>>> The Lady’s Shave
By staff writer NG Hatfield
February 27, 2008

« Read Part I

From the balcony of our motel room, I could hear the faint, repetitive sounds of skin on cardboard. Three or four sets of raps, smacks, whatever they’re called and I was too curious to continue smoking. I gave Hoagie the joint, pinched fingers to pinched fingers, less I risked the weed falling out of my mouth as I leaned on the railing to investigate.

I tilted my torso over the dirty green bars.

Below, a fat, curly-haired brunette packed her cigarettes near the lobby. Whapping the bright box against her wrists, she stood soaked in sweat, flailing her fatty arms in the noon sunshine. Her squint pushed a thick fold of crow’s-feet up to her temples as she winced and heaved and turned the box a few dozen times. It was a chaotic slothfulness. Each strike of the box that actually hit her palm seemed like a lucky one.

Her jeans stretched around her thighs like overstrained painter’s tape, and her hair, I noticed, was very wet. Her shirt boasted a large graphic of, from what I could tell, Garfield and three small words in neon pink letters above it.

“I woke up trying to comprehend who had dug the hole that I was laying in, at least a foot deep.”

“What do you think that lady’s shirt says?” I asked Hoagie, who was pulling on the joint, leaning back in a white, plastic chair, looking goddamned content. We were both pretty well stoned, actually. Apple and Jaymee had gone off to get beer and we were reaping the benefits of two to a spliff.

He got up and joined me at the railing, “Which lady?”

There was only one lady.

“The fat one,” I said. A joke to myself.

“Her? The Garfield lady?”

I said yes and couldn’t help but laugh.

He thought for a moment, “Probably something like, ‘I hate Mondays!’ or ‘Lasagna for life!’”

We both laughed, loud enough that she peered up at us with a hand shielding her eyes.

Before we could turn away, she looked back down. Then, with more care than she had packed the box, she removed the cellophane, took two cigarettes out, returned a lucky, inverted amongst the others and popped the other in her mouth. It took her a few tries to light it, but after that, she was all theatrics. The way she leaned back on a white brick wall and heaved her foot up to it. The way she drew in long and adamant, tossed her hair around her shoulder. The way she hung the free hand on a pocket by a thumb. She obviously thought we were watching because we thought she was sexy.

Goddamn, that’s rough,” Hoagie said. He returned to his seat and said something about noon being the hottest time of the day. Then something about ghost towns. His way of changing topics.

I only watched the fat woman smoke.

I heard Hoagie say, “What’s going on?”

I didn’t answer.

Hoagie said some short sentence again.

“Yes,” I replied.

She was done with the cigarette and stamped it out with her heaving, sandaled foot. Then, she waddled to a wall closer to Hoagie and I, swinging her hips as sexually as they allowed.

Hoagie coughed, “You look like you’re going to puke.” Under my nose, he offered a fresh joint: some sort of encouragement to keep from vomiting all over the balcony. I didn’t feel sick, but I took it anyway.

“I’m fine. I just…couldn’t look away.”

Hoagie got up and joined me again, “Oh! She’s closer.”

I nodded.

“Looks like we have a tenderloin madam to do our bidding.” Then after a few seconds, he said, “Now those aren’t very good manners. Lettin’ the green burn up like that.”

I snapped into consciousness and passed him the joint. We continued watching, our folded arms over the railing, the joint smoke orbiting around our heads. So today hasn’t turned out too bad, I thought.

Apple came through the balcony’s door with a case of beer and sat it down on the concrete. “Hey I didn’t get Bud Light but I think—what’s going on down there?”

“That.” I nodded towards the woman. “That’s what’s going on.”

He pushed himself against the railing, saw her and smiled. “Treacherous.”

I heard Hoagie tear into the beer case’s cardboard behind me. It was the rip that broke my concentration on Garfield again. “Well,” I snapped my fingers, and opened my hand for a beer, “on to bigger and better things.”

Apple didn’t look away from the woman, he just smiled and cocked his jaw a little (a twitch that let us all know that whatever following it would be a decent joke).

“Better,” he said, “though probably not bigger.


Hoagie whipped a stone across the motionless water of a place called Goose Creek. It skipped three or four times, left little circles of visible water in the thin green layer of algae, and landed on a mossy shore some ways away. He smiled and gestured his head towards me, “Told you.”

“Yeah, yeah. Here.” In bare feet, I carefully walked over the little, round stones of our landing, and handed him a beer. I had lost a wager, betting that the algae would impair a stone’s ability to skip over water. At least, enough to cross the creek.

