The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes fiction about
door chimes, and a moderately tall man, with brown hair streaked
by a tinge of blonde releases the door handle and walks across the
barbershop to one of the two empty, black chairs beside the mirrors.
The chime plays again as the door swings shut, and out comes a graying
man from an opening at the rear of the barbershop, probably his
quarters. He is getting on in his years, but, by his movements,
any observer could surmise his effortless skill with the scissors
and comb. He looks out the door, as if expecting another customer
to fill the other empty seat, and, finding nothing more than passing
streetcars, asks his new guest, "How you doin'? What'll it
be today. Have anything in mind?"
Pausing, the other
man answers with doubt, "I'm not sure."
"Comon. You must've come in here with somethin' in mind. I can
do a president if you like. Teddy Roosevelt?"
"Nah, I'm not in the mood for anything special. It's just getting
long and curly at the ends, around the neck and ears. Trim it up, spick
"No particular style in mind?"
"No, in fact, if you want to hear a little personal truth, I've
never once had a haircut I liked."
"Then you've come to the right barbershop my friend because I've
never given a dislikable haircut."
"Well," the customer laughs, "you've got a challenge
today, because ever since I was a boy, after walking out of the shop,
I'd shake my head into a tangle. I think I had something against symmetry,
or conspicuous asymmetry. I didn't like the way it was parted down the
middle, or a little to the side. I didn't like the way all the hairs
fell cleanly together, their ends in square clumps. Everything was too
crisp and even for me, so I scrambled my hands through my hair until
there was at least the illusion of random."
"So you want something... a little off the wall?"
"No, not at all. Weren't you listening? I just don't want any symmetry
in the dew. If you cut something on one side, make sure to cut the hairs
differently -- at least a little bit differently -- on the other."
The barber shakes his head behind the man, visibly confounded by his
customer's unusual request. He begins by sweeping off the floor around
his customer, and then, pulling a green smock from the back of the other
chair, drapes it over him, buttoning it around his neck.
"I always hated these things too, how they chafed around the neck."
"It sounds like you hated an awful lot of things when you were
The customer shakes his head as well as he can, tight as it is in the
collar of the smock, "No, I think I may have loved a good deal
of things too, but... it must be... that I remember the worst the clearest.
Or at least right now I do."
The barber turns a pair of suspicious eyes on his customer as he readies
his tools. He washes off a comb in the counter sink and a pair of scissors
as well. He seems to want to cut off the conversation because it is
getting too weird, but his customer, given the chance to speak, seems
to want to pour some problem on the barber's shoulders that he is as
yet unaware of. As the barber begins his task by combing his hair back
and snipping off some uneven ends, the customer decides to rekindle
"Of course, as things become less muddled, I'm sure that what I
love will come back to me. Right now... things seem very dark... but
-- I hope -- with time, eventually everything I lost will come back
The barbershop pretends to concentrate on his work. But the customer,
taking his silence as a license to continue speaking, decides to have
a little monologue with the barber listening in, as if he were his psychologist.
"Every morning I wake up, and look out the window, and the world
seems more vivid. Have you ever thought about what would happen if you
lost all your memories? Amnesia... is what they call it... I guess.
Have you given much thought to amnesia? No? I wake up, and I look at
my face in the mirror, and every morning I re-discover something about
myself that I hadn't known for three whole years. Like -- look here
-- this scar."
The barber pretends to look, but continues cutting his hair, wanting
to have the customer out as soon as possible.
"This morning I looked into my face -- and suddenly noticed it
-- and it was like an epiphany, like I'd discovered America on my right
cheek. Look! I said to myself. Look at that scar! And it was the first
time I'd really looked at it in three years, because, this morning,
I finally remembered that when I was seventeen I had very bad acne.
And that I picked at the pimples some days, after school, in the mirror.
And that that scar was the result of a very bad cyst under the skin
that I poked and prodded until..."
"Hey. I ain't paid to hear this kind of stuff. Lunchtime's in about
twenty minutes. I don't want to be thinking about anything like that
while I'm eating my roast beef on rye in back. Yah understand?"
The customer looks put off, and replies despondently, "Yes... I
sometimes become carried away with reliving the past. But... it's hard...
if you'd only imagine what it would be like to lose them all... maybe
you could understand just how hard it is... especially because everyone
you know is gone, now that you remember them well enough to know them..."
The barbers stops cutting his hair, and looks angrily down, "Look,
are you trying to feed me some bullshit or what? I cut hair for ten
fifty a dew, and in the order doesn't come any psychologizing or tears
of sympathy. I dunno you, just like you dunno me, just like I dunno
any of my customers very well. You gotta problem, you tell it to a psychologist.
