- The Suicide Note
I'd been living in Brooklyn for a few months when I met Sarah. She came to shop at Fresh Market on Myrtle, where I worked six days a week, from noon to midnight. It was early December, the city dusted with snow. Garlands of lights looped around windows and lampposts. My coworkers and I had just finished decorating a small artificial tree by the entrance. It appeared lopsided, with flimsy paper ornaments caught in a swirl of wind each time a customer walked in or out. An angel sat crooked on the very top.
In her knee-length fur coat, Sarah stood in front of the tree for a moment before raising her cane to adjust the angel. To my surprise, she was able to reach it without much effort, but now the angel leaned to the other side. She kept fussing with the cane until the winged creature appeared dead center.
"That's better," she said. "Whoever put you up there didn't try hard."
That "whoever" was me, but I didn't volunteer the information. Instead I offered her a shopping cart someone had abandoned in the aisle. She asked if she could order a fresh turkey.
We had turkeys, frozen though, but she shook her head.
"I need fresh. My son is coming home for the holidays. I want to cook up a feast."
A half Russian-half Ukrainian, I occasionally had trouble pronouncing English words or hearing them correctly. So I asked, "You're cooking a beast? Animal?"
Sarah wrinkled her forehead. Her skin resembled recycled parchment paper, creased and thin. "Where are you from, young man?" she asked.
"Thought so. Your accent."
She had a sharp nose and dark, solemn eyes. Slouching over her right ear, a black beret covered all of her head, so it was hard to guess what color her hair was. Her eyebrows were painted brown, one longer than the other. She looked slim under the lustrous bulk of her coat, with delicate wrists and glossy maroon nails. She must've been eighty or older, somewhere close to the lip of eternity, as my mother would've said. [End Page 34]
"I'll ask about fresh turkey and let you know in a day or two, if you leave your phone number," I said.
She nodded, and I spent the next fifteen minutes following her around the store, reaching for various staples on higher shelves. She kept her feet wide apart and moved slowly.
"I had both hips replaced, in case you're wondering," she said. Her husky, crackling voice made me think of trees, dead trees.
"Oh, wow. Does it still hurt?" I asked.
"No. But my marathon days are over."
I gave her a compassionate look. "Sorry."
"Don't be. I hate marathons. At least there's no pressure now. My son, on the other hand, always runs places."
When she said that, I thought of my father constantly rushing out, always late—for work, gatherings, and even my grandmother's funeral. How I'd almost missed my plane to America because he'd been late driving me to the airport.
When Sarah finished shopping, her cart brimmed with produce: fingerling potatoes, avocados, asparagus, pomegranates and persimmons, artisanal cheeses, smoked fish, milk, cranberry juice, crackers, a stick of salami, chocolate-chip cookies and vanilla gelato. One would think she had a house full of famished guests. I suggested delivery.
"Will it be you or somebody else? I'd rather it be you," she said.
"I'll ask the manager. If it isn't too far."
"No, just across the road. Bridge Street."
I wrote down her address and phone number on one of the bags, and she left, unhurriedly climbing up the ramp.
Late in the evening the store was empty. One of the cashiers yawned while scrolling down on her phone, the other devoted her attention to a peeling strip of her fake nail. They were my age—twenty-nine—also immigrants, but, unlike me, they had their naturalization papers in order. They were half Mexican-half Puerto Rican, with glowing skin and thick ropes of hair. One had...