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Linc got up early the next morning and went into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. His father and his brother, Royce, were sitting at the small table. They were both engrossed in the morning newspaper.
Linc found it amusing that he had poured his coffee, let a plate of pastries clatter when he set it down on the table, and sat himself down without either his father or his brother acknowledging his presence or, as far as Linc could tell, even his existence. But mornings around that table for four were always like that; to break the silence for mere conversation was frowned upon like talking in church.
Royce was ten and always first to get up in the morning. He liked to be the first one to read the newspaper. He figured that put him just that much ahead of the others--not just his family, but the whole neighborhood. And he didn’t just read the comic strips, as one might expect in a ten-year-old; no, he read the thing from cover to cover, and had only recently stopped reading the evening edition that way when it dawned on him there was a certain redundancy in it parroting the morning edition. If there was one thing Royce Lebeau was abreast of, it was current events.
“Mornin’,” said Linc, as he did most mornings, if only to break for a moment the sacred silence of that cosy room.
“Son,” said Mr. Lebeau.
“Mornin’,” grumbled Royce.
Linc leaned back and regarded his father and his brother. He imagined his brother would look just like their father in twenty-five years; after all, he was already a miniature image of him--unkempt hair, ragged bathrobe over boxer shorts, tattered slippers on flat feet.
Linc began to notice the prevailing silence more than he usually did; so much so, he could hear himself chewing his sweet roll, which made him laugh a little, which made him choke a little and go into a desperate cough he was only able to get under control by taking too large a sip of his black coffee, burning his mouth. He swore, causing Royce to glare at him from over his newspaper. His father wasn’t disturbed at all; he just kept right on reading, seemingly committing to memory all of those newspaper articles and tidbits, as if readying himself for some oral examination concerning them.
As he did most mornings, Linc said, “So, what’s gone on in the world yesterday, Royce?”
“Usual stick-ups, murders, and rapes,” said that ten-year-old, not one to bandy about a lot of words. But Linc felt encouraged that Royce had given more than his usual one-word response: “Nothin’.”
Linc laughed. “Any good news in there?” he asked.
“Not if you mean your crummy Astros team. They lost.”
“What did Bob Watson do?”
“Three out of four.”
“Well, that’s something, anyway,” said Linc, trying to convince himself it was enough if his favorite player had a good game. He looked forward to inscribing those statistics into his notebook. He thought how good that would look: Three hits in four times at bat.
“He made an error at first base, though,” Royce added.
Linc wondered why Royce was trying to detract from Bob Watson’s Herculean effort of getting three hits in four at bats of major-league pitching. He said, “Christ, Royce, he can’t do every damn thing!”
“Just don’t give away the whole box score, okay?” said Linc. That was the one part of the newspaper that Linc read, the baseball box scores.
“When’s graduation?” asked the father, hoping to end the boys’ bickering.
“Tonight,” said Linc.
“Are you going?” asked the father, actually lowering the paper and looking at Linc as he did so.
“No, I’m not going.”
“Your mother know that?”
“I don’t know. I don’t guess so.”
“She’ll be disappointed.”
“Mom knows I’m not about to go to anything like that.”
“Well, Linc, she was telling me just last night how nice she thought it’d be if you surprised us with it. You know we’ll be there to watch Danny walk across the stage, and we’d sure like you to be right behind him.” With that said, Mr. Lebeau took his section of the newspaper into the living room, leaving his two sons alone in the quiet kitchen.
Linc said, “Are you glad school’s out, Royce?”
“Yeah,” he said, lowering his head and gazing over his glasses at his older brother. “Hey, listen, I don’t think it’s fair that I have to go to your crummy graduation if you’re not even going. I’m stuck having to go see Danny graduate.” He snapped his newspaper back into position, hiding his face from Linc.
“It’s just like a funeral or a wedding, Royce: I don’t go to those either.”
“Still, I think it’s a lousy deal.” Royce’s hands were trembling, shaking his paper. Though he spoke boldly, he was always nervous about confronting Linc.
“Don’t you want to go see Danny graduate, Royce? Isn’t he a friend of yours?”
“Sure I do. You know I like Danny. Still, though--”
“Will you be going to camp this summer, Royce?” asked Linc, considering the last subject changed, if not closed.
“Nah. Let me read, will ya?”
Linc shut up. He took a roll from the plate and crumbed up his coffee with it. He bit the softened roll and began to chew.
Once again Royce folded down his newspaper. “Listen, Linc,” he said.
“What?” said Linc, the word not easily managed with the bite in his mouth.
“Dad’s starting to get on my nerves.”
