The Czech lad has his heart set. He shall be a barber and marry that girl. He serves his apprenticeship with a bearded Russian exile. The exile’s blade was cast and tempered in Lenin’s time; it quickly saw red. But since that agitated era when the streets ran scarlet, under the barber’s red and white helix in a Prague side street, it had safely razed numberless Czech chins, cheeks and upper lips till they were hairless and blemish-free. Purchasing himself a new straight blade at last, he gifts the lad the Russian relic, lathers an inflated pig’s bladder with cream, and secures it at head height in the barbering chair. ‘Vanish the cream,’ he says, shaping the shave and the idea with his fingers. ‘The surface must be quite clean; but beware, because a single knick may burst it. A single knick is a disaster.’
It’s as hard as it seems. Successive spherical inflatables are sliced and plastered until they will never again fill with air. Finally after many weeks’ practice, he has his master’s mastery, wielding the cut-Adam’s-apple with a gentle dexterity. But fate decrees that the first captive in his chair turns the initiate’s visage deathly pale and gives his blue eyes a deadly viridescence. This light-hearted Slav wants his beard erased, but because he recently ran away and wed the juvenescent barber’s sweetheart – the darling girl the lad saw himself marrying – he has instead the arteries in his neck severed. The spilt scarlet puddles, laps at the killer’s feet. The Czech lad stares fixedly at the cursed blade, edged with red; in its silver face he sees the Russian’s eyes, streaming tears.