( )He tried not to look at the leaves. He would do it like pulling off a band-aid, he thought. Then again, he thought, he would do it slowly, with graceful strokes.
( )Michele placed a kitchen chair down in the backyard, four legs of wood set into the late-season grass. His fingers, crooked, bent with stiffness, the cool air suffering them to the bone, held the orange chord and plugged it into the outlet beneath the porch.
( )The wind blew against him; he looked down at his shirt, the fabric snapping back against his chest, clinging to his faded muscles, and he touched his chest.
( )Once, he saw a scarecrow on the highway. Oh, the straw came out from every inch. The straw came out of holes in its chest, its arms, legs; holes were all the scarecrow was. The threads between held him together, yawning wide and wider, stretching with a threat to sift him apart. The scarecrow, thought Michele, was simply old, and he understood.
( )Old age was looking at photos and counting how many of the people in them were still alive. Now when Michele looked at old photos there was no one, no one save him; him standing in the middle of the dead, him like a man among ghosts, among them, and so not far from them.
( )No, not far at all. It seemed all he had to do was lift his head from the black and white celluloid and turn to his brother or his sister, his papa or his mamma, his aunts, uncles and say, “I’m ready,” and when he lay his head back into the photo, he would be of them.
( )When they were young Pippina’s hair was brown like coco, coco that is fine and feels like silk upon fingertips, silk with chips of gold worked into it. When they were young it was long so that she could sit on it. The strands curled at the ends beneath her bottom. It went back into a tail. It went up, all of it, into a shiny chocolate swirl upon her head. Later, it fell around him, only after the priest had blessed them man and wife, of course.
( )He blushed at the thought. It had fluttered down around his face, unloosed, wild, and he, surrounded by a cascade of her, would push his fingers through it.
( )Now her hair was gray, but still it was long, not as long, but still it fell down her back. Now she fastened it into a taut, coarse braid, and its shine had dulled, like dust thrown over gold.
( )How many times she had wanted to cut it, and he forbid her. She did not want to disappoint him. It was all they had of their youth, bundled up behind her back, hanging against her body.
( )“Nesting,” the doctor had said.
( )And Michele thought of birds gathering twigs and leaves to wind up into a home.
( )She said she did not want to wait for that to happen. She said she did not want to wait to see it on her pillow in the morning, on the kitchen floor, on the carpet, where hair did not belong.
( )Pippina came out of the house. The screen door clapped shut behind her. Her hair was loose, surrendering toward the ground like the leaves of a willow, falling over her cheeks, her shoulders, her breasts, falling in tired waves until it touched her waist. A blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She held her hand over her breast, a habit she had recently developed, as if she was trying to hold the catheter in; hold in the thing that fed to her the thing that would save her.
( )She looked down at her feet, watched them move, one foot, and then the other, to be sure each step landed with a bit of ground beneath it. Michele had never seen her look so pale. Her eyes were sunken and dark, but her lips were red, as red as they had always been.
( )She lowered her body into the chair. She gathered her hair and then released it and it fell over the back of the chair. It was dark and aged, like a tree, but like a tree, it was beautiful to look at; like a tree it held within it the whole story of their lives.
( )She bowed her head. He slid his thumb and pushed the switch up. The razor whirred into life; the sound of working metal and mechanics drowned out the crows circling the treetops.
( )He took some of her hair into his hand. He lifted it from beside her temple. His hand trembled. A patch of hair unhinged from her scalp and into his palm, but he did not tell her, and let it fall to the grass.
( )He felt ill. His stomach felt like the sea. She lifted her left hand and offered it to him, and he took it into his. Their hands together were soft and worn, two sheets of line and bone, swollen knuckles and diaphanous skin.
( )In his free hand he held the razor and lowered it before her forehead. He drew it close to her skin. In a single, slow stroke he pulled the razor from the front of her head to the back of her neck.
( )A sheath of gray collapsed toward the ground. It fell on his boot. She squeezed his hand. The wind blew but he did not look up to see the leaves fall from their branches.
( )He heard her voice, and switched off the razor for a moment, leaning in close to her lips.
( )These leaves, she said, they have to be cleaned up.
( )I know, he said.
( )Today, she said.
( )He was about to switch the razor back on.
( )I can’t stand to look at them, she said.
( )She lowered her head.
( )His heart fluttered. Kissing her hand, biting his lip to steady its tremble, he switched the razor back on.