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Chekhov’s Beard by Bob Raymonda

Kelly was always a bit of an exaggerator, so you must forgive us for not believing her right
away. She’d just arrived at the party we were throwing for Blithe and Colton, three hours late by
the way, and interrupted all of us mid-conversation. She stood in the center of the room and announced, with gusto: I have the most amazing thing to share.

The room sat silent. We’d heard enough of Kelly’s stories to know the drill. She’d probably been in West Hollywood and seen Ricki Lake vomiting into the back of a cab again. Or, maybe, she’d
been at work and watched someone get a funny object removed from their rectum. It was always the same with Kelly, telling us fascinating tales that she took no actual part in. Truth be told, Kelly was a bit of a drag, and we kept her around to feel better about ourselves more than anything else.
Well, she said, raising her eyebrows and looking each of us in the eye, Aren’t any of you going
to ask me what it is?

Blithe cleared her throat and rubbed her bulging stomach. We didn’t have the heart to tell her,
but at the last party we threw, when she and Colton couldn’t make it because she was on a
work retreat in Cabo, we all placed bets on what kind of alien spawn they had created. I put $20 down on a mutant half donkey, half turtle hybrid. Shabbs said that it was all cyclops. Kelly, annoying as she was, declined to comment.

Obviously, it was all in good fun, and we knew that there would be no winner to that bet, but Kelly had to go and be a real downer. Had made us feel so bad about the joke that it was her idea to throw them this gender reveal party in the first place. And here she was, hours late, and now hijacking the whole thing for whatever this could be. Colton piped up, Alright, Kelly. I’ll bite, what is it this time?
Kelly let out a loud sigh like she could tell that none of us cared what she had to say. Like she
wanted to take all of our drinks out of our hands so we couldn’t stare at them any longer. Would instead have to stare directly at her.
Well, if you’re not interested, you can go back to talking about whatever boring shit you were talking about before I got here. Shabbs cracked his knuckles: Could you please get it over with already, Kelly?
Smiling now, she held up a finger and ran to the kitchen. When she returned, she had a large forest green lit candle without a candelabra, something that would certainly piss Blithe off. She turned the dimmers down so the room was dark save for the slowly melting wax. It all started out like any other blind date… she began. She paced around as she spoke like she always did. Had to make sure that she was the center of attention, that not one of us were looking at our phones or getting up to go to the bathroom. We chatted about how his mother was my mother’s podiatrist, and what we both did for a living. He ordered the tuna tartare, and I asked to have a bite even though I knew it would gross me out. I wanted to seem cultured and open to trying new things.
Hah, that’s not what I’ve heard about you. Vicky muttered.
Excuse me? Kelly asked, stopping dead in her tracks.
Oh, nothing… Vicky exclaimed. Is this story ever going to go anywhere? If you’d stop interrupting me, it would. Kelly muttered, staring daggers at Vicky. We all knew the source of tension between them was the fact that Vicky had given Kelly’s ex, Trip, a hand job last winter on our ski trip, but no one brought that up. Anyways, before I was so rudely cut off, I was mentioning the tuna tartare? Right?
All quiet around the room until we said in disinterested unison: Yep.
Well, it had the most incredible mango chutney on top of it. And I could see that this dude was eating it up. I mean, really, going to town on this food. And I appreciated that you know? Because most people are hyper aware of what they look like on a first date and never really enjoy what they’ve ordered. Too busy worrying about looking like a slob to really savor it.

Shabbs again: Kelly.

Kelly sighed: but then I noticed he had something on his beard. He was in the middle of telling
me about that one time when he had shingles for a whole summer. How he’d been working as a
lifeguard at a waterpark and unknowingly infected thirty people with the chicken pox. But in the moment it was like interesting, not like, gross, you know? So instead of stopping him to point out the chutney, I reached over and wiped it off with a napkin myself. Blithe laughed and spat: Kelly, I swear to god, if the whole point of this story is that the two of you fucked in the bathroom because you touched his face unprovoked, I’m gonna kill you.
Kelly had enough sense, thank god, not to say anything nasty to our guest of honor, but she did ignore her and kept going: And he blushed a little bit, so I motioned for him to keep telling his
story. But I couldn’t get this little grating noise out of my head, so I glanced down at the napkin and you’ll never guess what I saw…
Kelly paused for dramatic effect. The only sense of anticipation in the room was for whenever she’d stop talking. When she finally accepted that no one was going to urge her on, she continued: Inside the napkin, surrounded by a swirl of mango chutney, was the partial wreckage of this tiny town. It had been inside of this guy’s beard. Had progressed to the point of simple architecture and rudimentary tools. There were men there, and women, and children too. And the sound that I heard? It was them screaming bloody murder. Because there they were inside f the napkin, torn away from their homes and their loved ones and some of them were bleeding and, as horrible as this guy and I felt, there was nothing we could do about it.
There was an ice cream cake thawing on the kitchen counter with chocolate frosting and a vanilla inside dyed the color of Blithe & Colton’s baby’s gender. We’d forgotten to check on how
it was doing because, as much as Kelly was a bit of a bummer, she was a pretty good
storyteller. And now? The cake was melting and, had we been in the kitchen, we’d have noticed
that little pools of blue were starting to leak out from underneath the fondant.
And so I took a magnifying glass out of my purse, because a girl in my profession always carries
around a magnifying glass, of course, and I held it as close to this guy’s beard as I could and you guys… There was a whole fucking world in there. There were skyscrapers and billboards and tiny little tenement buildings. There were art galleries and fast food joints, and when I looked closely enough, I could almost see a paper airplane competition happening in one of its many manicured parks. There was a second line playing tiny little music to commemorate a funeral, and there were tiny men and women in a fire truck, trying to douse the flames caused by the friction of my napkin tearing away part of the outskirts of their town.
Shabbs suddenly remembered the whole reason we were having this party and turned the lights back on in a hurry. He ran into the kitchen and shouted: Fuck!
Blithe looked terrified, and let’s be honest, that was a little bit overdramatic of her, and yet so

