In the last month I’ve acquired an absent-minded habit: gathering my hair in a balled-up fist at the crown of my head, to see if I have enough for a top-knot. Not quite.I’m not the only one in the house who needs a haircut; everyone does apart from the middle one, who came back from America looking as if he’d had a quick trim at the airport. But so far the only efforts towards a solution have been directed at the dog.
The dog hates having its hair cut – it still insists on crossing the road when we pass the shuttered dog grooming parlour on the way to the park. But if it isn’t shorn at least twice a year, it ends up looking like a mop head in dire need of replacement.
“Why do we have a dog like this?” I say. “Why didn’t we get a normal one, with self-regulating fur?”
“Hold the legs,” my wife says, dragging the clippers down the back of the dog while it stands, in quiet fury, on the garden table.
“Honestly, it’s like having a dog that needs braces,” I say. “Or counselling.”
“I think that looks pretty good,” my wife says, standing back. There are tufts of dirty hair standing out along the dog’s side, next to patches where pink skin shows through.
“Are you kidding?” I say. “Give me those.”
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I spend an hour trying to even the dog out, until my wife decides I’m being a perfectionist and refuses to do the holding. That evening, with the traumatised dog sleeping in my lap as I watch TV, I pick up a pair of sewing scissors and fix the ears.
A few days later I walk into the kitchen and catch the back end of a conversation between my wife and the youngest one.
“I don’t see what the difference could be,” my wife is saying.
“Right,” the youngest one says. “I mean, clippers are clippers.”
“Exactly,” my wife says. “They have a picture of a dog on them – so what?”
“Whatever you’re talking about,” I say, “is a bad idea.”
“I’m a bit worried,” the youngest says. “But the dog actually looks OK.”
“Don’t try to do it yourself is the main thing,” my wife says.
“No, obviously,” he says.
“You shouldn’t even be having this conversation,” I say.
The next afternoon I’m sitting in my office shed with my hair gathered in a fist on the top of my head. My other hand is fishing through a drawer in search of a rubber band. Finding none, I push back my chair and look out the window: in the kitchen I can see the oldest one sitting at his laptop hard at work. Across the table, the youngest one is sitting with a towel draped over his shoulders. My wife is standing behind him wearing a look of deep concentration. Uh oh, I think.
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When I open the door, there is no sound but the heavy hum of the dog clippers.
“What’s happening?” I say.
“So far so good,” the youngest one says.
“A tricky start,” my wife says, turning off the clippers. “But we’re getting there.” She puts a finger to her lips and points behind the youngest one’s ear, to a makeshift airstrip cut deep into the rainforest of his hair.
“Can I see those?” I say, taking the clippers.
“Let’s let your father have a go,” my wife says.
“Why?” he says.
“He’s actually better than me,” she says.
“Why didn’t you say that before?” he says.
“Don’t worry,” I say. “I can fix this. Where are the other attachments?”
“In the box,” my wife says.
“Fix what?” the youngest says.
“These are dog attachments, but whatever,” I say.
“Oh my God,” the youngest says. “Fix what?”
Twenty minutes later, the youngest is contemplating his reflection in the oven door: any prison gang would be pleased to welcome him.
“I thought it would be much worse than this,” he says.
“It was much worse than this,” I say.
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“I’m quite pleased, actually,” he says.
“Thank you, sir,” I say. “Next!” The oldest one glances up from his screen. He looks at me, and the youngest one, and then me again.
“I’m good,” he says.