RUNNER UP: Visiting Day 

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The old man lay motionless with his eyes turned toward the curtained window as Gena pressed a warm moist towel to his face. She swirled up a rich foam in a soap cup with a stiff bristled brush, removed the towel from his face and began to lather him up. His head tilted slightly as she dabbed the brush over his chin and throat. Gena put down the brush and reached for a small black case on the bedside table. Its latch and hinges were gold plated, its lining royal blue velvet. Inside lay a straight razor with a monogrammed ivory handle.

Joshua C. Shelton's father had owned the razor 10 years before passing it on to him. Joshua had intended to give it to his own son one day but he'd had only one Baby Girl. At the age of 8 — after glimpsing him standing before the mirror, razor in hand, his face covered in soap — she'd insisted on watching him shave every Sunday morning before church. When she was 9 he let her hold the razor. By 10-and-a-half she could sharpen it to a fine edge.

Gena attached one end of the strop to a bedpost and grasped the other firmly in her left hand. Slowly she stroked the blade lengthwise back and forth against the strop. Joshua cocked his ear at the raspy cadence of steel on leather, then relaxed. When Gena put her fingers under his chin and gently lifted his face, he finally saw her.

“Baby Girl,” he said, “how you been?”

“Good Pop. Real good.”

She took her time with the shave so they could talk. She'd been promoted but was worried about doing a good job. Then there was this man she'd been spending time with lately. They had fun together but these days she was thinking more and more about settling down. She didn't want to waste her time. Joshua said, “They wouldn't have given you the job if you weren't up to the task, Baby Girl,” and “Don't be afraid to love, child, but don't settle for anything less than the love you want.” Then he grew tired speaking to her, as he had many times before, of how two years had passed between the day he met his wife and the day they shared their first kiss. There had been other women in between, but none like Cecile.

Joshua quieted and his eyelids became heavy as Gena, finished with the shave, wiped his face clean, then gently patted it down with aftershave. He drifted to sleep smelling musk and fresh-cut grass as she emptied the water basin, cleaned the razor, and put all away. Gena picked up her clipboard and walked out of the room, closing the door softly behind her. In the hallway she checked Joshua C. Shelton, shave off her list. Rosetta Thomas, shampoo was next. Gena placed her pen in the pocket of her scrubs and pushed her cart to room 34.

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