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Genesis by Whittaker
Lee pulled up to the house and stepped through the unlocked door. He was met by a front hallway full of cardboard.
"What’s all this?", he yelled from the foyer as he slipped off his shoes.
Jaimie poked his head around the wall of the kitchen, his long braid of flaming red hair flopped off his back to swing tantalizingly in the doorway.
"I had some new prints arrive earlier!" he exclaimed excitedly.
Jaimie was a photographer. When they first got together he mostly did little jobs that paid the bills; weddings, family functions, graduations. When he finally broke through and got to flex his creative wings, he specialized in surrealistic photo manipulation.
"A couple from my Genesis series. They’re in the living room if you want to check them out"
Lee went to the stack leaned up against the wall and flipped through them.
His face fell.
Jaimie was a creative genius. The emotions that he could build with layers of image was astounding.
Take for example the image that they had displayed above their mantle. It was a deep ocean landscape, with a massive humpback and the tiny naked form of Jaimie, his flaming hair loose and billowing behind him. The sea appeared to be in the throes of a great storm, with two polar creatures caught in a dance. It made some people afraid, others feel lonely, and some feel a deep sense of peace and connection with the world around them. It was a beautiful piece.
This kind of work relied on Jaimie’s unique perspective, his adeptness with his tools. Lee can still remember the day that he helped Jaimie set up one of the shots for the final work. As they sat with Jaimie’s camera encased in a clear garbage bag in 5 feet of water, Lee never could’ve imagined how anything could come of it.
This stuff that he was looking at, this was boring, this was cliché. It relied not on Jaimie’s talent as an artist but on his inherent beauty. This was ego not art.
In the image that most bothered him, Jaimie straddled a chair, his hair unbound and streaming almost to the ground as he tilted his head back, gold paint poured liberally over him and an apple pressed to his lips. Part of his hair was wrapped in green fabric like a snake.
Jaimie popped up behind him.
"Whacha think?" he asked. "I’m probably gonna put that one up above the mantle."
Lee was livid.
"And move my favourite one?"
"I have to update them sometimes, why, do you not like this one?"
Lee was resolved, something had to be done.
He smiled, he grabbed the chair that Jaimie had used for the photo shoot and put it in the middle of the room, strewn with white sheets.
"Sit", he said lovingly.
Jaimie, not thinking much, did as he was asked.
Lee took paracord from a drawer in the hall.
He secured Jaimie’s arms to the chair first.
"You’re tying me up?" Jaimie chuckled playfully, "I like this".
He tied Jaimie’s torso second, and then his legs and ankles. Jaimie wasn’t going anywhere.
His camera gear was laid out on a counter across the room. Lee picked up what he recognized to be the camera that Jaimie used when shooting portraits indoors.
"Careful with that, it’s expensive"
Lee focused it on Jaimie’s playful expression and snapped a picture.
"Don’t worry, I’ll be careful" Lee smiled reassuringly.
He put the camera back down and walked behind Jaimie. He grabbed the thick braid in his hand and removed the tie. He gently pulled apart the strands and spread the silken waterfall around him. It tapered ever so gently just beyond the seat of the chair, and was a bright as a flame. Lee went back to the camera and took another picture of Jaimie enveloped within his crowning glory.
"What’s with the sudden interest in photo-taking today?" he asked.
"I want to remember this moment" Lee replied, then paused…
"I’m going to cut your hair."
J started. You could hear a pin drop.
Lee snapped another image at just the right moment to capture J’s confused and panicked expression. Then another one that captured the subtle change in definition of J’s arm and chest muscles as he tested that his bonds were secure and that Lee was serious.
"You’re serious. Why?" he asked, the panic in his tone rising.
"Because it’s too much." Lee replied flatly.
"Too much? What do you mean too much? I’ve kept it the same length for at least three years, how is it suddenly too much!?"
"You know that’s not what I mean. It’s become too much to your ego. Look at these pictures Jaimie. This isn’t your art, this is you satisfying your need for attention, it’s your excuse to admire yourself day in and day out. This needs to stop."
"I’m sorry! I didn’t know you felt that way… I wasn’t trying— "
"You knew exactly what you were doing."
"I don’t know what to say." Jaimie hung his head.
Lee’s face fell. He walked back towards Jaimie again and reached out to touch his hair. J panicked.
"Stop, STOP! Ahhh, help! HELLLP!!!" Jaimie hollered at the top of his lungs. Yelling was of little use though, they lived rurally, there was only a small possibility that someone would pass their house at the right moment to hear anything coming from within.
Jaimie couldn’t get off the chair but he managed to shake it backwards a few inches.
"Calm your s**t, I’m just re-braiding"
Lee separated the mane into three and carefully wove the strands back together, slipping a tie on the end. Then he left the room.
Jaimie looked around frantically for something to help him out of his bind. He was craning his neck as far as it could go, searching for Lee. When Lee finally returned, and could be seen holding scissors Jaimie went into full blown panic mode. His pulse started racing, his breath quickened, he got a sickly feeling in his stomach.
"Seriously Lee, don’t." he said sternly.
"I have to. I’m saving your career." Was the reply as he kept stepping towards Jaimie’s braid.
