The next time Don Celestino stopped by, he brought his green-and-beige tackle box and set it on the overbed table. The extending tray held four shears, a pair of combs, and his straight razor. Down below, in the main section of the box, he kept his two clippers: one with a narrow blade for trimming sideburns and around the ears; the other with a wider blade for trimming hair in the back, either squared off or rounded, or even tapered, depending on the man’s preference. Each machine came with an attachable cord for when the batteries were running low. He kept a bottle of hair tonic sealed tight inside a plastic bag to prevent any leaking onto the shears or the black cape that was folded into a square shape at the bottom of the box.
“Why do you want to cut an old man’s hair?” Don Fidencio asked. “You cut it this morning and I could be dead later this afternoon — all that work for nothing.”
“You’re not going to die.”
“And if I do?”
“Then you still need a haircut,” Don Celestino said. “You want me to do it or somebody at the funeral home?”
The old man sat back and looked at his brother in the mirror.
“If you really wanted to help me, you would get me out before I die here with all these strangers.”
“So I can be struggling with you at the house? We would have to hire somebody to come help you, and then if you got sick on me in the middle of the night? No, you’re better off staying here.”
“It sounds like the one who would be better off is you.”
“You know what I mean.”
“It would be good for you to have company, someone to talk to.”
“I already have someone to talk to.”
“Who?” Don Fidencio asked.
“Just a friend.”
“A woman friend?”
“I don’t know,” Don Celestino said, “maybe it is a woman.”
“You haven’t checked?”
“This isn’t so you can go telling everybody.”
“Yes, like I have so many people I could tell your news to.”
Don Fidencio rubbed the bill of his cap, then shook his head.
“You didn’t waste no time, eh?”
“It just happened, without us planning it.”
“Does she have a name, or is this a secret, too?”
“Socorro,” he answered. “Now are you going to let me cut your hair or not?”
Don Fidencio removed his baseball cap and waited for his brother to snap open the black cape.
“We need to ﬁnd another chair,” Don Celestino said. “The back is too high on this one for me to reach your neck.” He turned to the resident in the next bed. “Excuse me, but can we borrow your chair?”
“TAKE IT, TAKE IT,” the old man said, ﬂinging his hand in the air. He had a couple of pillows tucked beneath him and was tilted toward the opposite wall. “IF I NEED TO GO SOMEPLACE, I CAN TELL THEM TO BRING ONE OF MY HORSES.”
But when Don Celestino pushed the wheelchair to the other side of the room, he found his brother motioning back and forth with his index ﬁnger like a tiny windshield wiper on its lowest setting.
“No to that chair.”
“Just for me to cut your hair, Fidencio.”
“For nothing. Not for a haircut, not so you can clean the wax out of my ears,” he said calmly enough and put his cap back on. “For nothing.”
“You see what I mean about struggling with you?”
“Because I refuse to sit in a wheelchair, for that reason you want to leave me here?”
“What is it going to hurt you to sit for a few minutes?”
“They already took my canes from me.”
When it was clear his brother wasn’t moving, Don Celestino walked to the nurses’ station and a couple of minutes later returned with a chair with a lower backrest. Once they had switched chairs, he removed his brother’s cap for the second time, draped the cape around him, and rolled the new chair closer to the mirror hanging from the back of the closet door.