Words Can Not Say

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by Kathleen

It makes no sense. I didn’t even say the worst part. But Larry read my mind.

He was carrying a deli platter for the office party and my mind flew smack into something so appalling I couldn’t squelch it in time. I saw Larry’s face above the deli platter and he saw my sick, unspoken thought. I gasped and Larry gasped. And then thank God, he laughed. We were both laughing hysterically—it was either laugh or cry.

We’ve worked together in accounting for ten years. Larry was always irritable, even overwrought, except when talking about his son. Joel was a brilliant boy who was too good to be true. Larry said so when Joel graduated first in his class from medical school. And he was saying it again after Joel died on New Year’s Day. A chief intern at City Hospital, engaged to marry his longtime sweetheart, Joel died suddenly, the first tragedy of the New Year.

No need to ask the details. We all have the same theory, but nobody will say it out loud. Instead, we say, “It makes no sense.”

No need to say what words can not say. Everyone seems to understand that nobody can understand.

Larry says that Joel would never say if something was wrong. Even as a little boy, he never complained. Even as a child, Joel worked like crazy and excelled like crazy and to throw it all away makes no sense.

Management told Larry to take all the time he needed. But Larry said time off wasn’t going to bring Joel back. So he and his wife sat Shivah for seven days, following Jewish tradition. We visited, sat with them, and said prayers—surrounded by deli platters. So many deli platters that people attempted feeble jokes about them. You know, the way people do.

Larry and I work at a bank and all through January and February, on Friday afternoons the company laid people off. Not me and not Larry, but hundreds of others.

Now in March the company has announced no more lay-offs. And this Friday afternoon it hosted a morale-boosting party with deli platters and soft drinks.

The baby kept me up all night. I’m still nursing him but that’s no excuse. I stepped out of my office. And Larry was coming straight at me with this huge deli platter.

“Don’t tell me that’s from—” I stopped there.

Larry and I gaped at each other. Until finally he laughed and I laughed, thank God.

Foregoing the party, though, I drew the blinds and lay my head on my desk.

Larry’s knocking on the doorframe. “Don’t worry about it, Joanna. It’s nothing.”

“I know.”

But suddenly I’m crying.

“Give that little son of yours a kiss from me.” Larry’s crying, too. “Make sure he always knows how much you love him.”

Then Larry slaps my doorframe and walks away, choking back sobs.


Rousby said...

Devastating story. Incredibly moving.

kathleenmaher said...

Thanks, Rousby. The first draft was no sweat. But the longer I worked on it, cutting sentences, swapping one word for another, the more it got to me. Final draft had me in tears.

So I was wondering if it flew past so that the reader would understood the story but missed its impact. First time I've run into this with the super shorts.

But it sounds like you got it. Thanks.