Shaving Fate by Liz Betz

How ordinary, to rise each morning at four a.m. to collect his bread and drive from the bakery in his hometown to the small town grocery stores. That this was wonderful never crossed his mind. But he could ponder this now for the next fourteen years if he didn’t factor in the possibility of parole. Bill isn’t inclined to factor it in.

The click, as the door locked behind him, put an end to ordinary. Before that day when his ordinary life veered out of control, before the trial that put him here, he’d lived the most ordinary of lives and was the most ordinary of men. He’d driven a bread truck.

“I held out. Nobody could say I didn’t hold out.” Bill speaks into the grey of his cell, crazy to do so but he might as well get to crazy right away as waste his time fighting. He’d like to see anyone stay sane through this. He isn’t an ordinary man any longer.

At the trial, his lawyer shrugged when the verdict came back. Bill couldn’t blame him, the evidence was convincing. He had motive, they said, born out of a very ordinary situation. His wife had pressured him for months about cosmetic surgery, no matter how he had tried to convince her that her nose was distinctively beautiful. And wouldn’t she rather use the money for a little trip? But isn’t a division of priorities between man and wife fairly ordinary?

But it went outside ordinary that morning. And that was presented at the trial. His wife screaming at him; he shouting back. What do you have me do? Rob a convenience store? He wasn’t an armed robber. Rash though it was, he’d shouted this; at his wife, on the street, on the very day the crime took place.

As Bill lies on the grey flannel sheets, he thinks about this. His arms fall asleep and he is forced to rise and to shake his hands and rub at his wrists. They look pale, his tan line is fading. He should unpack his shaving gear. He might as well settle in. He unzips the shaving kit, and puts the soap on the tin counter. It is so plain here. A sharp longing for his wife’s clutter of cosmetics cut through Bill’s mind; of all the things to miss, when he had been annoyed by them every day.

When he had an ordinary life and was an ordinary man, he’d driven from town to town, his Monday, Wednesday, Friday route took him North and West. His Tuesday, Thursday took him North and East. Another driver had the South. He’d been with the bread company seven years, he could have had his pick of routes but he preferred this. It isn’t the sort of job that requires a lot of skills. Anyone could have done it, anyone could replace him. And he is replaced now.

But he must have been someone the company counted on, because when his brother put the ‘Outlaw Bill’ decal on the company truck door—right in the middle of the S of the company name—there had been no reprimand.

Bill got a kick out of the cartoon figure whose moustache was as big as his hat. It reminded him of when he grew his moustache and the kidding he took because of it. And how he’d played it up. It set him apart so his future wife had noticed him.

One of the things brought up during the trial: that decal. Outlaw Bill, eh? Would you say that you enjoy having an alter ego, one that is an outlaw? Would you say that you are thumbing your nose at the law by calling yourself so? No. No and no. Outlaw Bill is a nickname. Lots of people have nicknames. It was an ordinary thing and means nothing. He’d held out on that point too.

Inside his jail cell, Bill puts his toothpaste on the metal counter. The sink looks marginally more like it belongs to someone. He looks at his face in the tin that serves as a mirror. He peers at his image as if he’s never seen himself before, and in part that is true. It had been years, the last time he was clean shaven. His nose seems bigger. Still it wasn’t anything exceptional, he just looks different without his facial hair-do.

He puts his finger to his nose and tries to understand what his wife meant. Her nose is interesting but not perfect, but to her it’s ordinary, the worst insult available. Surgery would set her apart, but not as much as being the wife of a convicted man does. Bill wonders if she likes herself any better now.

Then he takes out his cordless razor and puts it on the counter beside the toothpaste and the bar of soap. The plastic case clicks as it meets the metal and Bill’s ears perk up. What does the click remind him of? He doesn’t know. The idea is just beyond his reach. Why ponder such light-weight issues?

He thinks of his Outlaw Bill persona. He’s still for a moment. Was this how his life had veered out of control? Was it this simple?



That day, he’d veered away from his routine. And then he was late with his last two deliveries. That was brought out in the trial too. He had time to hide the cash from the robbery. And toss the gun. But he’d done something different. He had to appease a worry that had come out of the argument. His wife, determined as she was to have her nose fixed, might have tapped into their savings account. Maybe she’d already done so. And while Bill first thought he would ask her when he got home, he wanted to avoid another episode of the argument. He passed a branch office of his bank. He parked the bread truck and went in.

It took a lot longer than it should for the manager to check his account activity, seeing as it was all on computers, but there you have it. And then Bill made another move. He asked that all record of his visit be erased, in case his wife finds out that he’s checked up on her. Forget I was here.

He told the manager. And though ordinarily someone would remember an exchange like that, the manager did not vouch for Bill. He couldn’t recall the incident at all. So there was no proof that Bill stopped at the bank. Again. Another if. Another click of fate.

At the trial it was proved that his fingerprints were on the back door of the convenience store. What did they expect? Bread delivery is back alley work. So Bill held out on that point too. The jury could see that his fingerprints should be there, that that wasn’t evidence against him at all.

It was summer, he didn’t need gloves. If he had been going to rob the place, he would have worn gloves.

He liked old man Wong. He had jokes to tell when Bill came with the bread. And Bill couldn’t rob a friend. He couldn’t go in with a gun. He didn’t own a gun. Didn’t know where to get a gun. What ordinary person did? And they also proved there was a splatter of the victim’s blood found on his uniform. How did that get there? Old man Wong had sneezed, the tickle in his throat was the start of a bloody nose. Sure, Bill was annoyed. The old fellow could have covered his mouth, but the sneeze caught both of them off guard. And for the sneeze to be a spray of blood was unusual but not beyond a reasonable doubt.

That day Bill stopped to wash his face and hands before leaving the convenience store, but was still wearing the blood sprayed uniform when the police came to his home. He was going to get his wife to wash it for him but she had started in on the same old, same old, and he had forgotten about the blood. If it was evidence, spray from the bullet that killed old man Wong and he was the murderer, wouldn’t he have thrown his uniform away along with the gun?

At the trial they produced the handgun, recovered from the ditch of a road he used almost all the time. He wasn’t the only one who used that road, was he? He’d held out on that too. If he’d left fingerprints at the convenience store, his prints should be on the gun and there were no prints on the gun. Not his but not someone else’s either.

And then there was the witness, who testified at the trial that she saw a man who looked exactly like Bill run from the store to the back alley. Did she see the bread truck in the alley? No. But she was pretty sure she saw it drive out of the back alley after she heard the shot. Could she have seen it a few minutes before she saw a man in a dark uniform, with a big moustache run out of the store and then around the building. She heard a truck engine. She saw the bread truck drive out of the alley.

No. She didn’t know who it was exactly but he had a uniform and a moustache. And what did Bill have? A uniform and a moustache.

But there’s the thing, he’d shaved his moustache off. That morning. In fact, his clean upper lip was the reason his wife started in about the nose job again. You can change your appearance, she yelled, and I can’t?


Liz Betz lives in rural Alberta where she has retired from raising cattle and other agricultural pursuits. Now, on the cusp of seniorhood she indulges her creativity by writing short stories. Her blog contains links to some others of her published stories, plus a thought or two on various things. Go to lizbetz.blogspot.ca, but be warned, much of her writing is more traditional in nature than Shaving Fate, so you might not like it!