Claude had a weakness for old stuff. Because of his passion for used things and furniture from the 40s, 50s and 60s, he was compelled to frequently look for new things in flea markets, garage sales, shops of antiques and junk shops.
He already was on a first name basis with most dealers of antiques in the city and the neighborhood. His penthouse was furnished with a collection of such old and used things. There was a former fuel station pump next to a fridge from the 50s, a very old jukebox near a considerable collection of washboards.
On the walls there were old enameled bill boards next to first printings from Andy Warhol. The sitting room in the corner with a kidney shaped center table contrasted with pigeonhole desk from just after the war.
Sometime ago all his female friends had given up, because of his almost obsessive collection and chaos of junk and art, and so Claude, although quite handsome and economically rather successful as an architect, remained single more out of necessity than from any real conviction.
One day Claude discovered on his way to work, for which he used ride his bike, weather permitting, a junk shop that he hadn't seen before. In this city the shops changed frequently, but Claude was sure that there had never been such a shop at this place. As he wasn't in any hurry, he got off his bike and entered.
Most of the stuff that was being offered in the shop wasn't particularly interesting. They ware either too old or too new, or they were used things similar to those that were in his basement, gathering dust by the dozen. He was about to leave the shop, when he saw an old barber chair that was nearly hidden from the customers, but in good condition; a chair, of the type, which had been used in most barber shops during the 50s and 60s.
The chair had a large round base for bolting it to the shop's floor, its seat and backrest were coved with black leather, the arm rests chromed and with a hardwood inlay, the chair also had a large footrest and a removable headrest. Everything, even the leather parts were in a perfect shape, a really very noble piece of furniture.
Claude had once had a similar chair, but it hadn't been a barber chair, but a dentist's chair, which he regretfully had to sell, because the friend he had at that time was terribly afraid of dentists, and got into a state of fear by just seeing it from far away.
"How much is chair?" Claude asked the junk dealer a small man of indefinite age. "You can have it for 50 Euros" said the man, this almost was a gift. A barber chair in such a good state normally cost at least twice as much. Either the dealer was a dilettante who didn't know the going prices, or something was wrong with the chair.
"Is the chair all right? " Claude asked the dealer directly.
After some hesitation the man finally said: "Technically the chair is perfectly OK, even the hydraulic lifting mechanism. But it has a dubious reputation. Something happened to all former owners' wives, friends, daughters and mothers in law after they had sat on this chair. Nothing deadly, but something related to their hair and their lives changed thereafter.
One previous owner's wife lost her hair overnight, after she had sat on the chair, then her husband started an affair with a lover and later on got a divorce.
Another former owner's daughter became mentally ill and started to tear out her hair. The cost of trying to get her cured was the man's ruination.
Some other previous owner's friend grew afro style curls over night after she had sat on the chair, lost her modeling job, split with her friend and then sued him for damages.
Finally some other former owner was disinherited by his mother in law, a millionaire, there hadn't been one single grey hair on her head, but on the morning after she had sat on the chair, she awoke with completely white hair. Frankly the chair is somehow bewitched.
Claude laughed. "It's a fantastic story! Really delightful. If I were superstitious, then I'd leave immediately. But I'm of a rather rational mind, and don't believe that these tragic hair stories were any casualty of the chair.
Surely a reasonable explanation will be found in time for each of these tragic cases. Besides, it always happened to women. I'm single, and so the chance of a woman getting into this chair is currently rather slim, but thanks for the tip.
I'll take it anyway. Here are 50 Euros. I'll collect the chair today in the evening".
The same day in the evening, Claude drove to the dealer in his van to collect the chair. When he heaved the heavy piece of furniture into the van, he sweated a lot.
But finally when the old chair was in his home, he noticed that the effort and investment had been worthwhile. The barber chair was an excellent match to all his other furniture.
Claude liked the chair so much, that he rearranged all the other furniture and objects of his collection, and especially his Dolby Surround player, so that the chair became the center piece in his living room. There wasn't anything more pleasant than sprawling on the chair in the evenings, after arriving home from work, drinking a beer and grazing at a TV program, or listening to his music CDs
The only thing that irritated him was that the junk shop, where he had acquired the chair, disappeared a few days later. In its place there was now an Italian gourmet food shop. Seemingly the junk dealer had just sold the chair and then left.
