Chapter Description: Clark is taken by his new "Mommy", Janet, to a "special" salon where Littles are helped to look their "best".
Janet cut the engine and took the keys out of the ignition. “We’re heeeeeere,” she sang just before getting out of the car and walking around to the back. Trapped in the car seat, I looked to the stuffed lion that I’d been forced to take with me.
In the three seconds of silence that followed so many impulses flashed in my grey matter: Reach out and topple the stupid lifeless thing so that it tumbled to the floor. Punch it. Squeeze it till its nonexistent cotton ribs broke. Yell “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU LOOKING AT?!” at its unblinking eyes and stitched on mouth. Bite into its felt throat until fibrous blood gushed forth and the life drained out!
I had so much anger, so much fear, so much desperation and resentment and the only thing that I had any agency over in that moment was a stupid stuffed animal made for Amazon children (or people forced to pretend they were Amazon children). But even that agency was limited. Interacting or acknowledge the stupid stuffie in any meaningful way would have validated and reinforced Janet’s bucket of crazy. I’d be “playing” with it. Best case scenario, I’d be seen as being “fussy” or “naughty”.
The back door opened, and Janet unbuckled me from my restraints. I didn’t even try to help. Why bother? Before lifting me out, she stuck two fingers inside the front of my diaper. “Still dry,” she said. She actually sounded a little disappointed.
Did she really expect me to be THAT incontinent? Already?! The car ride had been maybe twenty minutes! Twenty minutes of Janet singing The Wheels On The Bus, The Farmer In The Dell, This Old Man, and any number of inane children’s songs that I hadn’t heard in decades. I didn’t even put my preschool students through this...
“Do you want to take your lion with you?” she asked, reaching down for me.
My tongue retreated to the back of my mouth in revulsion. “No…” then for my own safety I added, “...thank you.”
“Okie dokie,” she chirped. “Your choice.” That was an eye roller.
Speaking of eyes, I closed mine and gritted my teeth as I was hoisted onto Janet’s hip. Being carried around is not something you get used to within twenty four hours. I opened my eyes when I heard the car door slam shut and looked to our first stop that day.
L'enfant Magnifique: Second only to New Beginnings, it was the worst place for any Little in Oakshire to be. One usually preceded the other. I’d never been within a hundred yards of the place, but I knew exactly where it was just to avoid it.
Gaudy periwinkle brick walls and a turquoise shingled roof, the place was an eyesore in downtown, just at the edge of the historic district. The big window in front allowed passerby- which at this hour meant mostly elderly Amazons walking to pass the time- to get a glimpse at whatever poor Little was being worked on. If not for the “services” provided there,
Oakshire’s not a particularly big city. It’s not so small where everybody knows everybody else; not quite so humdrum and podunk where every Little knew every other Little or everyone knee high to one of the giants waddled instead of walked, but it was small enough. Unfortunately, it was just big enough to support a Little’s Salon.
“Little’s Salon.” I never liked that term. It’s like calling it a “Cow’s Slaughterhouse” or a “Tuna’s Cannery”. Littles aren’t the customers in Little’s Salons; we’re the product. I’ve read that in some cities, there are Salons that double as cafe’s. Hip “Mommies” pack diaper bags and go and sit and chat and gossip and drink disgusting and overpriced coffee while their permanent babies get dolled up.
Janet toted me inside and my hearing went out. I could feel my pulse in my head. My ears were ringing. Inside my own head I was screaming. No grenade had gone off, though. No deafening explosion. Just the little tinkling of a bell as the door pushed inside the tacky house of horrors.
I should’ve brought the lion. At least then I could have something to squeeze and put force into when I tensed up. I ended up squeezing Janet instead.
“Don’t be scared, sweetie,” she whispered to me. She tried to comfort me, patting my back. “It’s just a haircut.”
Just a haircut? Just a haircut?! Bullshit. Little’s Salons were always more involved than “just a haircut.”
We took a seat- or rather Janet took a seat while I was forced to sit in her lap- while the two stylists worked their craft. The wait wouldn’t be long, I knew. It was still early enough in the day that we were the only ones left waiting. Bitterly, I hoped that whatever was being done would take a long time. A loooooong time. Maybe even long enough to where we’d miss out on another one of Janet’s appointments unless we left.
Already sitting in the two chairs in front of me were a Little man and woman; both of them buried up to their necks in barber’s smocks. The Little woman on my right sat perfectly still, her eyes dull and staring straight ahead.
I knew that look. I’d seen it in passing on plenty of Beouf’s Littles. It was likely a look I’d be mastering myself. When the only place where you could be a grown-up was in your own head, that’s where you tended to stay.