“Well,” began Royce, speaking in a whisper so as not to be heard by his father in the next room, “every morning I have to get up a little earlier to beat him to the newspaper.”
Linc was thoughtful for a moment. He said, “Hmm . . . You’re telling me you two are having a race to the newspaper every morning? Please don’t be telling me that, Royce.”
“Yeah,” he whispered, “we are, we are.”
“I see,” said Linc. “What time did you get up this morning, Royce?”
“I see. And how about Pop?”
“Damn, Royce, you’re crazy! You’re telling me you’re running out into the yard at 4:00 in the morning?”
“But it’s Saturday, for Christ’s sake! You should sleep till noon!”
“I had to beat him to the paper.”
“It doesn’t much matter who sees the paper first, Royce.”
“It does to me. You know what he does?”
“What does he do?”
“Sometimes, if he comes in here just a little while after me, he takes the classified ads, and then I feel like I have to rush through the rest of the paper so he doesn’t get stuck with them.”
“Slow down for a minute, Royce. You don’t want him to get stuck with the what?”
“The classified ads. Sometimes he looks at those first while I look at the interesting sections. I might as well not read the paper at all if I’m just gonna have to rush through it like that.”
“So why not read the paper at night and let him read it in the morning? You get up too damn early for a little kid, Royce; little kids need rest.”
“Well, I am feeling kind of rundown all the time.”
“Any fool could see that, Royce. Just look at yourself: you look run over to me.”
“You really think so?”
“Christ, yes. And I’ll tell you something else, Royce.”
“You were never any great shakes in the looks department in the first place.”
“But I like to see the paper first.”
“It doesn’t matter who reads the damn paper first, Royce. I don’t read it at all.”
“Well, you’re no worse off than I am, rushing through it like I have to.”
“That’s true, Royce. Now you’re talking sense.” Linc stood up, reached across the table, and mussed his brother’s hair. “Yeah, what you should do is just start reading the paper at night. There’s no need for you and Pop to worry each other to death over it; it isn’t worth it. Hey, you don’t look at the evening paper at all, do ya?”
“Nah. The evening paper only has the same junk as the morning one does. But sometimes, if somebody gets shot during the daytime, or something good like that, they might have something about it in the evening one, but they always tell you all about it in the next morning’s paper, too. No, you don’t miss any killings if you skip the evening paper; it’ll all be in the next morning one.”
“Well, at least you’re smart enough to have figured that out, Royce. Poor old Pop thinks he has to read both papers. That’s why he gets up so damn early. You know, he could probably start sleeping later every day if you would start reading the morning paper at night.”
Royce was reflective for a moment and said, “You know, I think I’m gonna see how I like reading it at night for awhile.”
“One more thing, though, Royce.”
“The world won’t come to an end if you skip a paragraph or two.”
Royce smiled and watched Linc finish the roll he was eating. Linc glanced up at him. “Jesus, Royce,” he said, “quit looking at me over your glasses like that. I swear it makes you look over two hundred years old, for Christ’s sake.”
Royce raised his paper, hiding his aged bearing from his brother.
Later Royce said, “Do you know what else Dad does that gets on my nerves?”
“Yes, I do . . . the way he always talks about food; I’ve noticed it.”
“And you’ve heard me say a thousand times I don’t like him talking about food, because it hurts my stomach, haven’t you?”
“Yeah. Maybe even two thousand times.”
We all have certain character flaws that keep us from being perfect; Mr. Lebeau, however, had but one--baiting his son Royce about food. He knew that it angered Royce, baiting him the way he did, but he couldn’t help himself. Royce always told his father that he would prefer it if he didn’t annoy him by mentioning food, but that didn’t do any good; in fact, Mr. Lebeau took that as Royce telling him what to do, and to Mr. Lebeau’s way of thinking, a boy must never tell his father what to do. But Royce had changed of late his reaction to his father’s tormenting him about food; lately, whenever his father vexed him by talking about food, Royce just ignored him, which resulted in Mr. Lebeau doubling up on the incessant baiting. The most recent conflict came two nights before. Royce, like all boys, knowing the layout of his house so well that he was able to navigate his way through it without the benefit of a light, made his way to the kitchen for a glass of milk. Imagine his surprise when, all of a sudden, from complete darkness came his father’s voice:
“Want an apple, Royce?”
Royce was nearly startled out of his slippers. He shuddered, gathered his wits, poured his milk by the light of the opened refrigerator, drank up, and left his father without responding to him. The guilt of not replying weighed heavily on Royce, and he got no further sleep that night; the only bright spot of the affair was that he was that he was first one out for the newspaper when he heard it thud upon the driveway.