As mentioned, Claude had gotten used to being single. But one can't fight destiny, so one day he met Ellen. It was, and hardly could have been much different, at a flea market on a Sunday afternoon; Claude was haggling with a dealer over the price of a nice chewing gum dispenser, when Ellen also chose to manifest her interest in the same dispenser.
Claude gave up the dispenser in favor of Ellen, so Ellen invited him to a coffee. Ellen was a small, graceful woman with long black hair, mostly worn in a braid, which almost reached to her bottom. She was no beauty, but Claude thought that her face was striking; her gray blue eyes with a touch of green; interesting and her mouth pretty.
Conversation about their common passion for objects from the 40s, 50s and 60s started soon. He soon found out that Ellen was a dentist, had also been single for some time and shared an additional passion with Claude, his craze for leather garments.
Ellen had had a friend who was a biker and since then loved to wear leather pants and skirts, and had a considerable collection of these.
They talked and talked, until they noticed that it was getting dark. Claude asked her if she would like to look at his collection. Ellen, who didn't dislike Claude, accepted and so both drove on this February evening to his penthouse.
At this time there didn't happen anything between them, only that Ellen really looked at his furniture collection, and contrary to his former friends, was very enthusiastic. Claude showed her the collection items he liked most and gave a detailed account of when and where and under what circumstances he had acquired them.
Even the story about the mysterious barber chair was told. Ellen laughed. "Then I'd better not sit on this chair. It would be a pity if something were to happen to my hair. It took me a long time to grow it so long.
"Are you superstitious?" Claude asked.
"Actually not, but the other day I saw a program on the TV named 'The factor X' and in which strange phenomena are reported. There was a story about a chair, on which presumably Napoleon had sat when he planned the Waterloo campaign. Thereafter anyone who sat on this chair suffered his personal Waterloo. They died in a mysterious way, or went bankrupt. The story is said to be true. Such a chair is presumed to have really existed. So I'd better be careful."
Ellen played with her braid; she wondered that it already had grown to such a length. Since her childhood she had worn it more or less long. Only at the time she went out with the biker had she cut it short and dyed it red, because her friend had wanted it so.
After their relationship had ended, she let the color grow out and then had it cut off.
Since then she had not been to a beauty parlor, because the beautician whom she had trusted with her hair since her childhood, had retired and she didn't want to look for another one.
Since then Claude and Ellen met more and more frequently and got along better and better, after a few weeks they became a couple. Ellen slept at Claude's more often than he at hers, because his home was nearer to her dentist's surgery.
She also felt comfortable in his home. One evening Ellen was alone in the penthouse. Claude had had to go to an out of town construction site and wouldn't return until late in the evening.
Ellen was extremely tired after a long and strenuous day at the surgery and decided to watch some TV and go to bed early. There was no sense in waiting for Claude's return, she turned on the TV, opened a bottle of red wine and absentmindedly sat on the barber chair with a glass of wine in one hand.
On the TV there was a boring quiz show, during which Ellen gradually fell asleep. Her head rolled on to the headrest of the barber chair.
Ellen felt as if she had had a deep and dreamless sleep of several days and was just awakening, her awakening was being disturbed by strange noises. Noises that were somehow similar to those made by a food processor, and other noises she knew from her dentist's surgery, the suctioning noise from the fixture that removes the saliva, blood and other secretions during dental treatment.
She sat up, rubbed the sleep from her eyes and straightened her leather skirt. She was still sitting on the old barber chair, but the chair wasn't any more in Claude's penthouse, she was in a green tiled room that looked like a combination of an operating room and a futuristic barber shop, but without the typical mirrors.
At her left and right sat two motionless women, covered with gleaming black plastic capes and over their heads had been placed two hubs, which looked like hairdryers.
To each of these hairdryer hubs there had been connected a 10 cm (4") diameter hose from which every 10 to 20 seconds came the familiar suctioning noise; and the other noise, similar to that made by a food processor, came from the drying hub. A young woman in a metallic silver colored apron was checking the functioning of the equipment. Her head was completely bald.
On the wall there was a digital calendar displaying the date of April 1, 2013.
