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Out doing the Lord’s work III by Vegard
I was looking forward to the summer holidays more than I had ever done before. Mother was happy for me as well, although she confessed she would miss me. And I assured her I would miss her as well.
Last week I had been given the reverend’s old cellphone, and I promised I would call at least twice a week, so we could stay in touch.
I was quite cheerful even at school thinking about my upcoming summer job, and my secret little plan. Maybe I laughed and joined in a bit more with the others. I think so, but didn’t think much of it.
As the last lesson before the summer drew to a close, I cheered with the others as the bell rang, and we were free for the summer.
Grabbing my bag, I was surprised to hear a "Have a good summer Michael!" from none other than Fred. Wondering if this was part of a joke, I smiled and said, "Have a good summer Fred!"
Monday morning mother drove me to the busstation, and I went on a Greyhound bus heading towards Springfield.
What an adventure! I felt almost giddy where I sat, watching the landscape roll past from my window.
Matthew picked me up at the bus station, and that very first evening I borrowed his truck, and drove towards Trish’s barber shop, to check the opening hours. I wanted to make sure I could go there the very next day, after work.
Parking right in front of the shop I went up to the door to study the hours of business.
She opened at 10, and would be open until 6pm, 10 to 4pm on Saturdays. I really hoped I would be off work by then, and that I would have time for a quick shower before going to see her.
As I walked back towards the truck I heard a door open behind me, and a female voice saying, "Michael?"
I turned around, and there she was. Trish!
"Is it really you?" she asked as I grinned at her.
"Yeah!" I said "Hi Trish!", and she came up to me, and said, "Look at you! You look exactly like you did when you came here last year!"
"Well, The hair is the same, that’s for sure!" I answered with a smile.
Looking at me wistfully she said, "Will you let me cut it again? It’s on the house."
Trish and her shop had been almost all I could think of since I had been offered the summer job, and here I was. And she was asking me if I wanted a haircut?
"Now?" I asked hopefully, and she nodded, showing me in the door.
"What do you say Michael? Maybe we should agree on what you want before I start cutting this time?" she asked as she caped me.
"That’s probably a good idea Trish," I replied.
"So, how do you want it?"
"Short!" I said, and explained, "Clipper short back and sides, like you did on my right last time. NOT like you did on the left." I hoped she understood.
"So, cut really short, back and sides, and tapered towards the top?"
Smiling in anticipation I nodded, and she readied her clippers.
An "Oh God, this is good!" slipped into my head, and I automatically though, "Sorry!" as I watched her use the clippers on my left, pealing away my hair completely around my ear, and a good 2 ½ inches above, before tilting the clippers out, and creating a taper towards the top.
"How short do you want it on top?" she asked.
"Long enough to part and comb down," I said, but then reconsidered. I was staying here for more than two months, and as long as I could part it when I went home, who cared how short it was now? Matthew and Ben sure wouldn’t.
"You know what Trish, I think we can go shorter. What do you suggest?
"How about a "butch"?" she asked, winking.
"How short is that?" I asked.
"A quarter, to three-quarter inch I guess," Trish indicated the length with her thumb and forefinger, before continuing denuding my right side, and moving around to the back.
"I think I’ll go for a ¾ inch today." I smiled.
I couldn’t believe how liberated I felt, and Trish must have noticed.
"What’s going on with you Michael?" she asked, "Last year you seemed horrified at having the side of your head shorn, but now you seem to love it?"
She had finished buzzing me in the back, and attached a ¾" guard on her clippers, and began mowing it over my head. From forehead to crown, pass after pass, making sure all the hair was cut to the same length.
"I wasn’t supposed to have it cut like that," I said, trying to put my awkward predicament last year in to words.
"To have short hair you mean?" Trish was puzzled.
"Yes. It’s hard to explain, but boys, and young men, in my congregation are supposed to look plain and unassuming. Nothing fancy."
"Why?" Trish was concentrating now, using the clippers with no guard and a comb to shape the taper from the bare sides to the ¾" brush on top.