You wanna haircut, you come to me, you sit, and then you pay ten fifty
after it's done."
"You were ready enough to respond to me when I just small-talked."
"Yeah, well, I wouldn't have responded if I knew what it was leading
"If I were to talk about the A's, or the Sacramento Kings, what
would you say then? You got an opinion on them, and we'd talk the whole
"That's because it's a point of common interest. A conversation
is supposed to go both ways, don' yah get it? You don' go in someplace
talking about somethin' no one can relate to. Go find a goddam' amnesiac
convention or somethin' if you wanna blubber about old memories. And
I don' even believe you anyway."
"I don't think there are any 'amnesiac' conventions... besides,
I'm a former amnesiac. I'm recovering, so I wouldn't fit in there anyway."
"Yeah, well, you talked more like an amnesiac than any person I
know. You're having trouble fitting in anywhere, you gotta settle for
the place that fits you."
"No one should have to settle for 'fitting in'! People should build
relationships from scratch, because the ones forged on common interests
will only sustain as long as they remain. When they disappear, the people
part ways, and that's that -- bye bye, see yah. Every day, more memories
come back, and I feel different. My interests keep changing because
my memories keep getting fuller and fuller. Yesterday I remembered that,
when I was seventeen, before... it happened... I loved building model
bridges from popsicle sticks. I'd engineer them to hold up under a massive
amount of tension. But should I just join a model bridge building club
or something? Tomorrow, who knows what comes flashing back into my mind?
Aren't there any friends who can share more than common interests, people
who just like each other's company for what it is?"
"Are you asking me to be your friend or somethin'? I got news for
you: it's a little late to be makin' friends. What you need is a professional."
The both of them freeze -- the barber with the blades of his scissors
loosely holding a sheet of hair, and the customer with his hands gripping
his chair arms. Bands of sunlight reflected by the passing cars flash
from edge to edge of the room. Overhead, a wooden fan slowly revolves,
and when a large pickup truck passes, it's brilliant white coat of paint
reflecting a luminous wall, the shadows of the blades flutter for a
moment in the doorway at the rear of the room where the barber's roast
beef on rye awaits.
"Do you want to hear a little story?" the customer asks.
"Why not?," the barber replies gruffly, "As long as it
ain't a pimple popping story, or anything else'll make me sick while
I eat my lunch."
"Don't worry about that... I have many stories in this head..."
the customer laughs, "In fact -- if anything -- I owe my profession
to memory loss -- but that's beside the point, I'll begin now. Here
"Picture the Grand Canyon. You've been?"
"No. I haven't been. Do I look like I got the wages to get out
of here often? I got better things to do than go to some dusty canyon
"Well it's an astounding view, one whose impression never fades
-- even in the haziest hours. I'll describe it for you a little... but
here, no more interruptions...
" First you come up a tall road through the dry hills -- on a jolty
tour bus, or maybe in an old station wagon with the kids gabbling and
fighting in the back seat, and the missus beside you. Or maybe you're
a lonely fellow who came in a car all by himself on a solo road trip
from California. When you crest the hill, you'll come upon a small visitor's
center with a lookout gallery, gift shop, restaurant, and bathroom.
There's a dancing square across from the visitor's center, and sometimes
Native Americans, paid to perform, will dance around on it, in rings,
in squares, in lines, singing a festive tribal song to the pounding
of drums. But this is all uninteresting. You ignore these. They're all
superfluous minor diversions, because ahead, you can feel something
massive looming over the gravelly concrete path. Over the horizon awaits
something more beautiful than the sun itself, though only because of
its rarity. As you walk amidst the jiving bodies of tourists, clothed
in baseball caps, t-shirts, and rubber flip-flops, slowly the infinite
stratified bands of varying reds, browns, tans, auburns, maroons...
the other wall of the sheer cliff, a blur from a mile away, will appear
as a massive painter's canvas, streaked with every color possible in
the first quadrant of the spectrum of visible light.
"The concrete path, streaming with tourists licking ice cream cones
and sipping lemonade, winds its way all around the canyon, and you can
see the trickle of pedestrians on the other side, like little ants,
pausing with hands extended, cameras flipping through reels, binoculars
following some bird or some crack in the gigantic ravine.
"You decide to walk for awhile. You're kind of reclusive, and you
want to find a lonely spot away from all of the children screaming and
crying. You quicken your pace as you hear an older man lecturing a group
of students on the geology of the canyon. Following the metal guard
rail, you weave your way through bodies as the scalding sun beats hotly
down on your blue cap. There is seemingly no spot within ten meters
of the gorge free from a family posing for a mantle photograph, free
from a couple kissing and giggling -- almost oblivious to the view --
free from foreign students bantering in their foreign language, free
from groups of buddies -- sober, but drunk on fun -- daring each other
to step over the guard rail.
