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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hot Shave

shaveing kit

            Taro leaned over the desk at the front of the Green Serpent’s waiting room and sighed to himself as a patron walked outside, giggling and wiping the sweat from his brow. It was near the end of his shift and he was looking forward to getting back to the tenement he shared with four other technicians, all of them sporting matching black tracks from N2. He was just about to begin shutting down his monitor when the door opened and a man who looked as if he were minutes away from geriatric annihilation wandered inside. 

His hands were spotted and gnarled from arthritis, and he leaned heavily on a walker that had obviously been government issued. Immediately, Taro rolled his eyes: government issued anything was a damn good indication that the old man had no money to speak of.
            The old man hobbled up to the desk and smiled at Taro. The technician rolled his eyes again and grumbled, “What can I do for you?”
            “My name is Gene Wilson.” the old man said, expectantly. A long, pregnant silence followed his statement as Taro waited for him to say what he wanted.
            Finally, he cleared his throat, “What’s your pleasure?”
            Gene Wilson blinked at him, as if he had forgotten what he was there for. Finally he nodded to himself, “I want a hot towel shave.”
“A what?”
“A hot towel, hot lather, straight razor shave,” said Gene. He smiled pleasantly at Taro, and began riffling through his pockets.
Taro scowled darker, “What is that?”
“It’s paradise.” Said Gene. He pulled a battered card from his pants and held it out, giving no indication that he was going to elaborate.
Against his better judgment, Taro typed the request into the database and there it was: a memory so old that it was written out by description instead of number and, surprisingly given how long it had sat there, it had only been requested one time before
Taro brought it up on his monitor and then cleared his throat, “The session will cost five hundred credits.” Gene nodded, and held his card forward. The technician made no move to take it, “Did you hear me, sir? That’s five hundred credits.”
“I understand.”
“Do you have five hundred credits?”
The old man nodded, “I know why you are reluctant, son. Its alright, I have enough money and I understand the risks.”
“What makes this so special? It's a shave, right? Five hundred credits is a lot to spend to relive someone else’s memory. I mean, a sex memory for five hundred credits is something we could debate. But getting a shave?” Taro had rarely spoken more than a few sentences to a patron before, but there was something about the strange delicacy of the old man in front of him that made the technician strangely compelled to shield him, to keep him out of harm’s way.
Gene smiled and shook his head like only a man who had lived and seen life up close could do. “You’re a man.”
Taro blinked, “Uh…yes.”
“When was the last time you had the soft touch of a woman’s hands on your face, your scalp, and the back of your neck for a full hour.”
           “I…never...Actually, I’ve never even heard of something like that. Not nowadays.”
           “Sit down, young man.” Gene smiled broadly and waved him to the seat behind the desk, “Go on, sit! I want to describe something to you that you’ll never experience in our world, but a few people still remember.”
 Taro sat, “I don’t have time for stories-“
“Oh, yes you do. I promise, it will be worth it.”
“Is this about sex? I’ve seen a lot of weird…”
“Better.” The older man said with a wink. “Imagine lying back on an incredibly comfortable porcelain and chrome chair that supports your head and elevates your legs. There’s even an opening in the arm for your cigarette ashes.”
“Cigarette ashes?”
“We’ll cover that another day. Where was I? You are completely at ease and then a woman loosens your tie, drapes a towel across your chest, and then gently rubs shave oil into your face to soften your whiskers.” The old man spoke with his hands: they wafted through the air, as if they were shaping and crafting his words into something tangible that Taro could almost see.
            “It sounds nice. Why the oil?”
“The oil softens the whiskers and makes them stand up just a little straighter.
Then the barber reaches into a steam cabinet and drapes a hot towel around your chin, under your nose, and across your cheeks.”
            “Does it burn?”
            “A little but it’s a pleasurable sensation as the steam and heat opens the pores so that a little more of the whisker is exposed. Then it really gets good. The barber takes a shaving brush made from badger hair and applies hot shaving cream in a slow circular motion all over your face.” Gene’s voice was clear, but soft and comforting at the same time.
Taro smiled despite himself, and shook his head, “Are you allowed to feel that good? I mean other than in the memory chambers.”
            “There was a time, a long time ago.” Gene said forlornly. “So, the barber takes special sort of short, sharp knife that they used to call a straight-razor, and slowly works his way around your face, cutting each section ever so closely.”
