Father stands there, dripping, holding his face in agony. His ruin of a beard is almost completely gone. Tufts stand out in spots; in some spots it is burned nearly clear off.
But I barely see the hair. It is the skin I see, horribly burned, pink, and pinker, and almost red, and brown, and black.
And Father’s eyes, opening, Father’s disciplined, wise, deep, eyes, searing of agony.
I hold my breath to hold myself together, for I am screaming apart from the pain.
“You will report to this office tomorrow at noon, with your face shaved cleanly.” The officer is speaking, a curt bark.
I let it fade from my mind. Now it has passed, and I can leave it be. I need my full mind, to focus my hand carefully, oh so carefully, on the ruined skin beneath the blade.
For it must be shaved, smooth and clean, before Father goes to report at noon.
My job is done.
I am still tight, holding myself tight in concentrated focus. I know that when I let go, I will be more exhausted then after a day’s hard labor.
And now, only now, do I look up, and see Father’s eyes, and Father’s face… do I see Father.
He is clean-shaven. It is terrible to look at. But I do not look at the face, cannot look at the face, for I am, must, look, at, in, Father’s eyes.
He looks at me, those deep hazel eyes, and I see agony, and I see sorrow.
And I do not know how much is agony of the searing pain of flames still burning…
And how much is sorrow, that he no longer wears the face of a Yid.
I stand at the piano in our living room, caught by the faces and figures covering its lid. Wedding pictures; dazzling brides and handsome grooms. Family pictures, beaming faces leaping out of frames. My eyes move from frame to frame, capturing the beauty of each before moving on.
Zeida Chezkele and Babba Malya Raizel. I stop, as I have to stop.
And I stare at my great-grandfather.
It’s mesmerizing, somehow, this picture. I feel like I can stare at it all day. Like when I hold a perfectly formed, ripe, peach in my hand, gazing at its shades of blush and rose and sunshine. Like when I hold a perfectly formed rose, trying to devour the incredible depths of black swallowed within the velvet crimson. Like when I hold my year-old baby sister, eyes traveling in wonder at the perfection of the fair skin, blue eyes, golden curls.
There is something about Zeida that holds my eyes, and does not let them go.
The face is advanced in years, and the long beard and side-curls are white. There are wrinkles on the forehead.
But oh, how beautiful is his face.
I stare, and I stare, trying to connect to those deep, seeing, eyes, to the wisdom and depth within that face.
And all I can think, murmurs sliding in a circle through my mind- is, hadras panim… hadras panim… hadras panim..
It is a gift I have not seen gracing many faces. It sits on Zeida like a crown.
Now I know that it came dearly. And I wonder… if the shine that radiates from that crown does not come, in part, from flames that burned that night on Zeida’s beautiful face.