This week’s prompt words are:
cheesy :: breathless :: carbon copy :: jets :: shaving
The Barber’s Daughter
She wet the shaving brush, and when the bristles were good and soaked, she knew it was time to get the lather going. She’d seen her dad do this so many times that it was second nature to her now. He made it look so easy, though – his fingers didn’t slip on the brush’s wet handle, and his hands were big enough to keep a tight grip on the hard block of shaving soap. She transferred the frothy soap to the battered-looking mug hanging by the sink, the one Dad used on himself; it wasn’t fancy enough to use in the shop. He wouldn’t miss this one.
She was breathless as she carefully smeared the foam all over her face, just the way she’d seen Dad do it. The bristles of the brush were rough against her skin, like metal wires. Up one cheek, sweeping under the chin, lathered some more on the rough whiskers there, then up the other cheek. She dabbed at her moustache hairs, hearing Dad’s voice in her head, chatting away about the weather and the local football team, telling his usual cheesy jokes with their silly punchlines, singing songs about rebels, fighters, and the girls they left behind, all as he shaved and combed and cut. She smiled to herself as she listened.
Soon it was time to start shaving. Dad’s cut-throat was on the high shelf – not his good one, of course. That was gone. But his second-best one was still here. It’ll need sharpening, she thought as she climbed up to get it. She wished she’d thought of this first, before she’d lathered up her face – it was starting to fall off, and some of the suds were trickling down the neck of her dress. Seconds later, she had the razor in her hand. She pivoted the blade out of the handle. It was speckled with tiny blooms of rust, neglected and forlorn. Not for long, she told it, grabbing the loose end of the leather that still hung by the wall and pulling it tight. She laid the blade upon it with great reverence. Up towards the strop, her father had told her. Don’t put pressure on the blade, now. She did her best, but the razor skittered and stuttered its way up, bucking in her fingers. When Dad did it, the razor moved as smooth as melted butter up the strap, sharpening and honing the blade as it went, and he’d change direction on the way down to sharpen and clean the other side of the blade. She tried to mimic the flick of his wrist when she got to the top, but it was easier said than done. The blade bit into the leather, leaving a gash too small for an ordinary person to notice, but her father would spot it straight away. The second he came home, the first thing he’d see – before he’d even kissed her hello – would be this damage. Her heart began to pound.
She felt hot, and weak, and silly. The foam was beginning to itch. She took the blade away from the strap, and let it hang back by the wall. The razor would just have to do as it was. She was sure it was sharp enough.
She faced herself in the tiny, buckled mirror, the one in which everything seemed a little bit off to one side. She tilted her head and pulled her jaw askew to better present her face to the blade, and she carefully lowered it to her skin.
‘What in the name of God do you think you’re doing?’ Her fingers locked on the handle of the razor as she heard her mother’s voice. ‘You stupid child! Put that razor down this minute!’
The next second, her mother’s warm fingers were wrapped around her own, and the razor was being taken away. A flannel was doused under the cold tap and her face was cleaned of foam. She couldn’t help but see that Mum slipped the razor into her apron pocket. It doesn’t go there! she thought, with a wave of hatred. Dad never lets you touch his things! But Mum couldn’t hear her, of course.
‘You’re a carbon copy of that man,’ her mother muttered. ‘You’re him, cut short.’ There was a wobble in her voice, and the girl looked up. Her mother was crying, tears oozing out through her squashed-closed eyes, rolling down her reddened cheeks. A curl had come loose from her hair. She’d tried to do it herself instead of going to Mrs. Johnstone to have it set properly, but it hadn’t worked.
‘What were you doing with the razor, Bet?’ her mother asked, her eyes still shut.
‘Practising, Mum,’ she whispered. ‘So that I’ll be good for when Daddy comes home and he might let me work in the shop with him.’ Her mother’s hand gripped her arm, really tightly. Bet wanted to cry out, but she bit it back.
‘You’re a good girl,’ she said. ‘But I’ve told you about Daddy.’ Her voice skipped like a dusty record. ‘I’ve told you he’s gone, Bet, on the jet plane. He’s gone far away.’
‘Yes, Mum,’ she said. ‘But I’m practising for when he’s back.’ Mothers can be so silly, she thought. If someone goes away, they come back after a while. And Dad would be so proud of how good and helpful she was going to be when he came home, that he’d never even think of going away again. She tried to explain all this to Mum, but her eyes stayed closed. Her tears kept squeezing their way through.
Bet leaned her head on Mum’s shoulder and looked out past the kitchen, where the shop door was, its round window dark. Soon, the sunlight would come streaming through it again, and Dad would be standing there, his sleeves rolled up and his black head shining with pomade. She saw him look up and smile at her, his eyes saying Good girl, my girl. She smiled back, and let her mother weep.