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November 10, 2001
She slowly paced the aisle that was labeled fish food, pausing every couple of steps, in search of the specific kind she ran out of this morning. The eerie, swinging, light above made it difficult to read the small, skewed cans especially for someone who could see as far as a keychain flashlight underwater. Realizing this, she held her sagging purse with one arm while the other began to dig through a sea of batteries, old lipstick containers, and mini water bottles that never quite made it to the trash can. Finally, she pulled out a pair of smudged glasses that revealed new scratches when she wiped the lenses with the rim of her black, thin knit sweater. Placing them on her nose, she threw her bag over her shoulder and slightly leaned over to inspect the words written on the can in front of her. She stood in that position for what seemed like forever, not moving. Then, a familiar voice sounded in her ears snapping her out of the trance she had seemed to be caught in.
“Mrs. Della, is that you?” She straightened out her back and slowly turned to face him. “I feel like it’s been forever. How are you?”
Her voice breaking as she was obviously caught off guard. “Nigel, honey, how are you?” She pulled on the bottom of her shirt to flatten out any wrinkles and stood there uneasily as she gazed at the shelves behind him.
“Oh Mrs. Della, I mean Sandra. Sorry, I know you rather be called Sandra,” Nigel rambled on. “How’s Joey? I haven’t seen him in a while and he must need some cleaner for his tank. You know your son goes through that stuff so quickly especially with his 55-gallon tank.” She didn’t answer. She just stared. He then realized that his happiness was not spreading to her. “Is.. everything okay?” He asked suddenly concerned. Her eyes continued to stare at the shelf. He stepped closer slowly putting his hand on her shoulder. As if it was a chain reaction, her eyes glossed over. “Mrs. Del- Sandra. What is it?” Nigel cocked his head as if he was trying to look at her from a different angle. Trying to see what she was thinking. He waited. Patiently.
Finally, her thoughts were forced out due to the fact she couldn’t withhold the truth any longer. “Umm… Joey.. a… um, he is gone.”
“Gone?” His voice was almost at a whisper. “Wh.. what do.. what do you mean gone?” There was an urgency in his voice but not enough of it to make her feel pressured to open up to him. Eventually, the staring contest she seemed to be having with the shelf stopped. She had lost. She faced him. Only one sentence would make it out of her mouth because all of the other words were too painful to express in the middle of PetSmart.
“He..a...died,” she paused, “nine-eleven.” Nigel then realized Joey was dead leaving a gaping hole in Sandra’s life. Nigel’s face hardened. He looked at his feet as if they would help him. He looked at her as if she would help him. He then looked up as if God, or whoever was up there, would help him. But, no one did. There was no protection. No shield to block the feelings that he knew were about to barricade his body. Nigel took his hand off her shoulder and stepped back. Still, no eye contact was made. Sandra turned and slowly walked down the aisle leaving Nigel standing there. What else could she do? What else could she say? While Nigel, couldn’t move nor breathe. All he could think about was Joey. How he looked forward to seeing his friend every time his fish tank needed cleaning. And how those monthly visits were a thing of the past.
Subconsciously he jolted forward as if he had just slammed his elbow on a table in the completely wrong spot. Nigel could hear the old, rusting, bell let out a small chime notifying him someone had just entered, or in his case, left. Now he was sprinting. He pushed the smudged, glass door open disregarding the handle as he forced his body through the doorway.
Still running he called out, “Sandra. Sandra! Wait!” He scanned the parking lot which on a Saturday morning was vacant with the exception of three cars. A car door slammed. He turned around just in time to realize the engine had started. Soon, Nigel was running through the fog that had seemed to descend within the past five minutes. “Wait! Come back!” His voice broke as he had no hope left. He stopped. Nigel watched the car pull out of the parking lot and slowly slip into the blur of fast-moving vehicles. He wasn’t sure why the cars had seemed so blurry that day. He wasn’t sure why he couldn’t read the sign representing the place he worked. And he wasn’t sure if Sandra had driven away knowing he was trying to stop her. Or if he had caused her to feel so miserable she zoned everything else out and allowed her feelings to take the wheel, literally.
November 18, 2001
He turned off the car listening to the engine die out as it shut off. He then began to pick at his fingernails; a trait he had redeveloped this past week. He closed his eyes and inhaled through his nose, feeling his chest rise and then sink as he breathed out of his mouth. A technique he learned from his therapist; also a new aspect of his life as of last week. In one fluid motion, he opened the car door, gently closed it, walked up onto the sidewalk and took a step towards the front door. He paused. He then forced himself to press the button that allowed him to call up to one of the apartments. “Beep-beep.”
“Hello?” Sandra’s voiced sounded sleepy yet robotic due to the fact it traveled through a sound system before reaching Nigel’s ears. Nigel then opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. “Hello?” Her voice questioned again. She hung up. He pushed the button again. “Hello?” This time Sandra sounded more aggravated than curious.
“Um... Hi. This is Nigel and-” The door clicked open before he could finish his sentence. Shocked, he looked at the handle as if he never used one before. However; he was soon walking up the narrow steps in order to reach her apartment. Slowly, Nigel knocked on the worn out, wooden door. He could hear Sandra’s footsteps progressively become louder as she got closer. With no urgency, she unlocked the door, clicking it into place. That day, when Sandra opened the door to Nigel, she had opened up, without realizing, so much more than an old, weathered door. She had opened the door to a new tradition. A new way of life. And a new, unexpected friendship. Even though nothing could fill the void left by her son, Nigel made that hole smaller. He was the son she used to have.