My Dad, who once grew a beard and confused everyone by looking just like his twin brother (who’d had a beard all my life) will hopefully know better than to think this story is in any way autobiographical. It just sprung from the prompt. (They are both now clean-shaven, and look identical once again! Love it.)
Stacey knew something was wrong the morning her Dad appeared at breakfast with stubble. Her mother was away, a girlie holiday at Aunt Margaret’s. The boys were away camping, so it was just Stacey and Dad for the week. The stubble appeared on their first morning together.
He’d once warned her off a boyfriend whose bum-fluff goatee made him look exactly like what he was – a boy trying to look like a man. “Never trust a man with facial hair,” he’d told her on the way to a date at the cinema. “Anyone who’s trying to hide his mouth is either smiling when he shouldn’t be, or not smiling when you think he is.”
The relationship, predictably, had come to naught. Perhaps it was the beard; more likely it was just the way relationships went at sixteen. It was five years ago; she’d forgotten the name of the boy, but she’d never forgotten her father’s advice.
So when she looked up from her half-grapefruit, she immediately noticed the telltale shadow on her father’s cheeks. She said nothing, but in the pit of her stomach, something dropped a foot or two.
The next day, it was darker, thicker. It grew a trunk, big ears and a rope-like tail and sat between them at the breakfast table. Over dinner, she could not even see her father past its unspoken threat.
He finally broke the silence on the fourth day. “Come on then,” he said, stroking it. “What do you think?”
Stacey tried to look past the beard. She tried to see whether he was smiling or not, and she couldn’t be sure. “I don’t know,” she said quietly.
“It’s just a beard! I thought I’d try something new for a change.” He laughed, as though he’d just gotten his hair cut, or bought a brighter shade of shirt.
“Are you leaving Mum?” Stacey forced herself to ask.
“Are you kidding?” The answer was too cheerful, and she still couldn’t tell if he was smiling, or grimacing behind all that hair. “Where did that come from?”
Stacey placed her spoon beside her half-grapefruit and looked him in the eyes. “I don’t believe you,” she said. “Just tell me the truth.”
Dad sat down. “I’m not leaving your Mum,” he said, his tone now serious. “But I think she might be leaving us.” He stroked the beard as though it were a safety blanket, like her brothers had had when they were babies and Mum had been torn between their cries. “She wanted to tell you herself, but I’m not going to lie to you, Stace.”
He put an arm around her, and Stacey felt the beard scratching at her neck as he pulled her close. It was strangely comforting – a pain that reflected the feelings in her chest, but so concrete and definite. She’d felt as though she was falling into a spin, but the scrape of the beard pulled her back into the kitchen.
“She can’t,” Stacey whispered. “We’re a family.”
“We’ll always be a family,” Dad said, his voice scratching as though the beard was inside his throat too. “Just maybe a different shaped one in the future.”
She hugged him and cried. He was crying too and when she eventually pulled back, she could see the tears trapped in the hairs on his face. They weren’t hiding anything anymore.
“I like it,” she said, with as much conviction as she could manage. “It makes you look like you could take on the world.”