His coarse beard was an array of auburn, brown, and gray strands, hairs upturned and twisted out to the side refusing to conform to the lines of his face. The beard had become a statement. It had gone from trendy to appearing Hasidic, which might have worked for him if he’d been a more serious Jew.
He told me it would be too much for his razor, and asked if I would cut it down to a manageable level so he could shave it off. I liked the unruly beard – except when we kissed, because it chaffed my face and turned it red and rough.
On our first night, he’d drunk too much and passed out in my bed. I’d stroked the beard while he slept, as if it were a cat patiently absorbing my touch. When he woke he pulled away. But, before he left, he asked for my number and later called.
I searched the pillow he’d used for bits of his beard and, when the moon was full, I used them in a love-binding spell.
Eventually, I knew the route to his house by car, bus, and train. I knew that I could walk to it blindfolded, if need be. I knew where I’d exit the station and that I’d have to push my way out of the crowd or be swallowed up. I knew that I would apply lipstick outside his apartment and flip my hair to one side, the way he liked it. Today, I even knew the look on his face before he opened the door, courteous but removed, as if I were his barber or beautician, instead of the woman he’d dated for nearly a year.
His manner was formal in spite of the intimacy of his home. As I followed him down the hallway, he turned and met my gaze, before quickly turning away again as if I’d caught him staring at another woman’s legs. As he hurried into the kitchen, I wanted to reach out and touch him, but he was moving too quickly, like a train on its way to its next stop.
He sat in the only chair adjacent to the kitchen table and handed me the scissors that lay in front of him. I told him I’d bought a good pair, just for trimming beards. He offered to pay me, but I told him not to be silly. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes.
Standing over him, scissors in hand, I hated how much he trusted me. I imagined myself pushing the scissors into his heart, so he would hurt as I did now.
Instead, I stroked his beard and his eyes opened so suddenly that I wondered if I was secreting venom. I turned away and asked if he had a towel to lie across his chest to catch the falling hair. He pointed to a white towel on the counter. I unfolded it and placed it below his dark beard and began to cut until the it was stacked high with what, if he were Hasidic, would have been proof of his lack of faith.
I knew this because I had asked Rabbi Moss why Hasidic Jews wore long beards at his brother’s wedding. The Rabbi explained,
“Hasidic Jews believe that the greatest step one can take in one’s personal growth, is to bridge the gap between good intentions and the implementing of one’s ideals. The beard grows down from the head, to the rest of the body. It’s the bridge between mind and heart, thoughts and actions, theory and practice. Hasidic men don’t cut their beards to open a direct flow from the ideals of their minds into their everyday lives.”
Impressed by his words, I fantasized about marrying my Jewish man even though, at the time, his beard was new, sparse, and a long way from a faith-rich Hasidic symbol.
I carefully cut off the bottom of the beard and he appeared to relax under my touch, his breathing slow and calm. When his eyes closed again, I tucked some pieces of beard into my pocket.
When I noticed his hands were folded into fists on his lap I ached for the distance between us. Perhaps he had only asked for my help because I cut hair for a living.
We hadn’t seen one another in weeks. He’d quit calling. If I called him, he either didn’t answer or said he was busy.
With each snip of my scissors, he looked less handsome and more like a mangy dog. Yet, when his eyes opened, I was the one that lapped up the smallest twinkle of approval. I was so close to him that I could taste his breath and smell his skin. I wanted to kiss him, devour him. I leaned into his legs, waiting for him to wrap his arms around my waist but he’d unclenched his fists and slid his hands under his thighs.
I cut the beard as close to his skin as possible without a blade. I let the scissors nip his ear, and he yelped in pain. His eyes shot open again, narrow and angry and his love felt as far away from me as ancient Israel, or Eastern Europe – or wherever deep Jewish faith hails.
“If you have a razor I can shave the rest,” I said.
“I’ll get it with my electric. It’s safer,” he said touching his ear.
“Why are you doing this? I asked.
“I have an interview. The further up one goes, the fewer beards one sees. They’re more traditional at the top.”
“More traditional than a faith?” I asked, sliding my hand into my pocket.
“Faith?” He laughed on his way to shave, “What’s faith got to do with anything?”
“Everything,” I whispered grabbing another clump of his hair from the floor.