"Because we are not to distract ourselves from His path. We have regulated haircuts and clothes so that we will not occupy ourselves with our appearance."
"So are you being a Bad Boy now Michael?" she laughed. "Getting your hair cut?"
This made me blush, and I suddenly felt a twinge of regret, and a desire to justify my choice.
"I was hoping this would be more unassuming for me now," I said, and looked down, before explaining about wearing a hard-hat to work, and how my old haircut was not practical for it.
Trish laughed "It doesn’t hurt that this cut makes you look so much better though, does it?"
I was surprised at this. And studying myself in the mirror I supposed she was right. She was working the machine carefully on top of my head now, cutting away stray hairs that were sticking up as she combed it up, tugging at my head as she combed against the hair. It really did look almost like a brush, and I had to admit to myself I loved it. Especially in combination with my almost bare 1/16" inches back and sides.
Was it ok though? Over the last few weeks I had worked at convincing myself that this was best. Was it not so, that a haircut that didn’t require frequent attention was more unassuming? More modest even?
I should be honest though, and had to admit I really liked this, and also how it made me look.
Noticing my look of doubt Trish switched the clippers off, saying "Hey, it’s ok Michael!"
I kept staring at myself, and my new look that I loved.
"Do you want wax in it?" she asked.
Quietly I shook my head. There were limits, even for me on this day of newfound freedom.
Some of my pleasure at having Trish cut my hair was fading, as I realized I did this out of vanity.
I didn’t want to make her sad though, and decided I would talk with Matthew about it, and hear what he had to say.
Using the clippers without guard to clean up my hairline in the back and around my ears, she then brushed me off, and uncaped me.
Getting up, I couldn’t help rubbing the back and sides of my head, and running my hand over the brush. I also could not help grinning.
Trish grinned to, "So," she said, "See you in two weeks?"
"Yeah!" I said, "See you then"
Coming back to the apartment I was greeted with a "Hey! Look at you man!" from Ben, and Matthew saying "Feels good huh? I didn’t think you’d go do it on your first night though!"
I smiled back at them, but followed Matthew in to the kitchen as he went to continue preparing supper for us.
"Is it okay though?" I asked, and Matthew must have heard the doubt in me.
"Michael," he said rather sternly, "Listen to me!"
"What you have now is a regular working man’s haircut! Period. Do you seriously think the Lord is upset that you have made your own choice as to how you have your hair?"
I stared. And Matthew continued, "I have no idea why the Church ended up with the notion all boys should look exactly like they do. But don’t you think someone came up with it at some point, thinking it looked good?"
I supposed he was right, and I listened raptly. Matthew had more to say on the topic though, and I let him.
"I used to think like you do, but life is not quite as serious and strikt as the Church says. It doesn’t need to be. And that haircut you had? It’s hopeless for a working man! If you were a reverend, or worked in an office it might work, but not on a work site."
I had to agree on what he said about the hair, but was unsure about the rest he said about the Church. It sounded like Matthew might be a bit astray, but I didn’t mention it. He was my elder here, and for now at least I had his concent about my haircut, and I was very happy about that.
My first day on the job confirmed my idea about wanting this kind of cut for work. It felt great putting my hardhat down on my now largely exposed scalp, and feeling the sweat-band on the stubble. Taking it off for breaks and at the end of the day I could see how the short bristle and the brush was flattened a bit in places, but if I needed to fix it I simply wet my head where needed, dried it with paper, and slicked it down a bit with my hand, and I was good to go.
The days were hot at the site, and I was in for a new change. Shorts. We wore bright fluorescing clothes, and with the clothes and tools Matthew issued for me was a pair of bright yellow and dark blue shorts.
Putting them on the guys made jokes about how my legs were so white they were blinding them.
"Airport control just phoned me Mike!" the foreman on the site said solemnly, "They want you to hide while planes are approaching, so they don’t crash!"
I laughed with the others. An old plumber named Jenkins told me I should try and work in the shade if I could, so I wouldn’t get sunburn.
