Belzoni’s Calling

by Eric Sommer

A barbershop pole with a light above it

Belzoni stood in the doorway, squinting into the dark interior.

On the back wall, a large sign said Barbershop; it had a large, old-style peppermint-stick barber pole sign out front, too, which drew him in from the street. The interior, as best he could tell, had all the right stuff, like a pair of matching, red leather barber chairs and such—all the things necessary to pass for a reasonably established barbershop. He knocked on the door.

He needed a shave. A haircut, too. Anything to give him a lift up from the depressing, pounded-down, shabby wreck he had become. The downward spiral of his life was accelerating, like a whirlpooling bathtub drain outing used, dirty bathwater.

He shifted his stance uneasily, his hands still cupped against the glass.

The windows were a bit foggy—not dirty with dirt, just foggy with age like an old pair of eyes that can’t quite get the far walls to focus in clearly. But from where he stood, cupping his hands around his eyes and peering into the small, two-chair barbershop, it looked just like a functional barbershop, ready to have its next head to trim, taper, fade, and powder.

This time, Belzoni knocked a little bit harder. They had been getting progressively louder—at least, the last three had—but this one was loud. No doubt about it. Loud enough to cause the few folks standing on the crosswalk up the street to turn their heads and stare down the sidewalk at him.

He didn’t care. He had cared for years; in fact, he’d been the blade of grass that was the first to sway with the rest, fitting in, always fitting in, growing old, gray, weathered, and beaten by fitting in. But today, he just didn’t give a damn.

Still no answer.

He looked around, did a cursory walk across the face of the storefront, and headed directly down the three steps that led from the street up to the sidewalk. He stopped at the top of the steps, midstride. The sun on this impossibly glorious morning was telephone-pole high, just heating the air slightly, and the noise and bustle of traffic and delivery folks on the main drag around the corner was starting to be noticeable. He turned, looked directly back into the fogged barbershop storefront, and saw his reflection—crystal clear against a smoky glass background.

He stared back at the image—was it him? The laws of light and refraction and the physics of light and mirrors were ashimmer. He walked back toward the storefront very slowly, carefully retracing his steps, closer to the image in the glass. It moved like him; it mirrored his movements as a mirror should, but the image staring back at him, looking right into his eyes…was that of a teenager, and Belzoni was in his mid-sixties.

He drew closer to the glass and rested his forehead on his cupped hands while looking directly into the main barbershop. He could see the counters on his left with mirrors, powder, razors, and glass jars of combs, and the barber chairs in front of the mirrors. There was a worn rug runner separating the imposing barber chairs on his left from the row of comfortable, red-leather and chrome seating that framed the room on the far wall to the right.

Belzoni scanned the room carefully, picking out the details, noting the colors—quite vivid now—smelling the oldness, the soothing fragrance of place; the worn paper and yellowed magazines merged with the faintly sweet and intoxicating smell of cheap shaving cream and Barbasol wash.

His heart swelled, his eyes teared, and there was a growing lump in his throat as a transcendental peacefulness of time, place, salvation, and boyhood cascaded over him, engulfing him in its cyclone of memory and clarity.

He belonged here. He was home at last, and he and the image in the glass silently, effortlessly merged and faded into one, then into empty space, then into nothing, erased from the present and released into the past.

A glorious Saturday morning in May, 1895. Belzoni’s Barbershop is empty, awaiting a customer. The front door opens as Strauss strides in, his massive figure filling the door frame. He is twirling his huge handlebar moustache between his fingers as he bellows:

“Belzoni!! Belzoni!! Business!! A shave, a trim, and a twirl… “

“Belzoni’s Calling” first appeared in Atherton Review.

Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story