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by Ashley Chantler

Graham has fucked up. It’s his day off, so he could have arrived earlier, but after a leisurely lunch reading the paper he had a bath, buggered about on Facebook, managed a wank, and rang the council about a dumped microwave at the top of his street. Now, he’s in a queue behind two secondary school lads sniggering at things on their phones and two dishevelled boys whose mum looks stressed.

He remembers when his mum used to drive him to the barber’s in Wingham. It took them at least half an hour to get there. Sturry was much closer; even Herne Bay. There was a strange jar of blue liquid that never had anything in it. It wouldn’t have looked out of place in a laboratory. Once, Graham didn’t even make it to the chair: the barber stood over him, lifted the hair above his left ear with a comb, turned to his mum and said, “Sorry, darling, no can do.” He put the comb in his top pocket. “No can do.”

Graham has never seen Karen or Ruth refuse to cut someone’s hair.

One of the boys looks at him and smiles.

***

Graham’s trying to concentrate on what Karen is saying about her kids, but whenever she moves from trimming above his ears to the back of his head, her groin brushes an elbow and he imagines that she’s telling him something.

***

Streaks Ahead has shut early and Graham doesn’t know what to do. He really needs to look smart for work on Monday: his boss, Jim, told them all yesterday, “We don’t often get visited by the big man, so look damn smart.” A Cut Above is nearby, but it’s run by hipsters with sculpted beards and impractical trousers. Bob the Barber has a grimy window and blinds on the door. Jane’s Salon looks okay, but she’s usually outside having a fag and a laugh with the owner of the betting shop next door. Crew Cuts is a no — it’s where the local lads go — as is Big Rod’s. For Him might have been a possibility, but Graham’s neighbour Marc had got a kind of mange from a contaminated clipper. Kral Turkish Gents Barbershop could be forgiven the missing apostrophe, but it’s fairly new and Graham has yet to see a customer inside. He also doesn’t know what a “Hot Towel” is for and if it’s compulsory. Cutting Edge, round the corner from his house, would be open and willing, but he’d vowed never to return: when he first moved to the area, he went in and it turned out that it was really just for women, even though there were several black-and-white photos of men’s heads on the wall. The hairdresser had to rummage to find an old pair of clippers, then didn’t know what a #2 was.

Graham goes home.

Jim will understand.

***

Streaks Ahead has something new for the little ones (the promise of a lolly wasn’t enough to make them sit still and shut up): a small blue racing car, covered in gaudy stickers, that clamps to the top of the hydraulic chairs. It has a turnable steering wheel and a parp-parp horn. Plonk the kid in, tell him he’s the best driver in the world and, parp parp, cut his wispy hair.

Graham looks at the current speed-freak midget and wonders whether this will be a formative experience. Will the would-be tantrum-wracked toddler one day stop mid-tiff with his tired wife and say, “I’m sorry, fuck, I don’t know what came over me. Shall we go for a drive, clear the hair?”

He smiles and returns to an article about fly fishing.


Ashley Chantler is co-director of the International Flash Fiction Association (IFFA), and co-editor of Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Press. The IFFA’s website is at: http://www.chester.ac.uk/flash.fiction.

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