Inviting Linc into his confidence, Royce said, “Yesterday we went to see aunt Bonnie in the hospital--guess what he did.”
“Don’t start that guessing crap, Royce. What did he do?”
“There was this old dried-up piece of chocolate cake on a tray beside Bonnie’s bed. Dad asked her if she was going to eat it, and when she said she wasn’t, he held it up and motioned to me as if to say: Do you want this, Royce?”
“Did you eat it?”
“Are you kidding, Linc? It smells too bad in that room to eat anything. She has this big old sack of her pee hanging from the side of her bed. Man, it’s gross! Once, when I leaned over to kiss her, I wasn’t watching what I was doing, and I touched that nasty old bag with my bare leg. It was still warm! And then Dad thinks I’m just gonna sit down and have myself a nice little piece of dried-up crusty-looking cake. I just ignored him. I always ignore him now whenever he talks about food. It makes me feel terrible when I do it, but I do it anyway. He makes me so mad!”
“I know he does,” said Linc, signaling to Royce that his voice was rising, and their father might hear.
“He even did it back when I was so sick; I’ll never forget that.”
Royce was hating himself for telling on his father, so he shut up.
A year previous to our story Royce had his diseased (Crohn’s disease) colon removed.
For several years he had had terrific stomachaches and wrenching vomiting spells, energy-sapping afflictions which left him not wanting, or able, to do much of anything.
His disease was diagnosed, and doctors were able to minimize his symptoms by giving him steroids and other helpful drugs. His problems recurred when doctors tried to wean him off these drugs, which, if taken over an extended period of time, could produce undesirable side effects, such as skin rashes and a loss of feeling in his fingertips.
Things reached a low point when his ulcers caused a hole in his bladder; he discovered this one morning while urinating. At the end of urination, air would come out of his urethra; it was a frightening experience for him.
His parents, not satisfied with the care he was receiving, took him to a different doctor. This new doctor, a specialist, had a small surprise for Royce: he recommended to the boy that he have his colon removed while his bladder was repaired. (Such a procedure would require Royce to have a bag attached to his stomach in which to receive his fecal matter.)
This all coming at a time when Royce was very ill, he approved the surgery. It would be a few days before the surgeon could perform the operation, so Royce had to suffer along with his punctured bladder.
Things became even more unpleasant the next morning when he began to pass food particles in his urine. He nearly fainted the first time it happened, and was tormented with worry about how large a particle of food might get stuck in his urethra (his father having, only weeks before, had an unpleasant experience with a kidney stone). Royce wanted to be dead. He didn’t see any merit in an existence wherein he had to hurry to the bathroom twenty or more times each day, the intervals in between which he was racked by intestinal pain.
In his condition, he was supposed daily to drink all the fluids he could hold--of course, that would mean more frequent, stressful urination. What to do? He decided not to drink all he should, and by the time he was wheeled into surgery, he was in a rather sorry state; twenty-five pounds of flesh had fallen away from his already-frail frame during the current crisis, leaving him more skeleton than boy.
The surgery was a success. He went through a couple of painful days of recovery afterward, but by the third day, he felt better--weak, but better.
His first look at his ostomy was a shock. It looked as if there were a tongue protruding from his stomach. He wondered how he would ever be able to touch the thing, to clean it, to trim the tiny hairs around it--to live with it.
A therapist visited him to show him how to attach his “appliance”--an indifferent euphemism for his ostomy bag. There were so many steps, so it seemed to Royce, involved in attaching the thing--one must snip this, trim that, apply adhesive cement to these, peel those--he felt he would never master them all. He wondered why the therapist couldn’t give him all the instructions in writing instead of verbally. Royce knew he could follow the step-by-step process if only the thing were written down on some clipboard. After all, he wasn’t stupid. Hadn’t he read all those newspapers?
Linc walked into the room while Royce was trying to attach the bag for the very first time. The boy just couldn’t figure out how to do it. Frustrated, his lips and fingers began to tremble. Then he began to cry silently.
Linc put his hand on his little brother’s shoulder and said, “It’s all right, Royce. That’s not an easy thing to do.” Then, turning to the therapist, he said, “Is it, doctor?”
“NNNo. . . . No, it’s not,” said the therapist, sitting at the foot of the boy’s bed, watching Royce’s every clumsy effort. “But Royce is doing fine. . . . I find that the younger the patient is, the quicker he learns how. And once they know how to do it, it’s like riding a bike. I’ll soon have old Royce helping me out on my rounds, showing new patients how it’s done.”
Royce glanced up at the therapist. He hated that the man was taking him for a simple child.
When Linc saw Royce had his emotions in check, he said, “Try again, Royce.”