"Where am I?" asked Ellen, totally confused.
"Where you are - stupid question!" answered the young hairless woman. "You are here in the National Hair Removal Center. The hygienic police got you, and delivered you here. Your hair is much too long, you know, the legal limit is of 1.5 cm (1/4"), that's well known. So don't play dumb, it won't help you at all."
"How did you manage to grow your hair so long without getting caught? You have the longest hair I have ever seen. And how strange your clothes are! Is your skirt made from real leather? Really, what a luxury! You must have inherited this skirt from your great grandmother. I have seen a photo of my great grandmother when she was young; she too had such a garment."
Ellen was completely bewildered. National Hair Removal Center, hygienic police, hair too long, and clothes like the great grandmother - where did she end up? Was she really in another time? If yes, how did she arrive here? What was the meaning of all this?
The bald young woman noticed that Ellen was somehow confused and told her, that in the year 2080, there had been a catastrophic lack of water due to the global warming, so that it had to be strictly rationed.
Among the consequences of this rationing, for which the population hadn't been prepared at all, were critical hygienic conditions, due to the lack of body care.
As a remedy government ordered that no man or woman was allowed to have hair longer than 1.5 cm. Since then men and women had the uniform "bald" hairstyle.
The barber and beautician professions disappeared, because people shaved their heads by themselves. Those who were caught by the hygienic police with longer hair were taken to the National Hair Removal Centers. These places had been set up at the time the baldness obligation had been introduced, as those who opposed the new laws were shorn by the hundreds. In spite of this, after 20 years there still were some women who tried to grow their hair, to get a more feminine look, and also as a protest against the political conditions. They lived mostly in small communes in the country, far from the big cities, but even there they were not free from being caught by the hygienic police, who carried out periodical raids, to find people who disobey the national hairless law.
The young woman assumed that Ellen came from such a country commune and had been captured during a raid. Ellen attempted in vain to explain, to the woman, that her assumption was wrong. She only answered: "It's not my job to think about where you came from. I'm just a lower employee who does a boring job. I just put the cape on the girls who are to be shorn here, and switch on the machine. Everything else doesn't concern me. Anyhow you hair is unlawfully long.
Before she had noticed, Ellen had been tied to the barber chair. She still was too confused to offer any serious resistance. The woman grabbed Ellen's long braid, pulled it back, cut it effortlessly off at neck level, with a super sharp scissors and threw it with a contemptuous flick of her wrist into a waste basket, as if it were something especially repulsive.
Then she wrapped a towel around Ellen's neck and shoulders, covered her with a back plastic cape, which reached almost to the small woman's ankles, and that automatically closed watertight around her neck.
Then the barberette placed a U shaped bowl around her neck to collect any liquid drops, and finally placed the strange hub on her head. The barberette clamped the dentist's head between two bolts that pressed against her temples.
Then she turned on the small computerized tomography unit inside the hood, and which measured her scull with micrometric precision and fed the data to computer that controlled the next process. On the keyboard she selected the special program for hair delinquents: "special shave". Ellen hadn't had time to get into a shock, because the following treatment happened with such an incredible speed and precision.
The machine started. Ellen felt how her still bob length hair was wetted with a fine spray that came out of some nozzles in the hub. A bit of water was running down from her hair and dropping into the bowl around her neck. Then from another set of nozzles a creamy liquid was sprayed onto her wet hair and stirred by some kind of beater into a foaming mush. Ellen perceived that it surely couldn't be hair shampoo.
While she was still trying to think about what else it could be, she heard a metallic noise. Four rotating steel blades folded out and were precisely placed at the hairline, at the neck, the brow and over the ears. Ellen guessed what would follow next, in her fear she dug her fingernails into the wooden inlays on the armrests of the old barber chair as the blades turned at a speed of 1000 rpm.
Under the hub, the noise of the rotating blades was awful and their terrorizing effect couldn't even remotely compete with that of dentist's drills, of the earliest build. Even people, who were not so easily frightened, tended to pull their heads away from these dangerous instruments in an unconscious reflexive action. As such a movement could bring about some serious injuries, it had been considered as absolutely necessary to tie the "customers" of the National Hair Removal Centers to the chair and to clamp their heads in the hubs.