Her hair was being molded into a pixie cut, while her Amazon captor fawned and cooed over her. “You’re going to look so cute with your new hairdo, Caroline”
“Yes, Mommy.” Her voice was submissive, but distant.
“And Mommy will still get to comb it but it won’t get all tangled up when you sleep. Won’t that be nice?”
The old, wrinkled Amazon behind the barber’s chair commented too. “And so well behaved, too!” Her voice sounded like her insides were literally coated with ash. “You’d be surprised how many Littles get all squirmy or screamy.” Frankly I was surprised at just how old the giant skeleton appeared. I would’ve thought that someone who is in the business making Littles look more like babies might use some of the products on herself.
Apparently, looking young was just a thing for Littles. Young meant immature. Immature meant less than. Old and gnarled and wrinkly and smelly therefore meant wise.
The Amazon Mommy took the compliment for her captive. “Thank you! Her father and I have been working really hard to get her to behave in public.”
“Well I’d say it’s working,” the hairdresser replied.
“Awwwww! Thank you!” The bigger woman looked down at her prisoner. “Say thank you, Caroline!”
“Yes, Mommy.” She paused just long enough to not seem snippy. “Thank you, ma’am.”
“Such a good baby!’ the Mommy gushed. “Daddy will be so proud!”
A flash of recognition came over me. I knew that voice. I’d seen this woman before. She’d been crying and screaming in the restaurant! The Realtor. The Mother. The Wife. She was thirty five...maybe thirty six now.
She was thirty-six and getting her hair done in a Little’s Salon. Poor woman. I’d have felt sorry for her, but I was in no position to give pity to anyone but myself. Just like before, I averted my eyes, too uncomfortable to look. I was afraid she’d see me and remember; remember the free Little that did nothing as she was carted away over a giant man’s shoulder, humiliated in front of strangers.
If she noticed me or remembered me, she gave no sign. Between the restaurant and now, something had broken inside her. Everything was just “Yes Mommy” and “Yes, Daddy” and “Thank you, Ma’am.”
“I think someone is going to earn themselves a lollipop!”
“Thank you, Mommy.”
Sensing my discomfort, perhaps, but completely misattributing it, Janet wrapped her arms around me and bobbed me lightly on her knee. “It’s okay,” she quietly chirped. “Haircuts don’t hurt. You’ll see.”
Bullshit. When the person holding the scissors was an Amazon, bullshit.
The man in the chair to my left was broken, too, but a different kind of broken. He babbled and mumbled to himself as the stylist, a dumpy woman rubbed something blue and goopy into his scalp. Puddles of hair littered the perimeter of the chair, and were sporadically brushed off the front of the apron by his Mommy. Guy had lost a lot of locks, not that he seemed to be bothered.
Bright, uncomprehending eyes stared back at me, a toothless, drooling smile my reward for making eye contact. The only hair left on his head was in the very front and had been gelled and moused and sprayed or whatever into a little blond spit curl right on his forehead. He didn’t look like a baby to me. He looked like a living cartoon parody of one. A doll.
“Now you realize,” the hairstylist said, “that he won’t have any more hair after this, right? No more growing back.”
“Oh that’s alright,” the Amazon said. “My widdle Percy-Wercy doesn’t need any hair to be cute as a button!” She pinched his cheeks and was actually given a squeal and a peel of laughter. God I hoped this was an act...or at least that this guy was so mind-fucked that no part of who he actually was remained. It’d be the closest thing to being out of his misery...
“And if we want more hair, we can buy wigs. Isn’t that right Percy? Or maybe we could make you into a Priscilla! Yes we could! Yes we could! Would you like that?” The woman got more babbles and giggles from Little man.
She stopped and stared into his eyes, perhaps gauging. Perhaps feeling a flash of empathy. Maybe even seeing into the man’s soul. “If he’s going to have that blonde patch there, I think his eyes should be blue. Can we get that done today?”
“Sure,” hairstylist number two said.
So much for that theory…
This is why I so often use the word “dolls” to describe captured Littles. Babies don’t get their hair removed or teeth pulled or dimples added or cheeks injected so they looked chubbier or the color of their eyes changed or their gender reassigned on someone else’s whim. Nearly everything that goes on inside a Little’s Salon is illegal to do to an actual child. Babies, real ones, aren’t even allowed inside. Littles though? Dolls? Yes please. Even the awful decorature of L’enfant Magnifique made it look more like a dollhouse than anything a self respecting person would be caught dead in.
The Little girl from the restaurant, Caroline I guess, was finished first. Her smock was taken off, and she looked at herself in the mirror. Honestly, looking at her, I wouldn’t have pegged her as older than twentyish. In any other circumstance it might’ve been polite to say she looked good for her age. Not here, though. Not now.
