As told to Rayzel Reich by Efraim Reich
It is not right, that a son should shave a father.
I hold the shaver carefully, very carefully. I am terrified of making a wrong move.
Father holds very still.
I start on the left side of the face, where the skin is pale and healthy- looking. I feel confident. Slowly I slide down, smooth skin sliding away where the hair falls off.
And then I see the naked cheek, and I bite my tongue, and close my mouth quickly, to hide it, for there is enough pain in Father’s eyes to sear the heavens, and I do not need to add to it by showing mine.
Smooth skin on Father’s cheek.
It has never, never, shown before. Not since he was a boy, before hair grew on his chin.
But now I do not have the luxury of feeling that pain anymore. Because I am done the left cheek, and I need to decide where to move next. I take a deep breath, and bite my lip, and decide to move down.
I can’t look at the right cheek. Not yet. I’ll do the bottom first.
Slowly, slowly, I slide down the left side of Father’s face. Part of my mind is saying, Father’s face, Father’s face, what are you doing to Father’s face?! But most of me is tuning it out, shutting it down, needing to focus, carefully, on every move, every strand of hair.
The skin on Father’s chin is pink, red, white, and brown. It screams pain. I want to close my eyes. I don’t want to think of the pain of the blade sliding over that sensitive, damaged, skin. But I swallow, and shut it out. Because I need to do it. As painlessly as possible.
Slowly, smoothly, continuously. I see every strand of hair that passes under the blade. Grey hair. White hair. Black hair.
And tiny bits of… burned hair.
Move the shaver. Just move the shaver.
Father holds still. I do not dare look at his eyes. Only once I feel him shudder, as I slide over a patch of raw, pink, skin. Every muscle in my body tenses, rigid, as I hold tight, desperate not to hurt. It passes. I wait a moment, to give him breath, and then I move on. I know that I must finish.
And still, I do not look at his eyes.
Yesterday was Taanis Esther . A “nidcheh,” pushed back to Thursday. Most do not fast in these times. Father does. It is hard to imagine fasting when every day there is never enough… a taanis must be such a long day…
Stop it. Stop thinking.
My hand has stopped, for I have finished the chin. I am loathe to move on. Get on with it, get on with it, just do it. I pause, for I must pause, and then I force myself to look at the right side of the face.
And I close my eyes inside me, even as I keep my eyes open, for I cannot cause Father more pain by closing my eyes, but I must close my eyes somewhere, for it is terrible to look at.
And so I close my eyes inside me, and all I see is gray.
The gray shawl that Father wears, covering this cheek. Covering his chin, too, and the other cheek, and his head. At first we had thought it looked strange, I remember. Like a Bedouin. But now it no longer brings a sense of strangeness. I am used to this image. Father, swathed in this shawl, this gray scarf with the black woolen threads running through it. In the summer it was harder to take the sight. Just the sight of Father in that wool on those hot, hot, days made me uncomfortable. I felt like itching, squirming for him. How did he do it? Outside, where the sun was hottest. That’s when he wore it.
So I see the scarf, gray and black threads.
But you need to shave. You have a job to do, my mind says. And my closed eyes blink inside me, and open inside me, for they must see the cheek to shave. And deep inside me, I take a steadying breath, and I know I look cool, calm and collected, as Froyim does, and I lower the blade, and I start to move. Slowly, smoothly, and gently, ever so gently.