She leaves him in the barber’s chair; time enough for one errand. When she goes back for him, he’s bald. Every silver-white curl is gone.
The barber drops his eyes. It’s what he asked for. A nod from the milky pink bonce. In 60 years she’s never seen it, but she can hear the words – Take the lot! – as if she’d been there. Part mischief, part cry in the dark. He’s been asking for a new head.
At home, he is slack-jawed at the mystery in the mirror. He tugs his woolly hat low. He will reach for it before breakfast – before underwear – for weeks to come; an armour against conspirators and this new cold.
There are dragons outside. They’ve got clippers. They’ve been on the Big Dipper, but now they’re on the travellator, heading this way. Better not let them in. His eyebrows are high. She pulls a cheerful rug over his knees, and tells him there are no dragons outside. She tells him he’s loved and he’s safe and he’s home.
I’m looking for the moon, he says. You want me to swallow that orange? It’s a kind of a conversation, she supposes. Not like the old ones that went on for hours in front of the Aga, the pair of them taking small curios and turning them this way and that, back when they were bottomless.
Alaska comes on the telly and she says Remember the Northern Lights? He is sunken jowls and glassy eyes. She returns to her crossword. Italy slid off her radar years ago. Remember the years of living courageously? All those budgets on the back of napkins? Your affair? That wild moment behind the trellis? Our first born?
None of it.
She’s lonely and leaking time. His hair turns to bristle. She buys the paper for the death notices; she’s not in there. She packs a bag (his woolly hat is in it) and swallows guilt like river stones.
He wonders where he is, asks about the gunman down the hall. Someone tells him there’s no gunman. Someone tells him he’s loved and he’s safe.