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Not a question. 
She knew he was steeling 
his nerve.  

At the kitchen table, where the light was good,
where she paid bills, cleared meals, folded towels, 

towel clutched at her throat, 
she closed her eyes.  His hand 
on her shoulder.  Steadying 

He tilted her chin back, pressed her
head against the paunch of his belly.  

His touch, the feel of it 
fumbling almost 
sent her back thirty years  

to a November night.  Cold.  
He slid his finger into the crook 
of her thumb, eyes 
straight ahead.  
Oh, the thrill!

She winced.  Warm metal 
on her forehead.  Loud
lulling, threatening
a mechanical wasp.
Was she sweating?

Flickers of hair skittered down her cheek.  
How must he feel?  Women’s hair.  

It should only be cut and handled 
in the hallowed halls of a salon, 
or perhaps behind bathroom doors.  

They were in forbidden territory.  

He started at the base of her skull. 
Her skin crawled.

A stray hair sucked up into her nostril.
She sputtered. He stopped, 
stepped back. She swallowed and 
returned her head to the shelf 
of his stomach.  

His fingertips, strong and hot against her cheek,
tugged her left ear forward, pinching her  
anniversary diamond.  

His stomach growled.  She’d fix supper 
when they were through.
Her kids would call later.  

They didn’t know about this decision.  
This important ‘step.’  

It was none of their business. She decided
the fate of her own body.  To a point…

And the boys?  Nervous, anxious.  So unlike 
their father.  They would pace.  Exclaim 
only the brightest, most successful prognoses.  
As if somehow failure could be avoided.  
As if somehow a mistake had been made.  

He flicked a hair with his fingernail.

“Do you want a mirror?” 

She flinched. A chuckle 
throaty, sharp.  He stammered.  
A cruel irony that couldn’t be helped.

His lips, dry and tentative, 
touched the bare skin of her skull.  
A prolonged kiss.  A kiss that could have been 
patronizing.  A father’s kiss.  

Except that it wasn’t.

It was a kiss of benediction.  A kiss of hope.  
A kiss to seal the work he’d done.

He would cry if she did.  She knew it.  
His breath was already catching against 
her shoulder blades.

I love you.  I’m sorry.

She was finished.  

She shooed him into the den 
to watch news. 

She shook out the towel 
and pulled out the broom.

-Mark J. Royse
April 13, 2013
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