And if

By Kate Simblet -

And if you notice him pausing before he crosses the threshold, under the spiral of red, white and blue. Could you tell from his linger, how he’s sawn and made tender? Chafed from the waistband of trousers second-handed, flesh red and stinging from another man’s size. Would you know from the wool how he can’t see a pattern, but he knows why his legs feel like strangers today?

And if you breathe deeply, is it citrus that cuts through the choke of the traffic, the fragrance of tangerines that tells you a story? It’s the first time for a long time his skin’s met glycerine – a bar left in a shower stall down the Salvation Army. And as he picks up that sliver and lathers his shame, he remembers how oranges remind him of Christmas.

And if your eyes wander across to that shopfront, do you catch how he crumples into that chair? Something in the movement tugs at your memory, and you wonder about a movie you watched a long time ago? It’s a whole new moon later when you read a newspaper and that heartbreak of a story floats back to you. And you staunch those bad thoughts with distractions from your horoscope when you remember the film was about a condemned man.

And if you were nearer, would you not wonder, why quarry-lake eyes stare so intensely at the man in the mirror? Yet they gaze out from safety, from the black woolly beanie that’s crowning his eyes. Could you tell how each stitch, how each cable of knitwear, bolts down the maggots that writhe in his brain? And as he tears off that hat and shakes out his long hair, do you think of a wild beast who’s finally been freed?

And if you listen carefully, are they prayers you hear whispered, or the whip of the wind or the swoosh of the cars? His hope that the cape will cover his panic as he feels, for the last time, another man’s fingers and Velcro tightens around his neck. That twist of his mantra over and over: it’s just the barber checking for lice.And rather than screaming or begging his demons, he forces words, practiced, to drunk-stagger out.

‘Short back and sides and cut off my beard.’

And if you creep in and hide in a corner, can you taste the tension that hangs in the air? A loathing that’s wrapped in the sneer of the barber, disdain that thrives in the steel of his eyes. And will that sharp metal cover the startle when blades touch the man who’s sat in the chair? He’s waited a long time to welcome this moment when gazes will meet and there’ll be realization that mirrors are cold but they never lie. There’s silence apart from the snip-snip of scissors, the buzz of the razor, until there’s no more wild animal, just a little brown pussycat curled asleep on the floor.

And if you catch the crossing – himself – and the threshold, would you know it’s a poem he whispers to the pigeons, when he pauses by the bus stop to pick up old butts? It’s a poem with a warning that cats carry claws and pussies have patience when waiting for prey. Would you see how the birds make him think of a teacher who taught him, surprisingly, that men could be kind and that Swifts always sleep on the wing?

And if you watch as he shambles, is swallowed by darkness, would you know why tonight the sky bleeds a river? Pelting the pavement, poking cold fingers through gaps in his clothing, yet it graces his face like tears. And as the rain lashes down, beats like tiny hammers, knocks hard on your windows, do you wonder if it will ever stop?

Kate Simblet (she/ hers) LGBTQ+ social works by day, plays with words by night, lives mostly in her head but pays for a roof in Brighton UK. Starting to get a few words in a few nice places. @KateSimblet

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