512 Words

Memorial Day

M. Stanley Bubien

I remember the day I caught my secretary cutting out the front page section, a full-blown mockup on the Santana High School shooting.

"I collect articles about... you know... disasters."

"I can see that," I told her. "But, c'mon," I waved my hand over the subject matter, as if the gesture obviated my disgust.

She simply shrugged and smiled. "It's a hobby." Pulling out a manila envelope, she dutifully stuffed it with the clipping and wrote "Santana Massacre" on it with permanent black ink. The stench of the marker left me feeling slightly nauseated.

After September 11th, however, I never saw her applying scissors to a newspaper again. The day a Chinese jet had spiraled into the sea with all passengers, I found the whole international section intact, sinking into the recycle bin beside her desk.

"You only collect local events?" I prodded, my fresh cup of coffee swirling in my right hand with morbid self-satisfaction

She frowned in a way that made me almost regret my tone.

"I don't do it anymore," she told me, staring at the floor. "I threw them all away. All of them."

With a quiet nod, I took advantage of the brief silence to flee into my office.

Over the intervening months, I forgot all about our conversation. Until last week, that is. As the office bustled in preparation for the extended Memorial Day weekend, I began spotting those same manila envelopes upon her desk. On Wednesday, I even bought myself a copy of the local rag, scanning it for some indication of a recent disaster.

Finally, on Friday morning, I caught her red handed.

"What are you reading?" I asked with a condescension born of the---apparently unfounded---embarrassment from our months-earlier encounter.

She lowered the newspaper, and I just caught a glimpse of a full-color picture of a vaguely familiar smoking object. In a somewhat choked voice---I chalked it up to an obvious nervousness in being nabbed at her old habits---she explained haltingly, "It's from... uh... last year..."

Intrigued, I slowly reached around and bent the dangling page toward me so I could see the whole photograph. There was the smoking object, a building, with plumes billowing as if it had absorbed a nuclear missile. I recognized the Trade Center immediately.

I should have reacted with disgust---High Schools were one thing, but this, this was so much worse! But no. Instead, my heart ached with a sadness that only her silent gaze could explain.

"What?" I shook my head and swallowed. "Why this?"

Blinking at me in surprise---as if it was completely obvious, and now I was the daft one---she told me, "Because. To... to remember."

Oh, I tell you my stomach leapt into my throat! And I don't think my office has ever looked more alluring than at that moment.

But this time something compelled me deeper than the temptation to flee.

I laid my hand upon her shoulder and squeezed gently. We remained joined by that touch until the confusion of the early work day intruded.

Copyright ©2002 M. Stanley Bubien. All Rights Reserved.

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June, 2002
Issue #74

512 Words