Candy Striper
By KJ Hays
Feeling frowzy, as even men can feel, he sat at the barber's.
He did not speak to her as she cut his hair for what is said often circulates.
Films rested not on his mind. Nor did some significant other. He merely wanted to forget.
He wanted a haircut in silence. The barber tried to ask him questions and he did not reply.
She tried to be polite and ignored his lack of common courtesy. Then she slowly lost patience.

Soon her brow knitted up and she spoke: "Come on Mr., you must have something to mention."
He smiled. He had nothing important to mention. The joy of the modest exists in silence.
No need to prefer to say anything if nothing needs to be said because everything is in apparent order.
He decided to be generous and so he faked a gesture: "Oh I saw the latest Coen Bros. film."
All of the people in the barbershop either liked it or said it was too violent. Then all fell quiet.
Save for the peaceful humming of the shears on his scalp as the barber's hands traveled a minute and familiar route that they had
taken on many heads on bygone days. He
considered what the barber's life must be like. She stood at 5'6. Her hair was
a faux ruddy hue. Her cracked face shared all of her sorrow as overtly as a Shrove Tuesday.
She went by Gale, the same way leaves go. And she seemed flighty in a gloomy way.
Perhaps she wanted a barbershop where her customers were livelier.

She asked him a question: "Would you like anything else done? You always get a flat-top."
She oozed boredom. Her ennui gathered round her narrowed curious eyes.
She wanted to see what he would say, as usual.
He said...O, OK how about you use my head like a canvas...and take out your frustrations.
He smiled into the mirror.

She grinned showing many plate-sized teeth and said: "If I took out my frustrations on your head. You would not have one anymore.
I have so much that I am angry at."

Now he knew why it was wise to say little at such a place. He imagined his skull being mangled by the blunted edge of a pair of plastic
clippers until blood slithered out like great, hellish serpents trying to swim leagues underwater. The picture of his head being bashed
about by a middle- aged woman with fake, red hair and perhaps a child or two she had no pride for...Death in the form of a stranger's
disappointment.

"Never mind." He laughed. Then the haircut went on in quiet like a dove's thoughts before flying.
He paid the barber and left feeling the same way he always did. Everything remained the same.

He did not need a flat top. He drove out to a bar. He needed a buzz.
Several drinks slid his way...almost all at once, but slower than that.
The bartender never looked at him. He only slid the liquor.

"No need to look at something I see every day," thought the bartender.
Then the man went out into the night. He saw what one sees at night.
Car after car parked somewhere on the street or perhaps abandoned at a gas station.
& the small handful of people that have to ride in the dark out of God's sight, as if there is such a thing.
Sometimes he heard a cat mewing or a dog hailing something it can only smell with a choked bark.
He went to another bar and repeated. Some bartenders talked to him early on. Towards the end of it, he got the same treatment he
received in the beginning. Everything the same.
When he stumbled out of the last bar he reached between the buttons on his jcrew shirt and felt the scar running up the middle of his
abdomen...It ran jagged up the middle of his body like the angry frown of an old man having a stroke. It did not heal neatly, and
would not ever...
He walked out to the curb and sat. He wanted to weep. He was as dry as the alcohol.
No tears came for he had spent them in drink along with a sock-full of change.
Everything feeling the same.
He thought about the car he never saw.
Then he remembered nothing.
Only the things doctors said, "What a strange injury. The diaphragm rarely ruptures."
There was the scar beneath the scar on his diaphragm where it had been repaired.
His body cavity felt like a tired bellows in an archaic blacksmith's shop.
He had survived an often-fatal happening and he cared not for his extra life.

Then a homeless man came up asking for loose change.
The man said he had none to give.
The homeless man persisted and sat down.
The man looked at the homeless man, got up, and walked away.
Too drunk to drive and too drunk to find his way home. It was going to be a long walk.
The homeless man followed. He told the homeless man to fuck off.
The homeless man left.

The man continued on down the frigid street that looked like a cake frosted with old gum.
He stepped on gum, not in it. Every step felt gummy.
Or was that his legs...then he collapsed against a fence in a park.

A group of idle girls who had finished goofing off at an HR party noticed him leaning against
the chain link fence as they passed by. One of them smiled in pity. & so another smiled as well in mimicry.
He shook off his stupor because he sensed them but could not see through the black.

One of them said, "Mr. let us get you home. You'll feel a lot better after a shower, shave, and maybe a haircut."

Everything felt the same.