BLUEBEARD

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Dolefully, he regarded his reflection in the mirror. He had thought that the grey beard gave him gravitas: but who wants that in a prospective lover? People would expect him to be pompous and to put up his index finger and begin every sentence with “now, it actually is like this...” No, something would have to be done. The beard would have to be dyed. Perhaps, like Georgie Pillson in the Mapp and Lucia novels, he might look rogueish and ironic, like a Van Dyke painting. A swordsman.

Under the cover of darkness, he visited several hairdressers and took advice. A nice deep auburn would be the thing. Sweet as a nut and the Lass o’ Killicrankie. How difficult could it be? Very, as it turned out.

He applied the paste, waited the proper length of time, washed the dye out and waited. He dozed off and when he woke up, he was appalled to find that his beard was bright orange. He knew that some Muslim groups permitted older men to dye their beards with henna. There was a whole controversy about whether the Prophet had encouraged this or not. Anyhow, liberal though he was, this was not the right look for him. So out he went again, to buy black dye this time. What he wanted was that deep black that is almost blue: a raven’s wing, glossy and charismatic. But it came out bright blue: azure, cerulean. It was certainly summery enough. But he looked like a crazed hippy past his prime: a sort of accident-prone ZZ-Top. This would never do.

He thought he’d wash the beard, leave it overnight and see if it calmed down. But there was surely some devilry at work. When he looked in the mirror in the morning, the beard was bright pink. The next day it was green. And yellow the day after that. He felt as though he were the victim of some terrible practical joke.

There was only one thing for it. He decided to shave the beard off. When he had got halfway through, the doorbell rang and it was his ex-wife, who implored him to go no further. But he ignored her, and was gratified to see a smooth, younger face emerge in the mirror. He could live with that. Maybe a little designer stubble would be good. But when the stubble came through, it was striped: a rainbow, a zebra, a tiger. The only way to deal with the recalcitrant hair was to razor it off within an inch of its life.

On the days when we couldn’t bear to shave five times, he wore a face mask. Finally he purchased a false beard from a theatrical costumier. It looked awful, rather if he was wearing a merkin, and an ill-fitting one at that. Gradually, slowly it dawned on him that his original error had been not to accept who he was. You cannot run with both the hare and the hounds. But it was a hard lesson to learn.