Cruel Cuts

Woman shapes futures with haircuts. A short story.

★ Tammy found early on that she had a knack for shaping destinies. When she listened to grown-ups talk as a child, she would always feel the roughness in the edges of conversations, the disjointed emotion, uneven reasoning to an argument. Shapes of events bothered her, as situations seem to be going on and on, without resolution, in loops, like vinyl records, and not the good ones. More like Cliff Richard marathons, not Hendrix riffs.

She was a quiet child, and she chose to speak only when she felt there was a space for her in a conversation. Which sometimes happened with friends, but seldom in her household. Her mother liked to talk. Annabel would talk days on end, and she did not make any sense to Tammy. Her sentences seemed as if glued together, rag-tag and badly coordinated, no smoothness to her points, or shape to her thoughts. When she drank brandy, which was often, not only did she talk more, but she also stank.

For a long time during Tammy’s early teens, Annabel was obsessed with carpentry. She would be seeing the local carpenter every day, and then would be talking about furniture, at length, to her husband, Tammy’s dad, describing the next piece she would commission, until he left their home, and never came back.

Tammy felt that all that talk about furniture should have driven him away much sooner, and even wished it to be so, as she could not bear to listen to Annabel herself. She found no pleasure in listening to woodwork being described, but Tammy did enjoy taking to the blade on occasion. She liked to cut things into shape. And that’s how it started.

First, she cut cloths, and vegetables, and newspapers, and even the bottoms of curtains in their house, rearranging items into some sort of order. Then she proceeded with mowing the neighbours’ lawns, pruning their roses, arranging their upholstery, earning her pocket money while in high-school. Annabel was sure Tammy would grow into an artist, but it was always too random a job for Tammy – she liked precision, form, and above all, efficiency.

She was also very interested in human nature, how it goes off-balance, loses its trajectory, and the best ways to rearrange it into shapes that made sense, in a dialectical kind of way, cutting and shedding all that is unnecessary. So, she became hell-bent on studying human psychology, but failed the entrance exams through a strange set of circumstances, which made her suspect that she was being somehow profiled.

Desolate and unsure of her future, but certain that there is a place in the world for someone like her, she took a summer job at the local hairdressers. At first, she only washed hair, and listened to people talk. Mostly the women, but some men too. As usual, they seemed to go on, endlessly, not listening to their own gaps in reasoning, circular narratives – they kept repeating the same mistakes, getting worse, and this started affecting Tammy’s sleep patterns. She would wake up in the middle of the night with the solution to a problem she heard. A neat, smooth, precise cut to a situation that required at least some trimming, if not a radical change in style.

When summer passed, she asked if she could stay on and learn the craft of cutting hair, and Tim, the vividly dressed owner of the salon, and chief stylist, agreed, with some reservations. Tammy always seemed a bit dim to Tim, not a big talker, but a calming presence, nevertheless.

So, Tammy started cutting and she was great at it, soon attracting more clients for Tim, as word spread of her golden scissors and magic touch.

Then, one winter day, a particularly slow one, a client came, a regular, who also had never-ending arguments with her boyfriend, in which she was always called out for being indecisive and weak, although she seemed to Tammy to be a tough cookie. Augusta, the client, kept going on how she resents being constantly disrespected by that man, and to Tammy, this always seemed sexually obvious.

Cutting away, suddenly, Tammy spoke out, like an oracle:

“I think that he secretly likes to be submissive. I’ll give you a severe black bob, and you go buy bright red lipstick, and a whip. Small whip, nothing serious, ones you get in a sex shop. Order him into bed the next time you see him, tell him to turn around, and then slap him hard on the bottom. He will like that. Then instruct him what to do during sex. Meticulously.”

Augusta was gobsmacked. She wanted an elaborate explanation. But Tammy just said that this was all she had for her. If she chose to listen, she will solve her problem, and her boyfriend would be less frustrated by the lack of direction in their relationship, and have respect for her at all times. Tammy also pointed out that choosing a tough woman with a temper, and a name like Augusta, the man already formed a fantasy, which was not hereto being fulfilled. She also pointed out that Augusta also chose someone who she was driven to discipline, and was hereto unable to.

