It came up on the very first date they had together. What was the deal with mustache? Peter knew what Chelsea meant, what “the deal” in question within her question was. She did not want to know about the color of the mustache because it was the same brown shade as his hair. The deal did not involve the shape of the mustache either. The hair above Peter’s lip was of average length, though it was thicker than most. He did not grow out the tips and wax them up, down, or straight out. It certainly was not a reference to the price of the mustache, since Peter grew it out himself, without the help of any aid.
She wanted to know why he had the mustache in the first place. Chelsea had meant to ask online, where they first met. She could see Peter’s mustache in his profile picture and was intrigued. While Chelsea saw plenty of mustaches on a daily basis, Peter’s was different. It stood out without falling into either extreme of facial hair. It was fuller than the skinny ones she saw around her, and though Peter grew his slightly over the corners of his mouth, he did not look like a walrus or a Kaiser. Chelsea knew mustaches in general were seen as a retro fashion statement, but Peter’s seemed more retro than retro, a creation not facing the past but already immersed in it, as if it was a time traveling mustache.
After asking the question, Chelsea added “Not to offend. I’m just curious.” She wanted to read the follicles like tea leaves to get insight into Peter’s character.
“In case you’re wondering,” he began, “it’s not ironic.”
“Well, I wasn’t exactly.”
“There’s no message here at all. Nope.”
“Isn’t it a bit inconvenient?”
Peter took a sip of beer and matted the mustache with a napkin. “Not really, no. No more inconvenient that that long red hair of yours. Not that it looks bad on you.”
She smiled. “Or your mustache on you. I’m just wondering if it’s maybe an homage.”
“Ah, I never thought about that. If it is, then it’s pretty unconscious. I do like Teddy Roosevelt.”
“I thought it looked familiar.”
“The real reason I grew it is fairly plain.”
“To cover a scar.”
“How did you get it? If you don’t mind.”
“No, I don’t. I’ve told the story to plenty of people. I got it dueling.”
“So where did you get it?”
“Ah. It’s kinda funny. From swimming.”
“I was at a water park with my family and we were in the wave pool. One of the waves knocked me over and I went spinning. I guess they had it on a harder setting that day. Anyway, I fell forward and scraped my lip on the concrete floor. When I came back up for air I was bleeding.”
Chelsea winced. “That sounds painful. With the chlorine and everything.”
“Yeah it stung. Afterwards I had this scar and it was pretty embarrassing.”
Peter pointed the space between his lip and nose. The he bent the index finger and pressed it against his upper lip. “I looked like Hitler, until it healed.”
“But afterward it looked strange?”
“Yeah, a big old scar across my lip. It’s still there now, despite the stitches I got.”
“Can I see it?”
“You’d have to get really close, to you know, my lips.” Peter smiled.
A few months later, Chelsea and Peter went down to Orlando to visit Peter’s parents. After they put their things away in the guest room, Peter’s mother came in to ask them if they wanted anything to drink. Peter was fine, Chelsea asked for a diet cola. Peter’s mother asked them if they were tired from their flight. If not, they could join Peter’s mother and her boyfriend to go swimming in the backyard pool. Peter said Chelsea might go, but he had forgotten to pack his trunks. His mother was surprised. He was coming to Florida. He knew swimming was going to be involved sooner or later.
“He always does this,” she said to Chelsea. “Even when he was a boy he kept forgetting his trunks. You’d think he was trying to go skinny dipping all the time or something.”
Peter tried his best not to look embarrassed. “Mom, it was a mistake. I’ll buy some at the store later.”
“You can’t blame him though.”
“I mean, given to what happened to Peter in the wave pool when he was younger. I’d stop swimming for life if that happened to me. Especially swimming anywhere with waves, like the ocean.”
Peter’s mother squinted at her. “What are you talking about?”
“You know, the whole thing with the wave pool. When Peter got smacked by one of the waves.”
“I’m still confused.”
Peter looked at his mother. “You know, when I got hurt in that one pool that one time. That’s all.”
“What, when? With me? You must’ve been with your Dad.”
“I’m surprised you forgot. Peter practically cut his lip open.”
