Dayton J. Shafer
Lee pulls down on the black rings underneath each eye.
Man … I really am getting old.
Blackheads scatter around the u-shaped divots. The restroom light is not forgiving. It’s one of those florescent tubes of blinding unnatural light, one of those tubes that spotlight imperfections. The blackheads. The zit he popped this morning. Ingrown stubble that has left a cloud of maroon on his jawline. He pulls his hair back to look at his wrinkled forehead. Yesterday was his thirty-sixth birthday. A knock echoes through the single-person coffeehouse lavatory.
Be out in a minute.
Lee still hears the soft hum of the singer on stage. He was sitting beside the out-of-tune piano listening to her sing Carole King and Joni Mitchell numbers before the caffeine began to streamline through him. He studies his widow’s peak. It had begun creeping toward his crown these last couple years.
Lee’s father and grandfather had thick sets of black hair until the day they died. His grandfather was born in South Dakota and one could see the high cheekbones and hairless skin of the Sioux nation. His father had the silken jet black coif, but his Irish mother’s eyes are a haunting, striking green against his more swarthy features.
Lee looks about as British as a colonist could look. Pasty freckled skin. Long boney frame. No distinguishing features. Growing up, he always wanted to look like his older brother. Even his brother’s name, Sven, aptly fit the Sioux prowess he possessed.
Lee taps his hairline as someone taps on the door. He leans over one shoulder.
Half of the florescent tube flickers and fades out. It cuts the room in half, cuts Lee’s reflection in half. The lit half is what he has been mulling over for the past few minutes—a hopeless thirty-six-year-old having a premature midlife crisis. But the shadowed half is what Lee has wanted for years—his crow’s feet diminished, his pock-marked cheeks tanned, his sunken eyes now spirited. In the dark, he can still see the dagger shaped scar in the corner of his right eye. He digs his pinky nail into the scar and thinks back to the day it happened.
Sven was chasing him through the kitchen. Lee took too wide of a turn. Sven stepped on his heel. Lee went flying, smashing his socket on the corner of an heirloom butcher block. He remembered coming to and seeing a reservoir of blood settling between his cheek and a stepping stool.
The knock becomes a banging. Lee smirks at himself. He turns to relieve the lock of its duty. Taking his time, he shivers at the smooth slide of treated metal on treated metal. Lee turns the knob to open the door but is thrown against the sink. Gathering himself, he looks up in time to see a pink blur sneak through the small space between the door and the wall. In the half lit room, he sees quick hands lock the door and lean against it.
What the hell have you been doing?
The sound of anger can be heard outside the door. He thinks she’s a line cutter.
Lee listens without a second thought. He only saw a glimpse. Young and cute. Brown hair and eyes. Pink shirt. He hears a rustle and then the familiar sound of splashing liquid.
It’s not cool to hog the bathroom … This is the only one they have.
He opens his mouth but she cuts him off.
Was that you sitting by the piano?
She finishes and sidles up to him at the sink. Her moving hip presses his as she lathers.
You shouldn’t be so brooding … It’s off-putting.
Lee’s surprised. He didn’t think he was brooding.
Come out of the corner and talk to people.
She leans across him and plucks a single paper towel. He still faces the wall. She throws the towel away and abrades his back from shoulder to shoulder.
Come buy me a coffee.
She enters into the shadowed half of the room and fights her way through the small space again.
The tube of light flickers on fully.
Lee turns in time to see the light shine a tinge of red in her hair. He hears her push people back as he relocks the door and steps to the mirror.
The tube of light splits his reflection.
Lee thinks of the girl, thinks of youth. He looks into the mirror and admires his imperfections. He thinks that youth is overrated. All that work. He thinks of the girl. He thinks of sex and stupid love and letting go and wanting nothing more than to experience experience itself until you can’t help but bite down and scream.
Thirty six … thirty six …
The tube of light flickers on fully.
Lee picks up the gritty soap of the coffeehouse. He turns on the hot water, washing his hands softly, carefully, finally cupping a handful of water and splashing from chin to brain stem.
Thirty six … not that old.
The tepid tap water emphasizes his window’s peak. Lee desperately shifts and organizes his remaining locks, attempts to deceive by way of strategic care and placement.
He thinks of the girl, thinks about their grandkids. About telling them about the weird little love nest where grandma peed in front of grandpa right after meeting him.
Whoa … thirty six … I do not like you.
The florescent tube splits his reflection again.
Only this time, Lee steps wholly into the darkness to make himself different, to make himself into what he wants, into what he thinks he needs—not what he is.
about the author
Born and raised in Springfield, Ohio, Dayton is a freelance writer and editor now based in Vermont. He is a former Editorial Assistant at Green Mountains Review, Writing Fellow at The Vermont Studio Center, and current unrepentant theatre nerd and pastry enthusiast.