Flash Fiction Story: Jacob’s Beard


Jacob’s Beard


I’ve never been as heart-sick as the day I shaved Jacob’s beard. It was his twenty first birthday and he had decided to leave our Hassid family for worlds unknown.


Jacob was the last of the six of us, I was a year older than him. We were closer than anyone else in the family. When he told me his decision, I wasn’t surprised. He wanted to be a writer and thought he’d never experience the world if he stayed in the Hassidic community. I didn’t try to talk him out of it, but it frightened me to think of him living away from us.


He packed a suitcase with starched white shirts, black pants and one suit jacket. The silk tallit he had received from our grandfather lay in a velvet pouch atop the clothes. He wore his good cotton tzitzit’s underneath his shirt along with the kippah I had crocheted for him set at a jaunty angle on his head. I had embroidered his name on the side.


He sat on the toilet seat and held a towel across his arms as I made the first tentative snips with a pair of scissors. My hand trembled as the brown wisps fell into the towel he held across his arms. I trimmed the center portion nearly to the bottom of the cleft in his chin. I hadn’t seen that cleft since he was sixteen and he grew fuzz over it. I made my way to his left cheek and as the hair fell away I uncovered the scar he got when he fell off his bike. He was only six and went to the hospital for a few stiches. I held his hand when the doctor sewed him up and Jacob hadn’t cried. His right cheek had a lovely birthmark in the center.


I looked down at the towel covered with his hair and began to cry. He soothed me and said he’d write to me every week and that he would keep me in his prayers.


I took the towel and gathered up his hair. I carefully put it into my father’s discarded tobacco pouch. It still smelled of the sweet cherry leaves he had kept in it for stuffing the pipe he no longer smoked. Jacob made no comment as he watched.


Jacob left the house on a Saturday night while my family was at Shul bringing the Shabbat to a close. Jacob wrote me a note and left it under my pillow with an address and phone number in Brooklyn.


He wrote to me each week as he promised; his letters were filled with details of a world I knew little about. Through his eyes I saw places I had never been before and I marvelled at his ability to adapt so readily to this new life. He took a job as a delivery boy for a deli near the Bowery.


The day he got hit by a car was a Saturday. He was crossing Houston Street with his bicycle. My family did not answer the telephone that day. We were not home when the phone rang – we were in Shul. Jacob broke his leg in two places, but thank god it wasn’t worse; he could have been killed.


We listened to our messages after the sun set. I told my parents I was going to see him; they didn’t argue. The next morning my father drove me to the train station. He gave me two twenty dollar bills and told me to call if I needed anything.


I got out of the train in Manhattan and walked to the subway. I had memorized the directions given to me on the phone by the landlady. Mrs. Weinberg met me at the door and let me into Jacob’s apartment.


I went into the bedroom; he was on the bed with his cast propped up by a pillow. My brother had become thin in the months since I had seen him. His face was pale, and he was obviously still in pain.


“Becca, do you think I’m being punished for working on Shabbat?” Jacob said.


“Don’t talk like that; I’m here to take care of you.” I began to tidy his room and shushed his talk of guilt and the sins he had committed.


Within a week, Jacob was able to walk with his crutches and my cooking helped put some color into his cheeks. In a moment of quiet, he admitted to me that he had second thoughts about his decision to leave. It was difficult to live without the family around him, separated from his community. He had written a few chapters of a novel, but it wasn’t going anywhere.


There was no question, I said, that our parents would want him to live at home until he got better. I thought it would be best for him to come home where we could care for him. Jacob didn’t argue.


My father drove to Brooklyn in our family station wagon. He helped Jacob get into the back seat and laid the crutches beside him. My father kissed him on the cheek and closed the car door without a word.


6 Responses

  1. There’s a very sweet melancholy to this piece. Nicely done.

  2. A beautiful, intimate family story. I really enjoyed it and the warm feeling it has left me with. Thank you for that.

  3. Interesting details revealed about the life lived before the beard. And the life he wanted to live again?

    Well done, Carol.

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