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Close Shave (August 2009)

©Ian Buchanan August 2009
Maybe I can be like those handsome men on the shaving ads.

Blobbed out, on the couch. I was there, in the zone, and a shaving ad was playing.

Behind me, The Slug, in her most insulting, mocking voice, moaned, "Oooh, Sandra McKenzie, I love you." On the screen the traditionally sultry, shaving-ad blonde was admiringly stroking the cheek of Newly Shaven Man. How did The Slug know I was imagining I was Shaving Man, and Sandra was miraculously my admirer?

She got me every time. And today, of all days, my 16th birthday. If she couldn't be respectful of her older brother, she should have at least been trying to be nice. Annoyed, I got up and flattened her with a pillow, and slouched off to my room. With the curtains closed, and the music up loud, I could forget about my woeful family for a little while.

But not for long. As The Birthday Boy I was dragged out for the family dinner, and the usual gaggle of inbred aunties and hateful cousins arrived to go through the routine of pretending it was nice to see each other. It must be all of, what, three days since the last family event.

There was my "favourite" meal to digest.  Gifts. Or rather "Gifts". A real gift might be something you value. Not a weapon used to humiliate you in front of a crowd. A lame t-shirt. Ha. Underwear! Hilarious. A hat? What is the meaning behind that? Do I look like the sort of pervert who wears a HAT?

But last of all was a heavy, small, polished wood box. It felt...substantial. I opened it, and inside a treasure gleamed: a silvery, solid, subtlely-crafted shaving safety-razor. A polished, wooden-handled shaving brush was in the box as well. Both items were classy, and stylish, and despite myself I admired them.

The usual heckling of the village-idiots in the family stopped as I held the items up for inspection. They were equally impressed. Except for The Slug, who mischievously pursed her lips. I could see her mouthing, "Sandra!".

We got through the rest. The singing, the cake. A kiss from the various aunties. Finally they all went home and the house was quiet again.

I don't need to shave all the time, just yet, but like everyone at school I pretend I do. We don't sit around swapping shaving stories, but I have heard others say they use this or that...disposable razors, rechargeable hand-helds and so on. No one uses an old-fashioned one like mine.

I examined the box and the brochure that came with it. It was an English piece, hand-made, from a family business that had been doing it for hundreds of years. It must have been expensive. Despite the traditional heritage, the technology was up to date, and it was promised to be a diamond-tipped blade that would stay sharp for years. "The closest shave you will ever experience."

My eyes closed and I thought of Sandra Mckenzie, unable to control herself as she lovingly stroked my cheek, cooing, "So smooth." I opened my eyes and jumped up and headed for the bathroom. Let's give this thing a whirl.

It was a dream to use. The brush, and the special tube of liquid soap, burst into creamy white froth that luxuriously coated my face, and the blade whisked lightly over my skin. The usual tricky bits around my nose and near my ear....no problems! It only took a few minutes, and, while I might not be an objective judge, it did seem that the shave was indeed close. I ran my fingers over my freshly cropped cheek, and they slid gently, across silky-smooth skin. This was a really good present!

Pleased, I admired myself in the mirror, carefully cleaned and packed up my new razor, and went off to bed. Let's see if Sandra McKenzie noticed how debonair I looked, tomorrow.

But she didn't. Despite my smoothness, my soft and hairless visage, she no more saw me than she ever did. It was quite disheartening.

During the day, I could feel an angry spot developing on my cheek, and later, under my ear. By the time I got home it was quite painful. In the mirror I could see two hard, white spots. Looking closely, each had a hair embedded within the skin of the spot. I poked at it a bit, then, without really thinking about it grabbed some tweezers and, gouging the spot, managed the grab the hair and pull it out. Out came the hair, the spot burst, I mopped up. The one under my ear was harder to get at, but easier to pull because the skin sat close to the bone there and there wasn't anywhere for the pimple to hide.

To cheer myself up, I grabbed the razor kit and treated myself to another luxurious shave. Once a week was really enough for me, so it was more therapy than a useful activity, but it worked. By the time I went to bed I was happy and calm, and the hot, white spots had quietened down, and looked like they were starting to heal.

The next day I woke up early. I got up and showered. Checking my hair in the mirror as I dried, I w as horrified to see my lower face covered in hard, white spots. Again, looking closely, I could see each one had a hair trapped in the surface of the pimple. Now this sounds a bit weird, but it wasn't planned. Looking at my disastrous face, I grabbed the tweezers and attacked a pimple. Then another one. Without thinking about it, consumed by the task, I methodically tackled each one. A small, disgusting pile of hairs, wet and sticky, accumulated on the bench. My face looked like I'd been pegged out on a clothesline, and had a random scattering of pinch marks from the tweezers, plus an overall red, blotchiness from the pimples.

