A Scene at the Barber
I came once more to his barber shop, as it stood along Main Street in its brick box with
its white detailing and arched door. Through the glass, I could see he was busy cutting someone’s hair and heard the echo of the plip in my skull as I watched the small drip fall onto the cape. I pulled open the door and nodded to him and he nodded at me and I took a seat in one of the wooden chairs along the window, watching again as he worked. The man in the mirror looked similar to an onion in shape and his face was sandpaper, would be rough to the touch if I put my hand on his cheeks. In my daze, the barber finished and the man rose, giving a few bills.
“Much obliged, Thomas,” the man said to the barber.
I too rose, nodding once at the man as he left through the door and watched the barber
as he went to the opposite counter in the back of the room and placed his money in a chest I couldn’t see. The clap and clip of his dress shoes was the sound of horse hooves across the cobbled street, a fine horse the source of that sound. His face even took the narrow appearance of a horse’s own, everything pointed downward to an invisible center. He motioned for me to take a seat.
As I did, he changed the station on the radio, though I couldn’t tell exactly what it was
playing. The noise garbled and sapped, as though a storm were coming through. I looked out the window to see the sunny sky above, a shiny blue. He hit the radio with his hand and it sounded out the music of a gospel song.
“Always a great time with the Louvin Brothers, am I right?” I said with a side chuckle.
“Sur’ thing,” he said.
He walked with his clop up to the mirror and looked with me, with that single nod of his
“I’d like a cleanup on the back, get me good for church tomorrow. Reverend Sheen is
coming to visit from Coosantola county.”
He nodded and I let him drape the cape over me and felt him tie the knot on the back of
my neck. I could hear the chewing in his mouth. He leaned forward to the counter and grabbed the water spritz, soaking my hair lightly. He then leaned forward to the counter again and took up the comb and the scissors. We didn’t customarily talk, he and I, so there was the silence of his building and there was the chewing of his mouth.
I knew it was going to happen, sure as the sun did rise and the Lord counted every
strand of hair upon my body, and I waited in tension for it to happen. The moments that made up that suspended period of time were slow and dense, as though dipped heavily into a vat of molasses and then made to crawl upon a surface with too much friction. The inertia of time is a painful thing, all the more so unbearable when its stillness leads to something dreaded, somehow. I waited and I watched his chewing mouth, imprinted the image of his yellowed and darkened teeth in the little flashes of exposure they made every time he parted his lips a bit, watching and waiting. Then, it began: a thin, slimy streak of spittle rolling slowly down the corner of his mouth and towards his chin, flowing like syrup or wax down along a lit candle – any sensation of time now was suddenly quicker, as the motion of that vileness followed down his face and then turned inward at his chin, gathering, gathering, and gathering – until the forces of gravity let it fall down onto the fabric.
By now he was leaning closer to me, the chewing all the more loud and the drip of his
tobacco spit all the more clear as it did a plip onto the fabric and spattered a little onto my own chin and cheek. The pool grew slowly upon the fabric and rolled down the cape. It felt warm, still. The stains of older dribbles were visible on this piece of worn fabric, faded little markers that told their own stories of how he had happened to lean that day or the haircut he had happened to provide that time.
He nodded up again, asking if that would do.
I darted my eyes towards my own face in the mirror and glanced along my forehead
and along my side, then at the small piece of glass – without a frame – he held in his hand, slowly moving it left and right to show the back of my head.
I wished not to speak. “Could you do it a bit shorter along the upper backside over
there? In the center.”
He nodded once and then placed the shard back into his shirt pocket. “Sur’ thing.”
The chewing resumed before the clipping and I felt the chewing in the comb that went
across my hair and I felt the chewing in the snip snip snip that felled my hair and I felt the chewing within and without, in the plip and the near inaudible grinding of his teeth. It was a thing like the wind that blows across the grassland, or like the soft cooing of a baby in a silent room with dim lighting, or like the song I recall in the midnight.
He leaned forward and put away the scissors and the comb, undid the knot of the fabric
and shook it once, the remaining hair on it falling on the floor. I rose and pulled out my money clip, slipping a few dollars from it and placed them on the countertop. He nodded once.
“Thanks,” I said and stepped out the door.