Jerry found a comb on the sidewalk. He picked it up. It was black and shiny. There was no name on it to identify who the comb belonged to. There were no broken teeth, so Jerry put the comb in his pocket.
He walked down the street to Anne’s Place. He went in and took a seat at the bar with an empty stool between him and Vince.
Jerry ordered a shot.
He pulled the comb out of his pocket and showed it to Vince.
“Just found it,” he said. “It’s a good comb.”
“What you doing to do with it?” Vince asked. “You’re bald as a cue ball under that hat.”
Jerry removed his hat. He rubbed at the band of stubble running around the perimeter of his head, from ear to ear.
“I got a little bit left,” Jerry said. “I could grow it out, then comb it.”
“Grow out your scraps so you can use that stupid comb?”
“Yeah,” Jerry said. “Why not?”
“Cause you’ll look like a dumbass. You wanna go around looking like a friar? Shit, this is 2022, not the 1400’s.”
“Maybe I’ll grow a mustache,” Jerry said. “I could use a comb on a mustache.”
“Okay,” Vince said.
Jerry swallowed his shot, then turned to Vince again.
“If you buy me a shot, I’ll give you the comb. It’s a good comb. You got hair, so you can use it.”
“Why don’t you just give me the comb, since you got no hair to use it on?”
“Cause it’s got value to me. Don’t you see how it’s got value to me?”
“You haven’t grown a mustache or that stupid ring around the back of your head, so it’s got no value.”
But it did have value. The value of being able to extract something from somebody.
“But I can grow a mustache. And maybe I will,” Jerry said. “Unless you buy it from me.”
“I don’t need it,” Vince said. “I got a comb at home.”
“You can keep this one in your car. Or you could grow a mustache and keep this comb in your pocket,” Jerry said. “Women like mustaches. Your wife might like you better with a mustache. You ought to try it.”
“I’m not buying you a shot for that stupid comb,” Vince said.
“Well, you’re not much a friend,” Jerry said. “I was only trying to think of ways this comb might be value to you.”
“I might not be a good friend to you, Jerry, but neither is much of anybody else. You ever stop to wonder why nobody’s much of a friend to you?”
“Not really,” Jerry said. “I figure that’s just the way it is. I figure that’s just the way most people are.”
“Well, maybe you ought to think about it sometimes. Then, maybe, you’ll find a friend. And somebody who’ll buy you a drink, even without a comb.”
“If you’re not gonna buy the comb, I’m leaving.”
“See you later,” Vince said.
Jerry put the comb back in his pocket and left.
A week later, he returned, minus the hat.
He took the same spot, a stool away from a startled Vince.
“For fuck’s sake, what’s happened to you, Jerry?”
Jerry’s head was swollen and inflamed and covered in rows of scabs and sores streaking from his forehead to the stubble at his crown.
“What the fuck, man. Were you attacked by something?”
Jerry lamented, “I can’t even wear a hat, my damned head’s so tender.”
“The comb?” Vince asked.
“What the fuck you even doing with that comb, Jerry? You got no goddamned hair.”
“But it’s mine,” Jerry said. “And, since I got it, I can’t help but wanna use it for something.”
“You’re scraping your head raw. It’s probably infected. You need to stop.”
Jerry took a paper napkin from the bar. He dabbed at the scabs on his head. He winced as he dabbed. Each time he blotted, the napkin stuck to the moist sores. The napkin turned instantly bloody. Jerry pealed it gently off his head each time he touched it.
“Oooooouuuuuuuch,” he screamed. “So tender.”
“You gotta stop,” Vince advised.
“I know,” Jerry said. “I gotta stop. So why don’t you buy it from me? Or buy me a drink so I can give it to you.”
“Just throw it away,” Vince said. “Toss it in the garbage where it belonged from the beginning.”
“But it’s mine,” Jerry said. “I need to get something out of it.”
“Jesus, man. It looks like you stuck your head inside the jaws of an alligator and it bit down,” Vince said. “It really looks nasty. You ought to get it looked at.”
“Won’t you buy the comb? Just give me something. Anything. Please,” Jerry pleaded. “Take it away from me and I think things will be fine.”
“Just throw it away,” Vince said. “Get rid of the damned thing. You don’t need me or anybody else for that.”
“If you were a friend, you’d do this for me,” Jerry said. “Just look at my goddamned head. It’s horrific, I know. So won’t you help me out?”
“I’m helping you out by encouraging you to throw the fucking thing in the garbage. Hell, give it to me and I’ll throw the damned thing in the trash.”
“I can’t,” Jerry insisted. “Without getting something in return.”
“I’m giving you advice. Good advice. That’s something.”
“I need a drink. Or a coupla bucks, man. C’mon.”
“This advice is better than a coupla bucks, I guarantee.”
Jerry pulled the comb from his pocket. He raked it across the tender, seeping wounds on his head.
“Ouch. Goddamnit,” he screamed.
“You’re nuts,” Vince said.
“In the beginning, it was smooth. It ran over my head no problem, like new wipers over a windshield. But now it hurts. It hurts a lot, Vince. It hurts so much I can’t even sleep on it.”
Vince got up to leave.
“Where you going?”
“I can’t take any more,” Vince said.
“You feel sorry for me, dontcha? With this terrible looking head and all these scabs and painful sores? I bet you feel sorry for me, dontcha?”
“In a way, I do.”
“Then buy me a drink. Please. Or give me a coupla bucks. I need something to get rid of this cursed comb.”
Vince said he was leaving. He told Jerry he’d be back. He told Jerry to wait.
Vince drove home. He went the bathroom. His wife had a soft, boar bristle hair brush in the vanity. He told his wife he was taking it.
She asked, “What for?”
“To help out a friend,” he said. “Don’t worry, I’ll buy you a new one tomorrow.”
He drove back to Anne’s Place. He gave Jerry the wood handled brush.
“Here, use this instead of that damned comb.”
Jerry took the brush. He rubbed his palm with the soft, dark chocolate bristles.
“Where’d you get it?”
“It’s my wife’s. Or it was hers. Now I’m giving it to you.”
“Thanks,” Jerry said.
“Now give me that goddamned comb.”
Jerry took the comb from his pocket. He handed it over to Vince. Vince walked over to the trashcan and threw it away.
He sat next to Jerry again.
“That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
“So it’s mine now?” Jerry asked. “You’ve given me this nice hair brush?”
“It’s all yours,” Vince said. “It’s nice and soft. It shouldn’t tear your head apart like that stupid comb.”
Jerry ran the brush down his arm. It was, indeed, as soft as cornsilk.
“Well, since it’s mine now, I guess I can do with it as I please.”
“I guess so,” Vince said. “But I’d advise you to use it wisely.”
Jerry took a moment to consider what to do with it.
“Well, since it’s mine now, how about you buy it from me for a coupla bucks. It’s a nice brush. I’m sure your wife would like to have it back.”
Vince plucked a couple of bucks from his wallet. He gave the money to Jerry, who handed the brush back.
“I’m leaving now. I’m gonna go home and give this back to my wife. And I’m not coming back.”
“Thanks for the money,” Jerry said.
Vince left with the brush. Once he stepped outside, Jerry got up and took the comb out of the trash and put it back in his pocket.
He wandered back to the bar thinking about what he ought to do with the two bucks.
As he sat there weighing his options, he felt a tingle behind his ear as a drop of discharge from the sores trickled down his head. He took another napkin from the bar and wiped it away.