Her insistence on calling him “kiddo,” even though he was twenty years her senior, made him laugh. She had told him once that she called anyone she loved “kiddo”, regardless of age. It still made him laugh. Still, he almost erased the message, just as he had erased the dozens of messages that came before, without reading more than this opening line. His finger hovered over the delete button for a moment, but then seemed to have developed a will of its own, and instead of deleting it he opened the message.
I don’t know how to tell you, so I’ll just say. They found a tumor in my brain. It’s a very violent cancer, and it has spread so much that they can’t do anything about it without turning me into a vegetable. You know, maybe that’s why I’ve always been so crazy. In any case, the doctors gave me three or four months to live, but before I die I’ll forget everything, and in the end I’ll forget myself. It will start happening soon, so if there’s something you wanted to tell me, this is the time. Every day I’ll still remember you I’ll send you a heart at the end of the day.
If you don’t talk to me by then, I’ll see you when I see you, kiddo.
I love you.”
He stood there, in the bathroom, clinging to the marble tightly and staring at the screen that was getting dark. The understanding refused to come. She was twenty-two when they met. He was forty-two, happily married and the father of three lovely children. All he wanted was to drink his coffee in peace, but the noise of a whole tray full of dishes falling on the floor startled him, and he looked up from the laptop and saw her sitting in the middle of a mess of broken glass and coffee on the floor, laughing.
Later on he remembered that moment as the exact that he, without knowing it, fell in love with her.
He started to come to the little cafe whenever he had time, and sometimes, if she was there, and she had time, she would sit with him a little and tell him about her sociology studies, and he would tell her about his children. And then this day came, when she had just finished working and invited him over to her place, and he told himself that he had never read “Jonathan Livingstone, Seagull” and that he should borrow it from her and read it immediately, and perhaps drink another cup of coffee. And he really drank coffee for two hours and took the book and left, and so it was easier for him to come the next week straight to her place to return the book, and that was it. After that it was impossible to stop this thing, which to this day he didn’t know if it was love or madness.
They met every week in her little apartment, and he knew every fold of the purple cloth that was her window curtain, and every tiny spot on the white lace tablecloth covering the nakedness of the peeling table, just as he knew every fold of her skin and every freckle on her nose. On the rest of the week he would think about the last time they were together, and wait for the next time.
It did not last long.
When he imagined the situation in his mind, it sounded like a perfect arrangement: a good wife and children at home, a young lover outside. In reality it was terrible. He slept with his wife and thought about her, and felt guilty about both. The children, who had been the center of his world, became vague background noises, hindering him from thinking about her or writing to her or just waiting until he could be with her again.
He never spoke about leaving home, and she never asked. If she asked … God only knows. He didn’t want any more children, but for her … maybe … And it was not that he didn’t love his wife, or was not attracted to her. She was wonderful, only that he was already sick with this incurable disease, and he could not imagine it ending well.
He went to talk to her and told her that he couldn’t do it anymore, that it was not fair to anyone. He said they both had to be reasonable. He said he wanted his comfortable life back, because it was a good life, and wanted to fall back in love at least with his children, if not with his wife, and he could not do that when she was occupying his thoughts and living in his heart and responsible for the air that entered his lungs.
And she listened, and though she had tears on her eyelashes, she said it was all right, that she understood, but she did not know how to live without him, so perhaps they could only be friends, they wouldn’t even have to meet, just write to each other from time to time. And he, who was always partial to women crying, promised.
That was the only promise he ever broke in his life.
He knew that any contact with her, even the slightest one, would bring him right back to her, and he had to forget, had to escape. She wrote to him, and he didn’t answer. He thought she would stop in the end, hurt and despondent, but it didn’t happen. For three years she wrote to him, sometimes once a week, sometimes less frequently. A year after they broke up she fell in love, and half a year later she told him excitedly that she was getting married. After that he no longer opened her messages. His heart could not stand it. He would see her name, and those words – “Hey, kiddo” – and delete the message immediately.
That’s how it was until the day when his finger rebelled against him and decided to open the message by itself, or perhaps there was something in him that knew this message was different from the others. He took a deep breath, washed his face with cold water and walked out of the bathroom to his wife, who was waiting in bed for him to see the new chapter of Gray’s Anatomy.
The next day he thought about her all day, going over and over every moment they spent together in his mind. He thought whether there was anything left to say, and if it would do anyone any good to open that wound again, and decided to sleep on it. At eight in the evening he received a heart from her, and he let his breath out in a whistle, realizing he had held it in all day.
The next day he had a crazy day, and he didn’t even have time to think about it. At seven-twenty her heart message caught him in the middle of a meeting and made his pulse race. He erased the message and vowed to think about it tomorrow.
After a week he knew he had to talk to her, she had to hear what he had to say one last time. And this is what he wanted to say to her: “I love you, I’ve always loved you, and I will always love you, forever.” That and nothing else. He wondered if he would have the strength to tell her face to face, hug her one last time, or if he should write to her. His heart ached madly, and he didn’t know what would be worse -seeing her, or not seeing her. The evening became a tense race of minutes, during which he checked his phone dozens of times, making sure he did not miss the daily heart. But he didn’t answer her. Not yet. He was not ready yet.
That evening his wife was out. The children were asleep already. His watch showed it was a quarter to ten, and there was still no message from her. He frantically paced around the house and murmured to the phone: “Come on!”
He swore to himself that tomorrow he would go to the hospital and hug her and tell her that she was the love of his life, that he was an idiot and that he would forever hurt their parting. No matter how it killed him, tomorrow he would do it!
The digits on his watch marched mercilessly. It was already eleven, and he decided to go take a shower. When he was done, he thought, the heart would be waiting for him, and then he would answer and ask her where she was, and he would go there in the morning no matter what.
In the thick steam that had gathered in the room he thought he saw a new message, and for a moment his heart soared, but it was already ten-thirty, and there was no message. His heart sank like a stone, and pain spread outward from his chest. He could not breathe. That’s it, he thought. It’s over. She had forgotten him, and all the words would remain choked inside him forever. Tears squeezed from his eyes as he gripped the marble and felt his heart explode, and then he fell to the floor.
In the remaining vestiges of consciousness before the end, he imagined her face and said to himself, or maybe to her: “We’ll probably see each other soon, kiddo.”
At twelve o’clock, in the cold bathroom, the sound of an incoming message chimed. On the screen a large red heart appeared, and the words: “Hey kiddo, sorry about the time…”