            “Is that it?”
            “No. The barber then applies shaving cream again and cuts your beard across the grain of your skin.”
            “Your face must feel like silk,” Taro said, dreamily. He hugged himself and felt his eyes half-close.
            “Yes, sir. Then the barber puts a cold towel on your face to close pores and you are right, your skin feels as smooth as a baby’s butt.”
            “Wow, I haven’t heard that saying in a while.”
            “Never mind, similes are another thing our world has lost.” The old man’s voice had a tone of deep sorrow in it that Taro knew better than to question, “So now that your face feels good, the barber rubs moisturizing oil into your hair and scalp. You might have managed to stay awake during the shave but this treatment puts you right to sleep.”
            “What if someone robs you while your eyes are closed?”
            “Nobody is robbing anyone in a barber shop. It was one of the last men’s’ havens of peace and tranquility. Imagine a place where you can talk sports, women, and politics. And when you leave, even if you have disagreed, you part friends.”
            Taro sighed, and a strange emotion somewhere between bitter happiness and aching nostalgia rose in his gut, “Is there more?”
            “Sure. After your scalp massage you get a little manicure to clean up your nails and then the barber pulls out a vibrating massager and rubs that on the back of your neck and shoulders.”
            “How often would you get this?”
            “Not every day, but every once in a while when life or work seemed overly tense, you could walk out of your office and stroll to the barber shop. Pick up the newspaper…never mind, something else that’s been lost, read without any electronic disturbances and then when your name is called you walk up to the chair and prepare for an hour of bliss.”
            “That sounds like heaven.”
            “It is, son.”
            Taro smiled at him genuinely for the first time in his recent memory, “So, when was the last time you had this done?”
            “Me? Oh, no, son. I have never done it.”
            Gene smiled at him, “Just how old do you think I am? No, no, rituals like that one were gone a long time before I could shave. But, given that I’m taking a trip soon, I thought it might be nice to feel someone’s hands on my skin again. You know, that physical touch that is more exhilarating than sex could ever be.”
            “I don’t understand-“
            “I’m talking about intimacy. That spark of connection, of knowing that you are both human and you both can still feel.” Gene closed his eyes and smiled slightly, “I’d love to feel that again, even if its not for very long. At least one more time before my trip.”
            “Where are you going?” Taro asked, already certain that he knew the answer.
            Gene simply smiled and shrugged.
            A few moments later, Gene Wilson’s body was strapped into a sarcophagus as his mind wandered into a small barbershop out of what looked like the start of a fierce windstorm. The heat was nearly unbearable outside, but as soon as he stepped through the door, the air was cool and lightly scented with cologne.
The barber turned around at the soft, almost angelic jingle of the bell above the door, and grinned broadly as soon as he saw Gene, “Hey there! I was beginning to wonder if you were going to make it!”
The old man smiled, “Of course. I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
The light above the sarcophagus began to blink rapidly, and the technician on call beside it swore to himself and hit a button on his name badge that flashed brightly.
Taro heard the alarm at his station and his heart plummeted to his boots. Despite his better judgment, he hurried into the section where Gene’s machine was, already sure of what he’d find when he got there.
Two more techs had hurried down and were trying to unhook the machine’s wires from the wall, desperate to stop it from overheating before it fried the man inside. Taro simply stared in raw horror, his fingers trembling from shock.
Gene lay back in the chair as the barber lifted a heated towel and set it gently onto his face, his fingers then deftly running through the old man’s thin hair with a grace that came from years of practice. Gene’s eyes fluttered shut, safe in his cocoon of warmth and comfort, and a peaceful smile stretched across his face. He knew that he would be taking his trip sooner than he had expected, but cradled in the warmth of the memory was Gene Wilson’s own personal heaven.
He murmured to himself, “Alright, then. Let’s do it.”
The red light above the machine erupted into a screeching alarm as it reached critical levels. The head technician, Legan, hurried over to it and kicked viciously at the closing mechanism on the side, managing to shatter it and break part of the door. The machine opened, and the limp corpse of Gene Wilson rocked gently, its singed flesh still corporeal enough for them to make out a pleasant, contented smile on his ancient features.
For the first time since he could remember, Taro began to weep.

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