The client was in slight shock, but bit the bullet, got the bob and left. Tim was as pale as a sheet, but said nothing.

A few days later, another regular came in, Janice, a friend of Augusta’s, and straight off the bat started talking about her marriage to a man whom she adored, but who was an alcoholic and a serial cheater. Also with an STD. Which Tammy could not help knowing through a different client, but kept quiet about.

In the middle of cutting Janice’s hair, Tammy spoke:

“Move out. One day, while he’s at work. Don’t leave money for next month’s rent. Block him on your phone. Leave a message saying: I found out. Everything.”
“What did I find out?” asked Janice, her voice higher in pitch.
“Nothing, but that’s the point. This will make him talk, and then you’ll find out. And you won’t want him back.”

Janice was blushing, she felt she was somehow hard done by Tammy, as she came in to hear how she could keep her husband, based on Augusta’s successful story. When she protested, Tammy just said: “Your relationship is not savable.”

Then she suggested bleaching Janice’s chestnut hair platinum blonde, with spikes, kind of funky. “You have the right eyebrows, it’ll work.” Also, Tammy knew newly minted blondes always become bolder in their moves.

Janice was reluctant, but something in Tammy’s attitude kept her calm, and, she knew, in her gut, that Tammy was right. So, she went all out blonde, and in the meantime, Tammy found contacts for several estate agents, with good properties for rent. Janice left the salon feeling slightly drunk, but with a bounce in her step.

Tammy went on to offer all sorts of cuts, none were too small, or insignificant. Simon, a severe silver-haired old bachelor, in stained leather pants, who always insisted on a crew-cut, complained of longing for someone to fill his days, but could not stand other people staying in his flat for longer than one night.

Tammy advised him to get a streak of electric blue dye on side, and also, to buy a parrot. A macaw. That way he could outlive Simon, and relieve the key anxiety Simon would have – the fear of losing the bird. He just needed to be conservative with airing his flat.

Soon, word of Tammy’s cruel cuts and their incredible success rate spread, and both women and men would flock to Tim’s salon, with somewhat of a therapist in residence.

Sadly, the therapists in town also heard of Tammy, and her unorthodox practice, but it was hard to find a way to stop her, although she was clearly poaching their clients, solving problems left, right, centre – and at the back.

The only way they could do her harm is to gossip about her, which was very unprofessional, but envy knows no bounds as they started feeling a dip in their revenue and plausibility.

Tammy’s relationship with her mother was strained, at the best of times, and although her daughter became a small celebrity in their small town, with her incredible talent for life-styling, Annabel never allowed Tammy nowhere near her hair. She always had the same haircut, the same colour, even the same shade, since high-school, and she would never let her daughter mess that up. Like she clearly messed up her own life that showed such promise.

Annabel never bought the story that Tammy was happy cutting hair, she was built for greater things, and she always made sure she told her that, frequently. Also, Annabel was ashamed that Tammy never upgraded her life post her hairdresser success – living in the same flat with the same odd-looking roommate, unable to form stable relationships with men, dressing like a hobo and, her mother suspected, smoking weed on weekends. It was the kind of lifestyle that was too chaotic and distasteful for Annabel, and even though she pined for her daughter to become an artist – which in some ways she now was, this was far from the Hollywood glamour Annabel associated art with.

Someone needed to tell that girl the truth about her life and make her see sense. And since Tammy never really listened to her at all, since childhood, Annabel proceeded to tell everyone in town that she feared for her daughter’s mental well-being.

She was discrete about this of course – a word here, an anecdote there, people would get the hint. And this would help in sowing seeds of doubt in Tammy’s determined yet delusional mind.

In time, the therapists’ professional gossip, and Tammy’s own mother publicly questioning her daughter’s sanity, started to take a social toll, and in a very strange way. The clients began to doubt Tammy’s judgments about her own life, and that in turn affected their own choices based on Tammy’s advice.

Soon, the solutions she gave them stopped working, they outgrew their haircuts, and a few clients suspected they never actually suited them at all. Regrets and bitterness overtook their fond feelings for Tammy, and they started knocking at her door, looking for some kind of compensation. Or, at least, an apology.