"No, stop it! STOP IT!!" Jaimie yelled as he tried hopping the chair across the room. This only served to overturn and crush him awkwardly.
"Ow, my wrist, my wrist!"
Lee picked him up, chair and all, and set him right. Then he set a large fist around Jaimie’s braid.
"I’m serious Lee, please" he begged, he was trying to fight back hyperventilation. Tears building in his eyes, threatening to spill over.
He tried to pull his head away but what was the point?
Lee’s scissors met a tiny section and the base of the braid. He sliced through it like butter, making only the softest of "snicks". He fingered the small blunt ends with amusement, then dove in for another cut. Each schrrch of the scissors had Jaimie sinking deeper into despair, the tears now having escaped his attempts to hold them back. They left his eyes without noise.
When the braid was finally severed, and his head dropped forward from the release of weight, Jaimie let out a shuddering breath.
"Oh. My God" he barely managed to say, his voice was shaking so hard.
Lee stepped around him and took another picture of Jaimie hanging his head.
Jaimie looked up, haphazardly hacked chunks of hair hung into his eyes and grazed his chin and cheekbones.
"I’m going to untie one of your arms, okay?" Lee said. He set the camera down and walked over to release Jaimie’s left wrist. As soon as he was partially free, Lee was clocked in the side of the head. It was a sloppy hit with his non-dominant hand.
"You bastard." He spat.
"Hold this." Lee said, without acknowledging what J had just done. Jaimie took the braid in his hand without looking at it, he just stared right into Lee’s eyes, and when Lee brought the camera up to his face, right into the lens. He snapped another picture, perfectly capturing the rage and betrayal on Jaimie’s face.
Lee stepped towards him again, grabbing the scissors.
J lay the braid in his lap and tried to untie his right arm.
"Relax love, I’ll untie you in a bit, I’m just going to fix this first." He said, gesturing to Jaimie’s haphazard mop.
"Fix it!? Don’t you think you’ve done enough already? Please just let me go."
"I may have taken some extreme measures, but I do know what I’m doing."
Jaimie gave up protesting, he was emotionally exhausted from being forcibly stripped of a huge part of his identity. His braid had been the thing that made him memorable. Even if no one could remember his name, they could remember the artist with the impossible mane like a living flame, and therefore associate it with his art. Now what would he be? Just any other face.
Lee ran his fingers gently through the truncated remains of his boyfriend’s former glory. He went to the kitchen and grabbed a dish towel and a spray bottle. He dampened Jaimie’s tresses, and combed them out around him, they were impressively wonky. He started by sectioning off the hair on the top of Jaimie’s head that he wanted to keep longer. Beginning with the right side, he used his fingers to carefully guide his snipping as he shaped Jaimie’s hair against the natural curve of his skull.
He carved out a straight end to his sideburn and a perfect curve around his ear.
Lee softly blew away some of the small hairs stuck around his ear. Jaimie shivered and cringed. Feeling, for the first time, the sensation of wind whistling into his ear past short bristles instead of a heavy curtain of protection. The ends tickled him as they moved with what little flexibility they had.
Lee continued his mission steadily around Jaimie’s head.
Finally, he was done with the sides. He stood in front of Jaimie to check that everything looked even. With his hair off his neck and ears, Jaimie’s features stood out in sharp relief. His eyes were red a puffy, but dry. He looked exhausted, and was still shaking a bit from the adrenaline of the initial braid removal.
Lee let the top down to fall in front of Jaimie’s eyes and down past his chin. This piece of hair seemed remarkably long now compared the rest.
Lee didn’t beat around the bush with the rest of the deed. He took a section from the front, pulled it straight up from Jaimie’s head, and sliced it down to only a few inches. A swath of hair tumbled and separated into strands as it landed in Jaimie’s lap.
The slightest high-pitched whine was heard escaping Jaimie’s lips.
Lee paid it no mind, pulled up the next section, matched it with the previous, and sliced it off. This repeated until Jaimie looked like he was wearing a ginger coloured apron.
When every lock had been clipped, Lee stood back and admired his work.
"You’re a handsome man, Jay"
Jaimie just glared peevishly at him.
Lee set his tools down and picked up the camera one last time, capturing the exhausted and transformed Jaimie, staring blankly at the wall. Then he tenderly released Jaimie from his bonds. When he was fully free, he just sat there. He let his torso fold and hung his head in his hands, tugging on the short bits of hair that had formerly been so glorious. When he did stand, he ambled to the washroom and leaned against the back wall, staring at his shame in the mirror for almost an hour, until Lee came to tell him that he had made them dinner.
The next week drew on forever. Jay had no motivation to work, he had no ideas. He didn’t want to touch his Genesis prints, he didn’t want to see that reminder of what he had lost. They collected dust in the corner of their living room.
It was Friday night that Lee came home from work carrying a thick stack of cardboard.
"What’s this?" asked Jaimie.
"Wait and see", he replied. "I think I’ve found your Genesis series", and one by one he pulled out huge prints of the photos he had taken during Jaimie’s haircut. Lee’s timing with each capture had been flawless, they weren’t the most technically skilled photos, but they were emotional masterpieces.
