It’s Sensual Saturday and as promised:
The alarm sounded at 3 pm and Sarge’s fist would have promptly demolished the little clock radio, as it had several predecessors, except for the fact that a heavy plastic red milk crate prevented said fist from direct contact with the screaming radio. Impact, indirect and muted as it was, still elicited the desired opening of annoyed eyes and the resumption of rational thought required for silencing the radio. Mission accomplished, Sarge lay on his back staring at the cold cement ceiling contemplating this weekend’s obligations which included catching the 4 pm bus for the forty-five minute ride to M–, the first part of the journey to his parents’ home. He’d managed to dodge the bullet of attending Sunday family dinners for the previous five weeks, in part thanks to the severe winter weather conditions which had resulted in road closings and cancelled bus service and partly from claiming exhaustion from overtime loading freight whenever the truckers eventually arrived. But today the roads were clear, buses were running, the skies were crowded with clouds but no snow and there was no way to evade the fact that it was his mother’s birthday. Like it or not, spending quality time with family demanded high priority status or there’d be the wrath of his father, Dylan, to face for disappointing Nora if he didn’t show up. Knowing exactly what was forthcoming, Sarge inhaled and exhaled deeply and slowly several times. “And this too shall pass,” he reassured himself.
Having deliberately left little time to spare, Sarge hauled himself up for a quick shower, chugging down the remaining half of a quart of orange juice in between latherings of soap and shampoo. Knowing he had to keep moving at a steady pace in order to catch the bus on time kept his mind from setting up a rebellion to the entire family scenario. It wasn’t until he returned to the half tiled bathroom to pull a comb through his still wet hair before departing the warehouse partly converted to a mere shadow of a loft like residence that he paused. Catching sight of his reflection in the mirror over the sink, he held the comb still in mid stroke. “Oh hell, Nora is going to have a field day. Best birthday present ever, yeah, right. Well, nothing for it now, boyo. No time for shearing.” Throwing the comb down, he shook his head hard from side to side thus sending a fair amount of water in all directions, felt for the small package nestled in the inside chest pocket of his coat and forced himself out the door, down the stairs and in the direction of the bus stop.
Twenty-three minutes into the ride the bus encountered a patch of black ice and skidded briefly. Sarge looked up from following Dirk Gentley’s holistic adventures until the driver resumed forward motions then suddenly caught his reflection in the window. His still drying hair had worked its way into a fairly decent imitation of wild berry brambles. Setting down his book, he tugged and pulled it away from his face then tied the upper half back with a rubber band from a newspaper that he’d shoved into his pocket a few days back. The only thing that recommended this meager effort was that now at least Nora wouldn’t be able to tell him to get it out of his face.
He grinned pleased with knowing he’d thwarted one verbal motherly missile. Then he noted that he couldn’t really make out his own smile between his overgrown mustache and beard. More than a little disconcerted by this observation of himself, Sarge leaned back in his seat to study his rather hairy face further. Just before the bus reached his stop, he decided that the upside of the current state of his unruly head of hair was that it ought to keep at bay any of the usual sort of women one of his brothers, or their wives, had somehow managed to con into attending this family affair with the promise of meeting a highly eligible working class bachelor with a steady well-paying job and, so far, no known nasty vices beyond a strange but harmless reading habit. This notion was so agreeable that Sarge reached up and considered yanking the rubber band out of his hair in order to enhance the messy effect.
What Sarge had tried and failed to work out, was how his well intentioned family managed to keep up the steady stream of what they considered appropriate potential baby breeders. Didn’t any of these women ever talk to each other? Surely they must have connections since they invariably came from some part of either his brothers’ or their wives’ work, social or church circles. By this point in time, Sarge figured that any single woman who even remotely had contact with his family members ought to have been seriously warned off him by at least one, if not several in the long line of her predecessors.
