Snippets Swept From The Floor

Chapter Six: Hetty Lang

For as long as anyone could remember, Hetty had always worn her hair in the same style. Childhood photographs confirmed this, although of course she wasn't actually known as Hetty back then. Over the years, tHer identity had changed many more times than her hairstyle ever had. Apart from the months immediately following her birth, when she had sported a jaunty head of dark curls, Hetty's short bobbed hairstyle had been one of the few constants in her life. While other agents had cut, dyed and curled their locks to correspond with a change of cover, Hetty had no truck with such frivolities.

"My hair is hardly the most memorable thing about me," she had informed one hapless superior, who had the temerity to suggest that Hetty's trademark bob should be substituted for what he referred to as 'a poodle cut' for a new operation. The very name was enough to make her feel slightly ill. "And I have no desire to be anyone's lap dog, thank you very much."

Funnily enough, after that rather withering put-down, that was the end of the matter. And her boss soon moved on. Rumours that his departure had been hastened by her uncompromising attitude not only to her hair, but to several other of his ideas were only that – rumours. Hetty certainly wasn't about to dignify them with a response, no matter how true they might be. Of course, Hetty knew she was distinctive and she began to take a perverse pleasure in making herself even more so by refusing to change her look. The years came and went and she remained the same – immutable and invincible, scarcely seeming even to age.

It was not that a change of coiffure was not mentioned by several other people over the years, because it most certainly was. Hetty had lost count of the number of alternative styles that were proposed for her: shags; urchin cuts; the infamous coupe sauvage of the late 70s; even something called a 'Rachel'. She turned down each suggestion with a smile. Fashions came and fashions went and Hetty's hair remained the same – a constant in a changing world. It was neat and practical, and that was the most important thing, surely? So why did so many people try to change her? Each time a new hairstyle was suggested, Hetty dug her heels in just a little harder.

If she remembered correctly, she had been working as Tatyana when one woman almost changed her mind. The look was still casual, but rather more stylish. And perhaps it was time for a change? But in the end she decided that while it might work for Lady Diana Spencer, it wasn't really Hetty Lang or Tatyana Miller. Or perhaps she had been Annabel Janssen at that time? It was getting hard to remember. As she got older, Hetty realised that it might actually have been useful to have a different hairstyle for each identity, just to try and keep track of things a little more efficiently, but it was too late now, and she was too old to change.

She did briefly toy with a change of image when the grip of the Soviet bloc was finally loosened and one particularly memorable night in Berlin, in the celebratory atmosphere of the dismantling of the wall, she was almost persuaded. Almost – but not quite.

"It is not particularly exciting, Sylvia," her friend had protested.

"I don't want excitement. I want a quiet life."

"A change would do you good."

Hetty (or Sylvia, as she was at that point in time) had gestured to the crowds thronging the streets, rejoicing in recent events. "Isn't this change enough?" She was very conscious that her whole world had shifted upon its axis and that people like her, old-school spies, were rapidly becoming redundant. There was a saying – 'mutate or vegetate'. Perhaps it was time to consider how she could adapt to this new world order? Another change of name would probably do the trick. But her hair would stay the same. You needed a little consistency in a time of flux, after all. And if it was good enough for Anna Wintour (a woman who was clearly no stranger to the surgeon's knife) then surely it was good enough for Hetty Lang – or whoever she happened to be, at the time?

So, here she was, sitting in a salon and looking in the mirror once again, as a young girl stood behind her, scissors at the ready. "Just a little off the ends, please." No colour, no extensions, no elaborate blow-dry. All Hetty wanted was a simple trim. Why make things more complicated than they need be? She had always known there was no point in trying to make a silk purse out of a pigs ear. She was what she was, even if she wasn't always who she was. And her hair remained the same, just as it always would. Tidying things up – that was all that was required. Would that one could deal with everything in life a simply and effectively.

"I can do that." The girl looked at her curiously. "Cool style, by the way. Kind of a fusion, isn't it?"

"A fusion?" Hetty wondered if she'd heard correctly.

"Yeah. I go to film school at night. Watch a lot of movies – and I mean a lot. Old movies mainly. And your hair – it got me thinking." She cut as she talked, and her movements were fast and economical, something which Hetty approved of. "Henry V meets Cleopatra, right?"

Hetty looked at her in astonishment. "You are a very perceptive young woman." Nobody had ever even come close to guessing her inspiration before – the incredible skill of Olivier and the peerless beauty of Taylor, both captured on film at their peak of artistry.

"I just like movies." The girl shrugged. "And I like your hair. It's cool and really funky. Plus, it suits you." She studied Hetty's bangs. "Is that short enough for you?"

"That'll do nicely." Hetty left her a large tip and took careful note of her name. You never knew when an observant young woman like that might come in very useful – someone who could make causal leaps and who was not bogged down by prejudices. Good agents came from all sorts of different places and came in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, as she had good reason to know.

Walking out onto the street, Hetty had a new swing in her step. "Funky." She mulled the word over in her mind. "It seems that I'm funky. And cool. Well, that's not bad for an old bird like me." It had taken a long time, but finally someone appreciated her hair.