RELATED:  The Terrain's Tide

“Ah, the sweet taste of victory.” He cracked open the can and with a great show of enthusiasm, slugged back the lukewarm beer.

Jaymee put a Coors Light up to her forehead and sighed every minute or so, “Why the hell are we here? I’m not going swimming.” She was in a pink bathing suit.

“Yeah, no kidding,” I said. “This water is stagnant as hell.”

Hoagie belted another skipping stone onto the soupy green water. “I wouldn’t even cook this water for drinking.” It landed on the opposing shore.

I returned to a fallen tree, sat down on it and pulled a king of diamonds from the top of a bright red Parkersburg High School deck that we had placed on a tree stump. “Shit. Thirteen.” I drank what could be debatably called thirteen drinks.

“You going to call that Asian chick?” Apple asked. He looked down into his beer and then pulled a card.

“Nah. There really isn’t a point to it.”

He raised his eyes from his six of spades, “What?”

“Six chugs,” I said.

“I know that,” he snarled, “but why aren’t you going to call her?” He held the beer away from him as if to imply that he’d drink whatever he wanted to drink at his own leisure.

“She lives a fucking hour drive away, at least. I don’t have enough goddamned money for that shit.”

“Fair enough.” He drank his six.

Jaymee got up from her rounded seat beside Apple: a large rock he had found stacked amongst others of its own dimensions in a strange, almost religious manner near the entrance of a cave. The sloped shore faded there and made any further exploration of Goose Creek impossible without getting in the water. And we weren’t about to do that.

“I’m thinking about taking a nap,” Hoagie said. The sun had taken it out of us, even if we discounted the weed and the beer and the hour walk from the motel to this place.

“Where?” I asked.

“Anywhere,” he replied. “By that moss patch down yonder. Or maybe near that cave where we saw those cult-like rock formations. It should be pretty damned temperate right about now.”

I wasn’t surprised at this response. Hoagie was a self-described vagrant, and a good one at that. He played harmonica on High St. back in Morgantown for beer money, taught us how to play shit like Three Card Monty and knew of some pretty impressive cons for free food. And other than an alcohol embezzlement charge that almost got his ass thrown in jail for five to seven, he kept his shit together, I thought, by eating when he was hungry, sleeping when he was tired, meandering through life like the world was Walden’s Pond. A guy who could really make you jealous, if you thought too much about how he was able to survive, and even do so comfortably.

I said, “I think I’ll take a nap too.”

“Okay,” said Apple, “we’ll probably get some sleep, then.”

I got up and scaled a little, muddy embankment near the creek, digging my toes into the moss that had grown there. I was feeling cooler as I reached the shade of some maple trees maybe fifteen paces from the crest of the mound. I turned back once more. Apple and Jaymee were kissing on the fallen tree. Hoagie was in eyeshot, too. Down the creek near the stacked rocks of the cave, he was tossing his shirt up in the air, that it would spread out and be his large, cotton blanket.

I turned back, took enough steps that the forest’s greenery shielded me from them. I took a look around, said, “Nice,” and felt the weight of drunken lethargy press my eyelids down.

I got on my knees and began raking a pillow of dead leaves. It was all very formulaic at first: I pushed them away from me into a neat pile near the flattest clearing I could find from my position, maybe three feet away. Then I shuffled down a six foot line, pressing it up so my entire body would be cushioned.

I knew that I had to look awkward there, shoving against the ground, leaving a ruffling noise like a madman. But I realized that as I dug deeper—the leaves became damper, fresher, slick with some remnants of rain from perhaps weeks before—I think I actually lost my mind. I don’t know if it was because I wanted to be cooler, or if I was outraged at something. I just raked and tossed leaves to my sides, behind my head, until I saw the earth. And when I saw it, I broke it. Not as I had ripped the leaves from their little graves, but thoughtfully: smoothing my right hand over the bare forest floor, then my left. My fingers left little troughs, then tore out channels, then gutters.

I had lost it.

I dug down and fast until I came to roots. I considered what they looked like—wispy hairs of some tree, wooden veins, whatever. I studied them, but not for long. I grabbed, yanked. A few snapped, broke up into my hands.

I fell asleep hugging leaves.


I woke up trying to comprehend who had dug the hole that I was laying in, at least a foot deep around my head. All it took to remind me of what I did in a drunken stupor was a little bush of roots on my chest and the cool, clayed feeling of mud under my fingernails.

RELATED:  Suicide Letter to a Child

But after I noticed that, I also saw it was night.


