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Human Touch

By Pixileanin All Rights Reserved ©


Human Touch

The razor swam before him in a sea of iridescence. Its reflection against the glass had... drawn him in for a moment, he'd thought. Joe reached into the jar and shook off the wet, ignoring the way that the handle melded into his grip. He reminded himself that he was the barber, and these people would be a mess without him. 

"Morning, Joe." Hartman settled into the chair, a daily regular, but not much for words. 

Joe approached him with the sterile blade, gleaming from the alcohol. Hartman looked pale against the sun through the shop window. Maybe this was it. Maybe today, he'd get it right.

"Just like last time?" Hartman squinted at him, one eye shut and the other trained on the blade. Anticipating.

"That's right," Joe said evenly, hoping that this was indeed the last time. "You won't feel a thing."

He put razor to skin, gauging Hartman's reaction as each stroke revealed more scarring. The man had grown more confident with each treatment, asking for the sideburns to be trimmed a week ago. Yesterday, he’d let Joe attack his unruly beard. He’d known all along, they all did. But knowing wasn't the same as seeing. Seeing was believing, and Hartman hadn't wanted to believe.

Joe dabbed bits of stubble away from Hartman's mottled cheeks, and rotated the chair around slowly. His own hands trembled as Hartman stared into the mirror and traced the angry line running across his face and over one eye with a probing finger. 

"Not so bad. Adds character," Hartman said.

"They're waiting for you," Joe told him, but he hadn’t needed to say it. Hartman was finally looking beyond himself and straight through the mirror.

Every day since Hartman had arrived, they’d been watching on the other side. His wife. His kid, holding the scorched fireman's helmet he'd worn on the job.

"Guess I’ll be going." Hartman rose from the chair, eyes glued to his family. He shook Joe’s hand and stepped through the tall frame, back into his life. 

When he was alone, the mirror changed. Joe turned away. He didn't want to see the room filled with contraptions and the man who stared back at him with no hands. 

Prosthetics and robotic attachments weren’t worth going back to. Joe's life was here, where his fingers were bones and blood, and where he could still feel. 

After lunch, a woman wearing a nurse's outfit walked through the door with too much purpose. Joe frowned at her black medical bag. 

Her feet faltered when she saw him in the mirror. Joe wished she hadn’t, but sometimes seeing someone else’s reality helped them to accept their own. 

“I’m here to help.” She propped her bag on the chair and searched for something inside.

The mirror blurred and then cleared again, showing her half-shaven, half-tangled mass of hair where stitches had been. She’d had brain surgery, resulting in a lopsided smile and a classroom full of children who would love her in spite of everything. She just didn't see it yet.

"Sit down," he offered, moving her bag aside. "How about a trim?"

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