Rubber band between his fingers he suddenly realized the downside of his current appearance: yesterday morning he’d actually approached a young woman, one who’d unwittingly caught his interest, on a city street looking much as he did now. It was a small wonder that Lily hadn’t promptly smacked him upside his head with her backpack before hightailing it away from him as fast as possible. Taking a different view of his appearance, Sarge decided that a very thorough trimming was in order before next Friday evening. “Boyo, you got some serious ground to make up if you’re going to get any traction whatsoever with Poached Eggs.”
When the bus finally reached his stop, Sarge nearly bolted from the doors due to the need to release the nervous tension that been on the rise ever since he’d started thinking about his brief conversation with Lily on the deserted one way street. Luckily the recently shoveled sidewalks had earlier been served a considerable meal of rock salt that kept the slick soles of his only pair of semi-dress shoes from landing him on his ass. Not for the first time, he wished he’d worn his heavy work boots and brought along the still new smelling sleek black loafers in a bag for exchange just before crossing the threshold to his parents’ home.
He arrived on the doorstop of the three-story brownstone without any close encounters between the seat of his black wool slacks and the thigh high piles of snow bordering the sidewalks and streets. As he bent down to brush the rock salt and ice from the hem of his slacks and shoes, the front door opened and his father stood staring down at him. “Yeah, you better come in clean as a whistle, you inconsiderate bugger. About time you found your way home to your mother’s table.” Dylan shook a long hooked finger in Sarge’s face when he stood up. “I been busy imagining all sorts of hellishly painful ways to deal with your ass if you didn’t show today of all days.”
“Nice to see you too, Dad. How about a hug?” Sarge opened his arms and stepped towards his tall, hard framed father who growled and nimbly moved out of reach into the house in response.
“Nora! Your eldest has finally decided to grace our humble abode with his presence! Come quick before he clears out through the back door!” Smirking, Dylan stood with his thick arms folded across his massive chest while the sound of his wife’s footsteps on the hardwood floor announced her approach from the large square dining room. “Better catch the slippery bugger while the catching is good.”
Taking off the long army coat from which he and Kozy, his so-called landlord and friend, had spent the better part of Friday night removing the paint splatter, Sarge watched his mother come towards him at full tilt then halt and stand still while looking him slowly up and down once then several more times. Thinking her behavior was a ploy to get him wailing in grief over his guilt for not coming to dinner for five weeks straight, Sarge started towards her until he saw that Nora retreated equally with each step he took. Coat tossed over his shoulder, Sarge stood and hung his head for a moment. “Okay, I’m sorry I haven’t made it home until today. I know I should have called Benj or hitched a ride in with a semi. My bad. Can we get this part over and done with already? I really am sorry.”
Nora, no shrimp herself when it came to height at just an eighth of an inch shy of a full six feet, dug her right fist into her lean hip and stared silently at her eldest son. The clock struck five pm and caught Nora’s glare for a few seconds. Without warning, she moved fast towards Sarge. Reaching out with her left hand she dug her strong fingers deep into his beard and yanked his face down towards hers. “Good thing you’re here before anyone else.” Still clutching a handful of her startled son’s facial hair, Nora set off intent on hauling Sarge out to the chilly back porch.
“Okay! Okay, I’m coming. Just let go, Ma. You don’t need to drag me.” Knowing better than to try to extract himself by exerting his own strength. Sarge tentatively tapped on Nora’s wrist signaling his willingness to comply.
Nora replied by tightening her grip on his beard and walking faster. “Dylan, straight razor, right quick now. If you don’t mind!”
“Oh, you’re in for it now, Boyo! Oh yes you are indeed.” Dylan set off to get the requested razor with more than a dash of devilish glee in his step.
“Razor?! Ma, what—ouch!” From the corner of his eye Sarge saw Dylan digging in a kitchen drawer just before Nora pulled him through the back door and out onto the narrow back porch with iced snow decorating the insides of the glass panes. Releasing Sarge’s beard, she grabbed his shoulders and pushed him down onto an old kitchen chair.
“Sit! Don’t even think about moving, Sargent.” Nora shouted as if at a dog who’d deliberately forgotten what house-training was all about.
