I arrive at the barber shop in an alley still dark on this winter morning. The shop is in darkness. A young woman arrives, unlocks and greets me, voice chirping, accent continental. Fair hair cropped close here, a full fall there, interesting geometry in the crosscuts, her face pink and round, cupcake cheeks slashed by straight lines of smile.
‘Good morning,’ she sings, ‘What is ahead of you this morning – do you have something fantastic to tell me like the story you tell me last time?’ What story did I make up last time? I can’t remember. I make no coherent response, but my barber needs none, smiling merrily at the great joke that is the life of cutting men’s hair in the centre of a large city.
I’ve come today to have my beard and moustache trimmed short. Johanna trims away, chatting gaily. She moves fast with smooth flowing movements. Gently she hoists a sagging jowl into the path of the oncoming mower. Deftly she mows that vulnerable Adam’s Apple region, where iron bristles have caught previous blades, making them jump and jag and cut. With swift sallies of the trimmer she shears my moustache and spares my nostrils. She darts out to the sides and mows my sideboards, somehow pulling up short of my ears which appear now suddenly larger in their emergence from the shrubbery. Sheltering beneath the nose which dominates the hairless lowlands, Johanna pounces on escapee wisps at throat and jaw.
Behind and above Johanna an image stares down at me from the mirror, mirror on the wall. The aircraft carrier chin, the pendulous ears, the imposing nose make a disturbing sight. Ready to take my leave I thank Johanna for her work but she is not done. No, no, she shakes her head, there is more. A swoop upon an unruly eyebrow, some quick nips in the caverns of nostril and past the tragus of ears, and now Johanna lays down her shears. Having ventured into realms of cerumen and snot she emerges with no sign of nausea. Her face registers the pleasure of being alive, of innocent intimacy. She turns from me, addressing a bottle of potion on the bench. Squirting sounds then her palms descend upon my cheeks, cool and moist. Softly she slaps cheek and jowl, cool palms cupping, caressing quickly. Now forehead, now scalp enjoys the laying on of hands.
The face in the mirror shines with astonished delight. Johanna croons her goodbyes. Ten dollars lighter and very young I depart in daylight the barbershop in the alley.