It was her laugh that made him nervous, at first.
She thought he was funny, and when he said something really amusing and she was standing next to him she would press her nose against his shoulder and grab the underside of his arm and squeeze her eyes shut and laugh. He liked that about her – that little extra bit of contact – but it made him a little nervous.
He fell in love with her because of that laugh, and it was pouring on the day he asked her out in front of the library downtown. They walked outside and she was just about to leave to get on the bus when, suddenly, he called out to her:
Do you want to hang out some time?
Like a date?
Yes. I mean- yes.
Yeah, with me.
She paused for a second, and then she walked back, kissed him on the cheek, whispered in his ear, and flounced away, impervious to the rain. Momentarily, he froze, petrified by his own bravery, his own success, and yet even as the biggest smile he had ever smiled stretched across his mouth he felt something else, something wrong, something nervous. He knew something was incorrect about this. In the movies, no one had doubts. No one felt scared.
He felt scared.
Time passed, and his fear focused. He knew how it would end. It would be a note left somewhere he would find. It would be written out in her curvy feminine cursive. It would say: “It’s been fun.”
As their lives changed, so too did the location of the dreaded note in his imagination. During high school it was pinned to his locker door with the magnet his little sister made for him. When they went to the same college, it was in his mailbox along with an advertisement for bad pizza and beer. Even when they got married the note persisted – left on the kitchen table, next to the fruit basket. Thinking consciously, he tried to convince himself of the reason for his nightmare. She was extraordinary. He was not. He wondered why she stayed with him. For the most part, this kept him content. When she laughed, though, something different boiled to the surface. When she pressed her nose against his shoulder, he knew there was something else.
The note came one wintry evening in January – a Monday – and she had a doctor’s appointment in the morning. He came home from work and called out her name as he stomped the snow off his shoes. It was on the kitchen table, as he feared, and he spotted it while he was taking off his jacket and read it by the light from above the stove.
It said, simply:
The doctor says I’m dying.
As he sank to the floor, the note he never saw coming clutched in his palm, he realized there never had been anything dishonest in her laugh.