That was all Royce needed. In no time he attached the bag flawlessly. He looked up and smiled through new tears at his brother. “Thanks, Linc,” he whispered.
Linc felt a lump come to his own throat and soon left Royce alone with the therapist.
On the elevator back down it occurred to Linc that he hadn’t seen Royce cry since he was a very little boy. He was tempted to go back up and tell Royce how proud he was of him and how tough he thought he was, but he decided against it: Royce knew it without its being said.
Royce was allowed to go back home after a few more days in the hospital. (There was some concern about whether or not his incision was healing properly.) Once he got home he regained his appetite and began to eat like a horse. No one had ever seen the little fellow put away so much food. (His mother was making him bacon and eggs and biscuits three times a day, because he was craving that particular meal.) More importantly, he felt better than he had in years: no more stomach pains or vomiting. He was a brand new boy.
Royce’s only complaints at the time of our story were occasional “accidents” with his bags and fairly constant skin irritation beneath the adhesive discs to which the bags were attached. On nights he had a leaky bag his mother would help him change his sheets. The woman never complained about this, and Royce appreciated that more than she knew. As for the skin irritation, that was simply something Royce would have to learn to live with--and without complaint, which was his way.
“Pop doesn’t do you any real harm when he mentions food to you, Royce,” said Linc. “I think you may just think about it too much. Try not to think about it so much and see what happens. I’ll bet you’ll feel better then.”
Royce knew his brother would never steer him down a wrong road. Linc had always had a way of cutting through to the meat of a problem (as long as it was someone else’s problem and not his own). A grin of relief took possession of Royce’s usually serious face.
“Maybe so. I’m gonna try it. Thanks, Linc.”
Linc didn’t respond. He mussed his brother’s hair some more and then went into the next room where his father was sitting.
“Guess I’ll go to graduation if it means so much to Mom,” he said.
“I appreciate that, son. It means a lot to me, too. You’re a good man. I’ll tell her when she wakes up.”
Linc’s mother always slept in on Saturday mornings, so it fell to the men of the house to manage for themselves about getting breakfast. As has been seen, that usually amounted to no real breakfast at all: just black coffee and whatever sweet rolls were to be found lying around in the kitchen. Still, because they knew she worked so hard taking care of them all the rest of the time, none of the Lebeau men begrudged Mrs. Lebeau’s sleeping in late that one day each week. She was one of those homemakers who was never idle, one who always found one more corner needing tidying or one more niche in which to thrust her hand, shrouded in some dust cloth, fearless of whatever unseen creature might be lurking there, and give it a cleansing once-over. And didn’t she always have for those three other Lebeaus some hot, slaved-over edibles at each of those other twenty-odd mealtimes throughout the remainder of the week? And the washings! At least one load of wash every day of her married life, usually two. And was there ever a peep of complaint from the woman for all she did? No. She reveled in doing for others, especially those three fellows of hers.
Dan telephoned Linc at 7:00 that morning and said he was going to get a haircut first thing so he could look “just so” for graduation that night. He said he would call back later to arrange to take Linc to get his car so Linc could drive them out to Pete’s house on the lake. Linc hung up the phone, smiled, and said to himself: “He wants to look just so.” He shook his head.
Dan walked into the barbershop. It was one of those ubiquitous, antiseptic, impersonal, assembly line-type barbershops, the kind of barbershop where the barbers come and go so fast, one never sees the same barber twice.
It was slow for a Saturday morning. There was only one other customer in the place, an old man having his hair cut. The two aromas of bubblegum and dusty hair clippings did battle for supremacy in that shop, settling, as they do in all such shops, for some peaceful coexistence, resulting in an unmistakable but not unpleasant scent; in fact, the odor of that shop was its one changeless feature; everything else--the barbers, the fixtures--seemed at the mercy of all-leveling time.
A lady who had been sweeping up in the back walked up and asked if she could help Dan. She was a pretty one, but Dan didn’t take the time to notice; he only wanted to get the haircut behind him.
“Do you cut hair, lady, or do you only sweep up the place?” he asked.
“Both,” she said. “What can I do for you this morning?”
“Have you cut a lot of hair, lady? You look kinda young.”
“Well, I call that a compliment. I cut hair every day, eight hours a day. Shelly’s busy right now,” she said, cocking her head toward the other barber, who was trimming around the old man’s ears.
Dan followed her gaze, and when he saw the older woman, he said, “No, she looks kinda old. I’ve had my last haircut from one of those shaky old-timers. You can cut it, lady.”
“My name’s Jennifer.”
“Glad to know you.”
“Would you like a shampoo this morning?”
“Just a cut, please.”
