Tim Bemis has a BA in creative writing from New England College, and an MFA in fiction from Southern New Hampshire University's low-residency MFA program. His work has appeared in the Henniker Review, Tacenda literary magazine, Lost on Route 66: Tales From the Mother Road, Black Heart Magazine, and Wilderness House Literary Review. He lives in New Hampshire.
Old Raccoon Eyes
An empty barbershop on a Sunday afternoon is a rare thing in my town. I say this because it’s placed between a Chinese buffet and a tanning salon, making it a very convenient and affordable spot for the locals as well as the section eight, EBT-toting families who come in from the city.
As I walk by the barbershop window, I imagine a lanky white man in his late thirties with large enough pants to smuggle both his sticky children in. He wears a hat with some sports team emblem, the bill crooked towards one of his awkward dumb-o ears. The mother in this scenario is only a wall away at the tanning salon, waiting patiently for her skin to boil or become cancerous. At the end of the story the four of them meet at the Chinese buffet, eat as quick as they can and leave without paying. A day of personal upkeep and diversity for them, but to others a deed punishable by death or at least a light stoning.
The barbershop’s possible Sunday clientele fades and I seize the opportunity of a slow day. A guy I work with asked me to be one of his groomsmen a few weeks earlier, and ever since he had been nagging me to get a haircut. His wedding is in less than a week and I still have the mop top, which provoked him to nag even harder.
“Look nice and presentable.”
Those are the words he chose. He should have told his fiancé the same thing, because obviously his future wife didn’t give a shit how she looked.
One of the barbers, a short man with a ponytail past his shoulders leads me to a chair within seconds of being inside. The dark color and thickness of his hair makes me wonder if he is Native American or Spanish. His skin is as white as mine but for some reason his hair makes me question his race. The mirror in front of me shows the lack of sleep under my eyes, even though I have been getting eight hours or more lately. It’s something I just can’t shake now that I’m older. I remembered a time when a co-worker told me that I looked like I got punched in both eyes due to my dark circles. I stare at the strange container of combs with green liquid inside that resembles mouthwash. It takes my mind off my face and that annoying memory.
“So, what we doing today?” the Barber asks.
“Shave the sides and back and cut a good amount off the top. Enough to grab.” Enough to grab, Tim? Who says that?
The Barber studies the back of my head. “You think a four would be short enough?”
I have no idea how short a four goes, but don’t feel like making the barber work harder than he has to. “That sounds right.”
“I can always go to a three if it’s not.”
He must have heard how unsure I was.
A kid sits in the chair next to mine as my Barber starts to use his clippers. The second Barber, a round pasty sort of man begins small talk while he puts his cape around the customer.
“Day off today?”
“Yeah, I thought I’d get a haircut since I’m starting school in a week.”
“Very good. What year you going into?”
“Freshmen in college.”
The Barber’s face stretches with a smile. “That’s great. I hope you had a good summer, college is where the real studying begins. You sticking around here?”
I roll my eyes at the plastic conversation, but then get the groggy feeling that comes with déjà vu.
I’m thankful for my less talkative Barber. He is here for one thing; to cut my hair and send me on my way. No bullshit and no pretending to give a fuck about my life. I thought about thanking him for it, but the conversation felt to awkward in my mind.
Tuning out the kid and nicer Barber is effortless since the soft sounds of an artist similar to Phil Collins ease out of the ceiling tiles.
“Yep. I’m going to New England College.”
I almost chime in and say that I went there, but decide it’s none of my business.
“Nice and local, good for you. How would you like your haircut today?” the Barber asks.
“Leave a little bit on the top, but shave the sides and back.”
I start to lean forward, but stop myself from getting up and my Barber shuts off his clippers. “Everything all right?”
Stares from the chatty Barber and kid feel like fire, but I don’t dare to look the kid in the face. Being older with facial hair doesn’t mean he won’t recognize me.
My back goes on the leather again. “No, I thought I forgot my wallet but felt it once I moved, sorry, you can keep going.”
A nice excuse I surprise even myself with. I look over at the kid without moving my head. Brown hair, hazel eyes by the looks of them, and a small cowlick at the end of his right eyebrow.
“Stop moving, please,” my Barber says. “I don’t want to give you a bald spot.”
This time I really make sure my eyes are the only things moving. Red pumas are on his feet. I couldn’t look at this kid anymore. My past history and characteristics I share with him are too uncanny to be normal.
I stay with my mirror and watch the quiet Barber, wishing he would focus more on speed than precision this time around.
Then I start to think too much, because that’s what I always do.
This kid is about to go to college, and if it just so happens to be a younger version of myself, should I tell him that commuting everyday will alienate him from everyone? And what about the mild stroke he’s going to have next August after he smokes too much weed in the sun? And his friends, is it a good idea to let him know almost every high school friend abandons him after he decides to quit doing drugs? Should I tell him how cynical and untrustworthy that’s going to make him?
And what about the women, the lies, and the drama he thought he left behind? And most importantly, the lost loves he’s going to experience? And that’s just post grad, I don’t know if–
“All set,” the quiet Barber says into the mirror.
I pinch a few hairs on the top of my head. “A little more, but not much.”
“You got it.”
Okay, lets go with the more positive things.
If I’m going to tell him anything, I should tell him to embrace the weird, dorky, and nerdy features that make up his personality. Assure him that in the future it will introduce him to some amazing people. I remembered being so unsure about myself then and how much of a nightmare it was. I still get that way occasionally, but it doesn’t cripple me like it used to. Maybe he would make more friends if I told him, or maybe he would have more fun in college and not have to wait until grad school to feel a connection amongst his peers.
I’m going to do it. I’m going to stand up after my haircut and say, “Hey, Tim can I talk to you outside?” I know he’ll be thinking the worst since it’s out of the ordinary, and talking to strangers abruptly has never been one of my strong points, but it will be pretty funny on my end to mess with my younger self. And if it’s just some random kid who looks like me, then I’ll come off odd and walk away. It won’t be the first time and it certainly won’t be the last.
He seems happy. I don’t remember being that happy during this point in my life. Maybe he’s faking it so things don’t get awkward between him and the Barber. Even so, it’s good to see myself look that way. He’s about to go through four years of mostly shit and unfulfilled promise. But he’ll be fine a few years after that. That’s when he’ll actually be happy and not have to fake it, if he is in fact faking now.
He could go in a totally different direction if I tell him about his future. He could be miserable. But, there’s a fifty percent chance he would be happy too. Maybe even happier than I am currently.
“How’s that?” the quiet Barber asks.
The mirror reveals how short my hair is as well as my old raccoon eyes. I want to complain, but I know it’s my own fault for not paying attention.
“Looks fine.” I should have stayed home and shaved my head.
My younger self’s haircut is almost done. I can tell by the way his hair looks.
Outside in the lot, he parked his silver Audi A4 next to my car. That A4 was nothing but trouble during my first year of college. I ended up trading it in for a Honda after the transmission blew. Another thing I could tell him to watch out for.
The thought of him really existing gets to me when I begin driving, and it makes me laugh like a drugged out psychopath. Luckily my windows are up.