Barber-shop Blues


“Couldn’t tempt you with a perm today, Hardy?”


One of the things I like most about Horatio’s is the banter. The way he tends to take the piss, just a bunch of blokes having a laugh. It’s coming up on forty years that he’s been trimming, shaving, hot-towelling in his Art Deco salon on the corner of Victory Parade. Near on forty years of sweeping the clippings, of rough, calloused fingers parting and combing their way through greying columns of men – each of us needing something different to drag us through the day, each of us getting the same short back-and-sides week in, week out.


Paint peels from the walls like skin from sun-burnt shoulders, the buzzing hymn of the neon tubes blazing, casting misshapen shadows eerie across the cold marble floors. Dust bunnies bounce, ignored behind the cracked leather of couches – Horatio’s own personal failure, the women’s annex mouldering, clamouring for un-given attention in the corner of the room. Each Friday my eyes skitter and bounce, trying to avoid the conversation trap awaiting us.


It wasn’t Horatio’s fault. It wasn’t anybody’s fault, as far as we could tell.


Didn’t stop the pogroms though. Didn’t stop the flames licking at the edging of the world.


We reached an unspoken agreement, in the end – after the beast welled up inside the collective chest of mankind. There was nothing we could do but carry on.


Stiff upper lip and all that.


There were some who shouldered the blame, in the beginning. The mercantile mansions and chemical factories set ablaze, throwing long tongues of fire into the sky, pouring ever more pollutants into the night.


“Couldn’t tempt you with a perm today, Hardy?”


I shrugged gently, so as not to disturb the lurking beast we knew lived within all of us. I shrugged gently, so as not to break the illusion. With a flick of the wrist he spun the heavy plastic sheet around me; I felt him come closer.


It had been twelve years since all the women died, twelve long years of seeking solace where it lay – not my sort of thing, for mine it was a relief when they left, finally we men could get on with our business unhindered, it left us solidly grounded, I thought.


I felt him move closer, felt his lips against my ear.


“Kiss me Hardy.”


How could I refuse? It wouldn’t be fair.


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10 thoughts on “Barber-shop Blues

  1. oldegg says:

    What a beautiful dark piece this is. There is not much choice is there?

  2. Brianna says:

    The intensity here is beautiful. Good grief, not what I was expecting after the first line, but I was not disappointed. The darkness is perfect. I particularly enjoyed the image: “Paint peels from the walls like skin from sun-burnt shoulders.” Mostly because it’s an image that I wouldn’t have thought of, and it’s vivid enough that it painted an excellent picture (so it did what an image is supposed to do…), but after finishing my reading, the idea of sun-burnt shoulders and the peeling and kind of healing parallels the pogroms and the kind of carrying on referred to by the narrator. Because there’s no indication that the “shoulders” or paint is being tended to, and neither is the foreboding felt by the narrator.
    Ah, wonderful.

  3. Strong voice. A disturbing, vivid glimpse at the decay of mankind.

  4. KP says:

    What a fascinating tale! I could have read more. Well done

  5. Kay Camden says:

    I have to say–I got a bit lost in the middle, but you reeled me back in nicely. Some great ideas here.

  6. […] Barber Shop Blues by ChrisWhiteWrites ~ @chriswhitewrite ~ Less than 500 words ~ Science Fiction ~ Serial […]

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