The trains shuttled through New London.

The contents of the train were more or less quiet, as was usual for the mid-morning rush.

One young woman with neatly cropped hair was sipping a Starbucks and reading.

Fred Hopper watched from across the train carriage. She was sitting on one of the orange seats, for those who had medium-to-short.

He was sitting on a red seat.

But maybe, just maybe, she would meet his eye.

The woman looked up from the small pamphlet of “Metzengenstein” and Fred felt his breath catch in his throat.

A smile spread had across her face behind the swirling steam of the hot drink.

He was wondering whether to smile back, when he realised she was smiling at the man in the green seat, two rows in front of him.

The man smiled. His lengthy blond hair shone in the lights of the underground.

Fred Hopper sighed.


When he got out, he was jostled by the other passengers as they swept by him. One commuter knocked him, causing his briefcase to pop open.

His research papers scattered across the platform in a windstorm of white.

People tutted, but nobody stopped to help him.

You didn’t help a Balding.

Fred snatched up the papers that hadn’t fallen on the line, feeling his eyes burning and his cheeks flare red from embarrassment.

As he was collected up the last sliver of paper, he felt a hand pulling it away.

The hand withdrew, and when Fred Hopper looked up, he was face to face with one of the most beautiful women he’d ever laid eyes on.

Her hair was a royal purple, framing a face so lovely and warm. Fred felt his stomach twirl. She was so beautiful, from the tiny dimples of her cheeks to her eyes that made Fred feel as if he’d been lost his whole life. Lost, until he’d looked at her.

“Hi,” said Fred.

The woman smiled, but said nothing. She met his gaze briefly, pressed the paper to him, muttered briefly that it was no problem, and headed off down the platform with her head down.

Fred tried to find her, but she was lost in the madding crowd of morning commuters.

Instead, he trudged towards work feeling utterly miserable. Everywhere, posters and billboards featuring women with voluptuous locks and men with shaggy hair seemed to jump out at him, mockingly.

To have long and shiny hair in the city of New London was to be part of the elite.

Shampoo and hair conditioner was coveted from the smallest babe to the oldest man.

Such as it had always been in New London.

The parliamentary officials all had long and silver hair that grew down to their knees. If a member of the prime minister’s cabinet began to lose their hair, they were offered the chance to retire gracefully, or they’d become a public laughingstock.

Fred reached his destination, sliding through the wrought iron gates and down the most well-known street in the entire United Kingdom: Downing Street.

He knocked on Number 10 three times and made his way through the plush furnishings to the cabinet meeting that was already taking place.

All eyes swivelled to look at the latecomer. A man in a high-back chair regarded him coldly.

“You’re late,” said the Prime Minister.

Fred stammered, tripping over his words and finding an apology.

“I’ve got the notes from the last meeting and the fiscal plans for—“

“Wouldn’t you prefer to have a solution to your baldness in that dirty old briefcase of yours?” interrupted a portly man on the far end of the meeting table.

The entire cabinet laughed. Fred felt himself blushing.

“Well don’t keep us waiting, Fred,” said John, a suited business investor. “Bring over the documents.”

Fred did so, carefully stepping over Hank Denver’s outstretched leg. He gritted his teeth, remembering the fall and stumble of last month.

Never again.

He gently placed the briefcase on the table and fanned out the data reports and fact sheets he’d been painstakingly working on for the past two weeks.

The prime minister took a sheet at random and lazily scanned it.

After that, he placed the sheet on his head and looked at his cabinet, grinning.

“Do you think this’d be a good solution for Fred’s problem, boys?”

The entire cabinet roared with laughter and the parliamentary officials began to grab random pieces of paper and covered their heads.

“Please don’t…please don’t mix them up. I worked for a long time on those.”

Fred’s pathetic voice was lost amongst the guffawing men.

Eventually, the laughter subsided and the prime minister took a few more bored and rather tentative looks at the sheets in front of him.

Fred couldn’t help but feel anger surge through him, wondering if the prime minister could even understand what he’d been given.

After a moment, he nodded in a sage and thoughtful manner.

“That’ll be all, Fred. You may leave. I’ll have my receptionist see you out.”

He raised his voice. “Joy?”

Fred turned, and already knew.

For all the cruelty and pain, it was worth it. She was there, standing just behind him.

“I have a man here.”

There were murmurs around the table.

“He’s just dying to see you!”

Full-blown laughter erupted around the table.

“I don’t get it,” said Fred.

The room froze. The members of the parliamentary committee exchanged glances.

“Her hair?” said Hank Denver. “The freak wears a purple wig. I know you’re on the way out, but that’s not as bad as what she’s got underneath.”

John leered. “Or maybe you two would be perfect for each other.”

His chubby hand reached up, groping towards her hair.

Joy ran, and Fred followed.


And he’d lost her again, for the second time.

The rain was beginning to mist down in thin sheets as Fred made his way back across New London to his small flat.

He let himself in and gave his foot a quick sweep across the doormat. One bill and two flyers since eight.

He felt something warm rub across his leg and heard her warm and soft purring.

“Yeah, yeah, I hear you,” he said. He felt a smile trace his lips as he let Edgar out into the front garden to do her business.

But then he remembered. She was gone, possibly never to return.

It wasn’t fair.

He microwaved himself a quick meal, half a cold risotto left over from the night before. He ate without much enthusiasm, swallowing hard on the slimy rice and bland mushrooms.

There was a clawing on the door and he went to let the cat in. Edgar trotted past him and cozied into her cat bed.

The cat stared up at him as he flicked through the channels without much interest.

It was mostly reality shows, sales channels desperately encouraging you to buy a non-stick frying pan and talk shows featuring flavour of the month actors.

