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Nine and Five

My mornings are spent in silent tour of assorted cafés. I am rarely approached, so when someone spoke, my first reaction favored non-reaction, but her voice came in such a way that upon looking up, I found a young girl standing there. "Excuse me?" I asked. “Did you say something?”

She repeated herself in a haughty strain that far outreached my own haughty strain. "I said I am nine," said the girl again, emphasizing her age, "and my brother is five. But he is sick. To whom are you writing?"

She knew the recipient of my letter no more than I knew her brother, but still I disregarded her question and asked one of my own: "What's he got?"

"I’m not sure,” she said, “but he's going to die soon.”

The solemnity I expected to accompany such a disclosure had been replaced with indifference.

She continued: "In fact, he may have died already, but I can't be certain. It's quite sad, really. We were supposed to grow up together."

I searched for the girl’s guardian, but no one presented themselves as a likely companion; I decided she must be alone. "Where are your parents?" I asked.

"Where are your parents?” she asked back.

I smiled and said, "It’s early for a young girl to be alone in a café. "

"I don't drink coffee," she quickly defended. "My mother is at the hospital. Ms. Wilson is picking me up here to take me. Ms. Wilson is my mother's friend, and mine, too."

A quick study of the young girl yielded a baffling incongruence: her clothes had been worn to the point of having holes in the expected places; her hair was unkempt; her hands and face dirty, yet she spoke an upper-class English, as though she attended the finest schools available. I theorized that hardship had besieged her once-affluent family, and all that remained was the way she spoke.

"What about your father?" I pressed, hoping for a clue, but more so surprising myself that I cared enough to ask. "Why can't he pick you up?"

"He's not here," she said with the same unconcern, but without any hints of elaboration. "I asked you a question," she added, and then asked it again, thrusting her finger in the direction of my notepad, "To whom are you writing?"

Before she arrived, the letter existed as my sole focus, but it had since been replaced. I stared in its direction and wanted to frown, but did not allow myself such a luxury. Instead, my lips curved into a wry half-smile. "Just a friend."

"I sometimes write letters to my father," she said, in an unexpected return to a subject I thought closed. "But he doesn't read them."

"How do you know?"

"Because," she said, "dead people can't read letters."

I straddled the urge and the inability to speak; my mouth opened, but uttered nothing. Her voice held fast to the calculation I had come to expect; it was me who appeared much more disturbed as she disclosed what I imagined to be a horrible truth.

"I'm sorry," I said, once I was able.

"It happened last year."

I prepared myself to ask what had happened, but a horn sounded from outside that would have prevented an answer: "Ms. Wilson is here, I must go." She extended her hand towards me, and I reached forward my own. "It was very nice conversing with you," she said, and clanged her way out the door.

Through the window, I watched her climb into the backseat of Ms. Wilson’s car. She waved to me as they pulled away, but I was not able to return it. Alone again, I read what I had written and scolded myself. I tore the page from its binding, crumpled it into a ball, and threw it away.

I walked outside to continue my tour, wishing I had waved back.

Copyright © 2009 Foster Trecost

Foster Trecost

Foster Trecost began writing while living in Italy and continues today from Philadelphia. His paying jobs have had him working with various aspects of corporate tax, but he left that life earlier this year to spend the summer back in Italy. He has been published in Pequin, decomP, The Linnet's Wings, Insolent Rudder, Flash Me Magazine (feature story), DiddleDog and Static Movement, among other places.