You’re absolutely sure? The whole beard? Such a shame. You just don’t see ‘em like this anymore. But, you know. You’re the boss.
Snip snip. Snip snip.
Honestly, don’t feel you need to talk. Just stare impassively into the mirror, thinking your private thoughts. That’s fine by me. Absolutely fine. I can do the talking for the both of us if you like.
At least that hasn’t changed. There always were men that wanted to talk, and some that didn’t. An awful lot, if I’m honest, fell in the middle, maybe answering a question about where they were headed on vacation or what they’d got planned for the weekend. How work was going, something like that. But not much more than that. A substantial minority wouldn’t want to talk at all. They’d greet you, maybe answer some basic questions about what they wanted, then sit there while you got to work.
Snip snip. Snip snip.
Then, very occasionally, you’d strike gold and find someone talkative. Don’t misunderstand me. It’s not like they’d talk about their feelings. God, no. But maybe they’d open up a chink in their masculine armour, let you look inside just a little. “I have to buy a birthday present for my wife,” that kind of thing. “I was thinking about a new blender. What d’you reckon?”
“A new blender,” I’d say, perhaps sucking my teeth for extra added effect or flashing a cheeky, meaningful grin. “That sounds lovely.” And then they’d say, “What’s wrong with that?” and I’d say, carefully enunciating the words, “Well. Hardly very romantic, is it? A food blender.” And then they’d say, “Huh?” and away we went.
Heh. Food blenders. Do you remember those?
Sorry, you’re not a talker. I forgot.
But for the most part it wasn’t an issue. Most men didn’t want to talk about anything much when they sat in this chair. “And what are you after today, sir?”, or “Is that enough off the top?” Not to mention, “What about the sides? And the back, sir? Straight or natural?” More often than not they’d squirm, resentful that you’d asked them anything at all. They wanted to stare impassively at their own reflection, just like you, watching as I snipped or buzzed, responding to my occasional entreaties in terms verging on the monosyllabic.
I mean, I could tell right away if they were a talker. You’d give ‘em an opener, something like, “Goodness me, hot today, isn’t it?” and then if they were at all interested in a conversation they’d come back with something suitably open-ended and away you went. But that was rare. I mean, really rare. Most times they’d close you down with a grunt or a “’Spose so,” and that was it, back to snipping and buzzing in silence apart from the occasional needs-must exchange.
Snip snip. Snippety-snip-snip.
Sure there were exceptions. The old fellas, mainly. They loved a good chinwag and no mistake. I remember there was this one chap. Wore these heavy black rimmed glasses with really thick lenses that turned his eyes into giant blue buttons. Right Mr Magoo, know what I mean? Anyway, he says to me, where shall I put my spectacles and I say why don’t you put ‘em next to mine so you don’t lose ‘em (truth be told, mine were more decorative than anything else – I wore them if I was feeling intellectual, which wasn’t terribly often). And the pair of us would have a nice long natter about the past, about how polite people used to be and how he was in the Navy with loads of ‘em like me and how they all kept themselves to themselves and how all that and how that was just fine.
Six weeks later he stumbles in again and I hardly recognise him. Cuts, bruises, you name it. Arm in a sling. Looks like he’s been beaten up. I say, “What happened to you?” and he says “It’s my eyesight – it’s gotten really bad in the last month or so. Fell down the bleedin’ stairs, didn’t I?” Then he hands me his glasses and I say, with a frown on my face, “Hang on a minute, those are mine!” God, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much. We were in hysterics – Marty, Simon, the other punters, the lot of us. Apart from the old fella, of course – he hadn’t the faintest what we were on about.
Anyway, that was a long time ago. Years, I suppose. Before all the nonsense started.
Okay, that’s the hard bit all done. Let’s switch to the old cut-throat and see if we can tidy this up. I tell you what, this has seen some action. Nowadays I have to use a stone to keep it sharp, but it’s as good as ever. You won’t find a blade like this anywhere else, not anymore. It’s ‘cause I looked after it. I knew I’d need it again, you see.
Look at that. Ouch, eh? Cut through anything, that would. Bit of lather. Perfect.
I have to say, you’ve got a mighty good head of hair for a man of your age, you really have. So lustrous. I don’t get many like you anymore. Most of them have little more than a few tufts. “Make something out of this,” they say to me and I think to myself, “Well, okay. I’ll do my darnedest.” But then again, who am I to pass judgement? Bald as a coot, me. It’s the burnt bits, obviously. Nothing grows there anymore, totally barren. The follicles must all be dead. I mean it’s patchy, so I gets bits sprouting up here and there on the non-scarred bits. Obviously I have to shave ‘em off otherwise it’d look ridiculous. No-one wants to see scraps of hair poking out between the scabs, especially on a barber.
Not like you. You’ve got a fabulous head of hair. When I saw you clambering over the rubble I thought, hello, what have we got here, billowing in the breeze? Extraordinary, given the circumstances. Almost feels like a shame to cut it. Strong genes, is it? I bet one or other of your parents was a regular mop-top, eh? Right shaggy dog, am I right?
If you could bend your head back a little for me, that’d be perfect.