My mother didn't notice anything, but The Slug stared at me. When my mother's back was turned The Slug pulled a puffed-up face, eyes squinting. I threatened her with my fist and she went back to eating. I stood behind Sandra in the cafeteria queue at lunch, but she ignored me.

By the time I went to bed my face was almost back to normal, although the first two, original pimple spots were still tender. There was nothing to shave, but before I went to bed I lathered up anyway, lost in a daydream about Sandra as I shaved. How to get her to notice me?

But I didn't dream of Sandra that night. I dreamed badly, of toothache and bad teeth, of being served a plate of fried eggs, each with a red, furry, central blob indicating they were fertilised. I awoke with a start, my mother banging on the door shouting at me to get up.

Staggering to the bathroom, with my eyes still closed, I found the shower and quickly washed. Washing my face, I felt it ache, reminding me of the toothache dream. I poked where it was sore, and realised, with a fright, that there was a hot lump on my cheek. It wasn't my tooth, it was some sort of zit.

Wet and slippery, I jumped in front of the mirror, and almost screamed. "Some sort of zit" didn't cut it. It was The Zit. No wonder I had dreamt of fertilised, fried eggs. It was bright yellow, with an angry, red eye, as big as my thumb. The skin surrounding it was raised, continuing the fried egg theme, although the color of the raised edge was closer to green than white. It hurt when I touched it, but it was soft. Craning to see it, I could swear it was pulsing. Under my ear was another one, smaller, harder, and somehow more tight and painful.

Still only half-dry, I threw on my clothes and staggered downstairs to show my mother. While my mother anxiously examined my face, The Slug watched in the background, expressionless.

"Just go down to Doctor Gibson and wait until they open". We lived three doors down from our doctor, and they were really good about us just showing up without an appointment. Especially as The Slug and I often managed to do something spectacular to ourselves. Like the screwdriver accident.

I ran down the street and sat in the porch of the house that was the doctor's surgery.

His receptionist showed up first, took one look at me, tut-tutted and shooed me inside. "Go and wait in Room A. The Doctor will see you first."

There was a small mirror on the wall, and I anxiously peered at the angry growth. I was sure it was getting bigger.

Outside I could hear other patients arriving, then finally the Doctor. He was introducing another doctor, getting notes from his receptionist for the day, saying hello to the waiting patients. He came into the room.

"Well, look at you!", he exclaimed. Behind came the other doctor. She was young, and very beautiful, and I was doubly embarrassed about the awful state of my face.

"This is Doctor Gold. She is joining the practice, and this week she is sitting in with me. Are you ok with that?" I nodded idiotically, trying to smile and look sophisticated.

He introduced me to her, "And this is James. He's been coming here with his head stuck in a saucepan every few months since his family moved next door."

I kept nodding, smiling like a moron, and Doctor Gold, I could see, was rapidly pigeonholing me in the "bumpkin" slot.

They sat me down and Doctor Gibson inspected me. He held my chin and tilted my head from side to side, comparing the lumps. He poked them, watched me wince, asked a few questions.

"What do you think, Doctor Gold?", he asked her, stepping aside to let her have a closer look. She did the same thing: took hold of my chin, tilted and turned my head back and forth. She paused, and reached forward, putting the palm of her hand on my cheek, and lightly brushed it.

"Your cheek is so smooth!", she commented, but when she saw the imbecilic simper on my face abruptly pulled her hand away. Whatever she thought before, I was well and truly classified now.

"It's growing, isn't it?", she commented to the older doctor, and he nodded. Without speaking, you could see them reaching an agreement.

"James", Doctor Gibson said, "I'm just going to call your mother," and he left the room.

Doctor Gold turned and opened a drawer, and then a cupboard, looking for bits and pieces. My heart sank when she pulled a small scalpel from the steriliser and laid it on a tray with some cotton and two small bottles. Doctor Gibson came back, and they quickly explained that they were going to clean the zits out...surgically.

You don't want to know. Blood, pus, a bit of an explosion, a terrible smell. The one under my ear was solid, custardy, and needed pressure to be squeezed dry, and hurt. Doctor Gold did the honors, while Doctor Gibson held me in a headlock. It was pointless trying to be charming, under the circumstances, and I thought of my dog when he gets washed. I felt as miserable and humiliated as that.

The one on my cheek left an ugly crater, and they dabbed at it for awhile before bandaging it up.

"Have you seen anything like this before, Doctor Gold?"

She hadn't, she admitted. Doctor Gibson looked at me, and asked me if I had any ideas how the infection had occurred.

I explained the new razor, and the hairs stuck in pimples, and how I had attacked them with tweezers.

"Hmm. Well, obviously you won't do that again. These two wounds will take a few weeks to heal up, and you'll be left with a noticeable scar."

I thought of the two hours I had spent pulling more infected hairs.

"I might be back tomorrow," I said.

Sandra would notice me now.
© August 2009 Ian Buchanan

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