It will be written that there was blood and horrible gashes through the head. They will say that he kicked wildly, like a horse pricked in the side, that he let loose such a scream as to send shivers down the most hardened butcher’s back. It will be said that tears ran down his face, that he sobbed such as a grown father sobs for the loss of a child to some unnatural breach of nature — just so they will say he wept, deep in the chest, with full, manly guttural groans.
They will say this and so much more. But they will be wrong. He was like a babe in my arms. Had I been his mother, he would have given suck. Who knew that reason could so overrule the old man? No sooner had he hardened to my touch did he soften, like a blister to balm. And as a blister needs a lance, in his very hands he clutched it, bright and shiny. I worked it out, his hold firm at first, but in time he gave willingly, like child releasing some forbidden token, hesitantly, until he knows he’s lost it, till no more. I coddled the hand. It shook from the cold. Some will say it was fear. It will be written that he shook from fear.
I ask those who wish to embolden truth: why should he fear a boy from down the street who had come once a month since he was six and had never once in all that time given him but the slightest cause to frown, let alone tremble — tremble as a man might tremble if he saw his own shadow rise up and take form and lurk for days with sullen, abject insipidness? Why should the sight of a child, a local boy, one of his many usual customers, cause him to tremble so? What does it matter that he didn’t recognize me? It feels like yesterday, when I first swung up on his leather chair like a cowboy mounting a horse. Just so, I kicked and hollered and cried Whoa, there, big fella! How the old man would tremble then with laughter. Wasn’t I the hero then, with my full, flaxen mane for his fingers to plumb?
Damn his whistling! Damn it to hell! He swept and swept. All that sweeping when the deed was done. The whistling and sweeping and how he winked at me when it was all over and said Giddy-up, now, chap. The bristles of the broom and the sweeping and all that scratching on linoleum, all that scratching, scratching, with those wonderful, thick bushels of blond and bronze catching in those bristles.
When he was finished, I’d give him my five dollars, and he’d bend down and pat me on the head and stick out a lollipop. Even? he’d always say with a wink. Out I’d go and the door would make its jolly jingle and not once would I think (as I think now, horribly, wakefully, tossing in the night, turning on the light to inspect the pillow cover and dab it with a piece of tape to count in the morning) — no, not once would I think of what he had taken. Stolen! Not once did I notice (but how I notice now, how I notice every day) how he, in his old age — when in the natural course of life one enters a perpetual drought and the fields go barren and the crops go lacking — not once did I notice how in need of lacking was he! Such a full, thick tassel. Downy waves of black. Lustrous strands of metallic sheen. So much overflowing at such an age, he still daubed it with greasy palms of Vitalis. Either he had not paid in full the taxes of a life long-lived or nature’s great auditor, time, had been fooled, burgled, hoodwinked. While I — who has now but barely reached my prime, who has only but timidly sampled the sweet nectar of youth, let alone thrown himself wantonly into the battering storm — show the visible scars and haggard visage of a thousand noisome inquiries.
Stop your prying. Will you stop? It was time. He was overdue. I tried to explain it to him, but he didn’t understand. He only shook his head. Shook it and kept on shaking it. So I took it in my hands, only to stop the shaking. But then I had it in my hands. That head. That hair. I took a handful. Oh, that hair. I tugged it. And tugged some more. And even more still till I heard the slightest rip. Then I eased my hold and steadied his head between my knees before I grasped again with renewed resolve. I got a handful, roots and all, though by now I was getting a taste of how much spunk the old man still had in him. He kicked like a stallion and wailed like a babe in the crib, but I kept him down and assured him that the steadier he stayed, the quicker and easier it would be for the both of us, for now I took out those glittering beauties he’d surrendered when I’d grasped him by the hands and stared into those wide, dark eyes that quivered like polished stones in a riverbed. Now they rolled . . . and rolled, and when I thought they would roll right out of his head, I set the blade flush to his scalp, lowered my mouth to his ear and whispered — Even.
FREDRIC SINCLAIR is a New York-based author. His plays have been produced at The Players, The Director’s Studio, Richmond Shepard Theatre, Manhattan Repertory Theatre, and the Midtown International Theatre Festival. His writing and co-production credits include Provincetown, Bluff Head, Lethe, The Friend, and Aiken in Cyberspace. He also has written two novels, Preemption and American Sampler, and numerous poems. www.fredricsinclair.com