The Space Between Two Sentences
As the Mexican hands me
the salsa, I can tell that he has murdered someone. That’s
all I know, other than he could do it again. His culpability shows in the
grim way he holds his chin, as if his face never knew a smile, not as an
but maybe as a child under five. I see him often at lunchtime and I watch,
looking for murderer-type signs, but he doesn’t carry a weapon or
make threats; he scoops chips out of a bin into yellow baskets.
The chick at the gas station counter skims the till; her extroverted and
inquisitive questions indicate that she’s getting braver and greedier. She tosses my
change onto the counter, ignoring my outstretched hand, and snorts, “I
just can’t keep money in my hands, falls through like water.”
A man with red hair passes me in the parking lot, his mouth tightened with
rage. He tries to contain himself, but I can’t blame him; without consulting
her husband, his wife recently invested their entire savings into a bunk
I don’t always see clearly into people, more like a hazy flicker. I mentioned
this debatable gift to a co-worker at the post office. I minimize, revealing
just that I get vibes. Velma and I speculate on the customers who
come in to mail packages. This one eats Spam and calls his mother every other
night. That one drove a VW Bug in college when he was free, but his new wife
doesn’t want to know about his past, just wants him to keep the SUV clean
and the checks coming in. One lady buys clothes at Goodwill, but pretends they’re
from Macy’s, another hires younger men for massages and kids herself that
they really enjoy her company. Our stories are for our own pleasure, to laugh,
to pass the time, to make the job more interesting. Velma doesn’t know
that I see many of these attributes.
My brother’s new girlfriend is coming over tonight. I don’t want
to meet her. He doesn’t really want me to meet her either, because I’m
usually cold and rude to his dates. On the other hand, he wants me to like them,
so he brings one around now and then. Since we live together, he always lets
me know if anyone is stopping by. The last date had herpes. The one before was
molested at age four by several uncles. One girl, fixated with money, would have
emptied my brother’s account in no time. Another hated men, but wanted
to make her girlfriend jealous. My bother confirmed the molested girl and my
neighbor knew the money-hungry one. The rest I’ll probably never hear
The bank teller is cheating on her boyfriend with a man who wears silk shirts.
She can’t control herself because the obsession is unstoppable. The
man next to me in line at the movies is dying of liver disease. The woman
him doesn’t know about his illness; they met online and this is only
their third date. She’s concerned that someone is following her, could
be an ex-husband. No, an ex-boyfriend she also met online, a situation she
She gave him too much of herself via the Internet and when they met face
to face, his neediness repulsed her. The woman behind me grieves over her
Her cousin next to her thinks a movie is the perfect grief-avoiding event,
and loves to eat. She binges at night on pasta, taking huge bites.
* * *
I can’t read everyone and I don’t even know if I’m right most
of the time. Perhaps my imagination is overactive? It’s not like I can
walk up to the girl at the ATM and ask, “Is it true that after you quit
the San Francisco Ballet Company, you gained thirty pounds in four months and
now avoid your dancing friends?” Or, could I approach the parking lot attendant
and ask him to confirm that he spent one high-school summer on an aunt’s
farm in Kansas where he shot his first and only animal: a rabbit that lay
dead, eyes opened, in a perfect curled pose, reminding him of a sleeping
I haven’t told my brother about my ability. I almost did, but one day after
I turned a corner, I bumped into someone. The man didn’t say anything;
he kept going. The way he tilted his chin toward his neck and looked wide-eyed
toward the sky illustrated that he was a guilt-free rapist. At the time, he had
never been caught and didn’t plan to quit. His M.O. included offering
rides to drunken girls who hung out at the lakefront. I stopped to watch
along the sidewalk as two police cars arrived out from the alley. Black-clad
officials quietly arrested him. I read about him in the paper, the next day
on the way to work. Scenarios of how my brother would react, if I revealed
played in my head. But by the time the bus ride ended, I decided not to tell.
* * *
I whiz through the front door, pretending I’m in a hurry and jot right
over to my room. I can hear my brother and the girl in the kitchen. He’s
using his “I’m-charming-and-you-are-the-center-of-the-universe” voice.
She’s giggling in that way girls do with guys they don’t know
well, a completely different giggle than if she was with girlfriends.
The interesting thing is, I can’t read people until I see them, so
I remain in my bedroom, listening.
He’s enthralled. “You have the smoothest skin.”
She protests. “No, I don’t.” Giggle.
He sniffs. “Mmm. And you smell so good.”
The other weird thing is that I typically can’t read people I know. Only
strangers. So even if I entered the room, I wouldn’t feel anything from
my brother. But then again, maybe I don’t need to. I already know him
Even though I didn’t plan to meet her, I’m curious. It’s
hard for a woman in her own house to avoid checking out a strange woman in
room. I enter the kitchen. She’s sitting on our counter. Her skin
does appear smooth. Her black hair looks Egyptian in that round, straight-bang
“Hey, this is my sister.”
“Nice to meet you.” We shake hands.
In the span of time between his introduction and my response, I see that
she wants to know what it is like to date an older man, because all the
age have turned out to be scum. I’d say they’re ten years different.
Her ex-boyfriend slept over two months ago while his new girlfriend was out of
town. She naively hopes her ex will come back, but knows and doesn’t want
to accept that he just came over to make sure he wasn’t missing anything.
She wants to find a good guy, but barely clings to the notion that one might
be out there. If my brother doesn’t work out, or if a man with good morals
doesn’t come into her life soon, she’s afraid she’ll slide
into a jaded depression, or worse, her honesty might sour and she’ll
join the marching crowd of ruthlessness.
“Your kitchen is huge. Makes me want to cook.” As she compliments
us about our house, I understand that she’s pregnant and doesn’t
My brother and the Egyptian chick look at me oddly. I should be answering
them, but I can’t yet. This is the first time I’ve known of someone unaware
of their own pregnancy. That could mean that I’m catching the vibe
of the unborn baby. I stare down at her stomach and try to capture more.
content, but his skull has too much fluid and his heart is struggling.
The girl looks down at her belly because I am staring at it. “What?” She
looks at my brother for support.
He squints at me. “You OK?”
I tell them, “I’m fine, just thinking,” even though I’m
not fine at all. The girl has a sweet integrity I don’t often see.
She struggles with the smallest fib.
I reach into my pocket and pull out my check stub. “Payday. How about
I take us to dinner? To celebrate your new friendship.”
The girl’s shoulders drop in relief. Her eyes are grateful that I’ve
My brother relaxes, amazed; he thinks I finally approve of a date.
He opens the door for us and we all walk through.
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