“Oh, that. That didn’t happen to him though. It was his brother Ronald.”
“No, it happened to me.”
“It didn’t. It happened to Ronald. He couldn’t swim all that summer, remember?”
“Oh, well, maybe I’m confusing it with another incident.”
“It’s certainly possible. But I can’t recall anything close to it. You broke your wrist on a trampoline. That’s the closest I can remember.”
Chelsea turned to Peter. She looked at him skeptically. “Maybe you cut your lip that way?”
“Actually, yeah, that must’ve been it. I must’ve fallen and him the rim or something.”
“It must’ve been when you were at your father’s.”
His mother left the room and Peter closed the door behind her. He sat down on the guest bed and took a deep breath. “She’s certainly something, isn’t she?”
“That’s strange you didn’t remember the pool thing correctly.”
“Why? I’m surprised you remember me talking about it at all.”
“Yeah. It’s just that it was one of the first conversations we had, on our first date.”
“It was. Yep. It was.”
“I’ve been picturing you with a pool-induced scar under that facial hair all this time. Am I wrong?”
“No. I just, forgot some key details. That’s all. Maybe it was from a trampoline. Maybe it was from an accident on a diving board. You know what, that’s what it was.”
They went out to dinner with Peter’s family at the local Thai greasy spoon. They discussed Peter’s childhood and told plenty of embarrassing stories. Chelsea expected to hear one involving a diving board and Peter’s upper lip. None came. Peter ordered a spicy curry made with potatoes and coconut milk. When he started eating it, he got some on his mustache and his mother told him to clean it off. Chelsea remarked that the curry had to be stinging his scar, which she referred to as his old “war wound.”
His mother was confused. “What war wound?”
“The scar above his lip. You know when we were talking about the pool accident?”
“What accident?” Peter’s grandmother asked.
“Nothing. It’s nothing,” he told her.
“Are you making things up because of the trunks? Because you forgot the trunks, Peter?”
“No Mom, I don’t know what Chelsea is talking about. Let’s just go back to eating okay?”
To tone down, offset, tamper, and wash down the spiciness of their dishes, whether real or perceived, Peter’s Grandmother ordered a round of drinks for the table. Peter and Chelsea started with Thai beer, then proceeded to bottled domestic options, and finally ended up with draught beers that Peter’s uncle denounced as swill. However, as Peter’s aunt pointed out, it was “American swill.” Woozy when they left the restaurant, Peter and Chelsea were downright wobbly when they came home. Peter’s mother asked them if they wanted a nightcap and both of them loudly demurred. Instead, they went back into the guest bedroom, undressed, and slid underneath the covers. When Peter started to doze off, Chelsea shook him awake.
“I can’t sleep.”
“Okay. I’m sorry. Is it the curry? You have heartburn?”
“No. I’m just wondering, I guess.”
She leaned on her side and looked at Peter’s face in profile until he noticed her.
“I’m looking for the scar.”
“Will you stop it?”
She laughed and rubbed her finger over Peter’s mustache.
“So what’s the deal with your mustache, Peter? Huh? Where’s the scar?”
“Alright. I admit it. I lied. Happy?”
“Yes.” She paused. “No.”
“I don’t have a scar to cover up.”
“So then…what’s the deal with the mustache?”
“You want to know the deal is with my mustache?”
“Yes. But quiet please. Your Mom will hear us.”
“You want the deal. Okay. Here it is.”
Chelsea leaned in, eager to hear an epic tale.
“I guess there’s two reasons. Maybe they’re related.”
“What are they?”
“Maybe everyone with a mustache feels this way. At least with the first one. Not sure about the second.”
“Well, I guess the obvious one is that it’s so people don’t forget me. When I didn’t have one people didn’t notice me and now I have one they do.”
“I don’t think that’s true.”
“You noticed me online, didn’t you?”
“I did, but I read the rest of your profile.”
“Would’ve you have done it if I was clean shaven?”
“But you know it’s true. People notice me. When we go to parties everyone has to say something about the mustache and tell me who I look like. Don’t they?”
“Only people we haven’t met before.”
“Well yeah, I don’t need people I know to remember me.”