She didn’t frown or pout, but anyone with a soul could tell she died a little inside. And I knew why: There wasn’t any mother or wife in that reflection. No realtor either. What looked back at her was a baby wearing a pinafore dress, whose diaper badly needed changing. It was ballooning out from underneath the hem from everything it’d absorbed.
Her Amazon picked her up and patted her on the diaper. “Oh you’re a soggy little thing, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know…” That was a lie.
“Of course not, baby.” The “Mommy” looked to the old bag of bones. “Do you mind if we…?” She jerked her head towards the bathroom- just a single toilet and sink...probably a changing table on the inside wall, too.
“Oh go on,” the old woman said. “I’ll ring you up when you’re out.” And just like that, the Little was carted by the Amazon into the bathroom.
The floor became even more distant as Janet stood up with me. “Looks like we’re next!” I exhaled. Yeah. That it did.
The gray haired woman behind the chair patted the seat. “Oh, what a cutie! Looks like we’ve got a new customer!”
The sound of tapes ripping off of plastic thundered out of the bathroom. I startled, and for the stupidest reason looked down at the crotch snaps of my own plain white onesie. I heard the mumbled motherese of the Amazon woman through the bathroom door, but nothing else. Evidently, Caroline had gotten used to being changed in public.
“That’s right!” Janet cheered. She set me down in the booster seat. “Just got him, yesterday!”
“Yesterday?” The old Amazon smelled like cigarette smoke up close. “I never would’ve guessed. He’s so well behaved. Normally new ones are so fussy!”
“Thank you!” Janet beamed above me.
Two giant hands pulled a strap over my chest and under my armpits. I heard the dull click of a buckle just behind the chair. “This is just in case. Babies sometimes get squirmy for their first haircut.”
I looked at myself in the mirror, fully knowing that this would be the last time I ever saw my real reflection; my adult self looking back. I looked pathetic there sitting in the booster seat, and it would only get worse.
The booster seat bothered me, and not just because it wasn’t nearly as comfortable as the leather cushioning beneath my feet. Why bother with a booster seat at all? Why not get a Little sized chair if they were the only subjects?
The answer was as obvious as the bulge between my thighs: To remind me and reinforce my status as something that was small and helpless. That and it was probably cheaper than getting anything custom made that might actually fit someone my size.
The previous inhabitant of the chair and her jailor came out. I saw in the mirror that Caroline had been changed into a new diaper, but it was still far too puffy- and her dress too short- to anything resembling privacy.
The hairdresser stepped away to cash them out. Dollification wasn’t free, after all. I caught Janet staring at me in the mirror. “You’re going to be so cute!”
“I thought I already was cute,” I said.
Janet opened her mouth a second before clicking her teeth shut. She hadn’t expected it. “Well you are, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun and have you look your best.”
“So I’m not good enough?” I practically spat out the words. “Cassie thought I was cute…” I shouldn’t have said that. I immediately regretted it, and it had nothing to do with Janet. I’d just made myself incredibly sad. Remembering Cassie was like picking at stitches. I felt my own face fall with a dull ache that seemed to be pulling the corners of my mouth straight down.
Janet, for her part, just kissed me on the top of my head. “I love you,” was all she said.
I sniffed rather than reply. Another mistake. Without the nicotine aroma of the old woman, I caught a whiff of something else. The man-child in the other seat had shit himself, and based on the dopey expression he had, didn’t care too much about it.
“Okay,” the crone said, coming back. “Let’s take a look.” I’d never been so relieved to smell cigarette smoke in my life. Big boney fingers ruffled through my hair. “A redhead!” she said. “A cute little carrot top.”
“I know, right?” Janet agreed.
“Hmmm…” I felt a slight sting as a hair was plucked out. “Got some gray up in here. How old is he?”
The question. “Go on, Clark,” Janet said. “Can you tell her how old you are?”
“Thirty-two.” It came out as a bit of growl and a bit of a pout. I couldn’t help it.
The fingers went back to work, scratching my scalp. “Only thirty-two and so many gray hairs? Oh you must’ve been stressed!”
“Oh you have no idea,” Janet said. “So stressed.” She laughed. Actually laughed.
Skeleton digits prodded at my cheeks. “Ooof,” the old woman said, close enough that I could smell the tar on her teeth. “What did they do to your skin Little boy?” She looked to Janet. “Did the adoption center you got him from use an Epidermatic Series Ten-Seventeen?””
Janet blinked. “A what?”
“Epidermatic Series Ten-Seventeen.” The fossil repeated. “Cannister? Big old tube? Kinda like a bug zapper?”
