Rubber Cement by Chad Meadows

“Your beard is killing me,” he said to me without even attempting to bury his accusatory tone. “It’s killing me.”

They can never come back, once they leave their comfortable home. Words, that is. Those words split hairs. How could he say that?

“How could you say that?” I said to him. There was no blood running through his veins. Only ice. Ice cold cheap beer blood. Only ice. Ice cold cheap beer blood. I’m sure he knew how much my beard meant to me. How painstakingly I cultivated my hair follicles. He knew how each day would go. He had experienced the madness first hand. He had a beard of his own. How could he say that? This was a vicious assassination of the character of beards. How dare he accuse my beard of such atrocities.

**********

I was one of the last kids in my grade to get pubic hair; as bald as a Ken doll. Showering in the locker room, I was so embarrassed by my exclusion from pubic hair that I would make it a point to indicate to my school chums, quite loudly, the rolling fields of pubic hair growing in their own nether regions so as to deflect attention from that I had none.

Now it seemed I was surrounded by beards, everywhere. Not the Santa Claus beard, that says I’m portly, lazy, lacking hygiene and urinate in my jolly red suit when kids aren't sitting on my lap. Nor that worn by professional wrestling manager Captain Lou Albano, tangled, and matted with rubber bands and paper clips, looking like the in-between legs of a gorilla dangling from the bottom of his face. The beards that I encountered daily were the type worn by young men wearing plaid picnic blanket print pearl white snap button shirts and petite jeans, the jeans worn by men who watched Audrey Hepburn squeeze into a pair in the movie Funny Face and thought “This is the look for me.” Inevitably, men take over everything.

On street corners, grocery and music stores I found myself encircled by these bands of beards, clipped and trimmed, the type of beard that openly mocks those not blessed with the hair of the gods. “The tight shirts,” one said, “and skinny jeans that enhance and draw attention to the genital area is part of the self-destruction of the veneer of virtuous self-identity. We just want to look like normal human beings. Only we understand technology and good music. We can use our beards to separate and determine who is an asshole from who is not an asshole. Like that guy. That guy is the death of culture as we know it. He might as well be invisible to us.”

**********

I stared into the fogged mirror of my miniature bathroom, naked, attempting to wring deeply repressed emotions out of a childhood inferiority complex. I looked at my bony body; at my multitude of adult hairs: pubic, armpit, legs, and brow. “Shouldn’t this be enough for a man?” I thought. “Do I need a well coiffed beard to feel visible to society?”

I threw my razor and can of shaving foam into the trashcan with an emphatically macho grunt. “Yes,” I thought, “I do. And what man cannot grow a beard? It's a rite of passage. Society has asked us to control it, cut the follicles of our inherit manliness,” I thought again, enjoying my nudity. I wrote myself a note of affirmation for my new quest, something to the affect of: “You will grow a beard today,” or “You will grow a beard or you will die alone.” My testosterone and optimism pulsing, I decided to stop on my way to work and buy a beard brush at the drugstore.

In between papers that I pushed and numbers that I crunched, I found excuses to dart to the bathroom to check the progress of my beard, like that “I seem to be bleeding from my anus,” or “I heard a raccoon trapped in the bathroom.”

At home, later in the evening, I camped out in my bathroom monitoring the progress of my beard, while I listened to my favorite program One Day at a Time from the T.V. in my living room. I prayed to the bearded gods to bless me with Samson-like powers; asked Santa to bless me this Christmas early with a beard of manliness. I groomed myself to sleep face down on my bathroom floor.

I awakened as the light of the sun creeped in through my window and slunk its way through the hallway to the bathroom. I glanced in the mirror, hoping that Santa had heard me, then stood in disbelief when I noticed three curly black hairs protruding from the side of my face.

Tears welling in my eyes I thought, “My father would be so proud right now.” But I hadn't realized that those hairs hadn't sprouted from my face, but were in fact pubic trimmings. I cried as I discovered, I had picked up these castaway hairs from the bathroom floor. But this was not the first time in my life that this had happened. Unvarying days and nights passed, I continued to fret over my lack of facial growth—hair, though there was, all throughout my family lineage.

**********

A suspicious note appeared on my work desk sometime before lunch. I quickly covered it with my hand and shouted out that I had diarrhea. I ran to the bathroom, into a stall, locked the door behind me and read the note:

“I KNOW THAT YOUR BEARD IS A FAKE,” the note exclaimed in bold black letters, resembling a hand strangely familiar to me. “YOU ARE A FRAUD.”

**********

Back at the corner, I heard a bearded young petite jeaned man remark, “Hey, check out his beard,” and his friend looked over, smiled with joy and said, “He looks like he has a man on his face!” They laughed in rapture at my wondrous beard. I was amazed. I felt visible.

The note continued, “GROW A REAL BEARD AND IT WILL ALL GO AWAY. IF YOU PERSIST... YOU WILL BE KILLED.”



When reality snaps back, especially when you've pulled it as far as it can stretch, it hits hard and leaves a mark on your face. This is why so many young men these days are wearing beards. Reality has left a mark on their face.

Now I could see them, lurking in the shadows, rounding corners, scratching at their faces. Tiny pairs of scissors clipping and trimming; tiny hairs manicured with miniature combs. Beards in skinny jeans were following me, conspiring against me. Threatening me. I turned and screamed to the bearded young men in oversized sneakers the words swelling from deep in my nether regions, “I don’t want to grow your stupid beard anymore! This beard is made of pubic hair trimmings and a teddy bear and I’m probably getting cancer from gluing it to my face every morning! This beard is probably killing me!”