“Christ, lady, I only washed it twenty minutes ago.”
She smiled at his rough response. “Follow me,” she said.
Dan followed her and sat down in the chair. He soon had the big drop cloth fastened about his neck--not too tightly, for Jennifer had a knack for knowing what felt just right. Then, for her convenience, she jacked up the chair, and that was just right, too.
“Now, what can we do for you today?” she asked, lowering her head so that her right ear
nearly rested on her shoulder, looking him in the eye.
“Just a cut, I told you,” said Dan, in an irritated tone. He didn’t like a chatty barber, and he hated saying a thing twice. He would rather just sit there in silence.
She laughed. “I mean, how would you like it cut?” she said.
Dan hated barbershops; they terrified him. All he wanted was to be out of that chair as soon as possible. “Today, lady,” he said. “Some time today. Listen, I want it over and off the ears, nothing hanging down in the back--that part’s critical--and if you ever get that far, jabbering the way you do, then you can just shorten everything up real good all the way around. And remember, nothing you cut off can be put back on, so try and do a good job.” He had been giving those same instructions for years, ever since he had had what he felt was his first decent haircut.
Despite the rudeness of the boy, she was amused by his gruff manner. And though she had heard many such comments about how it wasn’t within her powers to put back what she had cut off, it still tickled her to hear it sometimes. So, with humor in her voice, she asked why it was critical that there be nothing left hanging down in back.
“Because it drives me crazy when there is,” he said.
“And the sideburns?”
“Just neaten ‘em up a little, please.”
She began to cut, and Dan began to squirm in his chair. With frightened-looking eyes, he followed the fast-flying scissors. Gradually, a soft pile of dirty-blond hair collected on the cloth she’d draped over him. Still he squirmed, pawing, tugging at the cloth collar, which seemed to tighten around his throat.
“Please be still,” she said. Then, trying to distract him, she gestured at the mirror and the reflection of the other barber working on the old man. “Know what she’s doing?” she asked in a conspiratorial whisper.
“What?” asked Dan, distracted for the moment. He saw the old man leaning back in his chair, the other barber leaning over him, doing God knew what.
“She’s singeing his eyebrows.”
“You’re kidding me!” he cried, craning for a better look. “Why’s she doing that?” Dan was now staring rudely.
“Barbers used to do it all the time.”
“I knew that old guy was crazy when I first laid eyes on him. I wouldn’t let that old crone near my eyebrows even if--”
“Be still,” said Jennifer, more urgently this time, for she was near the end of her rope. She let out a heavy sigh and asked him why he was so uncomfortable having his hair cut.
“Me? Uncomfortable? You’ve got me all wrong, lady. Why, I’ve had my hair cut so many--”
“Then why do you squirm so? Please be still. I feel like I need to bind you hand and foot. Just look at you: I’ve had two-year-olds sit still for me better than you do.”
“Sorry. I guess I don’t like it too much,” he confessed.
“It’s the way you all brandish those scissors around. Any fool wouldn’t much like it, especially around his eyes--Hey, watch what you’re doing, blast ya!”
“Sorry, sorry,” she said.
She had dropped the scissors on the floor, startling Dan. Picking them up, she held her hand to her mouth to suppress a laugh. Dan was watching her in the mirror. He scowled at her.
“You think I’m a big ol’ chicken, don’t you, lady?” he said. “Well, you’ve got me all wrong. You should see me at the dentist--I’m completely fearless.”
“Are you really?” she asked. She hoped she looked adequately impressed, because she knew he was watching her in the mirror, waiting for any mistake with her scissors.
“I wouldn’t kid you, lady. It’s really something to see.”
She laughed again and continued to snip. All at once a freshly cut hair tickled Dan right beneath his nostrils. He jerked his hand out from beneath the cloth in order to brush it away, startling Jennifer:
“Did I hurt you!” she said. “Are you all right!”
“What! What have you done!” said Dan. He could feel himself trembling.
“Nothing--relax. I thought I nicked you, that’s all.”
“You thought you nicked me? Christ, lady, screaming in my ear like that, I thought you had cut my damn head off! Just try to be careful, will ya? I’m not just some drunk who wandered in for a free haircut at some barber college; I came to a real shop, hoping maybe I wouldn’t get my throat cut.”
She let him finish his outburst, and then she began anew. Dan soon began to squirm again, so Jennifer moved directly in front of him and leaned over his knees in order to clip his bangs. Well, to Dan, that was the equivalent of someone coming straight for his head with a pair of hedge clippers:
“For Christ’s sake,” he said, “move to one side! Never before in all my life has a barber come straight at me with the sheers. If you don’t want me to sue you, lady, or have this whole place shut down, then you better just watch what--”
“Well, you squirm so, I have to do what I can to stay with you. You don’t have to be so dramatic about it. Why is this so hard for you?”