“So when you didn’t have one people forgot you?”
“Yeah. I grew it halfway through college and the difference was night and day.”
“When I see how people talk about you at parties and compare you to Ron Swanson, you look like you hate the attention.”
“Better than being completely forgotten or ignored.”
Chelsea hugged him. “I won’t forget you.”
“Your Mother won’t forget you.”
“I wish she would. He looked at Chelsea for her reaction and laughed. She joined in, then asked him what the other reason was.
“The mustache is a test.”
“I figured it’s a kind of filter. It keeps people who can’t handle the rest of me away. If you can’t put up with the mustache you won’t put up with me, that sort of thing. Especially for women.”
“You think we’re all ready to hurt you?”
“No. Not at all. I’m just realistic. I know what the ideal types look like. They don’t look like me.”
“What do you mean, with muscles?”
“I mean all smooth. The mustache reminds them that I’m hairy. If they like hair, then they’ll like me.”
“It’s a warning, like bright colors on those poisonous frogs.”
“Is that how you see yourself? Some kind of hazardous amphibian?”
“Not exactly an amphibian, no.”
“Because you don’t like swimming right?”
“Yeah. You caught me. I forgot the trunks on purpose. But don’t tell anyone.”
“Your secret is safe with me. All your secrets are safe with me.” They looked at each other and smiled. “I mean it. If you want to keep that mustache, you can. But don’t think it’s because you have to hide or be noticed or warn anybody about who you are.”
He sat up in the bed. “You mean it?”
“Well, now this things itches.”
Chelsea giggled. “Why don’t you…why don’t you…”
“Cut it off!”
“Fine!” Peter got up from the bed and started moving through the room, looking in drawers and opening closets.
“What are you looking for?”
“Oh, there’s some in my bag.”
“You carry scissors?”
“Yeah. You never know.”
Peter found her bag on a chair. With its blue and green designs it resembled a fat peacock. Peter found a pair of scissors with a pink handle and pulled them out. “Chelsea?”
“May I please use your scissors?”
“I want to do it.”
“I want to cut it. Come here.”
“Alright. Let the hairy wall come down.”
“That’s the spirit!”
Peter sat down and Chelsea crept up behind him. She grabbed the scissors and reached around the back of Peter’s head to reach his mustache. She brought the sides of the handle together and heard the pleasing sound of hair being sliced in half. Encouraged, she moved the scissors along the lip and took in another helping of mustache before cutting it off too. Peter watched as the follicles fell into his hand. He rubbed them in between his fingers, feeling the tiny pricks of his skin. With his other hand, he felt the relatively smooth expanses of his exposed lip. Maybe he would stick to being clean shaven from now on. Peter was ready to be expose his whole face to the world. Chelsea told him to be careful and not lose any of the mustache droppings on the carpet. He did not understand what she said and turned to ask her to repeat herself. Just as moved his head, Chelsea squeezed the scissors and cut again. This time, the blades captured only a few hairs and a generous helping of Peter’s upper lip. He jumped up screaming, clutching his mouth and bleeding on the floor.
Abigail got her drink at the bar and sat down in front of Peter. They clinked their glasses and started to drink, neither of them sure of what to say. All they could agree on was that there was ice between them that needed to be broken. Peter thought about complimenting her in lieu of questioning. Why did first dates have to start off like an interrogation? Maybe the two of them could play a game, exchanging compliment for compliment as part of a series of friendly salvos. But why friendly? He realized they were on a date, a first date at that, and a little aggressiveness was fine, even necessary. The ice had to be cracked, not hugged. Peter decided to ask her if she had been to the bar before. But Abigail cut him off right as he was about to speak. She wanted to know what was the deal with Peter’s mustache.
Ben Nardolilli currently lives in New York City. His work has appeared in Red Fez, One Ghana One Voice, Caper Literary Journal, Quail Bell Magazine, Elimae, fwriction, Grey Sparrow Journal, and THEMA. His chapbook Common Symptoms of an Enduring Chill Explained, has been published by Folded Word Press. He blogs at mirrorsponge.blogspot.com and is looking to publish a novel.