I ripped off the fake beard and threw it in their faces. You would have thought I'd ejaculated on them from the way they fought with the body hair beard. My heart thumped out of my chest as I ran past bearded men in alleyways, playing craps, smoking cigarettes, looking dangerous. I saw them in their cars and on buses, sitting next to me, around me, near me. I raced home and scrambled up my stairs, locking the door behind me. I needed to wash away the remnants of the rubber cement and back hairs that were still attached to my face. Wash away the remnants of failure. I scrubbed away the dried blood and pieces of skin that I'd been ripping and tearing from my face every night.

********************************************************************

There, fighting sleep on the dirty bathroom floor, I was sure that by morning a man would be standing over me, his penis and testicles squeezed into a child-sized pair of pants, to cut off my head. When I awoke up, throwing my terry cloth towel blanket into the air, surprised to be alive, I heard the tiniest voice whisper to me, “Youse git my note-th?”

I froze, still as a mosquito trapped in an ice cube, thinking I had died and that this stereotypically broad New York accent belonged to an angel. “Naht'th fuh nuddin but I know youse gahd my note'th.” The voice again. “I sore youse w'read it'th.”

I pulled the back my bath curtain. Most certainly was the killer hiding in my bathtub, I could picture him there with his smug beard, crouched ready to slice into me. Inching along, the metal curtain rings scratched against the rusted metal pole. A gleaming razor blade scratching against coarse facial hair. I yanked the curtain quickly, like pulling a loose tooth. But no one, nothing but soap scum.

“W'relax, hanh?” he went on. “I know youse got it'th. Youse done eggsagly wud I assed youse ta do'e. Loogetdat'th beautiful beeyid on ya fais, hanh?”

“Just stop it! Put me out of my misery!” I cried.

The voice became forceful, “Youse look in dat meerah uh so help me God I'll bwleak your …”

I leaned in close and saw two tiny black hairs protruding from my chin. My two beard hairs, my REAL beard hairs, were talking to me. “This is amazing” I said to the two hairs as I examined them closely in the mirror. One of them resembled a young Robert De Niro, and the quiet one looked like Jack Parr.

“Heyiz what'th ya gonna do'e. Nuh lip, uhkay…” His little voice trailed off as he unveiled his plan. And I heard little Jack Parr chime in, “Hey kid, the sixty-four dollar question is this: have you ever seen a better looking beard than this? Man we are gold. Gold I tell you, right Bobby?” The two of them talked incessantly all through the night, at one point acting out a scene from Raging Bull, but it was a great way to end the day.

**********

Awakening the next morning, I understood why my beard would never be like the others. I heard what my beard was trying to say. I proudly boarded the bus, my beard of two hairs standing tall and dignified, speaking to me of “Being different and unique… individual hairs… not all part of the same beard.”

Getting off the bus: a group of young bearded in fedoras, laughing: the difficulties of being twenty. I called out to them, “Are you in a club?! A hair club?!” I waved my dull rusty razor in the air, cutting through thick superiority, I thought I heard one of their beards trying to say something to me; I think it said he “loved my sarcasm,” but I couldn’t tell. The struggling youth caused a great commotion with his wriggling and shaking. I swiped the razor across his face, mangling his beard forever. One. Two. Three more swipes. And ss each of the beards fell to the ground, if I remember correctly, their last gurgles of life could have been described as condescending.

In my office, I walked to the break room where there were a multitude of beards huddled around the water cooler talking about how they don’t own a T.V. I shaved them too, asking questions that impelled them to deliberate their own purposes in this universe. I stormed into the copy room toward the two assholes who wore their beards shaggy, who said, “Only we can understand technology”; I grabbed their necks and slid the razor across like a bow on cello strings, to the symphony of their falling hairs and their agonizing cries in perfect pitch. On the main floor, I heard one beard say to another, “We can use our beards to separate and determine who is an asshole from who isn't.” I sliced. Shaved. Mangled. Shaved again.

**********

“Your beard is killing me,” he said to me without even attempting to bury his accusatory tone. “It’s killing me.”

“How can you say that?” I said to him. “My beard would never kill you. YOU are killing YOU, with your tight jeans. I am determining who is and is not an asshole today, and my beard is helping me. What has your beard done for you?” The rust from the now blood smeared blade scratched against his cheek, pulling his hairs from their comfortable follicles; I could hear them screaming out—I think one of them sounded like Christopher Walken. The other hair sounded like Carrie Fisher.

**********

I heard the sirens as the police burst through the door, smashing through it like a five-hundred pound rhinoceros, shards exploding, shattering the mirror and porcelain fixtures, toilet bowls that hung down from tiled walls. The first thing I noticed, before I was pushed face down onto the floor,—which, as it turned out, was covered in various kinds of pubic hair,—was that the policeman had a moustache.


Chad Meadows is from the New Jersey area. He's thirty-eight and his hair is thin. He's an MFA grad student (who isn't these days?) at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He won their Director's Award for fiction back in 2011. (Doesn't mean much to be honest with you.) He is currently working on a collection of short stories and a novel, but he is not finished. In the meantime, he would like you to click on this link and read a little bit more, but not so much more that you would not want to buy the collection.