“I had a bad time of it once when I was just a brat,” he said, upset enough to let down his guard.
“What happened?” she asked. She sounded genuinely concerned. She stepped back from him, awaiting the key to the great mystery of his dread of barbershops.
“I nearly had my ear hacked off, that’s what happened.”
She took a long, hard look at his ears and, seeing no scars there, said, “I don’t see anything.”
“Well, you can bet I screamed bloody murder, and they patched me up fast.”
She had no doubt about that. She said, “I tell you what, if you promise to be still, I’ll sing to you. That always relaxes little kids.”
“Oh, I can hardly wait. You know what you should really do, lady? You should really just hush up and pay more attention to what you’re doing. That’s your problem, lady: you talk too much.”
Dan regarded himself in the mirror. He checked her work from all possible perspectives, even peering out from the corners of his eyes.
Unruffled, she began to sing very softly, and right into his ear, the song that was playing on the radio resting on the counter where she kept all her equipment. Dan had never heard the song, but Jennifer knew every word. She sang beautifully. It was a sentimental, sweet song, and she sang it the way an angel might sing it. Dan became soothed and relaxed, almost to the point of falling asleep. She sang the next song just as sweetly, and then the haircut was done. She loosened the cloth strip around his neck and carefully shook onto the floor the clippings from the drop cloth.
Suddenly she was the most beautiful and desirable young lady Dan had ever known. He didn’t even realize she had finished with him. He sat there in the chair, admiring her reflection in the mirror. She wore a smock over her clothes, concealing her figure, so Dan admired her face and hair in profile. She finally cleared her throat, hoping to get him moving along, but that did no good. She then tapped him on the shoulder and told him that she was all finished. Dan stood up abruptly and strode over to the cash register. He paid his bill and left the shop whistling, looking forward to his next haircut, which tickled him, because he had never looked forward to a haircut before.
Back at home Dan called Linc and told him he was ready to take him over to get his car. He made the short drive over to Linc’s house and honked the horn. Just as Linc was opening the front door, his brother Royce put his arms around him from behind and gave him a big squeeze, almost causing Linc to lose his balance, but he steadied himself against the door jamb.
“Damn, Royce,” gasped Linc, “you’ll cut off my wind!”
“Thanks for everything, Linc.”
“Forget it, Royce. Now scoot!” He shooed him away.
Linc jogged to Dan’s car and got in. He switched off the blaring radio.
“Nice, tight haircut, Dan.”
“Yeah, it’s not too bad.”
“Barber make any slip-ups?”
“No, but she found me out.”
“No wonder, the way you wiggle around in the chair. She laugh at you?”
“No, she sang to me.”
“She sang to you?”
“Yeah. I think I love her, Linc. Damn, I swear I think I do!”
“What’s she look like?”
“She’s really pretty . . . blond, I think.”
“Don’t you remember, Danny?”
“Well, it was pretty scary in there, and she was really pretty. I just can’t remember what color her hair was.”
“Big-titted, was she?”
“Funny, I didn’t even notice.”
“I’m afraid you’re slipping, Dan; or else you really have it bad.”
Dan was reflective for a moment, then said, “I wonder if she thinks I’m a coward.”
“Thanks for that, Linc; that really helps.”
“I’m kidding, Dan. She probably thinks you’re eccentric. Hey, did you tell her how fearless you are at the dentist?”
“I don’t know. . . . I can’t remember. I only remember her voice, and that she looks like the Virgin Mary.”
“Now how in the hell do you know what the Virgin Mary looks like?”
“You know, from pictures, the way she always looks in pictures--kinda clean and shiny, and like she always smells real good.”
They pulled up beside Linc’s car. When Linc started reaching for the door handle, Dan reached across him, stopping him.
“I gotta see her again, Linc. I want to see her right now.”
“I’m not stopping you.”
“Follow me to my house, then take me to see her, Linc.”
“Please, Linc. I’m begging you.”
“Dan, you know I swore a long time ago never again to walk into a barbershop with you. You know you always drive everybody crazy at the barbershop, and then you always get them all pissed-off at me, too, because you always tell them that I’m with you. Man, I’ll never understand why you do that--There’s my good friend Linc Lebeau sitting right over there; will you be cutting his hair next, lady? No way, Dan. They always think I’m crazy just because you’re so goddamn crazy. No way, Dan. What you really need to do is start shaving your head.”
“Don’t worry, Linc, you don’t even have to go inside. You can wait in the car. That way, we can drive straight to the lake afterwards.”