The shaving blades raced along computer controlled paths with extreme precision through the foaming mush on Ellen's head and cut off any hair in their path. All hairs were cut precisely one micro millimeter above her scalp, without even the slightest injury.
The shaving itself was hardly felt. Ellen merely noticed how some small flakes of shaving foam and cut off hair were thrown out by the centrifugal force of the blades through the front of the hub, which was open at the brow. These flakes landed mostly on the cape where they stayed in an irregular pattern that somehow resembled a work of modern art.
In between, at irregular intervals, she heard the slurping noise from the suctioning device which gobbled up Ellen's former hair, now sticky with shaving foam. The whole process lasted just one minute. After the shaving blades had done their job and retracted to their resting position, a stinging and burning liquid was poured onto her now shaved scalp, and was rubbed in by four polishing brushes.
This procedure hurt so much that Ellen, who as a dentist was used not only to liberate other people from pain, but also to sometimes hurt them, cried out in pain and strained at her bonds.
Then suddenly there was silence. The devil's machine seemed to have stopped. Ellen felt a pleasant warmth on her devastated head as four heat lamps radiated it with infrared light. Then the hairless young woman came and released both bolts that had clamped Ellen's head inside the hub. Ellen's eyes closed immediately, her head slid to one side and she fell again into a deep dreamless sleep.
At round 0:30 in the morning, Claude arrived home. He opened the door and turned on the lights. The TV still was still on. On the old barber chair Ellen was in a deep sleep. Her long black braid had yielded to a very red and mirror smooth bald pate. Claude rushed to Ellen and shook her until she awoke.
"Oh God Ellen, what happened to your hair??!!!
Ellen rubbed the sleep out of her eyes. "Hello darling, how nice that you're back.
Why, what is the matter with my hair?" She touched her bald head with her hands and then in a state of shock rushed into the bathroom. As soon as she saw her bald head in the mirror her tears welled. She looked pitiful with her bald head..
Strangely Ellen couldn't remember anything. She had slept profoundly and dreamed something about having traveled across time. More than that, she wasn't able to recall.
For Claude the matter was completely unexplainable. If there had been a spontaneous hair loss, then the hair should have been lying around. The only rational explanation was that someone had entered surreptitiously, shaved Ellen's head while she was sleeping and taken the hair with him. This person additionally would have had to anesthetize her, because otherwise -- in the manner in which she had been shaved - Ellen would have awoken.
But who could have done it, and how would such a madman have entered his home unnoticed? Both went to consult a parapsychologist, who investigated such X-factor phenomena, but he wasn't able to shed any light on it.
At first Ellen's hair didn't grow again, and it looked like she would remain bald for life. She wandered from dermatologist to dermatologist, consulted everyone who dealt with hair therapy. She went to naturopathic- and psychotherapeutic doctors as well as to miracle healers. Everything was unsuccessful she covered her bald head with a scarf so that some of her patients thought that she had gone over to the Islamic religion.
Claude stayed with Ellen during this for her so troublesome time, not so much out of compassion, or because he shared the guilt of her destiny, but because he loved her. He really liked her very much. After some time he even started to like her bald head, and began to caress it well and long, while Ellen was lying in his arms.
Later on, Ellen was fully convinced that it were these caresses, which motivated he hair roots to renew their activity after about one year of zero growth. Very slowly, but clearly noticeable Ellen's hair started to grow, although it no longer was strong, straight and black, but very thin, curly and with a lot of silver streaks.
Nevertheless Ellen liked her new hair. She was more than happy to finally have again some hair on her head, and Claude also found that the grey streaked curls looked very sweet on her.
Ellen decided to wear her hair short as this gave her thin hair more volume and she insisted that Claude, who was very handy, cut her hair. Claude bought a clipper set with comb and scissors, and every four to six weeks on Sundays Ellen sat on a chair in the bathroom covered with a blue plastic cape and had Claude wash, cut and blow dry her hair.
The old barber chair had long ago been thrown in the garbage by Claude. What happened then with it, we don't know; but we can assume that somebody took this excellent piece of furniture. Maybe it's again in some barber shop. Next time, when you go to the barber, watch out on which chair you sit, especially if you are a woman and would like to keep your hair.............