She smiles the way Charley in the Peanuts strip smiles sometimes: a straight smile with slightly crooked lips; as she snips away at his thinning hair, like she does every second week. In the beginning she scolded him, teased him, good-naturedly, kindly, telling him he should only come in every two months or so. The growth is really too slow to warrant a two-weekly trim, but he only smiled, took off the thick glasses and sat down in the barber’s chair without a word. She gave up after the third or fourth visit.
It’s been going on for a year now. Before she realised the truth, it bothered her a lot. Twenty-six haircuts for a guy who needed six.
She isn’t pretty anymore. Maybe she was, a long time ago, before the lines between her eyes started biting into her personality. Before cigarettes yellowed her fingers and creased her lips and stained her once-white teeth. Before the scar on her cheek: the livid-red line that is slowly fading but will never disappear. He wanted to ask, didn’t dare, because she wouldn’t tell him, anyway. Why should she?
Today is different. The smile says it all. Her eyes tell him so. Something has happened – something made her happy. He is glad and jealous at the same time, hesitates, takes a breath, makes a decision and finally asks:
If she is surprised at this, she doesn’t let it on. He’s never spoken to her before. Her lips curve upwards.
“I somehow knew it would be today, that’s all. When I woke up, I just knew you’d say something today. It made me happy.”
She gets busy with the wisps around his ears, taking special care of the line where he shaves off the short sideburns. Silence settles in once more while he tries to think of an answer.
“I’m sorry,” he says, “I know I don’t say much.”
“I noticed,” she teases.
She runs a hand over his scalp, smoothing the flimsy growth. She knows all about him by now: small-town gossip has no secrets and people always find old bachelors a source of wonder. Is he straight? Gay? Criminal, animal, vegetable, organic? Bachelors don’t fit in society where Sunday sermons are all about relationships. Doctor Phil and all the soapies can’t all be wrong, can they? Then again, the girl from the bookstore said something about him one day – that he once bought Fireproof , only to exchange it the very next day for some do-it-yourself book. They discussed it during a lunch hour and couldn’t figure it out.
“You read a lot?” She wants him to say something, anything.
“Yes.” He seems embarrassed, like he’s telling her a very personal secret.
“I do, too. All kinds of books. Love cookbooks, especially.”
“I never read those. Too full of exact little specifications. So many milliliters of this, so many ounces of that. Much easier to put a frozen one-person meal in the micro.” He blushes as he adds one more sentence “At least, that’s what I do.”
She’s finished with his hair but stil fusses with his square cut. “You don’t like complicated things, do you?”
“You like fixing things, I think.” She’s fishing; knowing the answer.
He doesn’t respond.
She’s taking the sheet from his shoulders when he looks up suddenly. “The scar on your cheek?” His hand goes up instinctively
“A long time ago.” She doesn’t want to talk about the hit-and-run that evening. She had been at a party and crossed the street when the red Corsa hit her. At least, that’s what the witnesses said. She was too drunk to remember.
“I’m sorry,” he says again, really meaning it this time.
“It’s okay. I’m over it now. I should have been more careful, really.” She’s glad they had the chat. Closure is a precious gift. “See you in two weeks?”
She waits a while after he closed the door behind him, then rushes out to see if he’s still driving the same little red car – the one with the dent in the side.