VI – A CLOSE SHAVE

 

Miss Sharp looks about tentatively and awaits the last clink of coins in the karma jar to diminuendo off... A long long half-day to be sure. Hell on the ankles. I've been here too long. She glares at a loitering regular, scratching his red pate and adjusting his rimlesses, purple of face. Buzz off. The indomitable cabaret chanteuse and foxy voxian, for she has all mode of voice for all manner of occasion, props up her portfolio shot profile with her strumming elbow. You start to hate, you really do. She checks her hair in the reflection of a glass cabinet.

"Well bottles, time to buzz off!"

The glass crashing down. Closing, we are closing... Her emerald eyes melt into the years on the labels, feline eyes, at once astonished and then surly. I must get my shit together, really. And for a while, I thought the mortgage broker loved me, when I was still waiting to meet that special oddsbody. A mercenary lot, they are. All sharks, circling your dreams. Meanwhile, stuck in here, with people needing to get well past potted to tell a word of truth. And this hunch of a stump here, what was he saying the other day, about his wet dream in the tip jar of the world? Some truth you can just keep. Her eyes widen, equipped with the power of cats to absorb the energy of pigment and the electricity of passing stimuli, although lately she has felt too fagged to attenuate herself. The psychic cabaret was just another fad, milked once or twice, and now she is stuck with the sour-smelling bucket of that flunky enterprise. Just couldn't quite make a go of it. Now she longs for physicality, for bawdy clowns, for mad acrobats again. Something carnal. She exchanges jouncing words with her favourite patrons, who gather round the bar to hear her use words like feral and primal. A discourse on the nobility of dogs in our contemporary times. Men gather from the burning corners of the earth and hound her being, transfixed. But once, she had hoped to be a household name. Maybe even a VM, an honest to goodness tell it like it is Virtual Monologist on the fibreless. Then a vert here and there, before at last plunging into the liquid screen. For this reason, she dips her not so everyday existence in celebrity bathwater. The lives and lifestylings of the swollen stars. Only on select evenings does she deign to appear and stare into the stare of dark strangers and they are hers for the duration of the performance. Sometimes longer. And that man down the road, he thought he was tough enough to borrow me another cup of immortality. The serial continues... And he thought I was the cat's whiskers, didn't he, with his automatic writing, on and on? Who has the bloody time for that? And could you really meet someone with the personal fortitude to peer into your private universe and take a seat upon the furniture you imagine? Magic, the effects being shifted about the room on a sunny weekend. She lived her life, but perhaps I was the only one to dream it. No, a drop of Firstblood, a hint of myth, that is all that clots us in any way together. No sir, you are dealing with the escapist! I waited for the last knob to tie me down properly. Nothing. The same old story. The wanted wanting... Who isn't, doesn't? Better off to live with Corkscrew in mutt years and become a fantastic spinster, the talk of the flipping neighbourhood! The red-pated purple face gets up off his duff and staggers over to the bar. He snickers at the sight of the near depleted karma jar. Was the soggy dream about your wife, sir? No, I think not. A rainbow of bills and coins crash down.

"Mind your punchcard."

Have you ever changed your tune.

"O thanks, I will."

Nutter. Och that paper is worrying. STROPPER LOPS AGAIN!!! nothing to fear, offer police. Miss Sharp reaches for her things with a twinge of anxiety. They say he has his wicked way beforehand. What is that like, when you're that freaked? Known only by the octave of his eight blades in the throat of his victims, he lashes out at anyone who doesn't strike his fancy, mostly those that won't be missed. Walkers of the night, and sometimes clubbers looking to get lucky. Pawnbrokers, addicts, transients, democrats. Still, not really a lopper, more of a slicer, not even a dicer. I should write in.

 

Earlier the same day, down the road in a private room, Minor is alone, weeping into his carafe of 413 B.C. wine. Soon, the Stropper appears in everyday wear, whistling his way into the adjacent barber shop. He picks up the paper and taps the front page into a spectacular crinkle with his knuckles.

"What do you think of that, eh? All these mutilations! What is the world coming to, I say!"

The barber gives him a good once over.

"You want a mullet or just a plain shearing?"

"A light trim and a shave, if you please."

He leaps into the closest chair with a great swivel. The barber grumbles to himself, draping the Stropper in a protective layer of paisley.

"These little snots today with their diplomas and their clippers! Arrhhh I used to go to an old feller in Chinatown for less than a buck. Came home with scissor holes in my neck. Do you think I cried wolf every time? The old man wouldn't stand for no bullshit. Off with the belt if I said boo."

The barber spoke to the mirror, rubbing a scar along his neck.

"See this...it's from ol' Skissor. Man knew his business though."

The eyes of the Stropper meet those of the barber in the mirror.

"What sir, don't tell me you admire this frozen-blooded killer!"

"No no. All I says is the man sure knows his instruments. It's a form of protest. Sumbuddy has to stand up against the homoliberal agenda. You want our kids growing up in some tinseltown without a fucken job? He uses a strop for one thing and that tickles my fancy just fine."

"No," the cold eyes and curving lips reply.

"He uses an eight-bladed innovation of his own design. And The Stropper is a mistake on behalf of the media, bless their black and white hearts!"

"Yeah, that may be, mister, but he sure don't scalp 'em like some kinda injun!"

"O come now sir, the First Nations community has nothing to do with this. If anything, a number of scrumptious Native girls were his victims."

The barber convulses, with strop in hand over the smiling face of the Stropper.

"Ahh, mah wife was a fine squaw, I always thought so. Pardon me now it tears me up to think a' her! Why none of them city gals was worth a lick on her best tit, ya ask me. Sorry. Don't mean to go all Sweeny Todd on ya!"

