by nat raum
Avery winced as the bell on the barbershop door trilled into the near-silent room. Originally walking in with their head held high and eyes forward, Avery quickly retreated into the relative safety of their curtain of thick blonde hair as soon as they heard that bell. The front desk was empty, the shop populated only by an immaculately-coiffed older barber and the gentleman whose face he was currently shaving.
“Be with you in just a moment,” the barber called to Avery. They nodded in acknowledgment and sat on the bench by the door, fiddling with the loose yellow threads on their well-loved Doc Martens.
It was the first shop on Google, which Avery knew was arbitrary after their last few months working in marketing. It didn’t mean they were the best barbers around; it meant someone like Avery’s supervisor had spent hours plugging keywords into website copy to rank higher in search results. Still, Avery was surprised by how quiet it was, even for mid-afternoon on a Tuesday. They’d left work to take a late lunch, which really meant spending 30 minutes driving in circles with a bag of Cheetos Puffs and a Dr. Pepper. Their coworkers took walks during the day and brought real lunches to work. At least ten years everyone’s junior, Avery sat at their desk and picked at their hangnails until a design project came in or the day was over, whichever came first. And it was on a Tuesday in mid-January that Avery came to a decision: something had to give.
The gentleman in the chair stood up, paid, and breezed by Avery on his way out. They shook their hair off their face and made their first eye contact with the barber.
“You lost, sweetheart?” Avery’s eyes may have been vacant and their brain may have been empty in that moment, but one thing was for goddamn certain: Avery Coleman was not lost, and they were no stranger’s sweetheart. Their lip curled before they took a deep breath and replied.
“What can I do for you?”
“Shave my head.”
“Pretty girl with a head of hair like that? It’d be such a shame...” Avery’s eyes caught a glimpse of themself in a mirror. The sandy blonde curls framing their face had always been there, offering a perpetual sliver of beauty as they aged out of their perfect body. Some days Avery looked in the mirror and felt like a snack; others, the veil came off and they stifled the giant sob welling up in their throat while they scrolled through Snapchat memories from college. Gone were the days of free drinks, hundreds of Tinder matches, and restaurant customers writing their numbers on merchant copies. No, Avery all but knew that the societally-dictated physical prime of their life was behind them.
“Well, what will it be, babe?” Avery slipped the crisp twenty they’d just withdrawn out of their back pocket and placed it gingerly on the counter.
“Shave my head.” The barber looked down at the bill, back up at Avery, and back down before scooping it up and waving them back to the chair. His scissors fought their way through the nearly inhuman amount of hair bundled into Avery’s ponytail, their muffled attempts at snips echoing through the quiet until Avery’s hair fell to the floor around the chair all at once. Next came the clippers, whose buzzing triggered an adrenaline response in Avery not unlike the one that came with the buzz of the gun from their first (and only) tattoo. Avery felt lighter with each kiss of the guard against the back of their neck.
Ten minutes later, with the cape off, the bill paid, and the weight of a 25-year beauty routine-slash-prison lifted, Avery ran their hands over their head, satisfied. A cursory glance in the mirror proved one thing: this field trip had certainly had its desired effect on their self-esteem. The barber crossed back to the desk, thumbing through singles to give Avery their $5 in change.
“Keep it,” they said. He raised his eyebrows. “No, seriously. Thanks, dude.” Avery offered half a smile as they backed awkwardly out of the shop, careful to open the door gently this time so as not to disrupt the silence again.
“Oh, sweet mother of fucking God. Motherfucker,” they grunted as they exited the barbershop and strode into the frigid Baltimore winter and its constant wind chill. This being an impulsive decision, they hadn’t even thought to bring a hat, and their jacket didn’t have a hood. Another gust came. “God dammit, fuuuuuuuuuuck.”
Head down, they avoided the pointed stares of bystanders who were somehow unaccustomed to profanity and hightailed it back to their car. It wasn’t much warmer in there, and the heat would take as long to kick on as it would take to just drive back to work. Avery started the engine and the sounds of British bedroom pop filled the car as they drove back up the hill. It was unlikely their coworkers would notice their absence, but they still hurried back in case there was some sort of free food to be had.
nat raum (b. 1996) is a disabled artist, writer, and genderless disaster from Baltimore, MD. They’re a current MFA candidate and also the editor-in-chief of fifth wheel press. Past publishers of their work include Delicate Friend, perhappened, Corporeal Lit, and trampset. Find them online: natraum.com/links.