Note to readers: The remaining chapters of this book will only be posted in excerpt form. To obtain a copy of the complete chapter, please request one by completing the Contact Andrew Bowers form.
“Sure about this?” said Phoebe, poised with hair clippers over my head, the hum of its blades increasing in my ears like the sight of their undomesticated target made them hungry. Why wouldn’t I be sure? Sitting in front of the bathroom mirror, a plastic table cover clothes-pegged around my neck serving as a barber’s cape, they had already sawed through my beard, its remains now strewn in defeated heaps of steel wool on the floor. And I had been unshrinking when Phoebe lathered up my face with an anachronistic shaving brush and scraped away the leftover scruff with the same straight razor she used to spruce up the corpses at the funeral home, even when the blade glided with practiced ease over the speedbump of my Adam’s Apple and I was keenly aware of being only one mistimed cymbal crash away from joining them.
“Why wouldn’t I be sure?”
“You look like a baby who can’t figure out who that other baby is living in the mirror.” It’s true I was eyeing myself with some misgiving, stroking the spongy skin of my cheeks without the slightest rasp, a cleaner shave impossible under the current laws of physics. But I recognized exactly who that was living in the mirror; the real me, so much younger looking, cockier, unmasked with the beard gone. Once my head was shaved, I would be fully reverted in appearance to my former self and that was clashing with the transformation I sensed I was undergoing. Fully? Opening my mouth to stay Phoebe’s hand, it struck me Dylan had been right; I wasn’t the same without that gold crown prefacing whatever I was about to say with a warning glint, proceed with this guy at your peril.Now I looked more like some hapless dope who’d hit on the wrong man’s wife, and the length of my hair wasn’t about to change that. And besides, the prospect of getting under the shower, hot water beating down on my scalp, stubble flecked soap foam swirling down the drain, exfoliated skin tingling under the coarse fabric of the towel, that glorious feeling of being impeccably groomed when slipping into fresh clean clothes, once my captain’s uniform, the very same pleasure centers in the brain that respond to cocaine activated by satisfaction in life, tipped the balance.
“Go for it,” I was about to say but Phoebe had tracked the seesawing uncertainty in my shifting features, the thump down of resolve to proceed, and made a lawnmower’s path straight down the middle of my scalp, two thick curtains of hair dangling from either side.
“Ta-da!” she sang, pausing to appraise her handiwork, “A perfect reverse mohawk. Funky. Maybe we should leave it like that.”
Subduing a powerful sexual urge to slap her hard across the ass where her trademark denim skirt was at its tightest, finally put to the test my first instincts about her sitting there at the end of the bar on that infernal train from New York, I instead coughed up this uninspired comeback: “Maybe we should retake Hairdressing 101.”
“This is fun. Maybe we should carve a dirty word in the side of your head here.”
“Sure,” I said, sitting on the hand the resurfacing urge had put into motion, “Maybe ‘Fuck you’ could serve as a permanent response to our brilliant ideas.”
“Ain’t being reborn a bitch?” she said with a wink, setting to my head once, bunches of hair calving off under the drag of the clippers and slipping to the floor.
Emerging from the shower, even more invigorating than anticipated, I stood in front of the mirror, its fog burning away under the cold air rushing through the window I’d opened as far as the rusted crank would allow. “God, that knocked at least 20 years off you,” Phoebe had whined with the last swipe of the clippers, the unfairness of being so easily disencumbered from the plight of middle age as exasperating to her as it had been to Ally. Pointing out my eyebrows still contained some telltale gray came off as a taunt and she threatened to shave them off too. Wait a minute, Ally? It’s the first time I’d had an Ally pang for what, at least a couple days now. And why hadn’t I been instantly plunged into melancholy over the memory of Melanie gleefully shaving my head, Ally eating her knuckle as she watched? Ally. Strange too that the sight of my penis, that useless bit of pachyderm skin dangling from the end the bane of my childhood, wasn’t inciting the usual raging monologue directed at Jeff Rosenberg and all his kind for fucking her with his upgraded alternative. Were these the early symptoms of letting go, this ‘conscious disengagement phase’ Shannon was always harping on about? I pictured the end of a rope snapping away over a cliff edge and a different flavor of melancholy, sour and bilious, momentarily rose in my throat before I spat it down the sink and set to brushing my teeth (which had shifted with age into a more uneven configuration I made a mental note to tell Phoebe when the clippers weren’t around) with industrial strength toothpaste designed to kill a man’s breath along with his blackest thoughts. I felt good. Alive. And I wanted it to stay that way.
“Something’s changed,” I said, emerging from the bathroom into the firelight where Phoebe stood at the window, a loon out there with a broken mind wailing in the darkness.
“No shit,” she said absently over her shoulder where a bra strap, taut under the weight it carried, was exposed. “I barely recognize you.”
“I feel like I’m living in the present.”
“What’s that?” she said, stiffening with attentiveness.
“I feel like I haven’t really been here. You know, here. With you and the others. Just mooning around in the past wishing I could get in that tin can,” I said, throwing an invisible dart at Bob Calloway’s simulator even though Phoebe still had her back to me, “And fly back in time to not make those wrong turns. You know? Point the needle straight. So everything now would be just, not perfect, but just– “
“Just as it was,” she whispered.
“Yes,” I said, and I wished she’d turn around now. “But that’s what’s changed. I think I’m starting to move in the right direction now. Eyes forward.”
“Like the future matters?”
“Maybe more that there is one. It doesn’t help that jail is only postponed, not cancelled, but at least I’m in this moment. Here and now. Finally,” I said, willing her to turn around, “With you.” Hunching up, she hugged herself but still didn’t turn, a wet sniffle escaping as I moved up behind her.
“I just want you to be happy,” she murmured, my fingers bumping over the bra strap as they glided along her shoulder blade, insides boiling with desire, absolutely no need for the 25 mg dose that normally got me to the gates.
“I also never told you what a knockout you are,” I said straight up, and the deep kissing and fumbling with buttons began. My belt buckle jangling as she jerked it free of the strap, she paused and said, “It’s been awhile for me.”
“I doubt any longer than it’s been for me,” I said, recalling with a shudder that the last time for me had been with Julianne Moore.
“So be gentle,” she said, with a tremulous laugh as though she too could see the morning after carnage in Julianne Moore’s bedroom that I was shooing from my mind. Proceeding to unzip my fly she glanced up and, her flush mottled white as she blanched, began making odd clucking sounds she seemed to think were words.
“Okay, maybe it has been longer for you than for me,” I said, to which her response was a sustained round-eyed scream of terror.
“There in the window!!!”
“In the fucking window! There was a face! A terrible… a horrible face!”
To be continued…
*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available at: http://bit.ly/2u7rqcL
© Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned (The Angle of Attack: Chapter 24), 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrew Bowers and Requiem for the Damned, 2020 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.