After work on Saturday I went home to Haverbrook with Matthew and met his family. His wife was really nice, but different from the women at home. Mother always wore her hair in a tight bun, but Mrs. Stark had hers loose. As did their 13-year-old daughter Lucy, who should have worn her hair braided. Neither wore skirts either, and dispite my new haircut and work shorts, I felt there was something not quite right about that. That evening we had a barbeque in the back yard, and I enjoyed myself in their company.
Sunday morning I politely turned them down when they asked if I would join them for church. Since there wasn’t any Church of the Lord congregation here in Haverbrook they worshiped with an evangelical church where Mrs. Stark was a member. Matthew was still in the Church though, and I felt he should have worshiped at home with his family. Not that I told him. That would be rude.
As they arrived home after service was over, I awkwardly hung around the living room with them, holding my Bible and hoping that Matthew would join me in discussing some scripture, but apparently that was not something he did. Taking my Book with me I went to read a bit more outside where I was joined by Lucy. She was now wearing a pair of blue shorts and a short sleaved blouse. I was shocked. The day before, at least she had worn long sleaves and jeans.
"Shouldn’t you still be wearing your dress?" I asked, but regretted it as I saw her eyebrows contract.
"I only wear it to church! Not after!" And with that she ran off to see if she could find some of her friends. Children at home never answered like that. Or, correction, other kids did, but not ours. I was nonplussed.
Driving back to Springfield together early Monday morning I was quiet. I wanted to ask Matthew if he still believed in Him. But I dared not. He probably did, seeing as he still went to church. But it didn’t seem like he believed on our ways any more. Maybe that’s why he’d left?
Did the reverend know? If he didn’t, should I tell him? I didn’t feel like doing that. I had never been in favour of telling on others, and much preferred to try and set things right on my own. Getting Matthew back in the fold might be too difficult a task though.
I kept my promise to call mother twice a week. And since I had given her a call after church on Sunday I waited until Wednesday before calling her again.
"Are you getting someone to cut your hair?" mother asked conversationally. She had cut it for me three weeks ago, and felt I should have one again in about a week.
"I am," I answered, and said "A barber cut it for me right before I began working with Mr. Stark mother."
Mother was quiet, and I continued, "It is still very modest, but shorter, so that I can work with a hardhat all day."
"Oh," she said. And I could sence she wanted to add, "Does the reverend know?" but she didn’t. No doubt she would talk to him about it though, and that was okay.
My second weekend was coming up, and Matthew asked if I wanted to go home with him again, and I politely declined. He didn’t ask again, and I guess he was glad to have time alone with his family.
Ben was going home as well, and he let me borrow his truck Friday right after work, so that I could get some groceries for the weekend.
This was new to me. I had money in my pocket, and for the first time in my life I would be all alone for a few days. Thinking about it I had actually never been alone over night before.
I was excited. In the super market I bought pop, 4 frozen pizzas, a large bag of chips and a couple of bars of chocolate.
Waking up at six, as usual, I got up and made myself breakfast. Just some cerial and milk, before making myself a cup of coofee.
Still in my boxers I went out on the small veranda and sat there in the sun with my coffee, while reading. I read from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, one of my favorite books of the Bible.
Strengthened by the Words of the Book I went back inside, showered and dressed in my white shirt and tie. It was now half past nine, and I had someone to see. Taking a bus that would take me to within a few blocks of Trish’s shop I walked the rest in the morning heat. On the way I was thinking if it would be acceptable to get shorts for private use also, and not just for work? I was doubtful. Probably not.
The shop was open, and I entered. Trish looked up from working on a boy about 12, and greeted me with a "Hey Michael!"
"Good morning Trish!" I smiled and sat in one of her waiting chairs. Next to a balding man in his forties, who appeared to be the boys father. We smiled and nodded.
Trish finished up with the boy, and the father nodded his approval at the regular short back and sides his son had gotten.
Even with his hair thinning Trish took her time cutting the man’s hair, and she talked with them as if they were regulars in her shop.
"Here for a clean-up?" she asked me as the father and son walked out.
"Yeah!" I got up and sat in her chair.
