“My grandmother used to send me Reader's Digest
every Christmas even though I told her I hated it.”
His arms folded. He held a cup his hand
but never drank from it. This was back
when we were young
and had not discovered wine.
“I think I liked that one.”
I sipped from mine, thinking. The magazine had jokes.
And advice. There is something lovely about advice
that isn't aimed at us.
“There would be all these inspirational stories,
people saved from death at the last minute.
Then they would give thanks.” His eyes narrowed.
“I used to search newspapers for opposites and clip them.”
“The opposite of inspirational?” Depressing stories, I realized,
although he did not think of them that way
just realistic ones, he would later tell me,
to counter-balance his unwarranted hopes.
“There was one great one, a woman lost in Minnesota snow.”
He put down his cup and pantomimed trudging.
“She ran out of gas and got cold.
So she left her car and made it to a neighbors' house.
There were people home. The light was on.”
He waited with a smile. I nodded, ready,
imagining the chill of a night blizzard
but also the baby-blue cover of an issue I’d seen
at the dentist’s office.
“She walked all the way to the front stoop
before she froze to death.”
His arm stretched out to me but locked in place
for a few seconds, motionless,
reaching out to a void,
a world without mercy, without guardian angels.
Not that he wasn’t right.
We knew to fend for ourselves.
That’s why we didn’t drink yet.
But we didn’t know then how often we would fail,
how deadly the consequences,
how it would all end.
Really, we should have.
“Her body was found leaning against the railing by the top stair.”