The barber steadies his hand and applies an exquisite lather (enriched by a locally brewed lager) to the grisly afternoon shadow of the Stropper.

"Yes, take care, my good man. My skin is rather sensitive, and I want it smooth as the backside of a cherub ha ha. Yes indeed, the illustrious Mr. Todd. He used to drop his customers through a trapdoor in the floor and then his wife made the most absolutely delicious pies out of them. I suppose you are going to do the same? And what flavour of pie would I make?"

"Shut the heck up," admonishes the barber.

"I gots to keep my hand steady. Since the wife, I find a helpin' of cologne and brandy with a dash of turpentine is the only thing to do me any goddamm good."

The Stropper falls silent. He feels a whelm of respect for this man and his fading trade and vanishing clientele. There is a sublime quietude as the barber runs the edge of the razor down one check and then another.

"Ah yes, the classic rhyming ABAB pattern what could be better. Reminds me of Cambridge."

Then, as the radio station approaches its obligatory hour of classical national content, an aria begins.

"Marriage of Figaro? No, it's that bit from Die Zauberflöte. Thinking Tamino is gone for good, Pamina is singing that she also wants to die. The saddest part of the whole opera."

While the barber continues to shave the local snuffer-outer of lives, neither man can hide his sensitivity any longer. Both men redden with a free-range of running tears. And neither can admit he had never felt such exquisite release.

"Just thinkin' of the squaw an' all, how she loved that little tune."

"Her time was up," replies the blubbering Stropper.

"Aaah my poor adorable Pamina! An' I never got the chance to say how much..."

"Life is cheap, sir. Life is sure goddamned cheap you son-of-a-gun!"

The men exchange a bleary-eyed glance in the mirror, followed by a lingering kiss. The barber rolls up his sleeves and closes his eyes and bends over the counter. He knows the drill.

"There there Anselme," pats the Stropper gently, straightening the man's shirt pocket with his name on it, before tucking a scarlet fifty inside, taking his time to rub the barber's chest through the material.

"I'd rather not take that road and say we did. It might end badly."

The barber stiffens, then bristles.

"Nuthin' personal. You jist remind me of the wife and all. And that song was tootin' on and on..."

"The least of my worries," answers the Stropper, and then he laughs and laughs.

The barber pole swirls in striped enthusiasm. The Stropper enjoys his smooth face outside, musing over what could have been, while the barber hangs a signed picture of the former cosmonaut, who has turned to murder in response to a growing tedium. He whistles chirpily, a song he heard in a public house down the street. Now how do you outdo the moon... Why not? Pass the time. Trimmed and brushed and powdered, who could stop him? A passing beauty on her way to a fang-whitening modeling shoot lets it slip her brain. Poof! She cruises by slowly in her new Testerona, admiring the baby's bottom of his cheeks. Not again. She steps out of the car in a low-cut top and swanky pants, giving him an eyeful before instinctively kissing his cheek. In a swift flap of coat, she is enveloped.

 

Hours later, they find her leather pants poking out of an alley bin. Among black and green plastic bags, they find runoff of her lifeblood.

"Nothing to see here."

"She was on her way to a shaving spot, yeah."

"No, we sent that serial profiler packing. He was never one of us. Scotland Yard, they say."

They tug off her leopard jacket with latex gloves and drop it into an enormous plastic bag.

"Nothing to see here, folks..."

A shivering binner, their only eyewitness, is pointing uncomically with a fingerless glove toward the sky.

"T'was the Stropper I tells ya, the Stropper the STROPPER!!!"

But the Stropper is already three blocks away, lovingly washing off his strop in the lane and resuming his pose as a razor blade advert/costumed sandwich board. Last week he was dressed as a beef dog and giving free auditions in an abandoned office. The look on their faces. He stayed one step ahead of the authorities by posing as a franchise donut. Unawares, over coffee and sweetbits, they talked aloud of everything he needed to know. In addition, he is the solitary owner of a kosher processing plant downtown. His business cards read White Veal Deal in a number of tongues. However discount pizza-goers and megamarket shoppers have begun to whisper about strange articles in their gross cases of Luncheonettes. When Timmy gets sent home from the school nurse with a keepsake or medical bracelet caught in his braces, something of an alarm goes off. Yes, there are definitely murmurs about the exact contents of the Everymeats establishment on the Lower Side. But in the face of the imminent Global Games, all such inquiries are rebuffed with a golden boot.

 

Miss Sharp is ready to lock up. Her shawl is double-folded and wrapped around her neck. He could strangle me, that's how. She hears a step across the cobbles near the bars of the old gaol. Maybe the wind, another upchucking addict, just a loose bit of macadam, that's all. The heel of her new right boot is already a little worn. She shutters and seals the green door with a shove. Takes a step. A figure in a long flapping coat appears out of an alcove of the former gaol. She cannot see his eyes or nose or mouth.

"Where are you headed Madamoiselle? Some house of pleasure, some after-hours den of iniquity!"

A light airy voice. Miss Sharp shakes her head wearily.

"Sir, you are barking up the wrong arbutus! I have just finished a long day of work and would like to go home. Are you a mate of Guy's by any chance? He was in the other day. By the way, my sister is in labour and taking to it rather poorly. She is not well at all no no no I must go at once."

The shadow menaces closer for a moment, and then after a horrifying flash, disappears in a great flap of coat.

"On your way, child, on your way," echoes the disembodied voice.

 

The next morning, over an egg and bacon butte, she unfolds the paper only to read about another stropping, to this day unsolved.

 

 

- Garry T. Morse