Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Hair-Raising - Short Story

This was another light piece that I wrote in response to a task set by the writers' group I was a member of. I cannot remember what the actual task was to produce such an outcome as this. It does refer back to actual locations that I had known when living in the Midlands in the late 1980s. There is also a bit of that 'Life on Mars' nostalgia for the lost elements of the 1970s however naff they may have been.


Julian Walton checked his reflection in another shop window. Despite the cool air and strong breeze, he wore no hat as if daring the wind to tear at his new hair. He tried, but was unable to stop himself tugging where the hair touched the back of his neck, only a few solitary hairs came away. He held them in his hand, that was fair, he did not want them fixed in rigidly. He looked at their colour, a dark brown, shade 053 to be precise, a perfect match with the hair of his youth. He let them blow away in the wind knowing that more would not grow in their place. He ran his hand over his head from his forehead to his neck, a common habit for the bald man he had been for the past few decades, but now it was follicles rather skin beneath his fingers.

The Stannard-Hauck process was new, but Julian had been at the head of the queue to try it. At fifty-six, recently retired from the directorship of the computer installation chain he had started himself thirty years ago, Julian felt he had it all. Many of those he had known at school or in his early years as a businessman had more than fifteen years ahead of them at work, whereas he now had a life of leisure. He was fit enough, religious attendance at the gym ensured that, and he had the money to go wherever he liked, do whatever he wanted. He had Jeanette, his second wife of sixteen years to enjoy them with. Through a combination of healthy eating, a solid exercise routine and the finest plastic surgery that could be bought she looked no older than the day they had met. Her experience and her knowledge, to the finest detail, of what turned Julian on made her the sexiest woman he knew. That was part of the reason why Julian had rushed ahead with the hair replacement, not an implant, a stimulus of hair growth by the use of modified genes, all high-tech and in his eyes, perfect. Now the both of them looked like a wealthy couple in their early forties.

Julian glanced up the street, making sure of his direction. It had been years since he had been down this road in his home town, Coventry. Now he lived out in the countryside of Warwickshire and Leamington or Warwick were where he went to shop or to eat. Even on the occasions when he returned to Coventry, usually for the theatre, he and Jeanette stuck to the city centre, not out here in the suburbs to the North, the streets he had known in his youth. He was looking for a place in particular. He had worried that it would have disappeared in the intervening years, but seeing how many old places were still there as if frozen in time: laundrettes, small grocers and newsagents, chip shops that sold kebab batches, he was increasingly confident.

Julian turned the corner and just beyond the second hand furniture store, he saw the barbers, still called Roselli’s after the old Italian who had handed it on to his son. By now Julian was sure it had been passed to a third or fourth generation. The paintwork had been tidied up, but all the elements he wanted were still there. The outside was painted shiny black with ‘Roselli’s Gentlemen’s Hairdresser’ still writing in a gold flowing script across the above the main window. There were still translucent net curtains from ceiling to floor in the window and a couple of black and white photos of old fashioned styles, probably circa 1973, stuck between the curtains and the glass. It had all the accoutrements that Julian expected in a good barbers.

Julian pushed the door and stepped in, a bell ringing as he did. There was one man in the chair and two others sat along the wall. The interior had changed. The floor was bright rather than the dull lino Julian remembered, and the fake marble sink surrounds had a 1980s rather than 1960s feel about them. There were some pot plants around the place, but the counter was still formica topped in fake wood style, even though a modern electronic till had replaced the clunky manual one Julian remembered. He could hear the local radio station but now the sound came from speakers high up on the wall rather than the old black transistor radio that had sat next to the sinks. Julian breathed deeply. The scent had changed too, no longer was it the heavy aroma of the days when Cossack hairspray and Brut 33 had been the only toiletries permitted in a man’s bathroom cupboard and condoms had sat forbidden behind the barbers counter as ‘something for the weekend’ rather than on the shelves of any supermarket.

The barber nodded to acknowledge Julian’s entrance. He was a replica of the Roselli Julian had known. He never found out his first name, any of the men who worked there were ‘Roselli’, nothing else. There were still two barbers chairs, but being mid-week only one was manned, and Julian wondered if he came in here on Saturday morning there would still be sets of teenage brothers lined up side-by-side whilst the current Roselli and his assistant went to work on them. Maybe it was only men like him, and those in their seventies sat beside him that came in a place like this. Julian reached over to the low table in front of the chairs. Once the only magazines had been about cars or motorbikes, but now these were mixed with a range of men’s lifestyle magazines, some apparently just short of being pornographic. Julian sifted through until he found an old style car magazine and sort out the section of sports cars, he sat back satisfied, the whole experience was just as he had hoped.

“Hello.” The barber called.

Julian looked up from his magazine, and realised that the three men in front of him, with only thin hair had been dealt with quickly.

“Oh, yes, great.” Julian stood, tossing the magazine back on the pile. He walked over to the chair and let the barber wrap the cover over him for the first time in decades. Julian gave the instructions and Roselli began expertly turning Julian’s hair into the comparatively short, dynamic looking cut he wanted.

Julian wondered if he had dropped off listening to Roselli talking about his family and business in Coventry. The haircut was almost at an end and Roselli was lightly spraying on something to give it hold. Julian felt rather hot sitting there and was looking forward to it being over and him walking back outside in the fresh air. Julian realised that the news had come on the radio, and a particular name had alerted him to it.

“... Officials of the British Medical Council today reasserted the World Health Authority’s warning about the Stannard-Hauck process that has become immensely popular with balding men across the world. Tests in Switzerland and the USA have shown that the use of certain common chemicals found in hair products can have disastrous ...”

Julian heard nothing more, in seconds the heat in his scalp rose immensely and he leapt from the chair as if on fire, blood streaked from his skull and it seemed to being crushed. Roselli staggered back as the stranger’s head seemed to rupture, grey brain oozing from the cracks. In moments, he had fallen to the floor, his head distorted and impossibly imploded. Roselli shrieked, vomiting in terror down the front of his overalls.

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