The old man looked at his brother in the mirror. “So this woman, Socorro, she’s why you don’t take me to live there at your house?”
“She has her own house, Fidencio.”
“But she passes the time there with you, no?”
“She comes to clean the house.”
“A cleaning woman? You want to leave your only brother locked up in this place so you can be alone with the cleaning woman? She must have told you not to bring me around.”
“It would be the same if she wasn’t around,” Don Celestino said. “And anyway it was her idea that I go see you.”
“Only her idea?”
“I was already thinking about it,” Don Celestino said, combing back his brother’s hair. “Now tell me how you want it.”
“The usual way.”
“Ten years later, and you want me to know what the usual way is?”
Don Fidencio stared into the mirror. Tufts of wispy gray-and-white hair were bunched up around his ears, joining up with his broad and unruly sideburns. Though his hair was thin, the strands reached from the top of his forehead to beyond his crown. In the back, his hair had curled into ringlets that fell to just above his shirt collar. He wondered how he had let himself get to this point. Maybe this was why his brother didn’t want him inside his house. He should have done a better job of taking care of himself. A barber came once a week and set up in the room where The Turtles got their hair done; Don Fidencio had stopped by once or twice when he saw the other old men parked along the wall in their wheelchairs. After a while he looked up again and found his brother standing behind him in the mirror.
“Just make it look good again.”
Don Celestino started by combing the sides, just to have some idea of how much he needed to cut. The top was long, but he planned to trim just an inch so the hair maintained some of its weight. The sideburns looked worse than they really were; the trimmer would take care of them in no time. The back seemed to be the area that needed the most work. The curls reminded him of how wavy his brother’s hair had been when he was a young man.
He was surprised at how nimble his ﬁngers were after not cutting hair for a couple of years. When he sold the barbershop, he ﬁgured he would never cut hair again. He had brought his barber tools home in the tackle box and stored them in the hall closet next to his shoe-shine kit. Every time he polished his shoes, he thought about bringing out some of his tools, but he knew this would only make him miss what he had left behind. Eventually he pushed the box to the back of the closet, where it wasn’t always in the way when he was looking for something else.
Yesterday, when Socorro was over at the house, he had opened the box on the dresser so she could see his barber tools. Other than his driving her past the shop, she’d never really seen this part of his life. He pulled out the ﬁrst pair of shears from its velvet sheath and let her hold it for a second. Then he took back the shears and, after placing her hand over his, showed her just how rapidly he was still able to move his ﬁngers, all while his little ﬁnger remained delicately unfurled as if he were sipping tea in the middle of the afternoon. Later he told her a story about when he was in barber school and how one night four pachucos cornered him, wanting to rob him or worse. This happened in an alley downtown, near the cathedral, where he had to either ﬁght or try to outrun them in the opposite direction.
Instead he took off his jacket, wrapped it tightly around his forearm to protect himself, and ﬂipped open the straight razor he had started carrying in the front pocket of his shirt. He stood up from the bed to show her exactly how he had held the straight razor above his head, in plain sight for all of them to see. “So who’s going to be my ﬁrst customer?” he had called out. It took only a few convincing slashes for the pachucos to move aside and for him to continue on his way home.
“And you weren’t afraid?” Socorro asked.