As fat flakes of snow fall at an angle, melting before they even reach the ground, I pop into a coffee shop to escape the dreary wet of what passes for a winter’s day. Wet gloves pulled off, a slush-grey puddle forming at my feet, sugar and cream poured, I’m unexpectedly confronted by the obituaries of strangers, a page full of them, on the table beside me.
Preferring not to see, I avert my gaze and peer into my coffee, remembering my mother’s daily cup of instant Nescafé, rendered even more disgusting with the addition of canned, evaporated milk.
An elderly couple struggling with scones and individual pots of tea, mugs dangling precariously from curled pinkies, approaches the table. I reach out reflexively and snatch the abandoned newspaper. They smile their thanks and settle in.
I fold the paper and set it next to my cup. A compulsive reader, my eyes are drawn to the text against my will and I notice I’ve folded the sheet to perfectly display a single obituary on the back side of the page. I push it away and sip my coffee. Before I know it, though, the paper is in my hand and I’m reading, wondering.
Did Greta, eldest daughter of Edith — loving wife, devoted mother — write this?
Will Louise, her estranged younger sister, cut it from the newspaper without reading, lose it for weeks amid snipped coupons and recipes, passed-over fruitcake and bananas browning on top of the breadbox?
Sometime in the new year, will she find it, move it to her desk, contemplate it just a moment, then slide it still unread beneath the fluttering flakes of a New York City paperweight?
Will she ignore it until spring, watch cherry blossoms float past her window like so much pink snow, prepare her tax return, accidentally gather it up amongst charity receipts, funeral home invoices, and lawyers’ bills, and stuff it in a bottom drawer beside a stack of cancelled cheques held together with a blue rubber band?
Will she almost succeed in forgetting it until in three years’ time, quite unexpectedly, while sipping coffee in the shop on the corner, she’s confronted by a left-behind newspaper folded open to the obituaries of strangers?
With great effort, I swallow cold coffee and put the paper aside. I notice the elderly woman watching me from the next table, a small smile lifting the corners of her thinning lips. I see, or maybe I imagine, understanding in her faded blue eyes.
Looking past her to the snow falling outside, I feel something in my chest, that thing that’s been stuck there for so long, burst violently and joyously open.
I return the woman’s smile and let the tears fall unchecked.