Copyright is held by the author.
IT WAS a Saturday; I went to visit my aunt Mary. She didn’t get out much, so I brought her lunch every once in a while. She and my dad liked Harvey’s. They made your hamburger a beautiful thing. Aunt Mary and my dad liked it literally with “everything.” I liked lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mayo. Ketchup was just too messy. I didn’t really think that Harvey’s made it beautiful. I only ever ate it with my dad and Aunt Mary.
Our visits were always the same. She would hand me one of her most beautiful plates, which used to belong to my Grandmother. She would let me eat my burger off of it only if I kept the Harvey’s waxed paper on it, under my burger, so as to not make it dirty. Then she would brush it off and put it back in her cupboard. Easiest dishes ever! Then there was the time she asked me to help her serve floor Jell-O and whipped cream. But that’s another story.
When I would visit, my aunt used to say, “Do you want to watch the lobby?” And the first time I thought must be something like The Firm — some law show that’s filmed mostly in an office building. But no, it really was the lobby! The apartment building, she lived in had a camera at the main door, and it showed the door and the wall with the buzzers and list of residents. And people could watch — and apparently, they did watch all the time! People coming in and out . . . in and out. Some would drop their keys; some couldn’t see the buzzer list. Some looked confused when they walked up to the door. Some just looked over their shoulder and zipped in quickly.
As much as I loved visiting — she was a really good cook, though she didn’t do it often anymore — she had already said, “Well, I won’t keep you, I know you’re busy” four times since we had finished our Harvey’s Hamburgers. But the dark sky had just opened up to golf ball-sized hail and I didn’t want to walk to the streetcar stop in it!
She was insistent, so I kissed her and left her to chain smoke, and I ran to the funeral home that was next door to her apartment.
There was a big crowd in there. They turned to look at me as I came in, disheveled, thanks to the wind and hail. I was embarrassed since I really had no reason to be there.
A solemn-looking lady walked up to me as the crowd started talking seriously again. “Oh, hello there. For what family?”
“Sorry?” I said, momentarily confused, and added quickly, “Sorry. I’m not sure my aunt — she suggested I come.”
She proceeded to tell me the names of the two deceased who were on display today, and I said I would discreetly make a phone call to check.
I did, just to check my voice mail, and then decided that I would visit Mr. Ralf Diaz, who only had one person sitting in there with him.
I sat at the back of the room, wondering how long I should stay. After about three hours — OK, 10 minutes — I stood to go, and the lady sitting at the front whipped her head around. “Don’t forget to sign the book!” I felt disruptive again, but I nodded, unsure what I should say.
I walked to the book; there were three other names on it. I added mine, and my aunt Mary’s.
I walked into the lobby and took a breath. I smiled at the lady who had greeted me when I had gotten there, and walked out to hail a cab.
“Lansdowne Station, please,” I said, as I awkwardly climbed in, and noticed that the picture on the license attached to the headrest looked nothing like the driver. I shut the door, and exhaled, not sure how long I had been holding my breath.
“Difficult afternoon? You lose someone special? Sorry, ah?”
“I’m fine.” I smiled, and sat back in the chair. “Thank you for asking.”