Therefore, to intimate a tiny trace or spark, a patch of hair. The sentiment of recognition, welcome, respite from grief. Unutterable, unspeakable. I’m hinting at a dozen coarse, white hairs on the left cheek. Imparting white hairs, on Grandmother’s cheek, twenty years ago. And what’s more, a tiny coalition of light hairs—faint hairs—fragile hairs—mere shadows of hairs— gracing my lips and temples now. I suggest to you: me before a mirror, fingering their most fine and present texture. I say: I know, I insist, I attest. I have inherited. The hairs are my own.
Fine, but everything grows coarser.
Pardon, pardon while I upchuck, pardon the too numerous noodles I ate at lunch, pardon this influent, this ineloquent, this grief without words. This common sorrow.
A small patch, she shaved regularly in the pink-tiled bath at the top of her house. A smudge, a splotch on the left cheek, dainty like clip-on earrings. A streak, a spell, a smear appealing as paint. The allotment of certain years, knowing, authoritative.
Nobody knows. None but me have seen this hair. Everyone knows!
But polite, we cannot mention. Upon a lady’s face, and my grandmother was. Upon a lady’s face, and I am. Powders and frocks, smooth and quiet. My delight in these misplaced hairs, these modifiers, most gorgeous and intimate buds, burgeoning maturity, dependable grain, existing and occurring now, as I sleep and drive, argue and lecture and read and watch and cry. My left hand fingers and traces, for these hairs present and grow. Cronies and allies, dependent of me. More and then more. I tongue them, stroke them, trace and graze them. Does my mate take note?
Kissing her, brushing against my grandmother, her strong hairs mobilized. Like snow swirling in sideways, like a hardboiled egg, like silver-plated spoons, the hairs, more than memory, met lips.
And kissing her, brushing against her cheek, and to find all these years later, me grown to this age, and she dead and the hairs of her face grow here upon mine. Our only resemblance; her husband’s personality and genes overshadowed, and mother; aunt; uncle; brothers; self; bear no sign of her body. Except—divine exception visited upon me in my thirty-first year—these errant hairs.
Remembering left, it’s my own cheek. Fifteen hairs, thirty hairs, white as white.
Grief for my deceased grandmother, torment for her body no longer in this world. Save—perhaps—germinating in my own pores.
Pageantry. It’s like donning a mask, except the body, though given to excess, never exaggerates. My body; my body, given so to excess, prone here before the mirror, provides. Here is a trace of her, a hint or a glimmer, physiology of longing— cluster of deviant pores, gathering of sprouts, hairs growing stiffly out. Brought to bear, only witness to my missing her day and day, this life without end.
My mate, I thrill to behold, grows his own. His own plot, his own smear, his own errant tract, there upon his throat, where his chin often casts a shadow. There his own fuzz, the fur of the many wants and griefs I cannot attend.
Kissing her, and the final night of her life, I swerved. Involuntarily, naturally, indubitably. With shades of intention. On the last night of her life, hours before Grandmother died at sun-up on the longest day of the year, I swerved. To her right, from the smell of her mouth.
Pardon. She had upchucked.
Today, before you now, in spite of any odor or viscosity, present, perceived, hinted or intimated, I vow not to swerve again; any time of morning, I strive to meet each stretch and return every embrace offered. For I have pardoned myself, I did dodge, and it was a most final miss.
I had never liked being kissed.
And those hairs, their splendid thick, I hadn’t seen in years. She had them in her eighties, and was bare-faced again by her nineties. Was it the shaving? Pink plastic razor, pink tiled bath.
A teenager, an opened pore, I spied a fiber in my cheek. Nails and tweezers, and that speck was receding and I went to school with an open-faced wound, wearing a red shirt. I have always enjoyed pulling, plucking, picking, tormenting. My own irregularities.
Save these hairs today on my cheek.
To her right because the smell of her mouth; she had upchucked, evacuating the last pills. And they were gone, and her muscles had atrophied and her heart had begun to leak, and the pneumonia set in. She said, Tomorrow the sun will be shining.
To say desire is like saying I wear a wedding ring. To say desire, living in a rented house. And if you are dead, the rain and the night and the month and the job accumulate—incidents without incident. I went to mass, I fingered the spot where I imagined your hairs, the diamond evacuated my ring. My ring expelled the diamond, which we found, during prayer, groping from our knees.
If you are dead.
In the glimmer of a sentence, like that. A twin bed, a frost I claimed was snow. A morning I recall. To say we slept together. Utter and speak. To say I wished we were the same age, and lived together. I wanted to wear the dresses she wore. I wished we were the same person.
I sidestepped your last kiss because your mouth was moist and smelled like vomit.
To mention now, a cat in my lap. Her picture, over nine decades, in every room. To spell decadence—on and on and. It’s easy to trust.
It’s in looking we find ourselves misguided. Posing for pictures beside portraits and pelts, and my mate’s collar and chin conspire to conceal from me, from our photographic records, his exquisite, wandering hairs. Overshadowed by the smoothest countenance.
But fingering my own face, I have always enjoyed—
Some are continuous plucking. Hair after hair, gaping and exposing pores. Yanking quickly, wrenching away, again and again.
Return to the mirror, do not leave the mirror.
A resemblance sets in.
It’s just that my grandmother had white hairs on her cheek.
About the Writer
Jaclyn Watterson's recent work has appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, Puerto del Sol, Loose Change, and Paragraphiti. She teaches writing at Georgia Gwinnett College and lives in Atlanta.