Frank’s backed up.
It’s 10.30, salt-n-pepper is in the chair and grey curls with a walking stick waiting. So I take a seat and open the paper. Outside it’s a nice day, kids on the lawn, mums having lattes. Earworms on the radio and salt-n-pepper’s getting the business.
Frank’s worried. ‘See this spot—’ he points at his cheek. ‘Doc says it might be the melanoma. Wants to cut im out.’ He shrugs as if shifting a weight on his back. ‘I dunno, could be nothing.’ I say how it’s best to get it looked at. And then I tell him about my friend Henry the archaeologist, a freckled Scotsman who worked in the desert all his life. Had a tiny spot on his cheek for years and one day, bingo, it goes malignant. All the time I’m telling myself to stop, to shut up but I couldn’t find an exit before the diagnosis, the treatment, the disfigurement. Frank stops and looks at me sadly. So I ask him if he’s got a good doctor. ‘Best in Dapto,’ he says and he’s back at it with the number 2 clippers. *
We’re all just heads to Frank. His hands do the same dance doesn’t matter what you want – longer on top, just a trim, baldies too. After 40 years it’s just muscle memory.
He sweeps up before we start – grey curls and salt-n-pepper’s trimmings pushed into a tufted pile. It looks like a cat. A cat I once knew. Belonged to my first wife. I never forgave that cat. It swallowed the canary I’d bought her. Gone, the lot, beak, tweet and the pretty song for us in the early light. Just a few torn feathers.
He’s shaving my neck. We’re talking comings and goings on the street, mostly goings. I’m still and upright yet the razor takes the tiniest knick. Guess I had that coming.
We talk about hair products. Look at Elvis on the wall, that shiny gravity-defying sweep. ‘That’s pomade,’ he says. ‘Filthy stuff.’ How often did Elvis wash his hair? Stupid question. He had people to wash his hair. They’d do it for free. The women, the vestals would line up outside his room and down the corridor each bearing a bowl of water. Nah. Elvis’ hair was perfect, never needed washing.
This was after Tupelo but before Jailhouse Rock and a long way to Blue Hawaii and Las Vegas with the sunglasses and the double chin. There he is forever in all his beautiful hair.
Opposite Marilyn’s there on Lexington, astride the subway vent, her undies framed in the wings of that butterfly dress: still lovely, still outrageous. A laminated pricelist unchanged for years, $5 extra for beard trim; a calendar with a ruined temple, vines, a slope down to the Adriatic; a framed photo of his grandkids over the mirror. Time is fixed here. The sun crosses the floor, shadows shift, heads come and go, cloves, soap, the smell of men, of our fathers and the fall of hair.
There you go my friend, he whips the cloth away, and there I am. A tidier, sharper, lighter me.
I wish him luck and he smiles, shifting that weight again,
but it has him…..…………………………………………………………. …then again, maybe nothing.
See you in November.
I step back into the day. The girl in the cafe gives me a smile. Worth every cent.
Image: The Golden Comb, Port Kembla NSW. Dapto is a southern suburb of Wollongong. This piece written for Dverse, where Bjorn is hosting and asked us to write a piece of narrative poetry.