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by Angela Readman

The first year, he sat in the café next door, whiskers tickling hot sauce. A mist of white beards streamed past the window. Something was going on, something to do with beards.  It was too fine a sandwich to put down.

The next year, some kid in the bar said, “You shoulda been here yesterday, with those dudes for the Santa Convention or something.”

Next, he had a blind date. The woman fiddled with silver strands by the quay. Bearded guys trickled past, turning back like they thought he might stalk them.

The next year, she said, she needed to feel all of his face. He married clean shaved.

Then, came work, truckloads of band-aids to drive across state, lost wallets, games, a date with a collector of tropical fish.

One year, he showed too soon. The bartender, who couldn’t grow a beard to save his life, cut him off.

The following year, he stared through the window at fifty guys like a mirror. Some with pastry chef wives, some who jogged. He thought, “That’s how I’d look if I played golf. That’s who I’d be if I had a job.”

He couldn’t go in.

He forgot.

Some schmuck in a cap won. He lost. Too bad, he’d already spent the fifty bucks.

Concussed, he touched his stitches and wondered how his neighbour got along with his dog.

Somehow, he just happened to be there. The bar heaved with a tide of white hair.

“Old Man and what? Never read it,” he said.

He walked on stage to stand still, his photo snapped. The manager shook his hand. The man sat back down with the trophy too small to pour his drink in. The whole bar was under a sea. Everyone floated and drifted. He saw his own face, small and silvered by the trophy, eyes misting up. Who the fuck knew it meant so much?

Angela Readman’s stories have won The National Flash Fiction Competition and The Costa Short Story Award. Her debut collection, Don’t Try This at Home, was recently published by And Other Stories. It was a winner of The Saboteur Award.