“Oh yeah,” Janet said. “I think so.”
The hairdresser clicked her tongue and looked down at me. “I bet that hurt like the dickens, Little guy.” The dickens didn’t even begin to describe how bad it hurt. I bit my tongue and nodded. “Poor thing. I can’t even believe they still allow those deathtraps!”
“We got it from the high school,” Janet said.
Janet made eye contact with me. My eyes softened. Wordlessly, I begged. Please. Please don’t make me relive it again...
“It’s a long story,” was all she said.
The hairdresser shrugged. “Fair enough. I only brought it up because it means we won’t be able to do anything like freckles or dimples until his skin has healed up a bit more.”
Janet quirked her mouth to the side. “That’s a shame,” she sighed. “Maybe next time.”
The older gianted nodded. There would definitely be a next time. “So what do you want done, Mommy?”
Janet practically swooned at being called Mommy. Her eyes lit up as if I had been the one to say it. She bit her lip and then finally said. “So um...let’s take care of the gray spots first, obviously.”
“Obviously. We’re keepin’ him a carrot top, right?”
“Most definitely,” Janet said. Then she bit her lip. “Maybe a shade or two lighter?”
“Can do. What else? Style? Are we keeping it straight or…?”
“Before...I mean normally...I’ve noticed.” Janet stopped. Even with the clever pseudo-science excuse of Maturosis, it was difficult for her to reconcile who I was to her to who she wanted me to be. “When his hair gets long it starts to show signs of curls. I think he’d be really cute with them.” She blushed and giggled at the thought.
I looked at my hair in the mirror. Curls were already starting to form, in fact. I was on the verge of needing a haircut anyways. I’d just never envisioned it’d be in a place like this.
Thin, corpselike hands petted and smoothed back my hair. “Oh I can do that, no problem! I’ve got juuuust enough to work with right now. I also have something to promote hair growth. You can use it in the tubby.” I felt a point poke the back of my head. “Get rid of this tiny bald spot that’s starting right here.”
“BALD SPOT?!” I yelped. Cassie had never said anything about a bald spot! Both of my tormentors hid their mouths behind the palms of their hands.
I got my scalp patted condescendingly in reply. “It’s not a big one, don’t worry. And with your Mommy’s help, it will be all gone in just a week or so.”
“See Clark?” Janet smiled. “This won’t be all bad!”
“So we got the hair,” Old Smokey ticked off on her fingers. “Lighter red with cute baby curls. Freckles and such can wait until the pink in his skin goes down a bit more; maybe we can schedule you for Sunday,” she added. “What about his eyes?”
Janet swiveled the chair around and knelt down. I held my breath. Her dark eyes looking directly into mine. The eyes, I’d heard, are the window to the soul. I don’t know if that’s true, or if there’s such a thing as a soul. But if it were, what would that say about someone who would change the windows on a whim.
I accidentally glanced over to the Little boy giggling as the other hairdresser finished sticking needles into his irises. Maybe the numbing agents in the needle gun were powerful. Maybe the poor bastard had been mind-fucked and conditioned into where laughter was the only response he could give to pain.
“No,” Janet finally said. “Leave the eyes. I love them.” I blinked. I finally blinked.
She didn’t deserve it, but managed to mouth a quick and quiet “Thank you”, and got a peck on the forehead as a reward.
A mammoth smock draped over my body, burying my body from the neck down. “This won’t take too long at all,” the skeleton woman told Janet. The world spun around and went topsy turvy. The feeling of warm water pouring over my scalp told me that my head was in the sink. “Just keep still, baby, and we’ll have you out of this chair in a jiffy.” I was engulfed with the stench of burnt cigarettes.
“Clark’s always been very patient,” Janet bragged as if she had anything to do with it. Even so, she had no idea how patient, how fucking stubborn I could be.
“Clark,” the old skeleton said. “If you be a good boy, I’ll make sure to give you a lollipop.” Silence was my only reply.
As my hair was rinsed and washed for the second time today, the other chair was emptied. “All done and cute as a button!” I heard one of the other two Amazons say. I couldn’t tell which one was talking. The boy who had been mutilated to the point of caricature cooed and laughed and babbled.
“Ooops. Smells like someone had an accident,” the pudgy butcher said. “We’ve got a changing table in the bathroom.”
“No thanks,” the other woman said. “Percy only needs to be changed twice a day. Once when he gets up, and once just before bed. His diapers are THAT good!”
I threw up in my mouth and had to swallow or gag. I chose to swallow. A moment later, tilted back up, away from the mirror just in time to see the pair walk out. “I’m going on break,” Pudgy said from behind the cash register.
