TIP YOUR HEAD BACK

By Stephen D. Rogers


I stared at the white ceiling and thought about asking John why he was trimming my beard before cutting my hair but decided it was better not to make waves, not on the first visit. In Chicago there was a barbershop on every corner. In Serenity, Massachusetts, there was John.

He was fast, I'd give him that. The scissors flicked across my beard so quickly that I pictured him with a pair in each hand, a two-fisted swordsman. John hadn't learned his trade in any correspondence course. He was the real thing.

But quiet, especially compared to the barbers back in Chicago. These New Englanders weren't a very talkative bunch. Maybe they didn't like strangers. Living in a waterfront community that depended on tourists to survive, you'd think they'd make the effort.

John tipped my head forward and my gaze fell on a model of a black Freightliner cab sitting proudly on its own shelf. I shivered, and prayed John didn't notice.

When my daughter's car broke down, a Freightliner pulling an empty trailer had stopped alongside, the driver offering her a lift to the nearest open gas station.

Years of warnings reared their ugly head and Jenny declined. She waved her cell phone and told the trucker she'd already called for a tow. Five minutes later my daughter was raped and killed by gang members initiating a new recruit.

John circled around the chair and started trimming the hair above my left ear, his fingers fragrant with the spicy smells of aftershave and tonic.

The driver of the Freightliner had come forward after seeing the story on the news. He had no useful information other than the earliest time that Jenny could have been killed and the fact that my long-standing and insistent advice had doomed Jenny to a horrible death.

Marina hadn't blamed me but suddenly she too was gone. Just like that. The pain was too great and I was a constant reminder of what had been.

After selling the house, I packed my baggage and moved to New England because I knew no one there and no one there knew my story.

Had I just sobbed?

I glanced up at John but his gray eyes were focused on my hairline. It must have been my imagination. His face was weathered with fine lines as though he had just stepped off a whaling ship.

Maybe I was wrong not to be talking, asking questions. John might resent this silence from an out-of-towner.

On the other hand he might welcome it. How many stories did a barber hear in a lifetime? More than a bartender? More than a priest? To whom did he unburden when it all became too much?

Resting my eyes, I listened to the scissors cutting a path across my head, snip-snip in the sure hands of a near surgeon. I relaxed under the hypnotic sound, the concentrated attention that was paid to me but required nothing in return.

Muscles long tight loosened as I set my thoughts free.

All the hair that was dropping to the floor, swept away when I left, where did it go? What did John do with it? I remembered reading something...no...I didn't really.

There were fingers on the back of my head as John turned me a little to the right.

John turned my head a few degrees to the left and I opened my eyes.

There was a model of a black truck sitting on its own shelf, the name on the grill too small for me to read at this distance. I felt as though I should know the make of truck, as though I once had, but I couldn't quite call it up.

A part of me tingled for a second before another onslaught of snip-snips brought me peace.

It was just a truck.

Two customers entered the shop and sat behind me as I tracked them in the mirror. They settled in plastic seats that looked comfortable from here, a pleasant place to wait. One man picked up a paper and the other simply stared at me with steady eyes.

When I was shorn of my past, I would be one of these taciturn regulars. I frowned at the thought, watching my frown develop in the mirror.

The sound of clipping scissors became louder and I could barely think.

What was there even to think about?

I wasn't sure.

I knew everything I needed to know. I knew my name, my address. I knew John the Barber was cutting my hair. While I couldn't recall where I lived before I lived in Serenity, what did it matter?

Dropping my gaze from the mirror, I felt wonder at the collection of hair on the blue cloth. I moved my hands under the cloth and the ripples shifted the hairs until they fell away onto the floor.

John spoke for the first time that I could remember, his voice firm and reassuring. "Would you like me to trim your beard?"

I looked in the mirror but my beard looked fine the way it was. "No, everything's great." The loss of hair made me feel light and free, renewed. Everything was great.

John whisked away the blue cloth as if he had conjured an elephant out of thin air. "Twelve dollars."

Grinning at the carefree face in the mirror, I climbed down from the chair. There was a saying about elephants but I couldn't quite remember how it went.

I opened my billfold and thumbed through the unfamiliar money until finally I simply handed John my wallet, knowing he wouldn't take more than I owed.

The regulars nodded at me.

I was home.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Over three hundred of Stephen's stories and poems have been selected to appear in more than a hundred publications. His website includes a list of new and upcoming titles as well as other timely information.


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