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The Hair War a short story by Roddy Murray


I'd been watching telly when I heard Martin say to Carol "What you looking at me like that for?" And caught her blinking. Startled. "Sorry. Didn't mean to stare. I’ve just never seen you without your cap. To be honest, no offence, I wondered if you had some premature hair loss."

"Nope. No worries. None taken" he said. "As you can see, it’s all there. Mostly... So. Seen enough?"

I could see she was struggling to hold it together though when she said: "It’s just … ah, unusual."

"Yeah" I came in quickly, helping-out, "Quite ... original actually."

"I’m growing it out" he said. "Had to re-build after The Hair War with Janice."

"The Hair War?" We sat up. Our attention swinging like a compass needle to True North.

"Aye. It got out of hand" he said. "We met during the Festival and about a month later I’d moved in with her. Things were good. She was something. You know when someone's got their look bang-on? The gear, the hair, the attitude. She had this cool bob accessorised with vintage hair-clips she collected from charity shops."

"Crowning glory." I said "I like the sound of the look of her."

Carol said "Sure, sure. Keep going."

So now he squatted down on a pouffee opposite us, gathering his eyebrows. "It kicked-off one Friday night when I got back to the flat. She came out of the kitchen and I said 'What’ve you done?'

And she said 'D'you not like it?'

Well, I wasn’t going to fall into that elephant trap so I said, 'No. Good. It’s fine.’

She said, 'Fine means what’s wrong with it.' And went back into the kitchen.

So, she had a deep fringe and the pinned back bit was now over her ears. A darker colour too. Not an improvement.

And I just said ‘I don’t think it suits you as much as before.’

She said ‘Well, I like it’.

And I said ‘Does it not matter if I like it?'

And it went from there. Escalated. Next thing I knew I was shallow. ‘Is that all I am, a haircut?’

'Don’t pretend it’s not important' I said. 'Otherwise why bother at all?'

And then I said, casually, again choosing my words carefully, ‘Bit of a coincidence really, because I was going to get a haircut myself tomorrow.'

She said, 'Yeah?' rattling the cups in the sink a bit too much, 'What you getting done? It’s not that long since you had it cut. And you never get more than a trim and a tidy-up. Said so yourself.'

At the time I had a lot up-top. Tall hair. A bit David Lynch. Took a bit of cultivation I can tell you.

Probably get a Number Two. I said. Maybe even a One.'

Now she was looking at me straight. Hand on hip. Fierce warrior with a dish-scrubber in the other hand. 'This is retaliation isn’t it? You know I hate that skinhead look. And you know as well as I do, it won’t suit you.'

'I might leave part of it long.' I said. 'Maybe a few rat-tails. Corn-rows or something. I'm bored with it as it is.'"

'Fine' she said"

Carol and I glanced at each other as he went on.

"So I went to the barber the next day and got it done. Point of principle. Had the sides shaved. Yep. Just do it. Get it over with. Redress the balance. Job done.

And I thought that was it. Because she never commented on it. Never mentioned it. Not once. Not a word. Like she hadn’t even noticed. So. Back to normal. Even-Stevens. Quits.

Until she came in a couple of days later. Oh man. All crimped extensions with yellow and purple streaks. Naked aggression. A declaration of war. Now I understood.'

'Sure. Tit for tat.' I said.

'Naw.' He shook his head. 'Naw naw naw. It was way more than that: See. These were the colours of my old primary school and I’d told her how I used to feel sick having to put that sweatshirt on every morning. How my mum would have to wrestle me to the ground to do it.

See. It's like an allergy. As humans we’re hard-wired to react to garish stripes and patterning on wasps and snakes and poisonous frogs. It's a survival instinct. So it affected me psychologically. I said to my folks that I couldn't concentrate because of the uniform. It was why I wasn't getting on. And after a while they saw my point of view and tried to get a special dispensation for me.

But the school wouldn't make an exception.

Anyway, whether I had to wear it or not, I said I’d still be surrounded by poisonous frogs.

So then they tried to get me to wear tinted glasses. Saying it might change how I saw the colours? See things differently. Or – look at it another way - how sunglasses protect your eyes. But I just got picked on and in the end they sold the house and moved me to another school."

"Wow" I said. "What colour was the uniform there?"

"Burgundy" he said.

Carol said "What about Janice? Did you just leave it at that?"

"Couldn't' he said. "Had to rise to the challenge. That's when I got the Quid Pro Quo tattoo in Copperplate over my ear."

"Martin. Martin. Mate." I said, "Was this not cutting your nose off to spite your face?’. He looked at me, smiled indulgently, cocked his head to one side and explained patiently, ‘N-o-o-o, because your hair will grow back. Your nose won’t. Think about it."

Just as well Carol intervened: "So, are you still together or what?"

"Nah. Things turned sour so I moved out. Got thrown out I suppose. Whatever. But. Thing is. I don't regret it. See. I had no choice.

Anyway, I didn’t see her for a couple of months and when I did – know what? - her hair was back exactly the way it was when we met. Again, totally deliberate. Calculated. Cold blooded revenge. So f*cking petty.

And she was with another guy. A good bit older. With - get this - a 'high forehead' and a long streaky salt-and-pepper pony-tail. Now, I mean, come on. You tell me who's the winner here?"

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Lovely, a nice wee slice of life, thanks.

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