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A short story by Jim Tipton
At age seventy-five, Peter Larson gave away or threw out most of his old life, packed up what was left into a few boxes, got into his old red Pontiac and drove south, to Mexico, to begin a new life.
It was in late spring, toward the end of the dry season in the tropical mountains of central Mexico, when he discovered Chapala, a little town on the shores of a large lake.
He loved Chapala. He loved his tiny Mexican house on Zaragoza Street, only three blocks behind the plaza. He loved having enough money to live on. Since his rent was only $300 each month, his Social Security allowed him to live in satisfactory comfort. He was even able to hire a middle-aged Mexican woman living on his block to clean for him two mornings a week for a total of $20 a week. He had little to clean but nevertheless he liked the thought of having a cleaning lady.
One summer morning, after the season of rain had begun in earnest, Peter woke up early feeling thoroughly refreshed. He breathed in the moist air, he listened to the drops hitting the red tile roof, he stretched, he patted the still taut muscles on his tummy, he smiled. After a long shower, he stood before his mirror and stared, suddenly shocked at how shaggy his white hair and beard had become. He had not had them cut since he had come to Mexico.
He had noticed, though, in his morning walks to the plaza where he bought what food he needed at the Mercado, that there were lots of little shops on Juarez, the street that ran behind the plaza; and so this particular morning, searching on that same street, he discovered Estética Pelo Feliz, where through the open door he saw a young señorita seated in her chair, watching a television mounted high in the corner.
“Disponible?” he said, in his best beginning Spanish.
“Si, Señor, pase.”
She stood up and waved him to her chair. He liked the warm seat. That morning as she cut both his hair and his beard, he studied her soft lips, which were heart-shaped, or at least like a flattened-out heart, rounded nicely at the bottom.
On her fresh white shirt, embroidered in dark red, was her name: Jazmín.
Jazmín bent directly in front of him to shave off much of his beard and then to shape it with scissors. His face in the mirror looked younger and younger.
It was difficult for Peter not to look into Jazmín’s brown eyes. She was, at the most, twenty years old.
Jazmín’s breasts accidentally brushed against his bare arm as she leaned over him, comb in one hand, scissors in the other. Peter realized he had not been touched since he had come to Mexico. Or maybe much longer than that. He felt his heart leap.
Peter… and Jazmín… what a pair, he thought. He had read that Mexican girls liked older men.
The following week Peter returned, wanting the beard still shorter. He showed her how much by holding his thumb and forefinger slightly apart.
Smiling, Jazmín accommodated Peter.
He liked everything about her estética, her salon, except the name, Pelo Feliz, “Happy Hair.” Peter thought that because of those heart-shaped lips on the face of the lovely Jazmín he would re-name it Estética Heart’s Desire.
A few more days passed and Peter returned, again demonstrating with his fingers that he wanted the beard still shorter. Jazmín laughed and led him to her chair, taking a lot of time to trim what little was left but still leaving the pretense of a beard. Jazmín realized the old man was lonely.
“Muy guapo,” she said.
Handsome? Peter hadn’t been touched in a long time but it was years since a woman had said he was handsome. This time when he tried to pay her and leave her a big tip, Jazmín waved his hand away.
“Está bien,” she said.
He walked over to the plaza feeling his almost bare face. It was beginning to rain. He sat down on a wet iron bench and looked up to the sky. It felt good, the rain falling on his face.
He remembered how much he loved to watch the rain falling on the windshield when he was with a girl at the Starlight Drive-In Theater in the 1950s. He imagined watching Creature from the Black Lagoon with Jazmín. As the huge creature…half human, half monster…rose out of the Amazon, Peter would turn the speaker box down low and pull Jazmín closer.
“It’s so big,” Jazmín would squeal.
Frightened, she would turn her face up toward his, run her hands expertly over his freshly shaved skin, and then Peter would see those heart-shaped lips slightly open, and kiss them.
It was raining harder in the plaza now, but still Peter could hear the sucking sound of those thick windshield wipers on that 1948 Buick Roadster V-8: Thaw-whump, thaw-whump, thaw-whump. Or was that his own heart beating…thaw-whump, thaw-whump, thaw-whump…? Well, he thought, one pump is about the same as another.
Peter closed his eyes, opened his mouth wide, and tipped his head back to catch the rain. The drops were large, like milk. There would be time enough when the rain stopped to go find shelter. Then he would buy one of those hard rolls with the chewy centers that the Mexicans call bolillos and eat it slowly along with a cup of coffee laced with cream and sugar and cinnamon.
Satisfied, he would walk back to his clean house on Zaragosa Street. Everything was so green. Everything grew so fast in the rainy season. He would check his beard in the mirror to see whether it had grown since he had left Yazmín.
In the afternoon he would walk over to Heart’s Desire for another trim. Maybe all of it should come off this time.
Life had never been so good.