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A short story by Ernio Hernandez

original photo by Lorenzo Maimone

I remember seeing you outside the brunch place. The one on…

No, I know this one…the street with the big birch trees… Shit. I had it! Nevermind.

Anyway, I came up to our usual table near the front window seat. I parked behind so I came in the back entrance and grabbed a Bellini on my way to our table. Note how I can remember “Bellini,” but not the name of the damn street. Eh, priorities.

You were screaming into your phone about how depositing water from the Red Sea into the Dead Sea would affect the natural ecosystem of the entire region. And how everyone was focusing on—no no “applauding.” Everyone was applauding the politics but not considering the science.

You lured me there. I was deep in preparations to present my study to Congress and really shouldn’t have left. Hence the phone call. But, all I could think of was the near-perfect huevos rancheros at Leilani’s. That and you told me you needed to talk about Gaia’s college plans. It sounded urgent.

I was still kinda with Masha at the time and I could have died from the look she shot me when I left. She swore it was part of your ploy to get me back. She was always certain you and I would reconcile despite the fuck-all that was our divorce.

It was Lafayette.

Fate? Oh, no Lafayette! Yes, the street was Lafayette. How could I have forgotten that! Blugh. Anyway… we did speak of Gaia first, so it wasn’t all a ruse. I remember you pointedly quipping that it would be a mistake for her to go into marine biology when there might not be marine life left to study by the time she finished college.

I admire your passion to fight despite always having to be the heavy. You’ve always been the—what did you call it?—the “dark cloud with no lining.” I know that had to be tough on you, especially when we were married. You always grounded me. I was the artsy hipster with the lofty goals.

That’s probably why you ended up with Masha. She was the complete opposite of me.

We did talk about Gaia and I raged my outrage against the dying of marine life. But first, we spoke about the dyeing of my hair, when you tried to wipe what you thought was powder from jelly doughnuts out of my beard. I did my usual “more salt than pepper” schtick to avoid feeling older. Then I joked how it was probably an elaborate evolutionary ruse to visit Dunkin’ Donuts more.

And hey, I’m sorry about Masha. She was certainly not like you, but also not a reaction to being with you. If I had to be brutally honest with myself about it, I wasn’t really attracted to her at all. She was simply close. Proximity is the most underrated aphrodisiac. At least for the lazy lover I turned out to be.

I am sorry, Lydia.

You take the blame like you take the blankets in bed. Stop it. It’s not all on you. Look, you are here now and maybe it’s not the growing old together you imagined, but does it matter?

So after the talk of you going grey and Gaia’s attempt to follow in her father’s footsteps, that’s when I dropped the bomb on you. Neurons, degenerative whatnot, white matter, it all kinda went in one ear/out the other for me. You were always the left-brain of us, so I knew you’d understand all the medical terms better than I could. I was most tentative about asking for your help. You already gave enough of your life to me, would you be up for a little more.

I knew I’d forget a lot, lose a lot, time, memories, names. But I think I knew I’d never lose my touchstone. You.

I saw your hesitance. After wrapping my head around the whole diagnosis, I finally looked up from your paperwork and saw it in your eyes. You had the same look on your face when Gaia was born.

You never showed weakness, ever. So, to see a twinge of helplessness on you — not helpless, just more like “Shit don’t leave me alone with this” — it struck me. Both times right in the gut.

Yes, it was a lot to ask your ex-husband to come back and basically be there to watch you go. I weighed the alternatives heavily. Did I want to get a phone call in the middle of the night from someone saying my “wife” had come into their house like she lived there? Or have Gaia endure being mistaken for a nurse? Or worse, I considered much worse.

That’s it. I see it, you wore the navy jacket. The one lined with flannel. Your baby blue shirt and the strikingly purple tie. It was so loud and bright by contrast I could never forget it—well I shouldn’t say never… yet.

Very good. So you are good on the long term front. Ok, short term: five minutes looks just about up… What were the three words I gave you?

Knoll, frangipane and… mutiny!

Yes! You are still with us.

Yes. Still life.