Sometimes you just want to try something new.
Last week I embarked on a project – growing a beard – and tonight, instead of trimming the Christmas tree I never bought, I trimmed my new beard. The electric clipper vibrated too close to my ear, drew blood, and snagged a chunk of my hair. So tonight I also shaved my whole head. It’s fine. Waiting to go bald is exhausting. Now bristly black stubble covers my head and I resemble a mugshot on the news.
The news I never watch, won’t watch. My favorites are programs where detectives apprehend rapists. There’s a whole channel devoted to those shows, and that’s where I tune my dial. Or whatever. There’s no tuning, no dial; they fire the signal straight into my television from outer space.
They say these smart TVs are listening to us, but my opinion is they’ll be smarter when they realize we say so little worth hearing. Me, I never talk. There’s nobody to converse with since Rufus died; that was always a monologue, anyway. If I see a newscaster, I’ll yell at the television, and then I’ll turn to Rufus’ chair to apologize for the commotion. He’s not here.
My new scalp invites a chill, despite the radiators whining at full blast, so I hunt around my closet for a knit cap. My sister gave me one last year, I’m remembering, one she knitted herself. My sister, the tomboy who I was always chasing after, drawn into her never ending schemes. I picture her sitting in a chair and knitting and now it’s not just my head that’s cold.
I locate her gift, red with a ridiculous white pom-pom, in the corner where I tossed it, and struggle as it snags on the velcro of my scalp. With this hat and my still-scraggly red beard, I look like Ex-convict Santa, which brings me a grin. I’ve always had a shifty, criminal look, and I got used to it as a kid, taking the blame for my sister’s machinations. Now she’s knitting. Her grandkids love her if her children don’t. I hope she’s not knitting gifts for them, though.
Yesterday I asked my neighbor Marie if my beard made me look old.
She’s lived next to me for a year and is about twenty-five. I could be her father.
A little shrug, she offered, halfhearted, not an emphatic no.
Your face makes you look old, I gathered was what she meant.
She’d stopped by to deliver cookies. Flavorless scraps of cardboard iced in red and green. She brought them last year too, two weeks after moving in. When the neighbors check up on you, it’s time to take up residence in a chair and start knitting I suppose. Rufus was alive then, though not for much longer, so I shared the treat with him. I spoiled him those final months and he enjoyed those dreadful cookies way more than I ever would. Now I have another tin of them.
I slide into his chair, not mine.
“Where did you go, Ruf?”
I figure Rufus makes a good candidate for dog heaven. He’d make that sad-eyed face, and no living or unearthly creature in this universe could resist him.
From his chair, I study a young guy decorating a tree, by himself, across the street. He’s wrapped the bottom half in lights; the rest lay jumbled on the floor and he’s untangling the wires. I watch him for a while. That was me once, always setting everything up like I was expecting company. When Rufus arrived, that was all the company I needed.
Now it’s snowing, a few lonely flakes and then a stark onslaught of white. I lean out the window to watch as it covers all the cars on the street, collecting on tree branches, on rooftops, on my hat.
The guy with the Christmas lights pauses his project and comes to his window. Then others. A little girl on the floor above him presses her face to the windowpane. She waves at me, excited, and I realize that the snow has collected in my beard, turning it white. I’m Santa Claus. I smile, wave back.
Tomorrow maybe I’ll shave the beard, go for a walk in the snow, meet some of my neighbors. I don’t know. Sometimes you just want to try something new.