Have you ever felt like someone slipped by you? Have you ever realized that you never truly knew them, except only then, it was too late?
She was our co-worker, and that was all. Or so we thought. She died the other day, when she was crossing the street. It was an accident. He didn’t mean to hit her. Nobody would have. She was unfailingly polite, after all. She never took food that wasn’t hers from the staff refrigerator, and she always asked us how we were doing, and never prolonged the conversation past what was comfortable.
We found out that she’d listed us as her next of kin. We only found out when the police called the office phone to inform us of her passing.
Every day, she was here, sitting amongst us, typing away silently, and we never knew that we were her only family. When we leave here, at the end of the day, we return home to partners, husbands, wives, children, pets, and warm dinners set out and waiting for us. When she went home, at the end of the work day, she went home to an empty apartment. Spent her weekends doing something—alone.
We only knew how she took her coffee—black, two sugars, in a Golden Girls mug. She always wore the same bright red lipstick, a plain cardigan, and a pencil skirt, and a pair of sensible shoes. She always brought a sandwich to eat for lunch.
We never asked about her personal life, but mostly because she never offered anything. Just a polite, tight-lipped smile and then she was off, the rubber soles of her shoes clapping against the tile floor.
When we went into her apartment, it was empty. There were several paperback books, a long dead succulent and a dusty television. She had no photographs, no diaries with lurid sexual exploits outlined dramatically, and no hidden bottles of alcohol or stashes of cigarettes.
We wanted to do something big for her—one last-ditch effort, since it really was too late. So, we’re throwing her a fabulous funeral, with elaborate sprays of calla lilies, a fanfare of flourishing organ music, and, as a last touch,
as we lower her casket,
a flock of white birds rise into the air; their presence a response to absence. It’s supposed to be deep and meaningful. Before we can grasp why, they fade into the distance.