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