By: Sophie Johnson
It’s terrifying when Auntie Flo walks in the room; her hair’s too curly and her eyelids are too blue. Harold could see her making her rounds before she found a way to corner him and smear a kiss on his cheek. “How ya doin’ my Harry?” she croaked.
“Uh good. Thanks.”
Everyone knows that the kids’ table at Passover talks about the important stuff: the TV shows, the best restaurants, the celebrity spottings. The kids’ table sneaks the matzo bread before the prayers are said and giggles at the mispronounced Hebrew. Harold sat at the adult table, peeling his hangnails back under the table. He fixed his crooked silverware and straightened the fold in his napkin. Why do people talk so loudly? Why do people laugh so loudly? He tried to swallow, but his mouth was dry. Glass after glass of Manischewitz was downed by hands with painted nails and silver watches. Working hands, social hands. Harold only opened his mouth for the occasional “Amen.”
Cousin Ben sat to his left. He wanted to like Ben, wanted to talk to him in fact, but he couldn’t really. See, Ben is a psychologist and Harold never wanted to risk being put under his microscope. He wanted to keep his diagnosis under the table with his hangnails. Harold had almost succeeded in avoiding conversation entirely this Passover, until Cousin Ben foiled his plans during the matzo ball soup round. Ben nudged him with his left elbow, making Harold’s spoonful of soup dribble on his jeans. He tried not to be bothered by it as Ben began trying to crack Harold’s shell.
“You ever think about getting a job again?” Ben offered. People loved asking Harold that question. It was logical yet personal.
“Nah, not really. Don’t really need it, you know?” Harold replied. Ben kept his foot on the gas.
“Well who ever lived a happy life based off needs, my man? You gotta do things that you want. Things that speak to you.” He paused. “Have you ever considered being an usher for East Meadow Theatre down the road?” Harold kept blowing steam off his hot matzo ball, sufficiently uncomfortable. Ben continued. “What about Uber driving? Uber’s definitely a growing company. Besides, you’d meet a bunch of new people. Think about it.”
At that point, Harold had finished his soup and his hands found their way back under the table, instinctively picking at his hangnails. Only, his hands came to a stop when Ben had mentioned driving for Uber. He wanted to hate the idea almost as much as he wanted to like Ben, but he knew neither case stood true. The night tumbled along and Harold finally found himself basking in the silence of his predictable Volkswagen. He pushed his glasses up on his big nose and scratched his bald head. And on the way home? He thought.
One week after Passover, Harold jumped when his iPhone dinged, a black circle popping up on his screen. New notification from Uber: Ride requested nearby. Press to accept. The whole “press to accept” concept didn’t resonate as concretely as it should have, as Harold found himself press the button because of the mere “I-see-a-button-so-of-course-I’m-going-to-push-it” phenomenon. Taking a second to actually understand what he had just agreed to do, Harold cleared his throat and put the key in the ignition.
He drove Bradley Zamer four hours to Cape Cod. For four hours he listened to him talk to his hot-shot friends on his hot-shot phone. For four hours Harold’s mouth was bone dry and his back was straighter than Bradley’s tie. Harold immediately felt exactly like he did for all of high school: small, unimportant, and used. People like Bradley made fun of him freshman year for his protruding stomach and hand-me-downs.
The next few times the black circle of commitment and risk appeared on Harold’s iPhone, he paid more attention to the Duration of Trip information. He often ignored the god darn notification, but Monday morning, he clicked it again.
When she got in the car, she smelled like ginger. A blue yoga mat was tucked under her arm and her almost-gray hair was swept up into a loose ponytail. She looked at Harold’s stubbly face, smiled, and said, “Hi.”
For the next twenty-eight minutes to Focus Yoga studio on Granite Ave, Harold forgot to fiddle with the air vents while driving. He forgot to keep his eyes forward and his mouth shut. Her name was Melissa Santoro and she was real. He drove with the radio off and listened to her laugh instead. She asked him questions that he’d forgotten to ask himself in years. Her left ring finger was bare.
Every Monday morning from that day on, Harold set his alarm for 6:13 a.m.. At 6:15, he pressed the black button as soon as it appeared. His frumpy tee shirts gathered dust in the corner of his room, as he threw on a button down and a black belt. He listened to her laugh and do her best impressions of his Long Island accent. Frankly, he just listened to her.
On October 2, at 6:15 a.m., Melissa sent him a text. He scrambled for his glasses. Wear sweatpants and a tee shirt today. Bring a yoga mat:). The smiley face made his heart convulse before he reminded himself to get it together. He was a fifty-five year old man, not a teenager.
An hour later, Harold found himself staring down at his calloused toes, which hung awkwardly off the end of a blue yoga mat. Melissa’s toes hung off the mat to the right of him, so he breathed, swallowed, and kept his hands out of his pockets. The skinny, blonde instructor talked of blue skies and happy places, while Harold tuned out and sniffed in the ginger smell. In a silent, inhale period, Harold accidentally started to laugh. Not a low, nervous chuckle, like had escaped him for most of his life. But rather a loud, unprecedented chortle.
While most of the meditating millennials in the studio tossed him weird looks, Melissa opened her eyes and looked at him the way she did when she first said “hi.” There was an understanding between those two blue yoga mats in the back corner of the room that made Melissa soon join him. She laughed her radio laugh right alongside him. She squeezed his arm and winked, as the instructor continued to dictate the breathing. Harold inhaled longer and deeper than he’d ever let himself and shut his eyes. If Ben could see him now.