“Sure thing,” Smokey called back.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Janet shaking her head. “Some people…,” I caught her muttering. Even among maniacs there were degrees of crazy. Even among monsters there were levels of atrocity.
A monstrous towel finished drying my hair and then goopy foul smelling chemicals started to be brushed and rub in. “Tell me about it,” Smokey said. “I know what diapers she’s talking about, too. They’re designed for long trips or airplane flights where you can’t get a chance to change them as often or if they’re really sick with a stomach bug. Not for everyday use.”
“And was she talking about gender reassignment?” Janet added. “You’re only supposed to do that if it’s for the good of the child.”
“Preaching to the choir, honey.” Smokey let out a long hacking cough, then started rolling my hair up into little curlers. “Some people shouldn’t be allowed to adopt.”
“Couldn’t agree more.”
“Then why don’t you refuse service?” I asked.
“What?” The hairdresser stooped. She seemed confused.
“If you think she’s a bad mother, why not refuse her service?” I asked point blank. “Make it known that what she’s doing is unacceptable? It’s not like Percy has the ability to advocate for himself anymore.”
Both of the giants stared at me in confusion and discomfort. If the other Amazon hadn’t left to go on break, I might have a trio of gawking heads.
Janet hemmed and hawed before giving me a muddled volley of half-hearted, hackneyed and uninspired rebuttals: “Just because she shouldn’t...I mean...it’s not illegal to...different Mommies and Daddies have different ways of...We can’t tell people how to...if the Little’s Developmental Plateau is…”
It was Smokey who finally shut me down.. “You’re just a Little baby,” she said. “Grown-Up stuff is confusing sometimes; even to grown-ups. Don’t worry about it and just be glad that your Mommy is one of the good ones.”
I couldn’t argue with that. Not because it wasn’t true, but because it was so untrue. For arguments to work, you have to have people willing to listen to you. A plastic bag was slipped down over my forehead. I shifted uncomfortably in the chair, closing my eyes in a vain attempt to not hear the crinkle beneath me.
For a moment, I lost myself as a pair of hair dryers started heating up the chemicals in my hair. It wouldn’t be long now. I retreated within myself and imagined Janet giving me an honest answer. One that not only was honest with me, but with herself.
“I’m afraid to criticize her too much,” she would say, “because then I would have to admit that what I’m doing to you is just as wrong. It’s just easier to pretend you’re a baby. It’s what I most want.”
“And there are more Amazons like her than like your Mommy,” imaginary Smokey chimed in. “We’d lose too much business if we had anything resembling standards.”
“And you just want to feel intellectually and morally superior to a bunch of tyrants that never intended on listening to you to begin with.” An imaginary Cassie scolded me; mocked me. “How’s that working out for you right now?”
My eyes shot open. I hadn’t even realized I’d closed them. I must’ve dozed off. The humming and the heat combined with sleep deprivation and total emotional exhaustion did a number on me. The bag was off my head, and spindly spider-like hands were busy taking the curlers out of my hair.
A twinge of fear wriggled through me. Beneath the voluminous smock, I reached between my own legs and gave my diaper a squeeze. The complete lack of squish and the start of a dull ache in my bladder told me that I hadn’t wet yet.
My hand was still on my crotch when I was whirled around to face the mirror. Were this an Amazon fantasy, this would be the part where my hand felt the slow warmth spread across the front of my Monkeez because of how surprised (propagandists would say “delighted”) I was.
But this was real life. Everything in me recoiled at what I saw. The changes weren’t much: My hair was still red, albeit a lighter shade than I’d seen in decades. The curling in my hair was subtle. It didn’t look like a perm as much as a messy and wild tangle of childish curls. I knew from past lazy summers that another month would have had the same end result, more or less.
My mouth gaped as the smock was removed. Supposedly, I’d been brought in for a haircut. Now with the onesie and diaper bulge showing I looked closer to a kid who was ready for his first.
“Oh?” Janet noticed my hand still between my legs. I ignored her as she checked me and patted the top of my head. “Still dry.” Again, she sounded vaguely disappointed.
The chemicals had done more than just change the color. My hair didn’t feel as thick as before. It was finer. Wispier. Softer even. Baby soft. I looked like a giant toddler; not so giant, given my surroundings. But then again, that was the whole point, wasn’t it?
Old Smokey, as I’d taken to calling her, leaned over the chair and used her bony fingers to force my cheeks into a smile. “Oh, doesn’t he look precious?!” she cooed. Even with her manipulating and squishing my face, I felt the corners of my mouth involuntarily strain and tug downward. “Someone just earned hisself a lollipop!”