My father’s moustache, he told me when I was a boy watching him reflected in the steam-coated mirror, was older than me, older than him. When I asked how that was possible, he said that it belonged to his father, his before that, on and on back before history and words. ‘This moustache,’ he said as he moistened a bar of soap and rolled it around in his hands, ‘is our legacy.’ He worked the soap into a lather he spread along his jaw and neck, careful to keep a distance from the top of his lip. He took a straight razor and slid it slickly along the hollow of his neck and winked. I went to the hall closet and dug out all the photo albums I could find. There was my father as a boy, his hair longer but the face like me from another life. In those pictures was my grandfather, the hair on his lip strong, never changing, until I found a photograph of my father’s eighteenth birthday, his lip hidden, my grandfather’s nude and uncovered, a look of pride painted across his face.
It was a school night, the night before I turned eighteen. A hard nudge to my ribs roused me from a dream about Lauren Andres, a girl in my Social Science class. We were laying on the top of a green hill that stood in the middle of a field of static, our bodies mixed up, and when I opened my eyes there was my father, his eyes large and brimmed with excitement. He told me it was almost midnight, that it was time. I asked ‘Time for what?’ though it sounded like ‘Timerat?’ He pulled up a chair and turned on my lamp. ‘What I’m about to give you is the most important thing I own. This is the only heirloom our family has.’ He reached a hand to his face and stroked his moustache. Something like a cat’s purr escaped and he continued, ‘This lasted through Korea, through both the World and the Civil Wars. This fought in the Battle of Boroughmuir and the Stirling Bridge. You will pass it on to your son and down from there, on and on until the world goes cold and all that will be left is this. Can I trust you to do the right thing here?’
I nodded and it was all I could do, having never seen my father so solemn, sincere. He smiled and with his thumb and index finger took a hold of his moustache at the corner, pulling. Sweat formed on his forehead and there was a ripping noise, the thick hair coming off in once piece. With a final tug it was free. He fell to one knee and presented it to me like gift for an ancient god. The one thing I’d have to remember him by, the one thing worth more than his name. I reached out and rubbed a finger across the moustache, hotter than it should be and pulsing with life. With both hands I picked it up, and under his watchful eyes I pressed it against my slick upper lip. It took root and white-hot sparks moved like fireflies in front of me as the skin shifted to make room. When I could breathe again, my father put a hand on my shoulder and walked me through the darkness to the bathroom where I stood those years ago watching him shave. The old growth was there, above my lip, a living thing.