By Nathalie Hernandez
Over dinner, I ask you if you want to hear a story. You shake your head because you’re so damn scared, but I tell you anyway. Because I’m selfish and I hate how you never cried.
You begin to chew your food faster. Because you hate my stories, but I need to tell you. You need to hear it so when the waiter comes, I tell him it’s your birthday and you don’t ask why so I don’t explain and I push my plate to the middle and I begin.
“Well, you know old Louie? The one who checks my mailbox every morning.”
You stop chewing.
“You didn’t tell him to stop did you?”
“No. No, of course not.”
You nod your head. Approving. Always approving.
I rub my head because the universe is killing me and, I need to tell you, but the clocks are running faster and I can hear you think and everything’s a bit louder and now – and now you look at me with sympathy and I hate you for it so I keep going.
“Well, two days ago, he opened it and began laughing. Hell I’ve never heard him laugh so loud. Like he got hit by a rock and couldn’t stop laughing.”
You smile and ask me a question, but I can’t hear you so I nod my head hoping you asked a yes-no question and I keep going.
“So he kept laughing and he pointed his finger at the sky and shook his head. Just kept shaking his head all the way back. Like he figured out some joke his father told him over and over again. One he never quite got.”
You know I can’t hear you and I don’t know how, but you pour the salt onto the table and begin writing. You keep writing and I can’t see what your writing and I want to scream because the earth is spinning faster than it should and your head lifts up and I’m reading what you wrote and maybe you’ll get it. Maybe I won’t have to tell you.
“Nothing. There was nothing in the mailbox.”
You write some more, but there is no more salt so you use the pepper that I can’t smell anymore and I’m running out of time so I grab your hand to keep you from writing and I just tell you because you need you to hear it.
“I knock on Louie’s door. He doesn’t answer and I know he walked in so I open the door myself and I call his name. I call and call and no Louie.”
I’m gripping your hand hard now because I need you to understand.
“He was not there so I rushed to his mailbox and there was nothing in it. He hasn’t been getting mail, hasn’t gotten any since two weeks ago when that train when off the rails.”
You’re shaking your head because you don’t want me to continue, but I do until the world can’t spin any faster.
“He was born two weeks late. I was born two days and he knew it. Louie knew it.”
You’re crying now because you’re beginning to understand and the waiters have brought you your cake, and their singing you happy birthday and you’re trying to smile, but you can’t. You just can’t.
You look up at me now, but you can’t see me and you’re yelling my name and I never hated my name so much and the music has stopped and you stand up, searching, but you know I couldn’t have gone up and left and so you sit back down and stare at the pepper because there is nothing you can do but wonder how. But I wouldn’t have told you. If you had asked, I would have said something funny and you would have laughed and all would have been good. So, so very good.
Photograph “On Behalf of my Sisters” by Emily McCormick