“What are these patches?” I held the robe out to my sister.
She sat amidst a pile of old photos, and for a moment I saw her as a child again, playing in the leaves Dad had raked into a pile. “I don’t know,” she said. “Let me see.”
She stepped over the mementoes spread out over the attic floor, careful not to disturb them with her shins. “Here, around the collar,” I said.
There were two thin patches at the neckline, curiously threadbare, like a Rorschach pattern eaten into the cloth. “Oh, from shaving,” she said. I tried to work it out in my head. She smiled and took the robe. “Like this,” she said, donning the robe. She cinched the collar around her neck, and then made small sweeping gestures with her right hand at her neck. “He used an electric razor,” she said. I hadn’t remembered. “And over the years he shaved down the top of his collar.”
“And it never grew back,” I thought aloud, without intending to. She rolled her eyes, and retreated back to the photo pile still wearing the robe.
I returned to the wooden case I’d been plundering, with the hope of finding an artifact that might provide insight into a life I’d been less than familiar with. In a hinged box I found a collection of tie pins and cufflinks, mingling with some novelty coins from a long forgotten county fair.
“Do you remember his beard?” my sister asked.
“I can picture him with a beard, but I don’t know if it’s a memory,” I said.
“You may have been too young. Here’s one,” she said, and dangled a photo from her fingertips. I got up and peered at the picture of a bearish man beaming from the business end of a motorboat. “He grew it out every summer when school was out,” she told me. “The bushier the better. It was his way of relaxing.”
The knees of whomever had taken the photo–presumably mother–were visible at the bottom of the frame. “Where was that?” I asked.
My sister snapped the picture back and examined it closely. “That’s Green Lake. Up in Maine. Yeah, so this is before you. I hardly remember it myself.”
“I guess I don’t really remember the beard,” I said.
“Mom said that he stopped growing it out eventually, because one summer it came in gray, like something had happened over the winter without him even realizing it. So he kept it shaved that summer and sulked about it for a long time. Ruminative, that’s the word Mom used.” My sister sat for a moment longer, considering the photo of the bearded holiday fisherman.
“I’m familiar with it,” I said.
My sister looked up, “Mm?”
I rubbed at my forehead with my index finger. “I was only out of high school a year when I first noticed I was losing my hair.”
“Oh, I see,” she said. “Not like Dad there.”
“Skips a generation,” I said. “As the years went by my hairline grew softer, until it wasn’t so much of a line as it was a suggestion. And at some point in this process I noticed this scar high up on my forehead.”
She blinked. “Really? Let me see.” I bowed, indicating the thin white line that described a mystery wound. “I never noticed it, but that’s definitely a scar,” she said with appreciation. “What’s it from?”
“No idea,” I said. I had no memory of receiving such a wound, but frequently puzzled over it as my fingers moved up and down the numb ridge. I couldn’t help but to think that this might finally explain so much, and romantic notions of midnight kidnappings and secret brain surgery took my fancy.
Finally my sister dropped the photo into the pocket of my father’s robe, and grabbed another handful from the pile. “Hair is weird,” she said.
“It is,” I agreed, not without a touch of sadness.