“Please Hold Me the Forgotten Way”

United States (from Flash Fiction International)

His hair was dark and soft and curled a little because it was getting long. He must have thought it made him look too pretty. He disliked anything that made him attractive. He asked her to shave it. She liked the hair. She imagined touching it with her fingers and coming away with the sweet dark smell of his scalp on her hands. He left his wool hat at her house one night and she had slept with it next to her face. She hated giving it back, and crawled around her blankets at night trying to catch his smell as it disappeared.

She knew the drive to his house. She knew the trees she would pass, the fire hydrants, the dogs barking behind their fences. She knew where she would park, where the tires would hit the curb. She knew the way she would breathe and straighten her skirt, and the feel of the heat that would prickle down her arms and explode in her fingertips when she saw him through the kitchen window, coming to the door. He usually stared her down. Big dark eyes that studied her like a rare specimen. It wasn’t exactly an adoring gaze. It was more one of bewilderment and concern. He greeted her like this the day she came to shave his head. He opened the door very cordially, one hand behind his back like the headwaiter at a French restaurant, bowing slightly. She sensed his hand brush gently against her back as she came in. She moved too quickly for it to rest there.

“I have everything ready,” he said severely, as if she had arrived to perform some critical operation.

She sat down at his kitchen table and smiled at him. The cold winter sunlight pooled in through the window and lit her hands folded on her lap, and she hoped he would remember her like this when he was an old man.

They went down the stairs out of the sunny kitchen and he followed close behind her. The bathroom in the basement was cold and lit by fluorescent lights. He knelt in front of her, and she thought that with him on his knees like this she could either love him or kill him. She could hold his head tenderly against her belly, or break his neck with one quick move. She could do both of these things with her hands.

The razor looked comical to her when she picked it up, hot pink against the cracked cement walls of the bathroom that were painted a dark fungal green. She ran the faucet. Waited for the water to heat up. Waited for it to be just right. She moved her wet soapy hands gently around his head, soaking his hair, around his ears, across his temples, to the nape of his neck. Some of it dripped down his face and he let it run to his chin and fall to the floor. She took the hair from his head in clumps, trying to ignore his back pressed against her legs, lifting and falling with his breath. And when she had washed the soap away his head was like a smooth ostrich egg. Porcelain white, shining and bare. His eyebrows stood out like black coal marks, alone on his face.

And she caught her breath when she saw the two of them in the mirror. The fluorescent light made their faces a sickly pale green and their eyes were underlined by dark circles. They both looked so tired. He looked sick and cold, and she looked as if she had been crying for him for a very long time.

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H. J. Shepard

About H. J. Shepard

H. J. Shepard writes fiction and poetry and holds an M.A. in history. A Minnesota native, she now lives in New York, where she works as a researcher and writer. She is currently completing a collection of flash fiction and prose poetry.