the areas. Hair will need some attention in some cases."

She smiled as she fingered the over the collar hair of the guy sitting next to me. "ALL hair will be kept SHORT!" the poor guy nearly jumped out of his skin - I was certainly glad I wasn't a guy! "Still we will sort that out before you go out on the shop floor later this morning."

The introductions and induction continued. I really needed this job now that Jim had left me - and it was so convenient for home and the school. OK it wasn't the same as working in the city - wearing $500 suits, having $100 hairdos and eating in expensive restaurants. But I still had the suits, the food I could do without, and I was quite happy letting my hair grow out, thick and long - rather than having the obligatory perm and highlights attended to almost weekly.

The presentation came to an end. "OK finally I would like to introduce you to Claire." A tall blonde woman emerged from the glass-fronted office at the back of the room where we having our induction. She wore a smart white suit - short skirt and tight, fitted jacket. "Claire is our resident hairstylist and we hope you will all make good use of her services which are free of charge as we believe in the importance of a projecting a positive image to our customers."

"Hi guys. Well Janice, I think we can allow Paul and Martin to leave can't we. But, oh dear, the rest of them ...."

"That's right Claire. Could the rest of you go over and wait for Claire in the salon."

Well I thought my simple braid would be OK. Presumably that means I'll have to put my hair up or something. The other girl with me, Carol, had a beautifully cut bob just skimming her shoulders. I would imagine she had had it cut for the first day of her new job. It was difficult to know how this could look better by tying it back or whatever. The two guys, Alan and Brian, wore their hair a little long although it looked as though it had just been trimmed and was hardly outrageous.

As Claire marched over and entered her salon we followed in and sat on a bench just inside.

"OK Alan" she said in her low husky voice. "Would you come here for me please." He did so, meekly - quite unlike the boisterous member of the group who was making us all laugh just an hour ago.

As he sat down out came a cape which enveloped him. She combed and smoothed his hair and addressed us as she did so. "The hair regulations as you know are quite clear. Hair must be clear of the collar and neat at the back and sides. Some variation is allowed in style provided these criteria are met. Is that understood?" We all nodded. Shame, I thought, as it sounded like I would have to put my hair up.

She then turned her attention to Alan. She looked at him in the mirror, tapping her comb and scissors in her palm. "So what are we going to with Alan." She ran her hand through the back of his hair and up to the crown. I could see Alan shiver at this sensual act.

After a long pause, he was about to speak. His lips had gone dry and he moistened them. As he opened his mouth Claire said "Right Alan, head down if you please. She then picked up a set of hair clippers, turned them on and pushed then unceremoniously up the back of Alan's head. A white swathe appeared. She repeated this many times and the back then the sides until she was satisfied that these areas were to her satisfaction. Clearly shaved and bare was what she wanted, as she smiled. She then trimmed the top into a sort of bowl or mushroom shape.

"Yes that's much better isn't it Alan. OK, next!." She whipped away the cape and Alan got looking somewhat bemused at his new haircut.

Brian marched over and started to speak as the cape was put in use once more. "I don't want the same as that Claire."

"Oh don't you? Well you're in my salon, so I guess it's my choice. Now silence please!" We assumed she was joking and there were a couple of nervous giggles. But she didn't smile.

"OK, well we can have variation. Head down please, you shall have a nice crewcut." His head went down and was swiftly followed by the clippers going up the back of his neck. But unlike with Alan they went up, over his crown and continued across his forehead. he was clearly thinking of saying something more but felt it would now be useless. Within a few minutes he had a quarter inch fuzz all over except the back and sides which were taken down to the skin. "There we are Brian. Next!"

Carol and I looked at each other. Carol shrugged and slowly walked over. The procedure was repeated. Cape tied around her neck, hair combed through and a pensive look.

"I've just had it cut. It's a bit too short tie back I'm afraid. I suppose I could just pin it up but I would prefer to keep in loose."

"Yes I see." It was unclear what was being confirmed. "Tying it back isn't an option of course." The way she said it sounded like it never could be - it wasn't just because her hair was a little too short. "You have nice hair. I'll leave it as long as I can."

She then proceeded to expertly and quickly execute a shorter version of her existing cut but finishing at ear level rather than the shoulders. The neck she shaved with her clippers, even continuing under the bobbed hair. It suited her well and the look of shock on Carol's face slowly changed to admiration.

"OK Denise you're next."

As I sat down I explained "I thought that tying it back would be enough. I'm not much good at putting it up. I wonder if you have some suggestions on how I might to do it."

She unbraided my hair and arranged it around my shoulders. I braided it wet so it looked curly and full. Perhaps I should consider a perm. "Well I could suggest how you might put it up but there seems little point now." What did she mean?

"But I'm not allowed to just tie it back am I?"

"Indeed you're not. Now it's up to you if you keep your eyes open. This will be rather traumatic for you. Here's some tissues ...."

"Er, thank you. But what ...?."

I didn't know why I was thanking her for these. What was going to be traumatic? And then as she picked up a large pair of scissors and slid them into my hair at the temple it became clear. It became even clearer as the scissors closed and 30 inches of thick dark hair slid down the cape.

"NO! Why must you do this?"

"Regulations. You were told about appearance. Our standards."