“But if I’m just gonna be waiting outside, why do I have to come along at all?”
Dan was nervous. Sometimes, especially when dealing with females, he liked to have Linc around to bolster his confidence.
“I just want you there, Linc. Will you do that one little thing for me? C’mon, Linc.”
“Oh, Christ--yes--Let’s go.”
Dan had worn him down. Linc followed Dan home and then took him back to the barbershop; once there, Dan sat stiffly in the car, beads of perspiration showing on his forehead.
“Are you going in or not?” asked Linc.
“I can’t just go walking in there without a reason.”
“I thought you were gonna ask her for a date.”
“I am, but I don’t want to just come right out with it. I need to have something else to say to sorta lead up to asking her out, something that doesn’t make me sound like too much of an idiot.”
“Tell her she messed up your sideburns or something. Tell her she didn’t quite get them even. Those barbers probably hear that all the time; it’ll sound real natural.”
Dan turned to face Linc. He put his face right up to Linc’s. “How do they look?” he asked. “Are they even?”
“Oh, I think they’re real cute, Dan, really precious.”
“This isn’t funny. Are they the least bit uneven?”
“Let me see . . .” said Linc, as he leaned in for a closer look. “I think they might be about one sixty-fourth of an inch out of kilter.”
“Christ, Dan, I don’t know! Maybe your head’s deformed. Just go, will ya? It’s already starting to get hot in here.” Linc undid the top button of his shirt and mopped with the back of his hand his sweaty throat.
“You wait for me now, Linc,” said Dan, finally leaving the car. “Don’t you go driving off.”
“Just go! And hey, you better not even as much as mention my name, you hear? I swear I’ll kill ya.”
“Oh, shut up, Linc.”
Dan went inside the shop and found the same situation as before: another old fellow having his hair cut by Shelly, and Jennifer stopping what she was doing to greet Dan at the front counter.
“Back already?” she asked.
God, she’s pretty, thought Dan. He said, “Yes--hey--listen--I think my sideburns wound up a little lopsided.”
“Goodness. We can’t have that, can we? Up in the chair with you. Let’s have a look.”
Dan followed her to the chair and sat down; it was still adjusted for his height.
“What’s your name, anyhow?” she asked.
“It’s Dan Blair, ma’am--miss.”
“Well, Dan Blair, let me get you fixed up.”
She put her pretty face right in front of Dan’s, and Dan watched her green eyes move slowly from left to right, comparing the lengths of his sideburns. She was so close to him he could feel her breath on his face. And when he sniffed the sweet aroma of the mint in her mouth, he emitted a little sigh, which he tried covering up by clearing his throat.
“You all right?” she asked.
“Yeah. Hey, can you do it without the scissors?”
“Sure. I’ll just buzz ‘em with the trimmer.”
“So do you think you’ll be able to fix ‘em?”
Back and forth went her eyes, left and right, bewitching Dan, further endearing herself to him, though she had no idea of it, for she was just a hard-working young woman, starting her day off tired. She breathed right into his mouth. She said, “Now I know you must have been very upset with me about this, but for the life of me, I call ‘em even.” She straightened up and looked down at him.
“Oh, no. It wasn’t like that at all. I thought they were even, too. You see, it was my friend Linc who said they weren’t even--He’s right outside. Yeah, I said to him, Didn’t my sideburns come out all nice, crisp, and even?, and then Linc said, Why, no, Daniel,--he always calls me Daniel when he thinks he knows everything--he said, No, Daniel, I think they’re way out of kilter. He even told me I should come in and get my money back. Linc told me people shouldn’t let other people get away with sloppy work; he said that’s what’s wrong with this country. Truth is, he even insisted on driving me over here. The problem is Linc just thinks he knows it all. He’s right outside if you want to go talk to him. Look,” he said, pointing out to the parking lot, “you can see his car! You can see him sitting right there, thinking he knows everything. Have you ever known anybody like that, Jennifer? somebody who thinks they know it all? Well, meet Linc. Now, take me on the other hand: you being a professional and all, I wanted you to have final say. And did I ask you for my money back? No, ma’am. Something like that would never even enter my mind. I just don’t think that way; I can’t think sneaky like Linc can. That coming in to get my money back was all his idea. So you see, it’s all Linc. Why don’t you go out and talk to him? He’s right outside. Look . . . if you lean over far enough, you can see this side of his sneaky head.”
When Dan finally quit rambling, Jennifer said, “I call ‘em even.” She gave him a playful smile. She was glad she hadn’t yet gone through the bother of fastening the cloth around his neck; she was that tired.
