A Cut Above

Once upon a time, there was beautiful Princess who, in her loudest, most dramatic voice, declared to all the Kingdom:

      ‘I don’t care what is fashionable… ITS NOT WHAT I ASKED FOR.’

She wasn’t an actual princess, her name was Caroline Goodwin and she was a pre-menstrual thirty-nine year old woman. Naturally, it wasn’t an actual kingdom, it was Fabinio’s Salon in Didsbury, Greater Manchester, but enough of fairy tales… for now.

      Caroline’s usual stylist was booked back-to-back and had a local TV reporter hovering over him excitedly;

      ‘Finally we’ve made it to the 12th April, after months in Lockdown, we can all finally have a haircut. So Fabinio? It’s Nine O’clock and you’re already rushed off your feet, can you tell us what you expect today to bring?’

      ‘Everything from botched home dye jobs to dodgy fringes no doubt,’ Fabinio gleamed in front of the camera, which swung round just in time to catch the commotion happening over at the Junior Stylist’s station. Caroline’s four inches of dark roots, that were being tended to by a less experienced stylist, were not to her taste. Like most platinum blondes, during Lockdown, nature was now betraying her inner brunette.

      ‘Block bleach colour, is just so 90’s’, protested the Junior Stylist, having littered Caroline’s hair with ‘attitudes of up-lights and low-lights’. However, this young magician did not yet know how to fully control his powers and having left the potions on Caroline’s hair for too long, her head now looked like a home cooked stew of grey and purple spaghetti.

      Caroline’s thick Cinderella waves were her signature style. When she waltzed into a meeting on a Monday morning, there wasn’t a grey old suit in the building that didn’t have his eyes locked on her. But boardroom meetings, like fairy-tales, were a thing of the of the past in 2021. Today, had meant to be the big re-birth of life after Lockdown, but instead, Caroline now had a muffed microphone shoved in her face by a grinning reporter.

      ‘This better not be going out live?’ seethed Caroline. She steadily rose to the height of her red soled stilettos and calmly strode out, with her frazzled hair limping behind her. Stepping to her convertible BMW carriage. She finally let the tears drain from her lashes and that familiar rage washed over her again. As she punched the steering wheel, she re-lived every irritating Zoom call she had had to endure over the last twelve months, released the bitterness at the team members using home-schooling as an excuse to underperform and the Prince Charming who had gone back to live with his parents. Somehow, everything had depended on this haircut, a symbol that she, that we, the world, were all on the yellow brick road to recovery. The BMW swirled into action. Caroline caught a glimpse of her limp wet hair, but couldn’t face heading back to her apartment yet. Right, left, and right again, heading out of the city, not knowing where she was going. The Speed increased and emotions subsided. A red light towered down on the car and Caroline waited, stilettoed toe perched on the power peddle. Glancing to her right, there was a bubble-gum pink shop front; glittery calligraphy spelt out A Cut Above. The horn behind her honked, at the now green light. A sneer in the rear view mirror, a raise of her middle finger and her car veered down a side road, pulling into a residential parking bay. Reaching for an antibacterial wipe to removed black mascara lines from her cheeks and a Channel powder compact, she tried to restore the painted face in the small mirror of her sports car. Caroline salvaged her pride as best she could. Heading into the pink fronted shop, frankly, there was no point in moving the car, it was just as easy to pay for the ticket, after all, she spent more on a manicure nowadays (well pre-Pandemic that was).

      Nothing had changed, the clocks had all held their breath, awaiting her return. As a little girl she used to walk into this very room; the big leather chairs, that she would spin round and round on, whilst her mother smoked and gossiped. This very room, was her induction into womanhood. That familiar, heady, sour, aroma of ammonia and perm lotion. The buffet of scissors and combs; some wide and chunky, others with spiky handles, all waiting to be picked to perform their symphony of glamour. Every time was the same,

      ‘Just give it the chop, short back and sides, I can’t be doing with all the fuss and nonsense of it,’ her mother enthused.

      ‘Hiya love,’ a friendly voice greeted her, whilst scribbling a note in a huge diary on the desk.

      ‘Hi, I’ve had a bit of a hair disaster, I wondered…’

      ‘You and every other woman in Lockdown,’ Cheryl-Anne laughed. ‘You should see the things I’ve had to deal with already and it’s not even lunchtime,’ her plastic mask started to steam up from over-zealous breath. ‘Still it’s good to be back in business again.’

That’s when Caroline recognised her, surely she wasn’t still here all these years later?

      ‘Well you are in luck, I’ve just had Mrs B on the phone, she’s just cancelled, cos she’s got The Covid Arm and can’t get her coat on.’

Caroline had no idea who Mrs B or what Covid Arm was. Figuring it was something to do with an elderly lady getting a vaccination, she smiled politely.

      ‘Thank you so much,’ noticing her own accent instinctively broadening on the vowels of the so and much. Caroline had never purposely changed her accent, it had just naturally cultivated to more neutral tones, as she had climbed the world of higher-education and conference rooms. She had, however, purposely changed her name from her given name Carol to Caroline, in an attempt to fit it with the private school kids at Manchester Metropolitan University.

      ‘Let’s have a look at yer then,’ Cheryl-Anne guided her over to the chair and buried her in a plastic cape.

‘I’m going to put a full bleach on it, just to lift the purple out, I won’t leave it on very long, we don’t want any more disasters today. It won’t be as bright as it usually is, but you’ll be on yer way to a full Marylin within a few weeks’.

