They had stopped saying ‘I love you’ to each other, not for a lack of love and not for lack of trying to say it hundreds of times over. The weight of everything is heavier than ever sometimes.
“There has to be some kind of a grievance,” she said. She fiddled with her wedding ring, interlacing and re-interlacing, un-interlacing her fingers, now in her lap, now on the table, around the coffee mug.
“Well, you should call,” he said. His hands were still. Folded as a sweater, in a soft pile on the tabletop. His ring askew but stable where it lay on the correct and calm finger.
“You think this is as weird as I do,” she said, as a confirmation, not a question.
“I think you deserve answers and you should call,” he said, ever the diplomat.
She sighed. Spun the coffee cup, crumpled a napkin, pictured the penguins. There had been so many penguins.
“I got a text at six in the morning,” she said “And they said, ‘no rush on the return call.’”
“Who said? Your parents?”
“No, no, about my parents.”
“Oh, your brother,” he said, as a confirmation, not a question. He stretched his hands from their pile; mountainous veins and four additional liver spots appeared new from the week before. Whose hands were these anymore?
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, and I said, I said, ‘what am I doing at six in the morning?!” What had she been doing at six in the morning? Not sleeping. Trying. Picturing all the penguins, scattered throughout the room. No you cannot have a real penguin, she remembered saying. At six in the morning she would mouth these words exactly. Try them in reverse, in a different order. This was years ago of course, but given all the figurines they had found, would it have changed even a minute?
“It’s supposed to be Toby’s Torah,” she said. “That’s what she wanted.”
“Yes,” he said.
“And what? Louis gets to have everything? Everything. Toby wanted the Torah, up on the bima, surrounded by the congregation.”
“The email went out about the Sabbath dinner.” This was unrelated and they both knew it.
“And I’m sure Louis wanted all of that too,” she said. This was not true and they both knew it. Someone needed to stay on course and she was a one-track wrecking ball of late. “Louis’ Torah. He said, ‘Louis’ Torah? Louis’ tuchus,’ he said.” She snorted, continued a messily angry laugh long enough to last for both of them. He placed his palms flat on the table to wait.
They had cleared out Toby’s apartment together. Several diaries of varying emotional quality. Over a hundred photos, many of the two of them. A Torah she had saved with a request that it be given to the JCC and displayed prominently. But also, inexplicably, seventeen penguin figurines. They remembered how much she loved the animal, never factored in its centrality to her persona. Every word, every like, every detail - they’re all spots without the context, without the relationship. And now? And now they were spots.
“Hmph,” he said. A settled sort of exhale.
“It’s just not what was supposed to happen. It’s the Jewish Community Center, for God’s sake. There should be a grievance we can file.”
“I think you should call and take it from there.”
A full yes. Not a ‘yeah,’ not an ‘uh-huh,’ nothing short or without meaning. It was as close to ‘I love you' as they got these days. Because how terrifying, how tragic, how unrequitedly devastating it was to hear of finality. No one wants to know it is the last one.
Some hand gestures, a few assurances of normalcy, and yes answers without end.