by John Riley
He decided to shave this morning, although it is impossible to shave without seeing his face in the mirror, something he has avoided during the weeks spent in the house alone, shades drawn, food that will never be eaten unprepared, the mineral-enriched vitamins untouched. Tomorrow I will shave, he had thought the night before, and this morning he was turning the thought into a decision. His confidence seems to be strong as he arranges the can of shaving cream and safety razor side by side on the sink’s edge, next to the hot water faucet. Then, while turning the faucet handle to allow the water to warm, his mind flies away and before he can seize it he is thinking about old-style barbers who sharpened razors on a leather strap and scraped away the beards of strong and successful men. At first the image is a blur, an old photo shot out of focus, then, in the next seconds, a barber emerges. The barber is a short, pale-skinned man with a shaggy mustache. He stands at a slightly forward angle, his head cocked and his right elbow lifted above his ear as he moves the razor toward the customer’s cheek. Concentration has frozen the barber’s face and his expression of dedicated commitment sends such a strong wave of dread down the throat of the man standing before the sink that it feels as though he is being choked from the inside. Before he can press the button on the can of shaving cream that would have filled his hand with white lather, his hands drop and seize the rim of the sink. He steadies himself without looking in the mirror because now the anxiety the barber must have experienced each time he ran the glittering steel down a placid face, the burden of being responsible for dozens and dozens of offered throats, has become his and to see it displayed on his face as well as feeling it in his throat would be overwhelming. He gags but doesn’t vomit. Breathing deeply, as he had been taught, he stands as still as possible, staring at the sink’s drain, until he feels steady enough to walk, turns from the temptation of the mirror, shifts his focus to his feet and, concentrating on each step, placing each foot down heel to toe, walks out of the bathroom.
published 15 June 2016