Each morning I check the mirror and compare the growth of my facial hair to that of my voluminous, unkempt pubes. A therapist said this morning routine was no good for my self-worth, which had plummeted so low I could only find it by zip-lining from here to Hell. Also, the stress of it all wasn’t going to will the hairs on my face into a full goatee or pork-chop sideburns. I would be lucky, he said, if I could even grow a flavor savor.
There was also the issue of Anthony. We stopped making love three months ago. We still fuck, but never passionately; sometimes, just before Full Frontal with Samantha Bee comes on, we’ll switch on every light in the room and, with our dominant hands dusted orange from Cheetos, we’ll jerk each other off under the covers.
But Anthony loves beards, so I hold out for a faint one to sprout along my jawline, at which point the scruff leaves pink blemishes around my neck like herpes. I scratch them until a green-gray sludge of dead skin builds up under my fingernails, and one night when we go to dinner, I draw blood.
“Please stop,” Anthony says, grabbing my wrist. “You look like a crackhead.”
This hurts. I did crack once after eating too many gin-soaked gummy bears. Surely I look better now than I did then? I tell him, loud enough for everyone in the Olive Garden to hear: “If you’re so ashamed of me, just go!”
He screams,“Why are you being like this?” and sobs grossly into his salad dressing.
A table over, this man going balls-deep in a Tour of Italy pauses mid-bite, a glob of lasagna forming a soul patch under his bottom lip, and flags a waitress. She charges at Anthony and me as if intending to break up a fight between two baboons slap-boxing in her front yard. “Are we having a problem here?” she asks, her hand clutching invisible pearls.
“People sure love interrupting private conversions,” I say. “We’re out of napkins and bread sticks.”
She leaves too quietly, then returns with an Olive Garden middle finger: a single breadstick.
After dinner, I sit on my bathroom floor, rubbing lemon juice and fish oil into my chin. Anthony is rummaging through the apartment, throwing trinkets and clothes and what sounds like books into a suitcase. We do not live together; I’m pretty sure he’s robbing me.
But I don’t care.
Miraculously, I have broken through the itchy stage of beard-growing and, if I squint into the mirror, can see that it has shape, definition. There are even hints of sideburns, which, sure, were never planned, but now that they are here I’m not about to clip them. In fact, I’ll name them: Anthony. Yes, Anthony. And now, no matter what happens after this moment, after I open the bathroom door, and after the hair on my face dares to keep growing, Anthony and I will be closer than ever.
This story was written by Christopher Gonzalez. Christopher is a Cleveland-raised, Brooklyn-based writer and a graduate of Vassar College, where he won the Ann E. Imbrie Prize for Excellence in Fiction Writing. His work has appeared in Mash Stories, The Vignette Review, and The Vassar Review, among other publications. He is an assistant fiction editor for Barrelhouse. You can find more of his writing at https://chris-gonzalez.com, or following him on Twitter @livesinpages.