Short story: Return Customer

This is a short story I wrote for our writing group. We take a random word and use it as inspiration to write something for each session. For this short, the word was “barber

The barber slid the scissors into the blue Barbicide and wiped the countertop. Little moments to catch up on the cleaning, the tidying, were important to him. A brief rest and a chance to get things back to being just so.

Behind the barber, the door pushed open, the broken entry bell clacked. The small room with its three chairs wouldn’t let you out of sight of the door if you tried, so the bell had always been more of an accent than a necessity, and its repair not a keen concern.

The barber smiled, turning to greet his customer. He locked eyes with the man across the room and felt the world spin. His legs grew unsteady. He felt as if sliding down a steep hill of gravel, his thoughts scrabbling for some purchase while threatening to tumble uncontrollably.

Below the customer’s dark eyes, the same moustache, the same style clothes. Yes, tucked into his belt, the same Colt Single Action Army handgun. He could see the familiar knick in the handle from here, as if there really was any doubt.  Two young punks tried to rob the barber once, one with a semi-automatic that he waved in the barber’s face and fired twice into the ceiling. That whole affair didn’t shake him as much as seeing just the butt of that old gun.

Walking to a chair, the customer glided into the seat. He broke his direct gaze with the barber only to transfer it to the barber’s reflection in the mirror. The customer sat comfortably, elbows on the cracked black armrests and hands folded in his lap. Waiting.

They stared at each other a moment before the barber picked up a fresh cape and swung it around the customer’s neck. Snapped it closed. The customer’s hair was trimmed close, recently done. His face was full of stubble, two, maybe three days old.

The customer watched calmly as the barber leaned the chair back.

Turning his back to the customer, the barber flicked the straight edge up and down the strop as the lather warmed. He  tensed as something clicked behind him, then realized it was just the chair creaking. He closed his eyes a moment and took a breath.

Moments later he bent over the customer’s face, drawing clean paths through the lather with the blade. Some part of his mind shrieked at him to slice deeply with the razor. Instead he focused intently on the curves and angles of the face and neck, catching every hair, moving deftly, scraping lightly, drawing no blood.

Momentarily lost in his work, he forgot who sat in the chair. Straightening and reaching for the hot towel he knew the main in the chair had no such lapse.

The customer patted his face with the towel as the barber set the chair upright and backed away. The customer stood, tossing the towel onto a counter.  He pulled the cape forward, snaps popping, and tossed it onto the chair. He rubbed his clean jaw, lips pursing appreciatively at the quality of the work.

“So…”, the barber said at last.

(Note: Several members of my group pointed out the similiarities between my story and “Lather and Nothing Else.” I don’t recall ever reading or hearing of that story before, but there are definitely common ideas. I’ve never had this happen quite so strongly before, so it was rather odd.)

About Jeff Moriarty

A dabbler in many arts, from Ignite Phoenix to Improv, and from Information Security to Screenwriting. Jeff loves creating new things, and tries his hand at many forms of writing from screenplays to prose. He pontificates on his personal blog, and helps authors get their works online.


  1. Eric Bahle says

    One wonders what happened to the two punks who ‘tried’ to rob the barber.