His shoulder length hair hung in clumps, drab and dark, to his shoulders while his nose and cheekbones looked to be more prominent than he remembered. But it were his eyes, their now flat gray color, that captured his attention. They looked somber and morose, so different from the warm tones his wife would so often remark upon. Those were days when she would hold his gaze and make an off-color remark just so she could see them light up. At least that’s what she would tell him. Back then. But now he was only left with the ability to wonder, to imagine what she would say to him if she saw him. A haggard, homeless man wearing an obese man’s yellow plaid coat, the pattern of which was now dulled and partially obscured by various stains of the street, the elbow completely worn; a hole revealing an army green jacket underneath; his beard, curly, wild and streaked with gray. He knew she would never have allowed him to grow that beard.
The one time he had endeavored to do so she had made a number of outrageous promises to convince him to shave it off. It was the second day of not shaving she had come forward with a particularly lascivious idea that had him practically running to the bathroom in search of a razor hoping he hadn’t thrown them all out. He had found one with a red bow upon the counter.
The memory was now only a dull ache- so very different from the brutal, eviscerating pain he once lived with. Still, he reckoned they would always be with him. The memories and the ache. His head drooped as he pulled off the top coat, the army jacket, then each of the subsequent layers trying to attain some laughable state of zen where his past couldn’t find him.
As he turned the crystalline knob in an old remembered movement he shivered. Strange, he thought, given how warm he was despite his undressed state. The hot water on his fingers all but scalded and still he stepped under the pulsing stream, a strange eagerness and hesitancy encompassing his person. With the bar of soap clenched tightly in his fist he began lathering his body, leaving streaks of lather in its wake. He watched the dirty suds flow down the drain in streaming rivulets as they undulated under the constant pulse of the shower-then he began again. Each swipe of the soap across flesh once firm with muscle reminded him painfully of the joy he once took in his body, his appearance. Now flesh clung not to muscles but bones, the feel of soap upon them like that of a mallet running joltingly across a xylophone.
As the water turned cold he stepped into the steam filled room and ran his hand across the mirror. His hollow eyes peered back at him in the brief expanse of skin above his beard, the glint of silver gleaming in his hand flashed as tufts of air drifted onto the counter. Carefully he lathered his face then scraped the razor over his cheeks, his throat. His thoughts turned to the woman downstairs, her generosity and the pity he couldn’t help but assume she felt toward him and wondered why he had attempted to survive his family when this was the life he wound up choosing. Why, amidst all the anger and grief, had he chosen to live?
He barely hissed when he cut his cheek and watched the dot of crimson spread its contagious fingers into the drops of water intent on grabbing and clinging to something as though for its own survival. Memories of those weeks in the hospital, weeks spent in painful recovery chased by nightmarish visions of his wife’s blood, his children’s, and the sick thought he needed to live so he could suffer more.