The Vicar struggled, hacking away at his white beard with a pair of old scissors. It was important that he looked his best for the Bishop’s visit.
Every minute or so the Vicar would successfully free a clump of white hair and smile as it fell into the sink. Eventually, a scruffy, stubbled face smiled back at him from the mirror.
He walked through the Vicarage to his bedroom and took a cut-throat razor and a pair of tweezers from a drawer beneath his wardrobe. He had bought the tweezers especially the day before, but the ivory-handled razor had been given to him by his father years ago, as a gift when he had been ordained.
Watching the way the razor caught the light, he smiled again as he walked back through his home. Feeling pleased with himself, he lifted the razor to his face and pressed it to his cheek bone. The razor sliced straight through his skin. He swore as a trickle of dark blood rolled down his cheek. He cupped his free hand beneath the hot tap and tried to dab away the blood, but the cut continued to bleed.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, to the accusing face in the mirror, ‘but it has been a few years.’
He tore a small piece of toilet paper from the roll and stuck it over the cut. A red dot began to soak through the paper as he lifted the razor to his face again. Pressing the edge of the blade lightly against the skin above his top lip, he dragged the razor up toward his nose before dipping it beneath the tap, washing away the hair, and repeating the routine several times. On the third stroke the razor nicked at the ridge of his philtrum, opening up another cut. Again, he began to bleed.
The Vicar cut his face five more times before he finished. He placed the wet razor down on the rim of the sink and inspected his face in the mirror. It looked older than the last time he’d seen it. His naked jowls hung like a dog’s and his skin was liver-spotted and grey.
He splashed cold water over his face, cleaning his pores and washing away the scraps of toilet paper. None of the cuts were deep but they all stung and continued to bleed.
‘You look so old,’ he said to the face in the mirror. ‘Your beard suited you. It’s a shame the Bishop doesn't like beards. Sandy always liked them.’
A drop of blood fell onto the Vicar's white pyjama top, from a cut somewhere on his second chin. He tutted and covered the cut again with toilet paper.
‘You’ve got more chins than the rest of the parish combined,’ he sighed, and reached for the scissors.
The scissors chewed at his wiry eyebrows, twisting and pulling but not cutting them. Giving up on the scissors, he held the long hairs between his thumb and index finger and sliced them through with the razor. Within minutes his eyebrows, which had once curled round so far that, were it not for his glasses, they would have poked him in the eye, looked nicely trimmed.
‘That’s a lot better,’ he smiled.
Another drop of blood fell onto the his top, this time from the first cut he’d made, high up on his cheek. He reached for the toilet paper and covered all of the cuts, again.
‘Now comes the worst,’ he grimaced, taking the tweezers from the rim of the sink.
He swore as he plucked his first nasal hair and tears stung in his eyes. He went in for the second and third hairs before he lost his nerve, but the pain broke him before the fourth. He turned away from the sink and the mirror and scrunched up his eyes. He wondered if it was worth the effort. He remembered, three or four years ago, Sandy had asked him to pluck his nasal hair, but he had refused.
‘Come on Mr. Vicar,’ she’d goaded him, ‘you know you’d look even sexier.’
The Vicar had liked Sandy; not many people spoke to him like that. But he had always doubted how much Sandy had really liked him. Not that it had mattered; Sandy wasn’t the right sort for a Vicar. He knew from their more candid conversations that the parish gossip about her promiscuity was well-founded. Nevertheless, he had wept for days after her funeral. That was one of the hardest things about having such a small parish, he thought, turning back to the mirror: you were always burying someone you loved.
He plucked a further ten nasal hairs, pausing only once. The pain helped him forget about Sandy.
‘Nearly there,’ the Vicar grinned, laying down the tweezers and blowing his nose. ‘Just a quick tidy up-top and then you’re done.’
He splashed hot water over the bald top of his head, tilting it down toward the sink and hunching over. He picked up the razor again and began shaving his head, lightly tracing the outline of his skull. As he reached his crown, where the wreath of hair that encircled the back and sides of his head began, he stopped. But he struggled without the aid of the mirror, confused as to where he was shaving and where he had already shaved before. By the time he finally straightened up again, he felt nauseous.
The face in the mirror had gone a deep red and most of the cuts had bled heavily while he was hunched over, causing the scraps of toilet paper to fall away.
He sat down on the toilet, blood trickling down his cheek, and leant his head back on the cold wall behind. He thought of the Bishop coming to visit later that day. The cuts would need to stop bleeding before then or all the Vicar's suffering would be for nothing. Several drops of blood dripped onto his shirt, and continued dripping. He hoped that the Bishop hadn’t changed her mind about beards. It had been so long since he had last seen her that she might have.
‘Sandy was still here the last time,’ the Vicar heard himself croak.
He wondered if the Bishop would remember Sandy. He hoped she wouldn’t.
Mathew Lopez-Bland studied English with Creative Writing at the University of Leicester as an undergraduate, before undertaking a Master's degree in Creative Writing at Lancaster University. He now works full time at being unemployed; the hours feel infinite but he enjoys being able to work from home. He writes short stories, screenplays and the occasional poem. His work has previously appeared in Writing Magazine, Writing Short Fiction and The Jawline Review.