      Caroline finally filled her lungs with oxygen, her scapula blades slide down her back and her shoulders relaxed down two inches. Cheryl-Anne started to apply the gloopy blue mixture onto Caroline’s head, for the second time this morning Caroline reached for a magazine. Only to see the front page read Prince Harry Naked Romp and realised it was dated August 2012, oh well she would just pretend to read it, to avoid the obligatory hairdresser chit chat. As she flicked through pages that professed to know exactly what Jennifer Aniston was wearing when Justin Theorox proposed, Caroline tried to remember what she was doing back in 2012? But just as her thoughts drifted off into yet another perfectly timed flashback:

      ‘Are you Carol Goodwin?’

      ‘Yes I am, but I go by Caroline nowadays.’

      ‘Very posh!’

      ‘Well not really, they started calling me Caroline at Uni’ and it just sort of stuck,’

       ‘I thought I recognised yer, couldn’t place it, but then I saw yer hand, knew it was you straight away.’

Caroline gently pulled at her cashmere sweater and curled her hands up inside her sleaves like snails retreating into their shells. Her shoulders rose back up in tension.

      ‘So it never faded then?


      ‘Huh, I remember me and the girls and your mum trying to make you laugh about it. Saying if you didn’t keep putting that cream on, that the doctor gave you for the scar, then we’d set to you with the hair chemicals…guess I did get to you with me chemicals in the end,’ She laughed.

      ‘Well yes I guess you did,’ humoured Caroline.

      ‘It’s lovely to see you again. How have you been? you married with kids now?’

      ‘Oh gosh no, I’m too busy with work, I head up a hedge fund in the city, I manage to squeeze in a F.W.B every now and then.’

      ‘Is that a Facebook thing? I love Facebook and Foxy Bingo, you can’t get me off them’.

      ‘Oh F.W.B? Er, no, it stands for Friends with Benefits’.

      ‘Sounds very urban,’ mused Cheryl-Anne. ‘You always did love the boys, in-fact, we never did get to the bottom of the story about your hand, I always said there was a boy involved in the that drama over the allotment’.

      ‘Yes, well I suppose there was a boy involved. He was the one who brought the fireworks from his Grandad’s shed. They must have been several years old, so the blasted things wouldn’t light properly, probably had gotten damp over the years. There was this rocket and this kid Andy, sweet boy and yes cute, with floppy hair. I probably did have a thing for him as it happens. Anyways, Andy lit the rocket, but nothing, he chucked a stone at it and still nothing. So, I went over to it to light it again and whoosh. It hurt like hell.’

      ‘Wow, you were lucky it didn’t take yer eye out, really lucky girl.’

      ‘Oh my Mum gave the eye a good seeing to that evening’ Caroline trailed off into a muted silence.

      ‘How’s yer mum?’ asked Cheryl-Anne. ‘Haven’t spoken to her in years either, I think she goes to Barry’s Salon up North Road, sometimes see her coming out of the Chemist near the park.’

      ‘It’s possible, I’m not sure.’

      ‘I did always feel for you when she used to drag you in here, you would flip through them hair books and you’d always pick the model with the longest, most gorgeous hair and ask how long would it take to grow hair that long?’

      ‘Yes, well it was a very long time ago.’

      ‘But it was always short back and sides, I did try and tell your mum, girls like to be girly, especially at that age, but she wasn’t having it, I just couldn’t understand.’

      ‘It was a phobia.’

      ‘A what?’ Quizzed Cheryl-Anne.

      ‘She had a phobia of hair, well not so much hair, but hair in the plug hole, after a shower, the way it all gets tangled and gloops in with the soapy sludge. She just couldn’t bare it, couldn’t bare most things really. So that’s what the whole boys haircut thing was about.’

      ‘Well I don’t know, girls should be allowed to be girls,’ Cheryl-Anne continued her philosophy. ‘It’s not…what do they call it… Wake? Wock? Woke? Yes Woke, that’s the one. Anyway, I know it’s not the modern thing to say, but girls should be allowed to be girls, for a little while, whilst they learn what it is to be a womanly. Maybe that’s what the problem is?’

      ‘What problem?’ Panicked Caroline.

      ‘With your love life? You had better hurry up, tick tock tick tock… oh thinking of the time, better get you to the sink’.

      The cool water rinsed away the Peroxide and its chemical friends. Caroline’s itching scalp calmed. As another process was then applied to repair the hair, Chery-Anne moved onto another client and set to instructing an acne-ridden apprentice on how to cut a graduated bob for a pudgy woman in a velour tracksuit.

      ‘It will emphasis your cheekbones,’ Cheryl-Anne cheerily informed the lady.

Although Caroline couldn’t help thinking that less trips to the chippy on the corner, would do more for her cheekbones…and thighs for that matter.

      Lilac water drained down the pug hole once again, Cheryl-Anne snipped away at the hem of the Caroline’s hair and noisy blow-dryers prevented any further reminiscing for either of them.

      Caroline rose to her feet, this time, there was no local TV camera crew to thrust a microphone in her face. There was no Fabiano, acting as her dressing Fairy Godfather, to kiss her on each check and pronounce her ‘Fabulous’. It was reassuringly human, to see that no matter how far Caroline ran away from her roots, they would always be there waiting for her return. She turned down the road and made an impromptu visit to her elderly Mother. In the tiny council house that she was raised in. Caroline delivered a heart-warming monologue of forgiveness and empathy, witnessed by her Mother through the haze of Dementia. They hugged. They cried. They both decided to let bygones-be-bygones.

… except she didn’t.

… cos that whimsical nonsense only happens in fairy tales!

Caroline’s hair once again flowed just like any Disney princess,

but real life is not directed by some dude called Walt and so, Caroline slid into her convertible BMW and mechanically raised its roof, so as not to ruin her fresh bouncy curls.

Copyright © Sarah Armstrong as ‘Dita Kelly’ 2021