Michael Larson, of Iron Mountain, Michigan, was shaving at the bathroom sink when it started up again. Why had she insisted he be clean-shaven for mass? His red muzzle hid the extra weight on his chin, the thick neck he couldn’t call muscle. With the back of his right hand, he pushed the skin right as far as he could; it pooled like a goiter or some kind of mumps. He laughed at that, some kind of mumps, and he imagined all the strains, near-extinct, and the ice-age pathogens thawing in the arctic, how they’d said so on the news. The corners were the hardest. The fat tundra of his face.
He had been meaning to melt. Shaving, he remembered the words of the Baptist. Eating, there was John’s mantra. Changing, the prophet’s farewell. The chatter of locusts, the murmur of bees. Cross-training and fasting, the crooked made straight, the highways made ready with every half-pound.
Still, the weight of things hung. Every possession an orbiting idol. On Mondays and Thursdays, the garbage men salvaged his watches and shoes.
Her friends would never shut up about his good looks, but he swore the hairline was thinning. The scrub his grandmother always said came from her, Christ, he thought, could she ever let anyone have anything, no wonder her son missed the wake. The forest was dying, her last will and testament, who gave a shit about those Swedish genes? Not our would-be ascetic, the prophet of pock marks on Lambeau Field cheeks. For lunch, it was locusts and honey on rye. Michael, she said, eat the crust. It makes your hair wavy and strong.
His eyes were coal-miner Welsh. His nose was Italian. Drunk on Kaluah she called him a mongrel, his father a wop, her ex-husband a sheep-fucking whore. She wouldn’t shut up about his good looks, his almost-blonde hair, “toasted almond,” she said. He hated his fat, stupid, face; the deep clear-cut pores, the camera’s ten pounds in the flat taunt of the mirror, the vanity, the vanity, vanity, vanity. The fucked cultivars of this family tradition.
He looked at the prayer card taped to the glass.
She’d requested the blue suit/white shirt/yellow tie. He’d wear the blue shirt and camel-hair blazer.
Chris Cocca’s work has been published or is forthcoming at Hobart, Brevity, The Huffington Post, Perhappened, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and elsewhere. He studied fiction at The New School (MFA, 2011). Follow him at @thatchriscocca or chriscocca.com.
Shaving razor blade belonging to Cardinal Newman with inscription “The Very Rev Father Newman”, Birmingham Oratory” by Catholic Church (England and Wales) is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.