Jaimie spent the evening looking at those prints, and then at the trajectory of his last few artistic projects. Lee had been right; his career had been taking a narcissistic turn. Though it had hurt, Lee had been trying to save him. Late into the night he took the raw digital copies and began manipulating them with his software, enhancing the warm gold tones and the red of his hair.
He worked until the sun rose, and when Lee rose with it, Jaimie was waiting for him in the sheet covered living room, with a mischievous grin on his face.
"I sense plotting", Lee joked.
"I thought a lot about the pictures you gave me last night. You were right, my work was spiralling down a hole of ego. I have my Genesis series, but it needs the third and final chapter."
Jaimie swept his arm over the studio, where Lee hadn’t previously noticed a pedestal carrying comb, scissors and clippers. Lee’s eyes widened at his boyfriend.
"Acceptance and growth, right?" Jay smirked.
Jaimie set his portrait camera up on a tripod, to take a photo every second, and set it running.
"You ready?" he asked. The light clip of the shutter could be heard punching off rhythmically.
"Oh yeah, I’m ready" and he picked Jaimie up in a big sweeping kiss and twirled him about the room. "What’s your braid doing here?" he asked after setting Jay down and spying it on the chair.
"Oh, I don’t know, I figured we might have some fun with it or something…"
Lee picked it up and playfully smacked Jaimie’s face with it.
"Hey!" J laughed.
Lee hit him again with it, then as Jaimie turned around to grab a pillow shield, nailed him right on the butt.
"Oh, it’s on!" Jay picked up his pillow and whacked it against Lee’s head.
Things devolved from there and soon enough the boys realized that they had spent 15 minutes having a pillow fight. 15 minutes, or 900 photographs.
"Alright, let’s get this done" Jaimie huffed, out of breath.
"Sure, but me first" said Lee, sweeping into the seat before Jay could take it.
Jaimie laughed. "You’re serious?"
"Of course! I figured I at least owe you some revenge" Lee smirked and J playfully swatted the back of his head.
"Okay, your funeral!"
Despite Lee’s skills in cutting hair, his own was rarely of consequence to him. Lee worked in construction, so if he was large and muscular, not much else mattered. He would let his hair grow out shaggily, and when it began to bother him he would crop it short. At the moment, the dishwater blond locks hung over his collar and in his eyes, if he wasn’t keeping them pushed back with the strap of his hard hat.
Jaimie picked up the big clippers that he had found in their bathroom, and almost dropped them when he turned them on, the vibration startled him so much.
"Umm, any pointers?" Jay asked sheepishly.
"Nah, go crazy, love. I know I can rock a baldie."
Jaimie needed no further encouragement. He plunged the whirring teeth into Lee’s shaggy neglect right at the hairline, leaving a strip of sandpaper behind and spraying his own sweater with clumps of hair. Jay burst out laughing, Lee laughed with him.
Jaimie strolled away for a moment to turn on some music, and soon they were shaving and grooving and singing for the camera.
When Jay turned off the clippers, Lee’s head was a mess of stubble lengths. Jay ran to their washroom and came back with shaving cream and a razor. He soaped up Lee’s head liberally and scraped it clean, he looked like he was ready to shoot an ad for these razors with his strong naked jawline and head. Lee ran his hands all over it to make sure he was properly smooth.
"Your turn?" he asked.
"My turn" Jaimie said, and resolutely took his seat.
Lee fingered the cut he had given Jaimie last week. It was clean but stylish, if a bit long. He hadn’t wanted to go at Jay with a set of clippers that first day, so the length of the back and sides had been restricted to the width of Lee’s fingers. He’d left the top floppy, uni student style, and it almost reached Jay’s eyes, Jay had been wearing it pushed back.
Lee was proud of Jaimie for not even flinching when he turned the clippers on, and when he took the first swipe up the back of Jaimie’s neck to clear away the bulk the man let out a long "wooow" at the sensation. Lee denuded the back and sides quickly, fading it into a skin-tight taper.
"Touch it" Lee encouraged, and Jaimie ran his hands all over it furiously.
"Wow" he laughed again
Setting the clippers down, Lee took up scissors and comb and cut down the top of Jaimie’s hair to the original finger width that the back and sides had been, thinning it out a bit so that it would lay flat if need be, but quickly mussing it up again to make it look more artistic and playful.
"Yep." He said with finality. Then he and Jaimie stood up and went to a mirror and when Jaimie saw himself he just smirked at his reflection.
"Yep, definitely." He said, and they laughed again.
Six months later Jaimie’s Genesis series was being showcased in one of the most prestigious galleries in the country. The first chapter: Ego, featured the most decadent and languid of Jaimie’s original Genesis series prints. Ones that fully displayed his chiseled body and glorious mane. The second chapter: Shame, consisted of the mostly raw images that Lee captured. And the final chapter: Transformation, showed the growth of Jaimie as a person and in his relationship. The critics acclaimed it as one of his most emotionally impactful works, but Jaimie knew that his transformation wasn’t quite over and in subsequent photograph series, he stepped away from featuring himself completely, and in this, he grew.