Hang on a minute, I know why. It’s got nothing to do with genes. You were important, weren’t you? I bet you were. Even before the nonsense started, important people always had good heads of hair. I mean, did you ever notice, back in the day, what fine heads of hair those two guys had? You know the ones I mean, the head honchos, the little fella with the black hair and smock and the Yank with the blonde flowing locks and the ruddy complexion. God knows what their names were, like anyone cares now. But you know who. The ones in charge when everything changed, when all the nonsense kicked off.
Before it all happened, when we used to see those men with the silly hairstyles on the television or Internet, people used to say to me they were wigs and I’d say, “As a professional, I can tell you right now those aren’t wigs. Those are one hundred per cent genuine.” I mean, bad hairstyles, of course, terrible hairstyles, sort of no hairstyles, really. But that only reinforces my point. Nobody would choose a wig like that. They just wouldn’t.
I never quite know why it matters so much. I mean, I hate to break it to you, World, but everyone’s hair’s already dead. Well, sort of alive and dead at the same time if you want to be pernickety about it. It’s not like it’s got blood pumping through it, or nerves or muscles or anything like that, is it?
It’s all about the hair follicle. I looked it up, years ago. Don’t know why. Professional curiosity, I suppose. The follicle’s a socket, you see, from which the hair grows. Amazing, really. It’s like a memory that keeps coming back, that can’t be forgotten. Well, for some of us, anyway. Like I say, most of mine are dead. But yours aren’t. You with your fulsome beard and luscious locks.
Not that there’s much of that lovely beard left, eh? It’s all on the floor.
Yeah, you were important, I can tell. To have that many functioning follicles, you must have been really important. Make it to a bunker, did you? Certainly looks like it. Don’t tell me. Military or a government official, something like that? A mover and a shaker, I bet. Not so much now, I’m guessing. People like you are kind of persona non grata these days, aren’t they? I guess you can’t blame us for being a bit miffed. All that business with the internment camps and DNA testing. Your lot – the people in charge – were meant to stop that from happening. At least that’s what I thought.
I heard they opened up one of those bunkers the other day. One of the mutant gangs, I think, not sure which one. Found a load of people living in it like nothing had happened. Crammed full of supplies, tins of food, drinking water, you name it. Champagne and caviar, I heard. The story goes that the gang sent their dogs down the bunker, all wild eyes and slavering jaws. Most of the poor blighters were ripped to shreds, though a few managed to sneak out a concealed exit. Of course, the mutants aren’t gonna be happy about that. They have a reputation to maintain. They’ll be hunting the escapees, you can be damned sure of that.
Hey, hey. Keep still, no wriggling. I’ve not finished. We want to get it as smooth as possible, don’t we?
Of course, I’m important now. Funny, eh? Who’d have thought you’d need people like me after everything that’s happened, after all the suffering and the heartache and all that? But it’s kind of obvious, really. Nobody has the tools to cut their own hair or beard or what have you. They’ve all gone rusty or disappeared into the ruins. I have the equipment, I’ve looked after it, cared for it. But more than that even, I have the know-how, the expertise.
People crave it. They want to look like they used to look, to remember. They see me as some sort of a connection to the past, a reminder of what used to be. It’s like coming to me is a kind of ritual or something. A remembrance of happier times, when we paid mortgages and went to the pub and celebrated Christmas and laughed and joked and loved and all that. I mean it wasn’t all fine and dandy by any means, but it might have been better to try and fix it than throw it all away.
Listen to me, warbling on about the past. “No use crying over spilt milk,” isn’t that what they used to say? Still, nice to know I’m worth clambering over the rubble for, worth risking the mutant gangs and their rabid dogs.
Hey, hey. I told you to keep still. Just need to work the razor around the Adam’s apple. Quite pronounced yours, isn’t it? One mistake, and well… Doesn’t bare thinking about, eh?
There, we’re done. Smooth as a baby’s bottom. Have a good long look in the mirror. Impressive, huh? Wouldn’t recognise yourself. Not that it’ll last long, not with all those healthy follicles, eh? That beard’ll be back before you know it, and suddenly you’ll be your old self again. That’s the thing about hair, you can only escape it so long then it comes back with a vengeance. Like I told you: it’s the follicles. They remember.
Well, it’s been lovely talking to you. Careful as you go. I think I can hear a dog barking.
Bio: CB Harvey is a British writer, narrative designer and academic working across games, prose, audio and comics. He has worked in a narrative design role for Rebellion Developments and To Play For, and as a freelance story developer for Sony. His short fiction won the first Pulp Idol award, jointly conferred by SFX Magazine and Gollancz. His licensed fiction includes material for Doctor Who and Highlander, published by Big Finish Productions under license from the BBC and MGM/Davis-Panzer respectively. He is also the author of Dead Kelly, set in the Afterblight shared storyworld published by Abaddon Books, and his comic work has appeared in 2000AD and Commando. Harvey has written and presented extensively on the subjects of memory, transmedia storytelling and digital narrative, and is the author of Fantastic Transmedia: Narrative, Play and Memory Across Science Fiction and Fantasy Storyworlds (Palgrave-Macmillan 2015). He is currently a Visiting Professor with King’s College London and will shortly take up a role as Senior Narrative Designer with Sony VR.