>>> The Lady's Shave
By staff writer NG Hatfield
April 3, 2008

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The streets were wet and dark, but felt oddly drained of color. The clouds were still there and the rain had stopped, but the wind was cueing another round. It was blowing trash cans from the sidewalk and dead leaves off the wet, black boughs of the trees.

I watched it all very intently until I stepped in a puddle. “Shit.” I shook my foot in hopes that water might shed off. I had no success.

I looked down as I walked. I took care with each step, that the other foot might be saved from a cold, damp boot.

Beside my stride, a thick stream had filled a brick gutter along the road and cigarette butts were floating with the current, bouncing off of each other, rocks, leaves that had been swept away too. Then, a disemboweled rat. Its guts were strung out two or three feet from its body—a big, fat body—and its mouth open wide, as if it screamed for help before it was ripped apart. I tiptoed past it, then heard a smack. I startled, stopped and looked up. Some crackhead and his girlfriend were making out near a tall, old-fashioned streetlight that I had confused for the moon when I glanced at it. They wore raggedy flannel shirts and ripped, dirty jeans. I heard them sniffling every second or so. The man’s hand had apparently smacked his girl’s big ass and he was making it wobble as they pushed hard against each other. I passed the couple, giving them plenty of room to grope and whimper.

The store was only about fifty yards away, but I kept looking back, I kept hurrying down the concrete, just in case the crackhead might have a knife or a gun or something and had seen me coming out of Louisa’s nice, well-lit place. Druggies, I thought, have an uncanny ability to smell money. And why not? Bums. Druggies. Alcoholics. They all live a life of sweat and disease and hopelessness, and those are the smells they’re used to. They can’t smell out the jobs that last for hours, the women who last for less. They don’t notice the stifling pleasures of some insanity that blesses them. They’re too goddamned used to the piss and the whores and the sweat to notice the piss, the whores, the sweat.

When I looked back to see if they were following me, I knew that I was smelling them and not the money in my hand. I felt wrong for it. Sad.

Their’s was a life I knew once, too. Had I gone so far?

I sighed and tossed Louisa’s money in the gutter’s current.

When I got into the store, an old guy manning the register looked up. He was a surly old man, crotchety, short, fat, stereotypical. He wore a fishing hat, was always watching Bob Ross on a hanging television when I came in.

I had been a loyal cigarette customer for eight weeks—every day since Louisa and I started dating—and he seemed to recognize me. I figured his attitude had a lot to do with the fact that I was a midnight customer. He was probably tired and not keen on the job. He might’ve owned the place and just distrusted me. I’m not sure.

I walked through the shop, put two Cokes on the counter and asked for a pack of Camels and a lighter. The wind whistled outside.

“What color you want?”

“No preference,” I said. Behind the old man was a light green monitor showing the back of my head.

“Blue’ll be it.” He reached up high to the yellow plastic display and picked the nearest blue lighter. He studied it. “If you’re ever down in the dumps. Just think blue.”

“Thanks.” I repositioned my feet. I was still very high and weird conversation always got to me when I was baked.

“Blue is the color.”

Another customer walked in then. He was another old man, but wiry, with long, thick, gray hair. He was wearing a worn leather jacket with the Union Jack on the back of it. “Helloa!”

“Helloa!” the old man at the register said back. His personality morphed into a gregarious young man. “How you been Charles?”

“Great, great James!” The skinny old guy was certainly British. “Been drivin’ these roads, I haf!”

“How is the moped treating you?” James remembered me, pushed a button and looked up, “Seven seventy-seven!” He laughed and turned to Charles, “I keep rollin’ triples! Last customer in here rolled six sixty-six!”

I decided to include myself in the conversation, for whatever reason. “I’d probably buy something else if it did that to me.” I placed my cash on the counter, very delicately, then realized I had cut off the Brit. I saw he was looking at my eyes, then down at the counter.

James laughed, “Hah! I’m not nearly that superstitious!” He slid my money into his cupped palm and methodically counted out my change. “I don’t believe in God so why should I believe in the Devil?” He laughed harder.

Charles was beside me, “Three-three-three. Now that is a sign of the Duhty Devil!”

“The Dirty Devil!” James chuckled.

“Yes!” Charles said, “What can I purchase to receive the Dirty Devil price? I am, with all regards, the Dirtiest Devil of them all!”

I scooped up the Cokes, the change, the cigarettes and the lighter and left the shop with both of them laughing hysterically. If it was because of me, I’m not too damned sure. I just wanted out of there.

Continue to Part 3 »