“What?” said Fred. “What do you want?”

“Meow,” Edgar replied.

Fred nodded and went back to barely watching TV. In truth, he just wanted to lay on the couch forever. He had his blanket pulled up to his chin and was perfectly content to fall asleep on the settee.

He did that most nights.

A noise pipped up from under the blanket, along with a flash of blue light.

He checked his texts.

Hank Denver – 3:15pm

sry about teasng u. in fairness mate, its just some jokes, yeh?

plz pop in 2morrow with the documents on that economical policy fing.




He turned the phone off.

Hank wanted the budget deficiency sheets. Absolutely fantastic. Fred felt himself silently seething at the idea that the yearly paper that was so expertly and intricately calculated had, over the years, become “that thing wot has large numbers on” from an idiot who’d only got his job because of his hair.

And the hair of his father, and his father.

Bloodlines over actual competence.

Well, hairlines.

He heard a knock on the door. Irritated, he pulled off the blanket and headed to the door.

He was fuming. The man who was coming to fix the terrible boiler wasn’t coming until Wednesday. And the man coming to fix the air conditioning was due Thursday.

He wrenched open the door.

She looked up at him from the doorway and saw the expression on his face.

“Is this a bad time? Should I, uh, come back later?”


30 minutes later, she was sipping a lukewarm beer on his couch.

“Sorry about the Budweiser. The fridge has been playing up for a while.”

She nodded. It’s fine.

“I’d cook you something, but I’m pretty sure the casserole in the fridge is on the turn and—“

“”Don’t you want to do something about it?”

Fred thought for a while.

“I mean I could always pick up another casserole, I guess.”

Joy laughed. It was a fantastic laugh, and filled Fred with happiness.

And he wanted to laugh and smile too, although he didn’t know what was funny.

Was this what it was like to be laughed at in a good way?

“I meant the government,” she said. “Them, up their in their ivory towers. Don’t you hope that one day we’ll have a country ruled by those that can do the job, regardless of how they look?”

She indicated the briefcase.

“I mean, how long have you worked on papers like these?”

“All my life,” said Fred, truthfully.

“And without those papers?”

Fred shook his head.

“Exactly. So I’ve got a plan to overthrow them. To bring them to task. To—“

“How did you find me, Joy?”

Joy drained the rest of her beer with gusto.

“Fred, my darling, it was destiny.”


“That, and I asked Margaret who works in reception, and she told me where you lived because she has the contact details of everyone in the building.”

“I suppose that’s more reasonable.” said Fred.

There was a silence.

“So what’s the plan?”

Joy pulled out an old glass bottle from her clutch bag.

“I don’t want to poison them.”

She gave Fred a withering look and passed him the bottle.

“This was banned three decades ago, under the Hair Maintenance Act 1998. I believe it was called Nair, and it was used to remove stray hairs.”

Fred passed the bottle back.

“Since politicians started using it to oust each other, it was banned. This is probably the last bottle in existence.”

They were close to each other now. Conspiratorial.

Fred raised a hand towards her. She cringed away, but then let him.

He ran his hand under the wig, feeling her smooth bald head.

“Alopecia,” she murmured.

“Gesundheit,” he replied.

She giggled.


John was having trouble with the concept.

“So what you’re saying is you want to shampoo us?”

“Exactly!” said Fred. “It’s my way of apologising.”

Hank grunted.

“I suppose that’s reasonable.” said Hank. “Since you were late yesterday and you do not have the professional appearance that the rest of us do.”

The rest of the parliamentary officials nodded in appreciation, their hair rustling.

“The receptionist is bringing the shampoo.”

Fred indicated a cart, and pulled the covering towel off with a flourish.

“I have a sink here, so we can do it here.”

The prime minister shrugged.

“Let’s let him get on with it. It could be a distraction from the mountains of paperwork we have to do later.”

Fred knew of this paperwork. It was two sheets of paper for keeping hours. He usually filled them in himself during his quiet periods.

Joy arrived and propped the bottle on the cart.

She turned to leave.


Hank was smirking.

He picked up the bottle, uncorked it, and gave it a sniff.

With a cry of rage, he smashed the bottle against the wall. Cream sprayed against the walls.

“You think I’m an idiot, don’t you?!”

He slapped her.

“You think I don’t remember Nair? It almost destroyed me five years ago! Get out!”

Joy looked pleadingly at Fred but found no solace there.

“I don’t know why you’re looking at me, freak,” he said.

The cabinet laughed as Joy fled from the room in tears.

“You’ll be happy to know that I thought she’d sabotage us. Women are bitter, aren’t they?”

There were shouts and cries of admiration around the room.

“You ain’t so bad, Fred!” chuckled Hank.

Fred pulled out two bottles of shampoo from his briefcase and set to work.


When the meeting was over and the men left, their hair shimmering and wet, Fred left to watch the men from the upstairs window.

Joy was waiting for him, and he put an arm around her. He could see the stinging red mark still on her face.

“You don’t think the crying was too much?”

“Not at all, Joy. Not at all.”

“I have to say, I think the best part of your plan was disguising the scent with a bottle of fragrance.”

“Eh, I got it from Mum last Christmas. I’m just glad I’ve finally found a use for it. I’m sorry I had to scapegoat you.”

“It’s fine,” she said. “Poetic justice, I suppose.”

The politicians almost got to the end of the road when their hair began to fall out in large handfuls.

The police officers and security detail grabbed the parliamentary officials and the prime minister, unsure how bald men had managed to infiltrate Downing Street.

Joy looked Fred in the eye and smiled.

They shared a soft kiss as a raven landed on Number 10.

It began to build a nest.