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Are You Okay?

Story by Joshua Hampel (Read author interview) September 16, 2005

Art by Marty D. Ison

We’re in a restaurant, El Mexico, and I’m staring over my girlfriend’s shoulder to a mirror hanging on the wall above the cash register. The mirror reflects the lone ceiling fan that hangs down in the center of the restaurant, circling and swinging faintly with each lazy rotation. Around the edges of the mirror is a Spanish word repeated over and over, forming a border, and I’m staring at it, thinking, when she asks if I’m okay.

My girlfriend’s been looking at me for some time, either waiting for me to say something, or just wanting me to say anything. I ask: “Is it weird that I’m nearly thirty and have never had anyone close to me die before?”

“What on Earth makes you ask something like that?”

“Just, is it?”

“I don’t know,” she says with an uncomfortable chuckle, but when she sees that I’m still expecting an answer, she rolls her eyes and shrugs. “Well, yeah, okay, maybe.”

I know that when she was in high school, she lost her grandparents in a fire. She knows loss; she knows it better than I do. For some reason I think that means something, and maybe to her it did—then—but life goes on, and the effects of those deaths are lost in the infinite changes she experienced throughout her life to make her the girl I love who is hungry for Mexican food.

“My mom’s dad died a long time ago,” I said, “but I was too young to really understand. I remember my mom crying, I remember a lot of people crying. I remember my grandpa but… well, I guess that one don’t really count, huh?”

“Babe, what is your deal? Ever since we left Adam and Ashley’s you’ve been acting weird.”

While we sat in the living room, talking with our friends about life, my phone went off and I stepped into the bathroom to take the news. I was staring at our friend’s toilet while my mom told me that my father was dead. It was after she told me that she broke down. Maybe it wasn’t real until that moment, I don’t know. I just stood there and stared at the toilet and listened to my mom cry.

On our way from seeing our friends my girlfriend suggested we stop and get something to eat. I thought about telling her the news about my dad, but I couldn’t. I never would have thought saying something—simply saying something—could be so tough, but it was. I understood then why my mom broke down after speaking the news aloud, so I said nothing.

“Babe, are you okay?”

“What does that word mean,” I ask and point and she turns around and looks at the mirror. She looks to me and asks if I’m okay. She reaches for my face, I guess maybe to wipe the tears away, but I pull away. A waitress walks by then and I reach out and grab her wrist. It’s a surprise to her and I have a tight grip. She makes a sound and looks at me. I ask her what that word means; I point but she doesn’t even look. She looks instead at my girlfriend for help.

I’m crying now, shaking and crying and I let go of the waitress and see that people are staring at me. “What does that word mean,” I ask a man at the table next to me. He just stares at me. I hear my girlfriend say my name. “Does anyone know what that word means?”

About the Author

Joshua Hampel lives in Wichita, Kansas.

About the Artist

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison’s work here.

This story appeared in Issue Ten of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Ten

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