A short story to bring me back into the mix.
Quincy always picked at the stubble on his chin and neck when he didn’t feel like speaking. Grasping at skin with nails chewed low, he would isolate one, sometimes two bumps of raised skin among the patchy black bristles and go to work. He’d hated shaving ever since it became an issue, choosing to do so only because “he couldn’t sing like Anthony Hamilton.” Shaving meant bumps, bumps meant ingrown hairs and ingrown hairs meant something for Quincy to do when he didn’t feel like speaking. For Quincy, talking was what people did when they didn’t have anything better to do. His chin, more often than not, was a better use of his time.
Ingrown hairs were easy to pull out with tweezers and a mirror. It took no skill. Out in the world however, he was flying blind; all he had were his thumb and forefinger to act as guide and extractor. When he was bored or done listening to other people, it wasn’t long before he would be using his forefinger to read his neck for signs of trouble. The process was thorough. Once he found this trouble, he would rub over the spot several times, bringing in thumb to gently pluck at the area, making sure he wasn’t getting a false reading from a long and properly-grown hair or a previous site of imperfection that had already been dealt with. It was the exploratory rubs that always gave the ingrown hair away; areas where hair hadn’t yet been uprooted had a fleshy firmness to them, as if they couldn’t decide between wanting to be soft or hard.
Next came the kneading of skin. Rolling the offending bump between his forefinger and thumb, Quincy would get a sense of its dimension. Some were too shallow; small and not ready to be addressed. Some ached with rolling; this meant it was a bump best considered in the privacy of his bathroom. Sites worth attacking when he was bored or done listening to other people talk had to be perfect. They were big enough to be addressed while in class or waiting in line at the post office and small enough that a mess of blood and pus would not be a concern.
After kneading came engagement. The hair, growing improperly, was buried beneath angry skin and needed to be freed, pulled straight that the skin around it might heal with little sign of previous agitation. Here, Quincy needed an artist’s touch: the stubby nails of his forefinger and thumb had to do tweezers’ work. This was the part he enjoyed. With only his sense of touch to guide him, he worked with gentle conviction. He couldn’t be too rough with the skin, lest it respond throbbing and inflamed. But his fingers couldn’t dance around the skin either. Rubbing it could only do so much. If he wanted to see results, he knew he had to break the skin. So Quincy would pinch, using the forefinger and thumb of this right hand to force the issue.
First came the clearish fluid that told him he had broken ground. Pinching with his most reliable fingers, he would until the bloody pus made it appearance. It was a yolk for the hair and once cleared away, Quincy was free to search for the hair uninterrupted. Sometimes the work was easy and he would be rewarded with a long curling hair that would unfurl reluctantly as he gently tugged on it. Other hairs were short, barely perceptible on the surface of the skin save for the faint tickle Quincy felt while examining his work. Throughout the procedure, Quincy thought of little, even after it had become old hat. Ingrown hairs absorbed him; searching for them, there was little room for musings or reflections on breakfast betrayals or the hypocrisies he perpetrated daily. There was only pus and blood and hair.
Sitting in his fifth session on Dr. Henry’s drab brown couch, Quincy sat silently fingering his face as the doctor stared back at him. They’d discussed little in his previous visits, but had recently taken to exchanging handshakes at the end of sessions. Quincy cared little for this, especially the way Dr. Henry always held a few beats too long, holding it secure with free hand. He’d always say something to the effect of Quincy coming along. Quincy pitied the doctor. He didn’t understand how a person could go to that much school, spend all that money and come away a person that practices out of the basement of his house and dispenses bullshit in the form of encouragement to the maladjusted souls of the three or four neighboring townships. Quincy reasoned that people like that were people not to be trusted.
How could someone who spent a third of their life studying how to spot the different kinds of crazy people were know anything about him? These people learned to feel from books as far as he was concerned. Maybe the boys down at Lou’s couldn’t put a clever name to his personal struggles, but they did understand needing a cold one to celebrate surviving another crappy day and mourn the fact that another one exactly like it was to follow. Telling Dr. Henry anything would mean he was crazy. So Quincy sat, tapping his feet on the olive green shag rug, wondering if the good doctor was aware the 70s had snuck into his basement and vomited on his floor. Dr. Henry broke the silence, asking Quincy if he wanted a tissue. Annoyed, Quincy asked why, suspicious at the doctor’s attempt to strike up conversation. But the doctor said nothing else. He simply pointed to his chin. Quincy touched it, then looked at his fingers. Apparently, this had been a bathroom hair.
He accepted Dr. Henry’s offer. Embarrassed at his careless miscalculation, Quincy thought it would be best to say something as he wiped away the blood that had clotted under his nails. He could think of little that wouldn’t become a conversation about hi,. So he resigned himself to focusing on his fingers in silence. A brief thought of Lady Macbeth crossed his mind. His face broke into an almost imperceptible smirk.
“Ingrown hairs are the worst.”
Quincy brought his head up to meet Dr. Henry’s gaze. He opened his mouth to speak, but chose instead to say nothing, subtly squinting with curiosity as he waited for more.
“I can’t stand shaving. That’s why I go with a beard. It’s probably not the sexiest thing in the world, but it keeps me from having to constantly pinch away with the tweezers.”
Quincy shook his head. Still holding the tissue, he excused himself to the basement’s cramped bathroom. Clasping the accordion door with the faux wood paneling shut, he tossed away the tissue and began examining his chin in the mirror. Using his left hand, he pulled the skin around his chin and neck tight while tilting his head back and to the left for maximum illumination. Opening his eyes wide and arching his eyebrows, he strained passed the bridge of his nose, as if looking through bifocals, and stared into the mirror. Gazing back at him was a moist red spot where a bump used to be. Usually, Quincy would have spent several minutes examining this sore or perhaps looking for others briefly, but today was different. Instead he just washed his hands.
Unhooking the door’s clasp, he returned to the couch as Dr. Henry sat in his old swivel chair, twirling his pen between his fingers.
“Yeah. Like you said. Ingrown hair.”
Dr. Henry nodded and went back to twirling his pen.
“I can’t grow a beard. I would, but it’s patchy. See right here? My friend calls that ‘the Bering Strait.’ I guess ‘cause the hair’s land and the smooth part is sea.”
The doctor raised his cheek in a half-smile as Quincy continued.
“ I mean, you know the singer Anthony Hamilton, right? The way I see it, he has the scraggly beard thing locked up. If I could sing, we could maybe knuckle up. You know, fight for scraggly beard domination, but my falsetto ain’t what it used to be.”
“Mine isn’t either. I guess I’m lucky.”
“Yeah. Shaving is basically terrible.”
They both smirked as Dr. Henry looked at the clock over Quincy’s shoulder, letting him know their time was wrapping up. “It’s about that time,” the doctor said as he slowly stood up. Quincy stood up as well, sticking out his hand for their now customary farewell. The two were silent a moment, hands engaged in a shake.
“You should think about brushing your face. It helps bring the hairs out. Lays ‘em down pretty good.”
Quincy thanked him for the advice, then made his way to the door. Stepping outside, he turned his collar against the chilly November wind. Bringing his collar to full attention, his fingers grazed his neck and chin. They felt smooth.