I’m trying to get more organised with my blog these days, taking inspiration from some of the other wonderful blogs I follow. My plan is to have different types of posts on different days, and one of my ideas is Story Friday, which will hopefully be weekly. I’ll kick off with this – a piece I did for the Open University creative writing course. The word count was 500 words, and the brief was to turn on the radio and write a story about whatever you heard.
Stimulus: A comment on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour about stereotyping and jobs.
Teri led her client from the backwash to her chair, then arranged a purple gown around her shoulders. Working in front of a mirror all day could turn a person vain, but Teri avoided looking at herself too much, preferring to lock eyes with her clients; the drone of the dryers and the steady hum of conversation made eye contact and lip reading necessary skills. Every morning, Teri styled her short blonde hair, flicked out the long, asymmetric fringe, and opened her tired eyes with mascara. She told her face: That’s it – you’re on your own now.
Conversation was Teri’s speciality. There was no topic about which she felt out of her depth, no subject too complex or taboo. Conversation was easy; it was people who made things difficult.
Like this client: cut and blow dry, money seeping from every follicle, perfection guaranteed. Teri listened as she worked, stopping occasionally to loosen her shoulders. God, this woman was making her tense.
It was always the same with this type: doting husband, executive home, designer clothes, perfect children, and still they weren’t happy. Women like her thought they were simply better than everyone else, not just better off.
Now she was moaning about her teenage son, who had failed his GCSEs (not so perfect after all). ‘He just won’t take responsibility,’ she said, tipping up her head to look at herself. ‘It’s always someone else’s fault.’
Teri pushed the client’s head back down, perhaps a little harder than strictly necessary. ‘It’s called self-attribution bias,’ she told the woman brightly.
‘What?’ Looking up again.
‘When good things happen to us we take the credit, but when bad things happen we blame other people. Self-attribution bias. Head down, please.’
The client dropped her head, then mumbled, ‘And how would you know a thing like that?’
Mid-snip, Teri froze. ‘Excuse me?’
The woman shook her fringe out of her eyes. She said, ‘That self-attributing thing – how would you know about it?’
‘Why wouldn’t I?’ asked Teri. Her jaw tensed, her cheeks were beginning to burn.
‘Well, you know…’ Finally, the client looked at Teri in the mirror. ‘I just meant–’
‘You just meant, because I’m a hairdresser. And all hairdressers are thick, right?’
‘No – I…’
The pounding in Teri’s head drowned out her words. She wanted to cry; she wanted to scream: I am so completely and utterly sick of this. Sweat trickled down the back of her neck as she forced herself to calm down. She looked at the scissors in her hand. Razor-sharp. Could do a lot of damage. Must. Calm. Down.
She took a deep, shaking breath, and over the din of the dryers, she said, ‘For your information, I’m studying psychology at night school, that’s how I know about self-attribution theory. And not all hairdressers are stupid airheads who only talk about holidays and soaps. So why don’t you take your narrow-minded, stereotypical opinions and shove them up your botoxed, over-exercised arse. OK?’
Teri looked around. Silence and astonished eyes, faces reflected over and over again, all watching, listening. And her boss, shaking her head.
Some of you may know that I used to be a hairdresser many years ago, and this is based on something that actually happened to me. Thank goodness I had an understanding boss!