“Okay! Okay! I’m not moving. Chill out already, Ma.” Sarge sat motionless, on the chair with his palms up and open in an effort to convey that he was indeed willing to do whatever it took to appease the Fury who’d suddenly stepped in for his usually very mellow, very understanding, very good-humored mother.
Alas for Sarge, Nora the Good Witch Mother had not even the slightest whit of interest in putting in an appearance at her own birthday party this year. Leaning in until there was barely an inch between the tip of her nose and Sarge’s, Nora seethed. “Not a word more out of you until I’m done. Understood?”
“Done with what, Ma?”
Nora smiled her wide sideways smile and tapped the bridge of her son’s nose with the black painted nail of her right index finger. “Shhhhhhh.”
Taking notice of her uncharacteristic choice of nail polish color, Sarge leaned back as far as the old straight-back chair allowed in order to get a better look at his mother. Vanity had kept her hair pitch black well beyond any normal expectation of it being free of any hint of grey. But today Nora’s formerly matte finished black hair shone with a glittering brassiness that would have quickly alerted Sarge that something was up with his mother even if she hadn’t suddenly launched into her assault on his beard. Her usual simple, comfortable black dress for family dinners had been replaced with one featuring a square-cut neckline low enough to reveal the faint upper crests of her breasts and a skirt with an elegant side slit that offered views of her long legs above her knees. Her shoes had the barest of heels, but heels nonetheless, for a woman who had never before worn anything but straight flats. Realizing with a start that even her lipstick was black, Sarge whispered, “Who the hell are you and what have you done with my mother?”
Nora replied by taking the thick round brush from the bowl of hot soapy water Dylan had set on another chair and squashing it deftly into his beard. Working with a threatening vigor she quickly lathered her son’s face without any regard for his clean grey dress shirt. Feeling Dylan grip his hair with one hand to steady his head and bear down on his shoulder with another, Sarge simply stared wide-eyed at his mother as she attacked his face with a gleaming straight razor. Inside of five minutes his entire mustache was a memory of slightly curling brown hairs scattered over the cold wooden porch floorboards quickly being joined by the beard he adored for all the protection from the winter cold its untidy thickness had provided. Upon finishing her barbering, Nora flung the razor down on the chair beside the bowl of water and strode back into the kitchen and beyond without saying a word but with her heels pounding down hard with every step.
With a single unsympathetic look at their shocked son over his shoulder, Dylan followed in Nora’s wake. Sarge gasped for air as he looked at the mass of hair Nora had deposited on the floor. His shirt was thoroughly soaked and stray clumps of his hair stuck to the wetness. For no other reason than to buy time to catch his breath, he took hold of the broom in the corner near the kitchen entrance and swept the hair into a pile over which he placed the chair as no dustpan or alternative was in sight.
Knowing there was an array of old but clean and dry shirts of his and his brothers kept in one of the bedrooms on the second floor, Sarge made his way into the kitchen and through the dining room where his parents sat silently drinking dark red wine from large wine glasses he’d never seen used before. Without a word, he walked past them and went upstairs to change his shirt.
Picking out a dull dark blue shirt, Sarge made the switch while wondering about what his mother had just done to him, her behavior and appearance. As he turned to exit the bedroom, he saw his reflection for the third time that day. This time he didn’t even recognize his own face. Staring at the clean-shaven chin, cheeks and upper lip Sarge blinked in shock at the unexpected transformation of his appearance. Backing up to the nearest twin size bed, he sat down keeping his eyes on the mirror. While he was still struggling to come to terms with the stranger staring back at him from the round glass on the wall, the door bell broke the house’s silence. From downstairs came sounds indicating the arrivals of his five younger brothers and their families. Sarge wasn’t sure he could descend the stairs until he heard the mob of tiny nieces and nephews running amok and laughing. Only then did he take his leave of the strange young man in the mirror without a single nick on face or neck from the forced shaving.
Breakfast Special, fourth helping, “People?! Really now….” https://47whitebuffalo.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/breakfast-special-fourth-helping-people-really-now/