Late in the Day

The slip of paper in their mailbox was from the gas company.

silhouette of houses during sunset
Photo by Sigmund / Unsplash

By Zary Fekete

The slip of paper in their mailbox was from the gas company. The gas company was testing the new pipes installed last month across the district. For one hour between 7 and 8 p.m. the residents needed to vacate the building in case there was a gas leak. 

They sat down together and ate silently. Gyuri looked at Judit across the table. They had been speaking less. The apartment was empty since their son Isti left for university last summer. 

“The gas flier came today,” Gyuri said. 

She nodded.

He glanced at his watch. “I’ll finish up the dishes when we get back.”

She looked at the ceiling. “How many days for this?”

Gyuri through the flier again. “One week. Perhaps two.” 

Gyuri locked the front door and they walked down to the lobby. They crossed on the green light at the corner. Gyuri looked up the main street where the road curved toward the river. When they were first looking for apartments Judit was the one who suggested they look near the park. 

That seemed long ago, Gyuri thought as they crossed the street. Another life when they were younger and had no thoughts yet about babies or future years. 

They walked up to the ice cream shop and then to the park. Gyuri searched his mind for something to say. A few joggers trotted past them. She blew out her breath after finishing the final bite of her cone. “This reminds me of Sundays when I was a little girl. Apa always took me and my sister out for ice cream. He said we needed to pay him with memories.”

She looked at him sideways. “Tell me a memory.”

Gyuri sat for a moment. “From when? Any memory?”

She shrugged and held her open palm to him. 

Then he said, “I remember the crib.” 

“Isti’s crib?” 

He nodded. “There were no instructions.”

“You were so angry,” she said.

Gyuri traced his finger in the air, remembering the shape of the crib. “I finally figured it out.” He paused. “Do you have a memory?” he said.

“It’s funny you mentioned the crib. I was thinking about Isti earlier today. You were upset when he said he wanted to go to college in England.”

Gyuri chuckled.

“I was upset too,” she said, “but I tried not to show it.”

They sat quietly. The next time Gyuri glanced at his watch he saw it was already past eight.

Gyuri stayed home the next day. He didn’t hear the door close when Judit arrived home. He glanced at the screen and saved his work.

“Nearly seven,” she said. “How long again is the gas business?”

“A week,” he said. “Maybe two.” He put away his papers and grabbed his jacket.  

Out on the sidewalk Judit looked up at the sky. “It may rain a bit.”

“I’ve brought an umbrella,” Gyuri tapped his breast pocket.

“Which way then?” Judit said.

“There is a student concert by the river,” he said.

They walked to the tram stop. After the tram came they got onboard an elderly couple seated in front of them stood up to get off at the next stop and Gyuri guided Judit to sit. The city glided by outside the tram window.

“Do you have another memory?” Gyuri said.

Judit smiled. “Remember just after Isti started his junior year in high school … he told us one night his girlfriend broke up with him?”

Gyuri nodded.

She said, “I could tell how it hurt him. But the entire time he spoke I was thinking how happy I was she was gone.”

“Really?” Gyuri said. 

“Yes. He talked so much about her, but I don’t think she cared much about him. He always waited for her to call him.”

Gyuri looked out the window for a moment. “That reminds me of just before we were married. You still lived in Debrecen. I was here. No internet, of course. All we could do was write letters or call each other on the weekend when the phone prices were lower.”

“My parents' telephone had a terrible, squawking ring,” she said. “But when I heard it on Sunday nights I knew it was you calling.”

The tram stopped. College students were gathered by the river.  They got off the tram and joined the crowd.

With no effort it turned into this. Each night when they left the building they took a new direction and they shared a few memories. With each walk through the park or turn toward a forgotten path up a city street the memories returned. 

Gyuri came home one afternoon to a new notice in the mailbox. The gas works were nearly complete. A sense of sadness mounted in his heart. 

Judit arrived home. She took the news of the gas works finishing matter-of-factly.

“Finally, some order again,” she said.

They left the building and for a few moments they walked without speaking. They wound through the streets and were soon perched on an observation platform above the river. 

Finally, she said, “A memory?” 

Gyuri pointed across the river. “There’s the hospital where Isti was born. Do you remember?” he said. “The doctor showed us the ultrasound photograph.” 

She waited.

“I was not ready,” he said. “The doctor gave me the photograph and took you back for one more examination. I looked at Isti on the photo and crumpled the paper and threw it in the trash can.”

Judit waited until he was breathing more softly again. Then they stood and walked home.

They sat in bed that evening in silence. Then Judit bent to the side drawer of her night table. When she sat back up again she held a crumpled piece of paper. She passed it to Gyuri. 

He opened it. “How?” he said.

“The nurse returned it to me after that first visit. She found it in the trash can.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he said.

She turned off her bedside light and they sat together in the darkness holding hands.

Zary Fekete grew up in Hungary, and has a novelette (In the Beginning) out from ELJ Publications and a debut novella being published in early 2024 with DarkWinter Lit Press. Zary enjoys books, podcasts and many, many films.

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