Sunday, May 22, 2011

Remembering My Father

Mary O'Malley
This time of year is tough for me even all these years later. First comes Memorial Day when everyone is decorating graves and thinking about the dead. Then comes Father's Day and right on its tail, comes the day I lost my own father, Duncan O'Malley. It was 1925 and I was barely 20. In some ways I blamed myself for what happened...if I hadn't seen that damn mouse...if I hadn't gotten sick. I know now that there was more to it than that...forces at play that I couldn't control...that no one could control. But that's another story for another time. I'm not ready to tell it yet...not in May when June is lurking just around the bend. Instead I'm going to tell another story about my father, about the time I gave him a Gillette razor for his birthday.

Daddy had always shaved with a straight-edge razor and he prided himself on keeping his cheeks whisker free. I loved to feel his smooth face against mine. I had our artist create his portrait and I think he did him justice.

Duncan O'Malley
Anyway, when I was seven years old, I had a nightmare about Daddy shaving with his straight-edge razor. I still remember the nightmare as if I was there. Daddy was standing over the sink, shaving. His eyes were closed, which might sound strange, by that's the way Daddy shaved. With his eyes closed. As he ran the blade across his cheek, a white-gloved hand grabbed his wrist and pulled it down, slicing deep into his neck. The blood spurted out and spattered the mirror. The face that belonged to the hand smiled wide in the mirror – a lipstick painted smile in a clown-white face. Daddy collapsed to the floor and the clown's mouth opened to let out a loud guffaw. I saw a glint of gold – fangs, not teeth – and woke up screaming.

Mother ran into my room and held me as I sobbed out my story. It was her who suggested getting him the safety razor, so I saved up my allowance. I had the man at the drugstore tie it up in comic papers and tie a bow around it. I was so proud and knew Daddy would be happy. Well, he opened the package and made a show of being pleased. But the next time I watched him shave, I noticed he was still using his old straight edge. So I asked him, "Daddy, why don't you use the razor I bought you?"

"A razor's like an old friend, Mary," he said. "I'm not quite ready to part with this one yet. But I will use yours. I promise."

"Please, Daddy." The tears came even though I tried to hold them back. "I don't like that mean old straight edge."

Daddy stopped shaving and bent down comfort me. "Why not, Sweetie?"

The soapy scent of shaving cream rose off his face. I wanted to tell him about my nightmare, but it seemed so silly under the bright vanity lights. "I just don't," I finally answered.

"Okay, my Wary Mary. If it'll ease your mind, I'll put away my old friend for a time."

And he did – for one shave at least. But Daddy hated shaving with the safety razor. It didn't shave close enough and for the first time in a long, long time, he nicked himself. Not one nick, several. He came out of the bathroom, his face covered in tissue paper dots. "Whoever decided to call this bloody thing a safety razor needs a lesson in safety," he muttered.

Me and mother couldn't hold back our giggles. Daddy put that new Gillette back in its box and put it on a high closet shelf, grumbling the whole time. I found it up there after his funeral. The strange thing was, the blade was stained with blood – much more than would be caused by simple nicks. I always wondered whether that blade was used by someone else...for something.