I place the new scissors in exactly the same spot as his old pair. Shut the lid of his hairdressing toolbox carefully, leaning over it to muffle the click with my bosom. Crunching toast, he doesn’t even glance over as his favourite scissors drop into the trash. The silver handles glint in the darkness but an overripe banana sinks them, no problem. His hairdressing toolbox is a lot neater than my old one, which was forever being invaded by lipsticks or tampons. He seems particularly chirpy this morning, swinging his box, humming as he disappears to the station.
No toolbox for me now I’ve got the home salon. Won’t you get bored working at home? he’d asked. I couldn’t stand the quiet. But I’ve always wanted to be my own boss.
He loves working at expensive salons, bantering with other stylists between clients rather than dealing with sturdy old ladies, frazzled mums and their kids. I picture him in action: waving his scissors around with the right hand, simultaneously squeezing a client’s shoulder with his left. Relentlessly chatting up a young apprentice. When we first met, I loved the way he’d tidy his workstation at the end of the day, how he lined up his combs and brushes in front of the mirror, wound the hairdryer lead around his wrist like a coiled bracelet.
Mrs T’s first in my chair, droning on about her work trips this month, nothing exotic, only short haul routes but still, she leads the high life. Cut and colour. I could deliver the whole air steward safety briefing myself after listening to her spiel. I tell her I enjoy that thing about always remembering to fit your own oxygen mask first. It’s become my new mantra.
Makes sense, she says. You can’t help anyone else until you’ve taken care of your own needs. She details her needs at length. I’m not sure why hairdressing always comes out top in job satisfaction surveys. There are plenty of employment hazards: the toxic sprays, dandruff, kids with nits. All day listening to other people’s problems. I should get paid twice for multi-tasking. The fifth emergency service, he calls us. I wouldn’t go that far.
The thing is, listening to all these tales of woe, how Mrs B’s husband ran off with his secretary and Mrs P’s husband can’t manage it anymore, I used to feel insulated. That’s what people always say isn’t it – I never thought it’d happen to me. Naturally, I kept an eye on his social media and his phone, because he’s always been a charmer. He bankrupts salons when he quits, his clients loyally following his lead and turning up at his next swanky venture.
His security settings were lax. That phone gave up plenty of evidence; I probably know more about her than he does.
I could barely cut hair the rest of that day. Everyone got more texture than usual, my fingers quivering inside the scissors. But I kept my smile fixed and when he came home it didn’t falter.
Sometimes a mum brings in a kid with hair so tangled it’s impossible to comb the knots out. You drag them down as far away from the scalp as possible before letting the scissors deal with them.
After this client, I’ll reach for my own oxygen mask first: changing locks, emptying joint bank accounts and popping his suitcase into the street. I can’t help wondering how he’s getting on. First day in a new job, with his new left-handed scissors and her booked in, for her 9am restyle.
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