"It’s a great cut isn’t it?" she asked, adding, "And just look at you! All tanned and smart."
I blushed. The truth was I had tanned really well. I had before as well, but with my Lego-man hair, it had never looked like this. Tanned all the way up the sides and back of my head, and my whole forehead, now that my hair wasn’t parted and combed to the side covering part of it.
"Would you like to go shorter on the sides?" Trish asked suddenly after she had taken my hair down the quarter inch it had grown.
I thought I knew what she meant, and without thinking more than a few seconds, I nodded.
Another man entered. And Trish went up to him and gave him a quick peck on the cheek.
"Michael, this is my boyfriend Tom".
Tom sat down, to wait his turn, and seemed to enjoy watching as Trish took her clippers, without guard and denuded my back and sides with it completely. She paid special attention to the transition from bare skin making the fade immaculate, before applying hot towels to the bare skin, and mixing up some lather.
It smelled good as she applied it to my back and sides, and began scraping it off with the razor. I could hear a rasping sound. As she applied lather again she scraped against the grain, and as she scraped there was no sound any more, and the razor ran smoothly over the skin.
Wiping me with a towel, she declared me "All done Michael!"
It was great! Feeling the smooth skin I studied myself in the mirror, and as she held up the hand mirror so I could see the back it looked awesome to. The freshly shaved part was much lighter than my neck though, which was a deep tan, but there wasn’t a sharp division. More of a gradual one, since the hair had been so short before as well.
For the first time I paid Trish for my cut, and I tipped her a five. The Church does not approve of tipping, but Matthew had told me it was important "in the outside world".
It was now eleven o’clock and I had the whole day before me. I had had an idea a few days ago, and I decided to act upon it, walking towards Mrs. Gordimer’s neighbourhood. It was a hike, and I could feel the sun baking my shaved back and sides. Thinking I didn’t want sunburn I stopped at a drugstore for sunscreen and also picked up a bottle of water before walking on.
Mrs. Gordimer answered the door as I rang the bell, and looked a bit confused as she saw me.
"Hello Mrs. Gordimer. Do you remember me? I’m Michael, and I was here last year with my cousin John."
A radiant smile spread across her face, "Michael! How good to see you! Come in!"
She didn’t mention the incident with her son, and neither did I. But we talked about her, and she was doing better. She informed me she had gotten a cat, and went on about it for some time.
I tried to get our conversation over on the Scripture, and managed to talk a little bit with her about Paul and his correspondence, but it was mostly me talking, and her listening when it came to the Faith. I didn’t have my Bible with me and missed it.
"Can we pray together Mrs. Gordimer?" I asked.
So we prayed, and then the cat came in, and she was occupied with it, so I excused myself and left.
I had kind of hoped she would have offered me a lift back to the apartment, but I had to find my way to a bus stop.
I wasn’t back home until about three, and I was hungry. Setting the oven to the right temperature for frozen pizza I went and took a shower, relishing how the water ran over the bare skin, and through the brush on top.
I dried up, put on boxers, and shoved the pizza in the oven, before going back to the bathroom to look at myself some more. Michael Peterson, carpenter in the making and part time missionary looked back. I was content with what I saw, and was satisfied I could please Him with my ways.
I couldn’t go back to mother and the reverend with a smooth back and sides, but they would have to accept that I would have it 1/16 of an inch.
Thank you so much for the comments, and encouragement guys! Getting feedback on the stories is what makes it worthwhile to write and post stories here.
For some reason I couldn’t comment below part II of the story myself, but I will explain a little here.
I wanted to write something different. And I think I have. It was commented that it was creepy. Myself I find it unsettling the power social control can have, and that is a large part of what this story is about.
My grandmother was in a "sect" I suppose you might call it, and my father grew up in it, and made a clean break with it as he became an adult. He doesn’t talk about it, but my cousins and I have all been with our Grandmother to "camps" with her faith as children, and I also attended a language school with this group when I was 17. It was a strange experience, as many of the others there were so in to their faith. But maybe not quite as much as young Michael.
Part IV will follow.