Of course, this was impossible, Tammy was a professional hairdresser, and the best she could offer were dying their roots, and a fresh trim. As she grew more stressed by each day, Tim reassessed the value of having a sorceress hairdresser over the cost of a client riot.

He had to let Tammy go.

She was never good at saving money, so, with the little she had put aside, and her town infamy, there were only two choices – go back to her mother, or leave town, almost penniless. Both options seemed equally depressing, but oblivious to her mother’s input in her professional demise, Tammy chose to go for the first option. Consolidate a bit, then leave.

Annabel was pleased Tammy was back, as her second husband, the carpenter, left her for a hairdresser, so she was lonely and considerably bored.

Tammy, however, lost her mojo, withering in the long winter months she spent watching true crime shows with her mother. All her savings were gone. And her father was in Arizona, the last time she spoke to him, happy with a new family. So that was not promising. None of her stoner friends had any monies either, but they did offer her solace, and sometimes, their hair, for styling. Wielding those scissors was the only thing keeping Tammy from sinking under.

One day watching her mother sunbathe drunkenly in the sunlight of an early April, she decided that the only way out of her predicament is to start cutting hair professionally again. But in secret, away from the eyes of her disapproving mother, who now wanted her to go study law, to help her sue the carpenter.

The only way to get back in the game was to go silent. No advice. No revolutionary styling.

She got word out to a few clients who remained loyal to Tammy’s choice of haircut, and started trimming their hair at their own places. Nothing happened to them in terms of decision-making, except they had a refreshed look, and a renewed vigour.

Tammy maintained her charming, non-intrusive presence, and people soaked in its benefits.

As spring came and went, buzz was ripe around town, and Tammy had money going, albeit on the sly. So she started making plans. She also observed her mother getting more and more nervous and demanding, until one morning, she asked for the incredible.
“Tammy, I want a cut, dye, and blow-dry.”

“You mean a trim, roots, and a blow dry?” Tammy said, slowly.

Annabel was silent for a moment. Then she burped. Brandy made her burp.
“No. I want a cut. Pixie. And a new colour. Maybe deep burgundy.”
Annabel always maintained a 70s shag cut, mahogany.

Pixie, deep burgundy. OK, Tammy thought. It sounds like some sort of unhinged whimsy, but maybe a change in me ignited a twist in her? Miracles are possible when it comes to stylistic choices. Everything changes when you start to frame your face differently.

While Tammy was getting ready, Annabel drank more and more brandy, whistling a tune. And suddenly, it dawned on Tammy. Her mother is willing to go ahead with this for a reason. It was a trap.

“I actually think you look great the way you always look, mum.” Tammy said, deadpan.
Annabel leaned into her, beady eyed. And burped.
“You don’t mean that!”
“I do. It was always the best choice for you.”
Suddenly, Annabel flew into a fit of seething rage, something that happened occasionally, but not on such a terrifying scale.

“I NEVER EVEN LIKED THIS HAIRCUT!” Annabel screeched at the top of her lungs.

“But you had it for forty years,” Tammy was determined. She knew she nailed it.

“Your father liked Jane Fonda in Klute! He was a cunt! My entire life, he was a cunt!”
“Style my hair differently!” Annabel was now wailing.
“I won’t.”
“Cut my hair, or I’ll call the cops on you!” Annabel was running around the room.
“For what, a pixie cut?” asked Tammy, although she suspected the reason.

Annabel came super close to Tammy, and stared at her, triumphant, shaking: “I know you’re dealing weed! You won’t be going anywhere. You need help!”

And with a majestic sweep of hand, Annabel produced the box where here daughter kept her cutting money stashed.

“You’re right, it’s weed money,” Tammy said, looking crestfallen, but with a tiny hint of a smile.

And knowing that a pixie in burgundy would have looked fantastic on her mum, and that Annabel will spend her days content to talk about her daughter, the pusher, to anyone who would listen out of pity or boredom, Tammy finally left town, for good.

© Milana Vujkov, Demolition Road: Cruel Cuts, 2019

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