Commitments by Kelle Grace Gaddis

His coarse beard was an array of auburn, brown and gray strands, hairs upturned and twisted out to the side refusing to conform to the lines of his face. The beard had become too long for his tastes. It had gone from trendy to appearing Hasidic, which might have worked for him if he were a more serious Jew.

He told me it would be too much for his razor and asked if I would cut it down to a manageable level so he could shave it off. I liked the unruly beard except when we kissed because it chaffed my face and turned it red and rough.

On our first night, he’d drunk too much and passed out in my bed. I’d stroked the beard while he slept as if it were a cat patiently absorbing my touch. When he woke he pulled away but, before he left, he asked for my number and later called.

When he left I searched the pillow he’d used for tiny hairs from his beard. I taped them into my spell book and when the moon was full, I used them in a love binding spell.

Eventually, I knew the route to his house by car, bus, and train. I knew that I could walk to it blindfolded if need be. I knew where I’d exit the station and that I’d have to push my way out of the crowd or be swallowed up. I knew that I would apply lipstick outside his apartment and flip my hair to one side the way he liked it. And today, since it had been awhile, I even knew the look on his face before he opened the door, courteous but removed; as though I were his beautician or barber instead of the woman he’d been dating for nearly a year.

Everything felt formal in spite of the intimacy of his home. When I followed him down the hallway, he turned and met my eyes, in his I could see that another woman owned his gaze. He turned away quickly as though I’d caught him staring at her legs. As he hurried into the kitchen, I wanted to reach out and touch him; but he was moving away too quickly like a train on its way to its next stop.

He sat in the only chair adjacent to the kitchen table and handed me the scissors that lay in front of him. I told him that I’d bought a good pair just for trimming beards. He offered to pay me. I told him not to be silly. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes. Standing over him, scissors in one hand, I hated how much he trusted me. I imagined myself pushing the scissors into his heart so that he would hurt as I did now. Instead, I stroked his beard and his eyes opened so suddenly that I wondered if I was secreting venom. I turned away and asked if he had a towel to lie across his chest to catch the falling hair. He pointed to an unused white towel folded on the counter. I unfolded it and placed it below his non-Hasidic beard and began to cut until the towel was stacked high with what, if it were a Hasidic beard, would have been proof of his lost faith.

I knew this because I’d gone with him to his synagogue once. We went for his brother’s wedding, and I’d asked Rabbi Moss why Hasidic Jews wore long beards. The Rabbi explained, “Hasidic Jews believe that the greatest step one can take in one’s personal growth is to bridge the gap between good intentions and the implementing of one’s ideals. The beard grows down from the head to the rest of the body. It’s the bridge between mind and heart, thoughts and actions, theory and practice. Hasidic men don’t cut their beards to open a direct flow from the ideals of their minds into their everyday lives.”

I was impressed. I liked the idea of the Hasidic faith, the commitment. I’d fantasized about marrying my bearded Jewish man even though, at the time, his beard was new, sparse, and a long way from a full-blown Hasidic beard.

I carefully cut off the bottom of the beard. He appeared to relax under my touch, his breathing, slow and calm. When his eyes closed again, I tucked some beard into my pocket. And, I ached when I noticed that his hands were folded into fists on his lap. I knew he’d asked for my help because I cut hair for a living not because he’d missed me. He hadn’t seen me in three weeks. He’d quit calling. When I called him, he either didn’t answer or said that he was busy.

With each snip, he looked less handsome and more like a mangy dog. Yet, when his eyes opened, I was the one that lapped up the smallest twinkle of his approval. I was so close I could taste his breath and smell his skin. I wanted to kiss him, to devour him. I leaned into his legs, waiting for him to wrap his arms around my waist but he’d unclenched his fists and slid his hands under his thighs.

I cut the beard as close to his skin as possible without shears. I let the scissors nip his ear and he yelped in pain. His eyes shot open again, narrowed, angry, and his heart felt as far away from me as ancient Israel or Eastern Europe or wherever deep Jewish faith hails.

I asked, “Do you want me to give you a close shave? We could get coffee after.”
“No, he said, “I’ll use my electric to even the stubble on my face.”
“It’s no problem,” I said.
“I plan to grow my beard again, keep it under control, this is just for an interview,” he said.
“Of course, I understand, a prior commitment,” I said, sliding my hand into my pocket.

About the author:

Yellow Chair Press published Kelle Grace Gaddis’s poetry and fiction collection, My Myths, in December of 2016. Other recent publications include The TillFive Willows Poetry ReviewHessler Street Fair Anthology, LOLX, Shake The Tree Volume IILangLit InternationalMoonlight Dreamers of the Yellow Haze, BlazeVOX in BlazeVOX15The New Independents MagazineThirteen Myna Birds Journal, A Starry Night Sanctuary, Knot Literary Magazine, Entropy, Dove Tales “The Nature Edition,” Blackmail Presses 37th Edition, Writing For Peace Journal, and elsewhereShe was one of 4Culture’s “Poetry on the Buses” contest winners in 2015 and also in the official Lit Crawl Seattle program in 2015 and 2016. She is the author of three chapbooks It Is What It Is, It Was What It Was, Visions Of, and American Discard. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics from the University of Washington in 2014.