Kudzu. On the dull, dirty, concrete walls of a mausoleum. An invasive plant, its purplish flowers braced against the moonshine, and near the roof of the monument, it wrapped beautifully around the name Miles.

I had found Apple asleep, and Hoagie and Jaymee awake and on acid, dipping their feet into Goose Creek. I guided them through the forest for about thirty minutes, cursing and bickering about directions and death until we ended up in a cemetery on the edge of the city. Once we saw the massive orange glow of Parkersburg, we relaxed, lit a joint, and decided that we could enjoy the discovery.

“I wonder what old Miles’ first name was….” Apple walked up to the walls of the mausoleum and ran his finger down a bare cement block between the vines. He looked down at the dirt on the tip of his hand and licked it off.

“Christ,” I couldn’t help but say it, “that’s fucking disgusting.”

With the spit, he removed a purple joint paper from his shirt pocket and a plastic baggie from his jeans. I felt a little relieved that this wasn’t done for the taste alone.

“Goddamn it’s still hot. Doesn‘t God know it’s night?” Hoagie started wiping the sweat from his beard with a red handkerchief. He wasn’t tripping; he was only very, very high. He sat down on a marble bench under some delicate tree and fanned himself witha large leaf he had found. “I don’t personally give a flying fuck about Miles. I am not a car.”

“I bet you give a flying fuck about this joint,” Apple said, not looking up. I was impressed with him; it was his first coherent reply in at least an hour.

Hoagie wasn’t phased. “You bet correctly, sir.”

I joined him on the bench, and from my new spot gawked at the name again. I felt the sinews in my cheeks tighten. “You’re fucking right it’s too hot for night.” It wasn’t the heat, but perhaps the humidity. I offered my hand to see if Hoagie would give up the leaf. He only watched Apple pick the bud.

Down maybe six lots, Jaymee gave out a pleasant laugh. Whatever she was reading on a gravestone caused her to giggle. She was in a much better mood now that we were within a safe distance of civilization and the acid was able to be enjoyed.

“I’d say Miles was pretty goddamned wealthy,” I said to Hoagie.

“What makes you say that?” He finally noticed my outstretched hand and smacked it with his own. Possibly a smart-assed joke, possibly an honest, friendly gesture.

“Look at the size of his digs,” I said.

The monolith sprawled up twenty feet or more, covered a portion of the graveyard so massive that it looked selfish, immoral. Framing its cracked brick pathway, a rod iron fence and two gardens of various yellows, reds, blues, purples, all bursting under the brilliant haze of the full moon.

“Now that you mention it,” Hoagie said, “I doubt I’ll ever have something that nice for my death.”

I inquired why, but I knew what he’d say. And how he’d say it.

“I’ll be dead, man.”

Apple passed a lit joint to Jaymee, who passed it Hoagie, who eventually gave it to me.

I said “Yeah” because I didn’t have anything else to say, and “Thanks” for the joint.

The silence in the graveyard, for whatever reason, made me think of my eruption in the forest earlier that day. I felt ashamed, angry, then strangely motivated. Some partial death, I realized, happened there. I don’t know what, but something melted from me. Something practical, philosophical. A stain on the mind. Everything before it a faded memoir; everything after, a bold union of psychosis and me.

“Apple…” Jaymee walked up and grabbed his arm; he startled and we laughed at him. He told us all to shut up and began laughing at himself too.

“What’s up with that lady?” she asked, pointing.

A statue of a kneeling woman with her face in her hands. Probably crying. Life-sized. A pale granite. Very creepy, I thought, and looked back to the joint for another puff. I already felt very stoned. And a little too depressing. Even for a graveyard.

“When I was a kid,” Apple explained, “people used to say that her ghost would roam this graveyard and steal the souls of all of those who heard her cry.”

Life after death!” Hoagie shouted, standing up and waving his arms like a possessed fool. It took me a minute to realize that he was fucking with Apple and Jaymee.

“Boogie, boogie, boogie!” I joined him on my feet and shouted. “Boogie, boogie, boogie!”

And I kicked a gravestone down and began running circles around the weeping woman. I sprinted down the damp lots and back up, leaping over, around stones and monuments, climbing over iron rails, stepping in Miles’ flowers, howling, screaming “Cunt!” and “Fuck!” and whatever I could think of. I kept running. I kept yelling. I kept the moment as long as I wanted. Until I saw Hoagie laughing so hard he was having trouble breathing. Until I saw that Apple and Jaymee were terrified.

Suggested Next