Carlo woke up with an anxious sensation. He tried to ignore it and switched on the reading lamp above his head. He read a few pages absently. He realized it was futile and reluctantly got out of bed, something was pressing on him.
He went downstairs, saw a note on the table. It was written in the hand of his wife. Carlo discussed with himself and decided that he would read it later. He saw his shoes, slipped them on and went out to collect his mail.
He walked back into the house sorting a thick bundle of letters. When he entered the front door he fixed on the wall before him. He stared at the pictures grouped up in front of him - his friend Art, his brother in law David, his brother Al, his niece Alma. He remembered tomorrow was Art’s 81st birthday, he thought of the rendevous he had made with Art’s wife for tomorrow. He had told her he would call today to fix an appropriate time.
He felt a pang of sadness and doubt. An anxiety rose up in him. Carlo sifted through the mail, picked out a brightly colored envelope and began opening it. It had no return address and for that he chose it. It seemed to correspond to his feeling. He pulled the letter out of the envelope. The page contained just one word, large and precisely written, it covered the entire page. It said HAPPY. He quickly looked up again scanning the photos on the wall.
He looked at the page for a long moment. HAPPY. It was part of what he felt but there was a sensation much larger lurking behind it. There was a second page to the letter. Carlo wasn’t curious. He had no desire to look at that second page. He already knew what it would contain. He wanted to stay with just the word HAPPY.
Carlo turned his gaze away from the letter. His hand containing the letter fell heavily by his side. He stared at the photos hanging in front of him. He seemed to be divining some minute detail contained within them. He felt the anxiety rise, it spun around his brain before descending and coursing through the rest of his body.
He walked to the living room and sat down. He took the letter he had opened and turned to the second page. It contained a single number written over and over in large colorful script. 80, 80, 80…
Today was Carlo’s birthday. He was eighty years old. It seemed like an enourmous number. It seemed it had come upon suddenly, but he realized it had taken an entire lifetime. He breathed. He reflected. He wondered. Sometimes he felt sage, grateful, aware of the many good deeds he had witnessed and performed. Other times there was sadness, and doubt. He was anxious when he thought of his picture with the others on the wall of the entrance to his house.
He sat with the letter in his hand for a long time staring at the numbers covering the page before him. Eighty, for him it wasn’t a terminal number, but he knew it was close. He put the stack of letters down and thought of Art’s wife - Judith.
He needed to call her. Tomorrow was Art’s birthday. Last year they had all went out to dinner for Art’s 80th. He remembered them laughing at having made it so far in relatively fine form. He remembered the look in Art’s eye when they were singing happy birthday. Behind the laughter was the look of the anxious sensation Carlo was feeling right now.
He dialed the phone. No one answered for quite a long time.
- yes hello Judith, it’s Carlo.
- oh Carlo, I was just thinking of you. Happy Birthday.
- yes, yes Happy Birthday. Last year Art, this year Me. I guess I’m always just one step behind him. And if that’s the case this looks like it will be my year.
- don’t say that Carlo. Anyway, are you still coming with me tomorrow to visit Art, or should we just meet up there.
- No, let’s meet up first, I can’t go alone. It’s too sad.
- okay Carlo we’ll go see him together. It will be better that way, I’m pretty sure that’s how Art would like it. I can’t believe just last year we were all laughing together. It’s weird, one day laughing, two months later we’re not. Something just happens and it’s all gone.
- that’s whats making me so worried, I just keep seeing all the memories disappearing. It’s like when we cease to exist our memories are erased with us.
- Carlo, stop. Please.
- But what will become of all the memories I am.
- I don’t know Carlo, perhaps they just become some sort of energy. You’ve been a good man, you’ve created good feelings, happy memories. Think of that as energy, in the mean time remember what Art always said - Carpe Diem. And it’s your birthday today dammit.
- Okay Judith. What time do you want to me come get you tomorrow.
- Well the cemetary closes at 5, so come over for lunch and we’ll go from there. In case you change your mind and want to go alone, just leave me a message and I’ll meet you over there. Art’s in plot number 73842, you’ll need to talk to the man at the gate before you can get in.
Carlo hung up the phone and sat there looking at the letter opened before him. HAPPY. He breathed deeply, got up and prepared for the day.