In which the Elegant Bastard notices that the world and time, both too much with us, can sometimes be set aside.
The clock screams six short fast insults that follow me out of the bedroom.
I have a 9 a.m.meeting.
A breakfast to swallow, trains to chase, words to scan, a shirt to button … damn … a stain … another set of buttons, attachments to download, a four-pawed bowel whimpering that it needs to be emptied, now! … a counter to clean, a slow-cooker to pack, promises to keep, miles to go …
I have to shave ….
With a quick squirt here, and a fast scrape there, here some blood, there a rash, everywhere a fast-building-close-to-the-bone-need-and-desire-to SCREAM:
“I hate shaving!”
But another voice tells me to be quiet and in response to the pressure of a palm pressed firmly against my back, I stumble into the small bathroom.
It is 6:15
The room is almost dark. A row of small flickering candles has been lit and they send soft shadows rippling up the walls, over the ceiling, and, as I feel my shirt unbuttoning again, across and down my chest – all delicate motions that seem to move with the muted strains of Orinoco Flow coming from some distant source. My watch is being removed and I try for a quick worried glimpse of its face but I am too late and it disappears.
I glance down.
Two bottles of oil are raised before my face – one is tarragon scented, the other sandalwood, and then the cover of an elegant black pot is removed, revealing a rich white cream that adds a hint of lavender. A brush appears, dry and soft, and something sends my nose thrusting forward deeply into its circle of supple hairs. And I breathe.
My eyes open and I catch a flash of fire. It is my father’s old straight razor, sharpened and glinting, its bone handle and cutting edge set at 45 o, as if fixed in a dangerous grin. Then hands wave in front of me. The razor disappears and then reappears, now straight, and it is laid before me.
“Sail away, sail away, sail away …”
I feel four fingers draw slow circles across my cheeks and chin and down my throat, and with soft strokes they oil the surface of my skin a first time, and then again and once again before they pause. Steam rises from the basin, and the brush returns and soon a thick cream overlays the oil, creating a white mask from the base of my throat to the curve of my cheek bones. When I glance in the mirror, eyes I have not seen before gaze back.
The blade rises ….
“from Bali to Cali far beneath …”
… and rests its edge upon my cheek; at this touch and promise, anticipation stirs.
A first smooth downward stroke, so light, and a little of the mask is gone. The blade slows. The naked skin by candle glows. Another stroke and then one more. A third, and once again I have an upper lip, and this now curves itself into a smile.
“we can steer, we can near …”
Now my chin is gently raised, revealing the still white expanse of my untouched throat. I can no longer see the blade but I feel its coolness at my jugular, its slow descent, its touch again and down again, and over and over and over until I am released and I stare. The mask has been removed but for a few thin white lines that, with the eyebrows and the eyes, now set themselves into the smiling shape of what might be sin.
“… hear the power of Babylon …”
A pool of water gathers. I bow towards cupped hands and the wet warmth washes upwards once, then twice and then a third time. Now in the mirror all traces of the mask are gone.
Wet fingers tap the candles one by one.
And still it is only 7:00. A new song has begun.
“If I lay here / If I just lay here …”
Together we peel an orange and we eat it slowly, piece by piece. We see the sun has not yet risen, but bodies (more than candles) cast their own sufficient light.
“Would you lie with me / And just forget the world?”
It’s true, I know, that Time’s chariot has great and noisy wheels, not easily ignored and not to be forgotten. We are none of us Gods. And shaving, some would say, is only shaving.
Still, we are rulers of our own empires, poets of our own songs, and it is in our power to set aside the time to make the commonplace erotic. I would not say, “I shave, therefore I am.” But with a smile I would agree that there are there are rituals done well only when they are done slowly.