She quickly worked her way around my head and I was left with a rather messy, and rather short, bobbed style. A mountain of hair had collected in my lap, but as I moved it slid to the floor. Lengths around my neck did likewise and it felt like a snake squirming down to the floor.

"But surely the hair regulations are for men. Aren't they interpreted differently for women."

"They could be perhaps. But I choose not to. Janice and I prefer to see all the staff with smart no-fuss hair. In your case, I think something special. A flattop."

Something special. Presumably that means I'll have some hair left. I was about to ask what a flattop was as the clippers were turned on and approached my temple. I felt them touch and recoiled slightly. I could see the vibrating blade out of the corner of my eye. I thought of my predecessors in this chair today and remembered their shaved back and sides and realised my reasonably acceptable length would soon be history.

The blades were cold. They tugged a bit. They vibrated. And hair fell away to be replaced a cool draught from the air-conditioning. Never had I felt cool air like this around my head. It was rather sensual. Rather intoxicating.

As the clippers passed over my temples, over my nape, up the back of my head I found myself becoming strangely aroused. Breath was becoming difficult to find and I realised I was almost panting but tried to hide it as best I could.

I couldn't understand this. I love long hair - I loved MY long hair. I always looked on short hair as something to have if your hair didn't grow well, or if you were a busy mum, or for some other reason. Besides it isn't feminine, it makes you look and feel rather butch, old and dowdy ... and men don't like it!

But, as I stole a glance in the mirror, I saw a delicately featured face, high cheeks, big eyes emerging. Surely THAT wasn't me. I certainly didn't feel unfeminine - quite the opposite - as strong emotions coursed through me.

I realised I should be furious, upset, whatever. But I wasn't!

As the clippers were turned off I felt almost sad. My expression must have betrayed me as Claire spoke.

"Wasn't TOO bad was it?" I kept quiet. "I'm afraid i will need to adjust the sides a little more once I have done the top. I will need to use the clippers once more. Is that OK?"

I just nodded. I expected a swing of my hair as I did this but of course felt nothing. As realisation struck - no swinging hair, no hair to hide behind, no hair to run my hands through - I knew I should feel angry. But I felt only elation and a long sigh escaped from deep inside of me.

"You are alright aren't you?" Claire seemed concerned and ran her hands up the back of my head to comfort me. And I suddenly lost control. Claire looked away but with a knowing look on her face, although she did her best to hide it. Perhaps other clients had experienced this sort of emotion before ...

After a short pause she combed the still long hair at my crown. And sliced it all off to about an inch. She then picked up a strange comb and the clippers and, using the comb as a guide, clipped my crown hair further. When she took the comb away I saw that all my hair now stood up - as if to attention. She made adjustments so it looked perfect.

She then picked up the clippers once more. She flicked off a plastic attachment on the end and made some adjustments. She then removed most of what was left of my hair from the back and sides and blended it with the flat top.

I saw bare skin emerge where just 30 minutes ago 30 inches - 5 years of growth - had hung. Hung being the operative word - it did just that. But now it did the opposite - it stood up! I ached to touch it! Would it feel soft or prickly? Would it stay up or lie flat?

Again the clippers stopped. Again I felt sad. Claire saw, and smiled. "I haven't quite finished I'm afraid ...." I looked at my denuded head. What else?

I soon found out as I had a squirting sound and felt a sharp coldness around my hairline. Claire produced a razor and proceeded to scrape away at already short stubble.

She washed away the remaining foam with a towel and the skin around my neck, my ears, my temples glowed pink. My emotions ran wild and exploded as I realised I was nearly bald. A dusting of powder helped subdue the pinkness but not the redness of embarrassment across my face.

After a short pause the cape was removed and the last of my hair slipped to the floor. I almost tripped on the great mound of long hair surrounding me.

As I walked away I raised my hand to my denuded head. I already knew it looked good but nothing prepared me for how good it felt. So smooth, so cool. The flattop itself felt soft and springy - but I couldn't help but wonder how this would feel if it were shaved away. Perhaps one day I will try a totally bald look!

"Denise!." I looked around in alarm. Had I forgotten to do something? "Sorry to shout, you seemed in a world of your own. I think you should come back every 2 or 3 days so we can keep it looking neat. Is that OK with you?"

"Er, yes that's, er, fine ...." OK? It will be wonderful!

Carol looked aghast when she saw me. But when she saw me smile she did also. She asked to feel my hair. "That's good, really good. Perhaps I'll ask Claire to do mine the same next time."

The guys, of course, never said a word. Guys just don't comment on women's styles do they? And presumably I am now unattractive to them. But, could I care?

Finally we made it down to the shop floor. We were to help with packing today. I was kept busy all afternoon. I managed to look around for a few minutes between each customer. Of course the most obvious sight to my eyes was the total lack of hair along the checkout line. There were various styles on the men and women - the mushroom type cut being particularly popular - but back and sides were shaved clean. Few had flattops, and none as short as mine. It was a strangely attractive view and one that would certainly take my mind off the rather boring job.

Another thing I noticed too was that my checkout queue always seemed to have more people waiting than other - quite disproportionately so. Several women asked about my hair and where I had it cut - I said I would pass their phone number to Claire - perhaps she does private work too. But what was more interesting was the number of rather attractive men who queued and stared, clearly admiring my new style.

So, perhaps I didn't look unfeminine after all ...

THE END