Precision Cut

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by Kathleen

I escort William to my station.

“Make it look like two weeks ago, Nora.”

He’s my only regular client. If his former stylist hadn’t severed a fingertip, I’d be back in Chicago. Luckily, William prefers to look unchangeable. A hyper-regular—he’s in here every two weeks.

“Thanks for finding time for my wife. She rarely even touches her hair.”

I don’t tell him that although it’s Saturday, I have no other appointments. Instead, I say, “No worries, William. Anyone can find time when necessary.”

He likes that and sits taller. William wants to hear about me—rather than talk about himself. Or sit quietly. So I tell him about the bad-neighborhood art gallery, and my two paintings there.

How, he wonders, did I come to subsidize my artwork with haircuts?

“Someone complimented my manual dexterity.” When I was waitressing. “And I applied to the Precision school.”

I don’t say that the Precision school sent me to France for “international” status. Or that I met my boyfriend Alan there, attending a sculpture festival. Since we moved to New York, I’ve paid the rent. For a while, it didn’t matter that Alan’s sculptures were too important for day jobs. He had me half-convinced, in love. But it matters now. Two people can’t live on one man’s haircuts.

“The Precision school. That’s why I chose you, Nora.”

“They say you can’t get certified until you can do it in your sleep.”

William laughs. “Sodium pentothal before final testing?”

“Bet they haven’t thought of that yet.” I hand him the mirror and turn the chair.

“Perfect,” he says, tipping me a huge amount and calling Pratibha. “Ready, sweetheart?”

Three minutes later, drugged, narcolepsy—not even! Wormholes? Rabbit holes? Who knows? Apparently, I chopped off three lustrous lengths, on top and the sides. It happened so fast even Pratibha was lulled. Before shrieking, “What the hell?”

Recovering, I see this beautiful young woman, fingering bristly patches like wounds.

“Nobody will ever notice,” I try.

But the damage is obvious. Pratibha has such great hair. “Maybe twisted up my mistake won’t show.”

“My husband likes it down.”

What husband wouldn’t?

Half-measures would look awful, which she realizes. And seethes. “Do your damn Precision cut. We’ll hate it. But it will appear intentional. Ugly on purpose.”

The Precision cut looks spectacular on her. “It highlights your eyes. And neck.”

“Don’t make me laugh. William!”

He glances at her and his cold face bobs near mine. His hand swings up and I flinch. Cursing, he backs away. I return his tip and they race out. Becca in front is saying, “A problem?” and manages to retrieve Pratibha’s apron.

Three more minutes: sickening, prickling skin. In the restroom, I vomit, rinse my mouth, splash my face—my reflection wavering in the mirror.

Tonight, I’ll phone my parents for airfare.

Coat zipped, I tell Becca, “I’m done. I’m gone.”


Rufus said...

I've had some bad haircuts before, but I don't think the stylist ever left town. (maybe they should have)

the Amateur Book Blogger said...

Uh oh. This reminded me I was supposed to cut someone's hair tonight here at home. Instead I was writing, with my door closed. Oops.

Great, concise and precise again K.

Paul said...

Glad my daughter was only a few years old when I gave her some of the worst haircuts ever -- although maybe I was ahead (ha!) of my times because lop-sided fringes are more fashionable now -- otherwise I'd have had to leave town too.

Stella said...

Kathleen, your stories are precision cut!

Another excellent sketch.


Nice work, Kathleen. I'm wondering what the POV of the couple would be...their story? Bad haircuts are something we remember forever. Did the story take place in NYC? Just wondering...

Sorry to hear about the Blog Award, glad to hear more people are reading your fiction. I can say,


Last sentence didn't make it...? The rest of the sentence is "I can say, I knew her work already. Hah!

kathleenmaher said...

Rufus, In my mind you've always been bald.

Jen, The best haircuts I've ever gotten were not in a salon but someone's apartment.

Paul, Manny and I cut one another's hair for years. Lucky for me, he was not bad at it.

Stella, thanks. Precision has its merits. Notice the super-heavy blur on my accompanying graphic?

Lisa, Anytime I suffer a haircut disaster, I have to wonder: what was that stylist thinking?

And thanks for the condolences. I love the poem, "One Art," but regret posting it. For the more I insist that I love the Weblog Awards and love having been a finalist, win or lose, the more people wink like, yeah sure.
N.B. TVFH was a finalist, too.

Jane Turley said...

A very enjoyable story Kathleen. My father used to cut my hair as a child(Short back and sides!)He had no formal training but used to work in a remote school for disturbed children where it just wasn't safe for anyone else to do it. Consequently, I kept my hair short till my mid thirties and then grew it... the reaction is quite amazing...people who've only known me in recent years can't imagine me with the (very) short tomboy haircut and people who knew me years ago are shocked at the longer locks. It's intriguing how hair changes people's perception of you.

kathleenmaher said...

Jane, Now that's an evocative story!