…By a Thousand Cuts

Submitted into Contest #33 in response to: Write a story set in a salon or barbershop.... view prompt

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Gretchen recognized her husband’s mistress as soon as she entered the salon. ‘Those Medusa curls!’ She thought it pretty gutsy coming to her for a cut.

Don’t tempt me,” she thought.

The woman approached her and offered her hand. “I’m Samantha,” she said with a smile. “But you can call me Sam.”

I could call you lots of things… Does she not know who I am? This is going to be weird.

Gretchen had Samantha sit. She spread a sheet over her to protect her from clippings.  

“Not over my face, please. I’m not a corpse,” Samantha laughed.

Not yet…

They agreed upon the ground rules, no shampoo, no color, no perm, just a trim.

Despite her opinion of their owner, Gretchen had to admit the curls were cute on Samantha.

Those will have to go. How many years did it take to grow them that long?

“So, Sam, how did you happen to ask for me?”

“Let’s see. A friend told me about you.”

“But you don’t remember who?”

“No. I don’t recall. Why?”

“I have a rewards thing for referrals. If you remember, let me know so I can give your friend a discount.”


 Gretchen knew she was lying. Had her husband sent her? For what perverse reason? Just to rub her nose in his betrayal? Is Samantha merely a tool? Or more than evil?

“Let’s get started, okay?” Samantha murmured ascent. “Your face is sort of a classic heart shape so I’m going to accentuate that, okay?”

Everyone is clamoring for that Spanish moss effect. Tres chic…

“Sure. Not too short, though.” Samantha said. “You know, surprise me.” Her laugh reminded Gretchen of hiccups.

Gretchen laughed with her. She thought to herself, ‘You asked for it, Missy. You think you know what’s good for you? I’ll cut it any way I damn well please. And you’ll like it.

Samantha spoke in her sing-song voice about the weather and her plans to ‘vay-cay’ up the coast.

While Samantha babbled on, Gretchen debated internally whether Samantha’s hair appeared snakelike, or wormy. Samantha shifted in her chair. The resulting movement of her curls startled Gretchen. She resisted the temptation to wallop those worms with the back of her hand mirror.

Gretchen sprayed a mist of water on Sam’s hair.

“Oh! That reminds me of the other night when we, my boyfriend and I went walking in the park near my apartment. It started drizzling. It was so romantic! Like in a movie!”

You are kidding, right? How about I approximate that look, you know, in the style of Nazi collaborators, after world war two? Would you like that, slut?

Pretending to concentrate, Gretchen made listening noises. She stepped back, repulsed by her thought. ‘Yes, definitely snakes.

Samantha continued.

“Anlon, that’s his name, held me close and kissed me so deeply… I didn’t know a kiss could do that to me.”

“Anlon. That’s an unusual name.” ‘…for a husband.

“Yeah. It goes way back to his family in Ireland. They were royalty there. You know, a long time ago.”

I remember, back in Neverland.’

“Wow! A real son of a… king. Such a prince.”

“He is. You’d love him if you knew him.”

Or not.’ Gretchen stepped back to regain her composure. ‘A little off the top, Miss Antoinette?’

She weighed the scissors in her hand and started again.


“I’m sorry. I keep meaning to get these scissors sharpened. I’ll try for a cleaner cut.”

“Thanks. I pull my hair enough worrying about the divorce.”

“You’re getting divorced?” Gretchen removed another tendril.

“No. Anlon is. If that bitch will let him go.”

Perhaps I can help. Where’s a straight razor when you need one?

Gretchen said, “Really! Some women get so possessive. You’d think being married was some kind of commitment or something.”

“You’re right. Like the song, ‘for everything. there is a season…’”

…a time to kill…’ Through gritted teeth, “I love that song. So wise…”

“…a time to embrace…” Samantha flinched again.

“Oh! Sorry. I’m so skittish today. You didn’t cut me, did you? I felt the scissors on my neck.”

“I’m sorry, Sam. But really, only the point is sharp. I could hardly hurt you if I stabbed you on purpose.”

“That’s a relief.”

Don’t make me run with them.’

“Isn’t it? I almost never draw blood.”

Sam didn’t skip a beat. “So, you know what she did?”

Do you know what she plans to do?’ Gretchen rolled her eyes. “I can’t imagine.”

“I had this big party planned for Lonny. I call him Lonny.”

To his face? How cute is that?

“So, I planned a surprise party. I booked a hall. Caterers. Huge deposit. Called his friends. A hotel downtown for later. Everything down to the last detail, right?”

Every detail except that nasty little marriage?

“Sam, what devotion…”

“It’s all set. And he gives me a call at the last minute, telling me he has to go out of town. His bitch of a wife booked a trip for them. And he couldn’t get out of it.”

The cad. It was our anniversary, dearie.

“How inconsiderate. Surprises can be so difficult. Were you able to get refunds?”

“When I told him about my plans, Lonny helped me out.”


Samantha yelped and grabbed her hair. “Are you trying to hurt me?”

“I’m so sorry, Sam. I had a cramp in my scissor hand. Let me massage it out. I’ll be just a minute. Here’s a magazine for you to look at.”

Gretchen offered Samantha a gossip rag touting the latest celebrity betrayals from six months ago.

From a distance, Gretchen looked at the job she’d done on Samantha. She’d seen prettier sights in the wake of a tornado. She hadn’t failed geometry for nothing.

Gretchen knew where she could get another job after this insanity had passed. It had been worth it.

She approached Samantha. “I’m just about through. Want me to do anything about those unruly eyebrows?”

Samantha looked up. “Huh? No. I just use a nail clipper.”

“Oh, good.”

‘I never would have thought of that.’

She spun the chair so Samantha could see herself in the mirror. Gretchen took grim satisfaction in the destruction she had wrought.

Samantha’s eyebrows raised as if recognizing someone lost in a crowd. “Oh my…”

Gretchen braced herself. The back exit would be the quickest route out.

Samantha turned to Gretchen. Her unreadable expression hadn’t settled into one emotion.

“You… I mean, Gretchen… I had no idea. How could you…?”

Ready or not, here it comes…

Samantha stood and approached Gretchen. Gretchen raised her arms in defense.

“You’re a genius! I love it!” Samantha embraced her like an old friend.

Gretchen felt a wave of nausea.


March 20, 2020 17:24

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1 comment

Leya Newi
19:04 Jul 18, 2020

I know I’m a little late on reading this story, but I loved it. The contrast between her mental monologue and what she said to Samantha was brilliant, and the last couple lines made me laugh. Again, I really loved it, and well done.


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