What Grows Untended

Luke Jacob

Lucas Jacob

Because of his father’s accent, Sean always heard the faux-joking imprecation as “get a her-cut.” From the time he first came home after moving out at seventeen—he waited a full year, not just to prove that he didn’t need anything from his father, but also to grow out enough of his wiry brown hair to dare his whole home town to say something—to his first and last visit to his father’s dying bedside in the same squat one-story hospital in which Sean had been born, he never once saw his father without hearing that line.

The first time, he didn’t say anything; he just stood in the slim bars of squeezed-out light that made their way through his father’s never-fully-open venetian blinds and that touched everything in the dusty room with a film-noir dinginess, looking at his father’s silhouette and being surprised that even a single year had erased much of his animosity.

It reasserted itself, at least for a little while, after Sean married Meg, both of them nineteen and Meg too sweet-natured to elicit direct criticism from Sean’s father and Sean too proud of this step not to give in to his need to pounce on the indirect criticisms in his father’s usual passive-aggressive geniality. That was Sean’s second visit home, and he tried out the one joke that had occurred to him after his father’s previous “get a her-cut.” He said, “I did, Dad. This is a her-cut. It’s just like hers.” He tossed his head, and hair, awkwardly in Meg’s direction. The joke didn’t take, but at least he had tried.

Sean surprised himself in his tears when he finally did cut his hair all off—again to match Meg’s, which Sean himself had shorn, weeping in the small basement bathroom, before it could fall out, barely a year after Sean’s father’s death—because he was crying not just for the one he feared would go, but also for the one who had already gone.

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