The Greeting (Ginger Man 11B)

Charlie heard the familiar chime of the doorbell, and caught himself expecting to hear Mike’s frustrated response Jesus Christ, will you just open the door already? He winced, tears welling again, this memory was too special for him and something he hadn’t recalled since the accident, the pain of Mike’s death hit him again like that first morning —

Footsteps, muffled, on the other side of the door. Charlie decided not to wipe his face. A deadbolt turned (he never remembered it being engaged before), the door swung open, and the face of Mike’s mother appeared in the doorway.

She looked exactly the same as he remembered, her face calm and pleasant, with a smile that greeted you with the same sincerity she greeted the world. But that look only lasted an instant. Her smile faded when she seemed to recognize who was at the door, and in that moment Charlie expected her to slam the door quickly, leaving him alone in the cool autumn air. And her body did draw back, her arm bringing the door forward — but then stopped.

She was studying his face, he realized. She had looked at him when she’d opened the door, but now she was seeing him. And he knew what she saw.

Reflexively, Charlied wiped the tears from his cheeks. “I’m . . . sorry.” And sniffed louder than he intended.

She brought her arm forward, and Charlie stepped back, thinking she was pushing him away. But then her arm shot out suddenly, grabbed Charlie’s left forearm. He looked up at her, her eyes gray and soft as a summer fog. “No, it’s OK.” A solitary tear fell from her right eye, as she opened the door and invited Charlie in with a tone that suggested his compliance was mandatory.

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