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..: stories

..: Mrs. Hinkey

Tonight, I came home about 8pm. We got another wedding gift from Crate & Barrel, and my hands were full as I went to my mailbox on the first floor of the apartment complex. I usually spend several minutes there doing a pre-screening of my mail. Looking for junk mailers, I take the mail I don't want and deposit it into the convenient wicker basket at the foot of the mail boxes. Today, I had more mail than usual, and my hands were more full than usual, so I was sort of sprawled out sorting through my mail, weeding out the pieces that were unworthy to travel with me to the third floor, where they would be screened again.

Mrs. Hinkey, my neighbor in 306, appears. "Oh, I'm in your way," I say. From what I remember about living with Yush's neighbors in his condo, you never ever ever get in a neighbor's way. They will slash your tires and key your car from bumper to bumper. No joke. Anyway, Mrs. Hinkey's mailbox is next to my open one. She gets all her mail, throwing the rejects casually into the wicker basket at our feet. She was a pro. Then she pauses. "Aren't you my neighbor?" she asks.


"My husband died tonight."

Startled, I look at her eyes, and they are dry. She looks back at me. Impusively, I say "Oh my gosh, I'm sorry."

She touched my arm, as to console me. "It's ok. He was old, and sick, and having trouble getting around. You saw him. We expected it. He fell down the stairs last Thursday and we took him to the UCLA medical center. He never recovered, you know, his heart and all that. We took him off the equipment tonight. You're the first person I've told."

"Are you going to be ok?"

"Yes, I'm better now that my son is back."

I thought about how to phrase it. "How long have you been married?"

"Oh, about 50 years. Actually I've known him for 52 years. I should probably tell the manager. I may not stay here. We've been here 10 years. I will probably move out. It's a two bedroom and I don't need so much space."

I thought about embracing her. I know I grieved, and I hadn't known him more than the three times I passed Mr. Hinkey in the hall to get to my door. And those were always such awkward moments. Mr. Hinkey was always on the balcony, wearing a long sleeve checkered shirt with only briefs on, smoking a cigarette. The old men in our apartment complex have a habit of hanging out in the hallways half-dressed. Other times, I'd see him drive his huge Camino into the garage, backing in and out of his space in order to get the angle correct. He'd always hit the wall with his bumper. Strangely, Mrs. Hinkey seemed so relieved that he was gone, I decided that the show of comfort was no longer necessary. Instead, I touched her arm and said sorry again.

"Well, thanks for letting me, um, bend your ear." And she began to move towards the stairs.

"Hey, let me know if there is anything I can do for you." Not sure if she knew I meant it, I added, "Really. I mean, I won't be here past next week though, because we're getting married, uh, I'll be on vacation." Oops, I mentioned my happiness. Is that bad?

"Oh, congratulations," she said.

"Uh, but really, if you need anything next week, please knock."

She looked relieved. As she opened the door to the stairwell, she nearly ran into another neighbor I had never seen before. They exchanged an awkward maneuver in the doorway, and she went upstairs.

"Hi" I said to him as he opened his mailbox.

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