Dan got a serious look on his face. He whispered, “Listen--”
“--What?” she whispered back.
“Do you ever . . . I mean, would you like to go out sometime? We could do any ol’ thing you wanted.”
Because the boy had made her day, Jennifer suddenly got the most appreciative expression on her face. But then she was faced with the harsh task of letting a young man down easy. She thought Dan fragile; she would try and choose her words carefully, so he wouldn’t be too disappointed. She said, “You’re sweet, aren’t you, Dan? Cute, too.”
“So?” he said uncomfortably.
“How old are you, sweet Dan?”
“Nearly eighteen. I’ll be eighteen in two months--three months, I mean.”
“You know what? I was afraid you were going to say something like that. I’ll tell you what, though: if you come see me in about three years and still want to ask me the same question, my answer will be yes.”
And she meant every word she said, for she found Dan nice, amusing. But she never believed for an instant that he would have any feelings for her, or even remember her, in three years, a lifetime to a youth.
Dan’s heart was torn. He said, “I was only kidding you, lady. I was only trying to make you feel better because my friend Linc said you botched up my sideburns and that I had a refund coming. Anyway, lady, I don’t know how old you are, but you’re way too old for me!” He got out of the chair and headed for the door, walking very quickly, despising the place.
“Nice try, son,” said the old man having his hair cut.
“Hush up! you old meddler,” Dan cried over his shoulder.
Once back outside in the relentless heat, he got in Linc’s car and slammed the door. He sat stiff as a plank, staring dumbly, straight ahead through the windshield. He didn’t know how he would ever get over Jennifer. He cursed God for littering the planet with perfect females, ones whose perfection included the art of breaking young male hearts.
“Didn’t do any good?” said Linc, watching his friend simmer.
“Aw, she thinks I’m a kid. She thinks I’m a fool!”
Linc asked him if he still felt like going to the lake. Dan said he did. Linc turned up some music, and they were off to the lake.
It was already another steamy day. Linc lifted his arm from the armrest, and it was slick with perspiration. He dragged it across his shirt, drying it for the moment. The boys drove in silence until Linc told Dan to roll up his window.
“Huh? It’s too damn hot in here. You’re crazy,” said Dan. He didn’t feel like speaking at all, but getting rid of some of his pent-up venom made him feel somewhat better.
“I’m gonna turn on the air today,” said Linc, feeling blindly for a knob.
“You’re what? I don’t believe it. I didn’t even know this heap had air.”
“Hope it works,” Linc kidded, as he flipped the switch (for he always drove Clare in air-conditioned comfort). He suggested they roll up their windows only that he might better talk to Dan; that way, neither of them would have to shout over the wind streaming through their windows.
“So, what did she say, Dan?”
“Not a helluva lot: only that I was too young. She was really pretty nice about it, though. Still . . .”
“You gonna try again?”
“Why should I?”
“Because if a woman says no, that isn’t necessarily what she means.”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure that’s what she meant, Linc.”
“Fine. Do you have her off the brain already?”
“Man, I keep thinking about every little word she said. Her voice really gets to me. She whispers a lot--things like that. She’ll even sing to you sometimes, if you get restless enough. Did I tell you about that? Man, she--”
“You’ll only keep beating yourself up if you don’t try again. How old is she?”
“I don’t know for sure, but I think she’s three years older than we are. Twenty years old, I guess.” (She was thirty. Dan was hopeless at presuming females’ ages.)
“Only three years? That isn’t much. I think she’s trying to play hard-to-get. I’m telling you, Dan, you’re a nice-enough-looking guy. I bet she likes you. And I’m also telling you if she says no, she just might mean yes.”
“You really think so? Don’t fool me, Linc.” Dan’s despair had turned into hope.
“Have I ever tried to steer you down the wrong path, Daniel?”
“My whole damn life.”
“Should I turn around?”
Dan told him no, and that he should continue on out to the lake, because he wanted to think things over before facing Jennifer again. Linc had lifted his spirits, and Dan figured it was never a good idea to appear to eager.
They drove on, but right away, Dan said, “You just can’t go walking right in there, Linc; there’s no privacy. There was even some old grouch in there--probably having his nose hairs clipped--who had a good laugh at me. I should have crippled the old meddler!”
“So why not call her on the phone instead of going over there to see her?” suggested Linc.
“Hey, I think I could do that. I think that’s your first good idea.”
Good, thought Linc. He hoped he had been some help to him.
“Do you really think I’m pretty?”
“Roll your window back down, funny man,” Linc said, as he switched off the air-conditioner.
No matter; they had reached Pete’s house.
Continue . . .
All text copyright John T. 1995-Present. All rights reserved.