Blithe. What’s wrong? she shrieked. Shabbs came out into the living room, cake in hand, and sighed. At this point, it was a dull and lumpy mess, blue stained all on the cardboard platter that it came on. Blithe started crying, hyperventilating really, and the mood in the room went from vaguely interested to totally 100% stressed out. We all started sighing and looking at Kelly like, wow, way to go, Kelly, this is totally your fault and you should definitely probably do something about it. And we hoped, every single one of us, that she would get the hint, but she didn’t. Kelly looked around the room again, her eyes all full of urgency, and she said: But you guys, wait, I totally didn’t get to get to the best part. Colton glared at Kelly like are you fucking kidding me? But he didn’t say anything. He just sat there with his hand on Blithe’s back, rubbing it and dabbing a handkerchief into her snotty tears.

Vicky took the initiative and walked over to Kelly, grabbed her shoulder, a little too tightly if the group is to be believed (like, probably as hard as she gripped Trip if you know what we’re
saying), and led her outside.

But Kelly, she just let her do it. She walked with Vicky to the door with her eyes all looking like a deer in the headlights. Like she was on the verge of tears herself because all she wanted to do was finish her story and we were all paying attention to Blithe again. Which, if we’re being
honest here, we sort of empathized with Kelly over because, as much as we loved Blithe, she was a bit of a showboat most of the time. And Vicky? She opened that door and she pushed Kelly out into the hallway and she said, in a tone we’d collectively describe as a little too glib: I think we both know that it’s time for you to go.

And so, Kelly went. And the rest of us here were left to clean up her mess. Shabbs quickly carved up the cake into manageable pieces. It was from Carvel, but for some reason was still the most delicious ice cream cake many of us had ever had. And Blithe calmed down and ate a piece, and ate a second piece for her son (!!) and thanked us all for sending Kelly home, even though it was Kelly’s idea to have this party in the first place.

But Kelly didn’t stay gone for long. About an hour later she rang the doorbell and Vicky opened it up and looked at her like are you actually fucking serious? But she didn’t say anything. She
went to slam it right back in Kelly’s face until Colton yelled: Wait, who’s that behind her?
And Kelly smiled and stepped to the side and we all saw that her date had come with her. And
his beard was one of those hipster lumberjack beards that’s perfectly groomed but almost
bigger than his entire head. And Kelly pushed Vicky aside and led her date in by the hand, whose name was Jared by the way, and she for once in her life just shut up. Silently, she handed Shabbs her pocket magnifying glass and said: Look.

Shabbs didn’t do anything for a second, but Jared nodded like yeah dude it’s totally fine, go
ahead and get up in there. Neither of them said anything, but Shabbs kept getting closer and closer and oohing and ahhing until finally, Kelly told him to be careful and to stop being so greedy. To give someone else a chance to see for themselves. So we all took our turn, except for Vicky, who was in the kitchen guzzling gin and crossing her arms over her chest. And Blithe, who wasn’t hyperventilating anymore, but was definitely not
happy that Kelly had come back to steal the attention away from her again. But then Kelly came
over to where she was sitting and told Jared to follow her and she took Blithe’s hand in hers and
she gave her the magnifying glass and said: I’m sorry for ruining your party, but I swear, you have to see this to believe it.

And, we’ll kill you if you tell Kelly this, but it really was the most amazing fucking thing any of us had ever seen. We couldn’t get enough. We kept staring into Jared’s beard well into the night after Vicky had gone home in a huff and Blithe had fallen asleep, ice cream still stained on her lips. We kept identifying different amazing wonders of the world inside the beard, like a tiny ferris wheel or the grand opening ceremony for a combination laser tag/bowling alley. And secretly, silently, all of us wished that we were small enough to be there, right now, and forever, away from all of the cares we had in the world. Kept warm and safe by the most manicured alternate dimension we had ever seen. And Kelly? She seemed a little too pleased with herself, so Shabbs told her to leave around midnight. And she pulled on Jared’s sleeve and batted her gaudy eyelashes like, do you want to

come home and maybe sleep with me? But he didn’t move an inch. And Shabbs? He said: Nah, Kelly, Jared can stay. It’s only you who has to go. 

So she put on her coat and she pouted while she did it, but she took the hint and she left. And the rest of us stayed up until sunrise, getting to know Jared and the universe that lived on top of his face. We took turns kissing him, wondering if any of the world would rub off onto our own cheeks. Even those of us without facial hair. We prayed that we too, wherever we went, could always encapsulate more than the eye could see.

Bob Raymonda is the founding editor of Breadcrumbs Magazine. He graduated from SUNY Purchase with a focus in creative nonfiction. Some of his work can be found on Potluck Mag, The Occulum, and Quail Bell Magazine. Learn more at www.bobraymonda.co.

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