"So you continue walking, searching for a place where the crowd
thins and the reigning sound is the susurrus of tree leaves, and the
cry of vultures circling in the cloudless sky.
"Just as you come to a rest, looking at a fairly empty portion
of the path with only the company of a man leaning against the guard
rail taking photographs, a hot gust of wind blows your cap from your
head. Annoyed, because for all it took to get away from the people,
nature couldn't leave you alone, you stomp over to your cap and pick
it up off the ground. But something startling happens. As you reach
for your cap, you notice a cry. The man on the railing must have dropped
his camera, because he is leaning far out over the rail. His hands claw
at the air. Your blood surges with adrenaline and you hair stands on
end, and you get a pit in your stomach. He is going to fall.
"Tripping, stumbling, he wheels over the rail before you have time
to say or do anything, and you picture his broken death on the rocks
below. But one of his hands grasps the cliff edge, and another fiercely
flies up over the rock to grip it, shakily, with fingernails.
'Help,' he cries out to you, and you look around immediately for help.
You're afraid of grabbing his hands. He might pull you down, so you
search for someone else to share the burden with. Suddenly you notice
another tourist in a tacky Hawaiian shirt, loosely buttoned, running
over from a short ways down the path. He's sweating profusely, and his
gut protrudes under his white undershirt.
'Grab him!' the man yells at you, running. 'Get his arms and I'll get
"But you're nervous. You don't know the man and you don't know
if he's trustworthy. Although he looks to weigh as much as a whale,
you imagine that even between the two of you, your combined weight might
not be enough -- you might, all three, fall together! -- so you quickly
blurt out a stuttering reply.
'You grab him first! I'll take hold of your waist with my arms, and
you get him!'
"It looks as if for once in his life, the chubby man in the Hawaiian
shirt is thankful for his greater girth, because he shouts hastily in
response, 'Your waist is much smaller and I'll have an easier time holding
onto you. I'll circle my arms around your waste, and you grab him. You
don't let go, and I won't let go, and we'll have him up in no time!
Now move! Get his arms! I've got your waste!'
"The fat man circles around you, trying to get behind you, but
you turn to face him.
'Your hands are larger, and you'll have a much easier time holding onto
his. You can get a better grip. You'd better grab him. My hands are
sweaty and small, and he might slip off and fall down to his death.
Do you want to be responsible for his death? Here, stop moving, let
me get behind you. I'll--'
'No you don't! You let me take hold of you now or he's dead! Why the
hell don't you see reason and stop arguing?'
'There's no sense in one, or even two of us dying because you're too
thick to understand simple logic.'
'Logical when the man is about to fall?'
'Act quickly, but first act smartly! Never act prematurely or you'll
botch the job anyway!'
"You turn your back on the other man and he tries to grab you,
but you dash away. Running, you holler back at the man, 'I'm going for
the Ranger's. I'll get a professional. You stay with him, or you can
just go to hell!'
"The other man screams back at you, huffing and puffing, 'There's
a time to wait and a time to act! You see? He's already fallen you nincompoop!'
The atmosphere in the barbershop clears. The air seems thinner. The
customer lets out a deep sigh after finishing his tale, and the barber
stops cutting, looking thoughtfully down at the man who he'd only met
fifteen minutes ago.
"You tryin' to tell me somethin'?"
"It's just a story. You can take whatever you want from it."
"So the guy died and the two of them didn' do squat?"
"There's a reason we have professionals, psychologists for hire.
It's because of selfishness. Nobody wants to hear anything if it spells
his boredom or disgust, just like nobody wants to take the hand of a
dying man if it might spell his own doom."
"Where'd you come up with that story man? You just make that up
"How do you do it?"
"Well... in the muddle... it was like I had nothing... like all
there was in my head was a void... so I had to fill it with something.
I filled it with those... new memories made from random things I saw,
heard, and read about."
"You know," the barber scratches his head musingly, "I
don't make too many friends I can talk about random things with in this
business," and he finishes the final touches on his customer's
haircut, "You wanna join me for lunch and exchange stories?"
"Yeah, sure," the customer gets up from the chair after the
barber dusts off his neck. "How much will it be?"
The exchange is brief, and then they walk across the checkered floor
to the door at the rear of the room as the scattered beams of light
reflected by the passing cars flood the walls and mirror with a random
"You know," echoes the barber's voice from the back room,
"any time you wanna come down and get a haircut and tell a story
over lunch again is fine by me."
© David Tavernier November 2004
never see him coming
bee, swarms of them, filtered in a buzzing stream through the roseprick
in his suit
Never make eye contact with a bum