Prompt: Hallelujah (performed by Matthew Schuler)
He sits in the chair, gritting his teeth against the thunderous ache inside his head, while the woman, Delilah, cuts his hair. Just a trim, he had agreed but quickly sickened at the sight of so much hair falling down around his shoulders, sliding down the front of his shirt, and the constant biting teeth of those furious scissors working their way toward his skull. And the pain inside his head, how like a bare, bright lightbulb scorching the surface with incandescent glow.
This is not a metaphor, he tells himself. This is happening. And the fear rises up inside again and he knows it will be such a simple thing to stand, push himself away from this chair and have her carried out of the kitchen. But it is three in the morning and the smell of her, her expert, nimble fingers, the sultry flash of that subtle smile. And he is kept sitting while hair falls in luxurious brown drifts. The piles of it at his feet.
The dog is whining and will not look at him. The kitchen is dark. She is working with only the light from the open refrigerator door.
She dips the comb into the bowl of water. “Almost done,” she promises, feeling the sudden tense of his muscles desperate to push her out and away from him.
He presses his hands against his thighs, careful to keep them occupied and from seeking mayhem. She would not be the first woman he had ever hit. The thought did not make him proud. But before he could finish it, she kissed him on the back of his neck. His skin prickled at the flower petal press of her lips.
She lay down the scissors. Stood back, admiring her work.
He was dizzy, nauseous with fear and shame. How could she do this to him? How could he allow it to happen?
He studies her face, her uncertain smile sliding into some other, stranger expression. She was hard enough to decipher in the daylight. At night, impossible.
And he stands, unsteady on his feet, watching the dog scurry away at the terrible sight of him.
She reaches out to steady him but he pushes her away, reaching instead for the kitchen counter.
“Show me,” he mutters. And she reaches up with a small silver hand mirror. The mirror gleams in the frigid kitchen light. This smallest of hours, where nothing good or useful is ever made. The hour where only regret is born. He pulls the towel around himself, suddenly feeling cold as a corpse.
She is there, waiting, and the dog is there, whimpering, and he is there, bathed in the meager gruel of moon and appliance light. And in the mirror is some new, smaller person. A shorn person. A hindered and crippled face.
He howls. The dog howls.
Lights in neighbor’s windows are lit as people part their curtains, glance out, then pull them closed. They wake up and brew the first pots of heavy, dark coffee. A melancholy beverage for a melancholy morning in this new kind of kingdom.