Mom said that when Dad shaved his beard he had the face of a baby, but in my memory he’d never shaved it, and I think that must have been why. He shaved Murphy once, though—our cat. It had been Murphy’s first summer in our home and a hot afternoon in June when Dad finally decided he’d had enough of Murphy’s white downy fur all over his evening recliner. Dad only drank water in the mornings and beer in the afternoons. It was a blistering Saturday and he’d had five cold ones rather than his usual two—just enough to lose his temper. I’ve fucking had it, he said, and fetched his beard trimmer. Took it to the cat. He didn’t finish. Couldn’t. Who finishes shaving a cat? Or starts, for that matter. That cat looked ridiculous after—patchy, fleshy and pitiful.
That’s the story I thought of, the only one I could think of, as I looked down at Dad in his casket—shaved clean with cheeks that might’ve been full like a baby’s had they not fallen flat, folded and waxy against his jaw. Mom and I stood there—last look before they shut the lid.
Why’d they shave him? He ain’t ever been shaved, I said.
I always liked him better like this, Mom said. She reached in and touched his left cheek, only lightly, then leaned and kissed the other. She straightened and nodded. Alright, she said, I’m ready.
That night I stood in my bathroom, looking in the mirror at ten years of dark beard, trimmed to an even inch every Sunday morning. I took out trimmer, razor and cream. Took it off, washed it clean. The new face in front of me was strange, and my cheeks were white and cold. I wondered if that face was the one Mom remembered. I don’t know that I looked like a baby, but I cried like one.