In the Barber Shop

Mary Nork

It’s just me today, Mary says. Only me.
No Ted, no Al and hardly any Tom.
Here I am, four chairs and all but out of help.

    She flaps a plastic sheet and I’m caped like a super hero
while she runs the clippers along the back of my neck.

They’re either dead or dying, she says.
Can’t take working for a woman.
    It kills them.

    From the side room: I’M NOT DEAD YET.
    NEAR ENOUGH, she hollers.

That’s old Tom, she tells me,
he’s sobering up from last night.

Truth is, we’re all half gone, aren’t we?
Cut one day,
grows back the next.         How do we even know we’re here?
      Life’s all windows and mirrors.
      A little steam and we fade away.
      These days, life cuts close, and if you lose a bit of skin,
      well, that’s what makes us tough.
                         She smacks me on the back.
                         I laugh with her.
                                           But here’s a secret: Never let Tom near you with a razor.
                                           Has the shakes, bad.

                         She unties the plastic cape and brushes gray from my mortal shoulders.

Hard to get help these days, she says.
Hard to get any help at all.