During the war, John had always hoped to somehow acquire some store-bought soap for Mattie. But he was never able to do so, intentions aside. There was just not enough money for luxuries. Not when a penny package of needles had come to cost seventy five dollars. So they made lye soap. They had rendered pig fat and when the lard had been taken from it, run water through woodstove and fireplace ashes to syphon off to make lye. These were stirred together in a wooden tub until the paddle would hold vertical. Then it was poured, thick sludge into wooden forms for bars. But lye was caustic and it made their skin ruddy and shiny - tight, smooth and inclined to crack and itch. They used it for everything - to clean the stove, their laundry. They used it in the bath.
And to wash their hair.
His hair had become dry and coarse then, matted easily. It became greasy faster as well and they could not use the time and effort to bathe often. His hair only curled in summer, damp with his sweat. He had weightier concerns, but he noticed. And he noticed as Mattie's dark hair became stringy, where it had once been soft and smooth so that he wanted to stroke it over head. But he could not help her, and her smile was sweet and positive, patient and cheering always. There was nothing for her but people, and faith - in them, in God.
Now in the West, even in the dusty cowtowns he bathes every day. To make up for those earlier times. And because he is now able to buy that small luxury. Because soap is a pleasure - clean, scented. Most men here, if they have bathed, may have their friends peer at them, not sure of the change. A new hat, a recent haircut? But John orders a bath daily, indulges in lotions, soaps, creams and concoctions for skin and hair. His hair is soft now and thick. It waves and sculpts itself. Even the silver in its ash-blond sparks in the sun when he removes his hat. His body is ruined with disease, but he likes his hair.
He has always cut his hair in the same way. From his first baby haircut to the present. Parted on the left and combed in a curve over his forehead then back towards his ears, lifting at the sides, the top thicker and longer. At the nape of his neck, behind his ears, it winds itself into silky little curls, even now.
When he had sat on his mother's lap when he had been a boy, she had toyed with these little curls, stroking them absently and turning them around her fingers as he worked with her books, learning to speak, to read, to play the piano. And nothing, nothing at all feels like that. And others have touched him like that. Fingers, rounded fingertips, at the back of his neck, in his hair where it is still soft and fine as a child's. It is peace, belonging, simple recognition of him.
Alone, it is this touch he misses more than anything, thinks about when he bathes, when he lies in bed restless at night. He thinks of that innocent caring, not sexual, just knowing him. Peace. Peace with another. He misses earnest thoughtful eyes, yes, words offering, answering, another to work for. But there is something simple he wants - that easy familiar moving touch. Such a small thing. But he had let fear and feeling throw his actions to regret that had come too late.
But he keeps his silvering curls soft and touchable, so he can dream melancholy. He likes his hair.Name: John H. Holliday, DDS.
Word Count: 639
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