I drop the magazine back on the table when I hear my name called, walking over to settle into the chair. The barber tucks a towel into the back of my shirt and I try not to fidget. I hate being tired enough that my skin just maintains that itchy crawly feeling all day.
“Just a trim?” the barber asks.
“Yeah,” I say.
“Same haircut as before?” he asks, waving a hand slightly, “you want it a little shorter in the back, or are you growing that out?”
I stifle a sigh. I knew I waited too long to get a haircut. When he looks at me expectantly, I clear my throat and say, “yeah, shorter in the back. Shave the edges off.”
He nods, and starts trimming my hair. He purses his lips at it. “What are you, washing this every day? You know you can’t wash your hair every day, kiddo. Dries it out.”
“Yeah,” I say, cursing out Darren’s cheap shitty shampoo, “I know.”
“Mm,” he says, and continues to work in silence for a while.
I close my eyes, listening to the quiet radio in the background.
“So, what’s your major?” he asks me.
I open my eyes again. “Huh?”
“You in college right now?” he clarifies.
“History,” I say, not really wanting to bother correcting him.
“Oh, that’s fun,” he says, nodding as he brushes away some stray hairs, “anything in particular, or are you still in introductory courses?”
How the fuck young does he think I am? “Extranormal Studies,” I say, and think better of it only after the words are already out of my mouth. Well, great. I may be able to prevent myself from zoning out, but there’s no superpower to engage a filter when you talk faster than you think.
He takes it in stride, though. “Interesting. Too much math for me, I’m afraid, I was always more of an art history person. You concentrate a lot on World War Two?”
“Mostly World War One,” I say, relaxing back into the chair. “That’s when a lot of the standards were set, and the earliest actual studies. Two was mostly for the terminology shift.”
“Oh?” he says, “I thought they did a lot of experiments then.”
“Well, if by experiments you mean flailing and saying ‘maybe this’ll work’, then sure,” I tell him, “but the notes are notoriously bad, and even the useful ones had to be recreated.”
“Sure,” he says, “got to be hard to keep notes during wartime.”
“Yup,” I say, “we even lost a lot of what we did have, for one reason or another.”
He chuckles. “Too bad we don’t have time travel. I remember when folks started showing up jumping back and forth a couple minutes at a time, we thought we’d develop a whole thing.”
“Yeah,” I agree, “too bad.”
“It’d be fun,” he says, “go back, save lost notes, lost artwork, lost historical figures, go back and study cultures we have no record of.”
“Get some extinct animals,” I offer. “Dodo birds or something.”
He laughs. “That would be a great craze, all the kids asking for their new pet birds for Christmas – of course people would probably start farming them if they really are that delicious.”
“I would definitely keep a pet dodo,” I say, thinking of how ridiculous Darren would get over that. I don’t think people get more excited than Darren contemplating weird birds.
“I mean, dumb and friendly,” the barber says, taking a straight razor to the back of my neck, “great for a pet. Ends up liking you without destroying everything you own to find the treats.”
“You have a cat, don’t you?” I ask.
He grins at me. “Two, actually. They love each other. Me? I don’t know. They spend most of their time conspiring against me. I have to hide string everywhere.”
“Why, is that what they’re looking for?” I ask.
“No, but it sure distracts them,” he offers, “looking for some, I don’t know, salmon or something, find a ball of twine, boom, instant cat-defuser.”
“For how long?” I ask.
He shrugs. “Sometimes a couple hours, but always at least fifteen minutes, by which point, if I’m home, I’ll have noticed what they’re trying to get into.”
I picture the poor guy’s apartment when he gets home every day. “What about when you’re not there, though?”
“Well,” he laughs, “I just have to hope the child locks hold, you know? I try to put their enrichment objects well away from the kitchen.”
I laugh, too. That’s the exact trick Priscilla tried on their cat, which never, ever worked.
“You want it a little shorter?” he asks, handing me a hand mirror.
I look at the front, which looks good, and the back, which is maybe a little too long, but not enough too long to bother trimming it down anymore. The corners are nicely rounded off, anyway, which is the important part, with all the itchy little hairs at the back of my neck shaved away. I grin at myself in the mirror, which seems a little forced, but whatever.
“Looks good,” I say, “thanks.”
“Wonderful,” he says, and gestures at the counter, “you pay over there.”
I stretch when I stand up, and walk through the small display. I’m happy to see my normal shampoo again. I pick up a bottle and head over to the checkout, tempted to buy a magazine just because the covers are so nice, despite the fact that I’ve never felt the urge to read a whole magazine about hair in my entire life. That is some spectacular hair and amazing photography, though.
The cashier, yet another stressed looking teenager, runs my card and offers me a receipt to sign, vacillating between handing it directly to me and sliding it across the counter. I miss my old barbershop. I don’t know why they had to go and move.
A finger taps at my receipt just before I sign it. “Tip.”
Well, that’s a good point. I don’t even have cash on me, I don’t think.
“Study hard,” the barber calls, heading into the back.
I give him a good tip anyway.