Last year’s entries in the mags4dorset creative writing awards were so outstanding that as well as the winner of the short story competition, the judges, Carol Rivers and Martin Baum, chose two highly commended stories. Here is the first one by Mary Macarthur from Frome.
Taking a Cut
by Mary Macarthur
I did it for my wife. Well, that’s what I told the guys: for my wife and for my daughters. I mean, I don’t have an image problem.
My name’s Sam, but they call me Samson on account of my height and frame: size twelve feet and six foot four. No, I don’t have anything to prove.
Maybe I am an older dad – as they so delicately put it – but I’ve had a good youth. I travelled a lot, sowed some wild oats and I play a mean guitar even now. But as soon as I saw Amelia I knew she was the only one; the person I had been waiting for.
At first I didn’t think I’d stand a chance – she was twelve years younger than me and recently qualified as a physiotherapist. I was in my early thirties then and still a bit stupid. Classic bikes were my thing. I had a BSA Shooting Star, 500cc, a silver beauty, and I was taking part in the Coast to Coast for charity. I’d scarcely left Lyme Regis at the beginning of the run when I skidded off the road and broke my leg in two places.
Amelia helped me get my strength back; then she helped me sort my life out.
Before I knew it I was teaching music in the local FE College with a house and a baby on the way. That was Chloe. Next came Alice. They’re beautiful girls: tall like me, but with their mother’s auburn hair and blue eyes. I’d never been happier. A son would have been the icing on the cake, but Amelia had had enough after two babies in two years. I’m a lucky man and I know it.
Chloe’s fourteen now and Alice is thirteen. She’s just joined her sister at the near-by community college and Amelia has enrolled me in the Friends of the College Association. I don’t mind. We raise money and generally help support things for the kids. I usually organise the disco at the end of term. I’m good at that sort of thing.
Amelia made her suggestion out of the blue one Sunday morning when we were sitting having breakfast. That’s my favourite time of the week: the girls still in bed, no pressure to get dressed, no deadlines – just toast, eggs and coffee with the Sunday papers.
She just came out with it.
“Have you ever thought of going for the chop?”
I almost choked on my softly poached egg.
“The thing is, love, we’re both getting older now, but if we’re honest, it’s you that’s beginning to show it. I mean, look what happened when you tried to climb that wall at the cricket match. They could have found another ball; you didn’t need to injure yourself. I love you to bits just as you are, but you have to think of the girls. They’re teenagers now, and you know how sensitive they get about what their parents do, and how they appear to the outside world.”
I couldn’t deny it. I had noticed that the other dads were a tad more active than me. I do a lot to raise money for the college but you won’t get me doing sponsored marathons, or leading groups of young people up mountains. I firmly believe in each to his own.
We discussed the matter over the next few days but I couldn’t bring myself to like the idea. For Amelia’s sake I thought long and hard. Obviously, I wasn’t as young as I had been: the middle wasn’t as firm as it might be; the hairline receded a bit. But I still felt energetic, part of the scene.
Then we talked to the girls about it and they were frankly enthusiastic. That surprised me. So in the end I agreed. But like I said, I was thinking of Amelia. I hadn’t realised that she felt like that about me.
A fortnight later we went to make the appointment. The woman who saw us was very friendly and helpful. She said lots of men my age decided that enough was enough. She swore I’d feel better for making the sacrifice.
Actually, she didn’t say sacrifice. That’s just how it felt.
Then, a few days before I was due to have it done, the FCA announced that they wanted sponsorship ideas. They needed to raise money for new musical instruments for the school band. I couldn’t ignore that, could I? Not with my background. And that’s when I had my stroke of genius.
I called together a group of like-minded dads and made the suggestion. They were reluctant at first, but when they realised we might raise a thousand pounds or more, five of them put their doubts aside, like the brave men they are, and we agreed on a date.
The pledges poured in. We got lots of publicity in the local press; even had our photo taken together – one last celebration of our alter egos. Then we made a block booking; we’d take our losses together.
I can’t pretend it was easy. It hurt just as much as I expected and I confess I had to close my eyes when the woman made the first big snip. But when she handed me my ponytail for a souvenir everyone clapped and whistled. Then she set about cutting the rest of my hair into a really cool style. I quite liked the feel of having my head handled by a young woman, my scalp massaged and my hair blow-dried.
And the hairdresser was right: I did feel better for the chop. I felt and looked younger. Now, even Amelia looks at me sideways, and the girls seem much happier to have me organise the end of term disco.
I mean, what is it with all these aging hippies who hang on to their locks when their hairline has receded way beyond the shoreline? They don’t know what they’re missing. I have a shampoo and cut every month now. Does me the power of good.