HINGES

        On the day of Mr. Ernesto’s moving sale, Freddie goes over with Mom. Mom
picks through the neckties squirming across the glass coffee table and finds a couple
to bring home to Dad. Never mind that the last time Dad wore a tie was for Mrs.
Ernesto’s funeral the year before.
        Freddie is on the hunt. Only one question matters—where is Mr. Ernesto? Freddie
finds him on the screened-in patio, staring at the rose bushes exploding across the
path. Freddie goes over and pats his shoulder, and Mr. Ernesto sighs.
        “You want to do one last thing for me? You mind going over these bushes with
shears sometime this weekend?” Mr. Ernesto mimics the wide sweep of blades with
shaking, gnarled hands. “It would sure ease my mind knowing that was taken care of.
Maybe the house would sell quicker.”
        “Sure,” says Freddie, unsure whether Mom had a pair of shears. “I’d be glad to
do it.”

        Freddie will miss Mr. Ernesto. All those times spent tinkering with his trusty old
Buick. Oil changes galore. Wiping hands on a dirty rag and spitting on the grass.
Clomping up a stepladder to change light bulbs. The sun against bare shoulders while
mowing the lawn. All in exchange for a few dollars, a glass of lemonade, and some
chitchat. A time to forget what the other kids in school said.
        Mr. Ernesto, his face as collapsed as a dried apple, was always ready to draw
Freddie into conversation, even if Freddie wasn’t always in the mood to talk. This must
be what having a grandparent is like—not in another country, like Mom’s parents, nor
lying in the cemetery, like Dad’s. A grownup who didn’t care whether Freddie was a girl
or a boy.
        Mr. Ernesto’s bloodshot eyes flicker as he reaches down for his wheelchair
brake.
        “Here,” Freddie says, bending down for him. “Allow me.”
        Mr. Ernesto points to the table in the corner. “I saved something for you.”
        Freddie wheels him over. There are items marked up for sale. Odds and ends
that will catch no one’s eye. A giant ashtray gleaming with some dark gray shine. A
plaster cupid with the tip of his arrow missing.
        An old green metal box lies on the other end of the table.
        “That one, over there.”
        Freddie reaches over for it.
        “I was saving it for you. In case you came. Stamps for your collection.”
        “Thanks, Mr. Ernesto.”

        His daughter sticks her head through the doorway. Her pinched expression
loosens when she sees them together.
        “Either of you want some meringues? I got a big plate of ‘em up front.”
        “That’s our cue,” Mr. Ernesto says. “We must merengue towards the
meringues.”
        Freddie giggles. So does Mr. Ernesto, who tries to snap his fingers like the
dancer he had once been, but he can’t move them like he used to.
        In the living room, Mom is standing by the table where people pay. The neckties
are snaked around her wrists, where their ends wave as she feeds a meringue into her
bright red mouth. Her carefully drawn eyes are shut as she chews. Her nose quivers as
she spies Freddie’s box. How much does it cost, she wants to know. When Mr. Ernesto
says it’s a gift, she beams. Say thank you, honey.
        “I already did,” says Freddie, grabbing a meringue. “But thanks again.”
        Mr. Ernesto barely nods. He stares past their shoulders as if he is already in his
daughter’s van, speeding down the highway. He doesn’t bring up trimming the roses.
        The meringue instantly melts in Freddie’s mouth. Such a lightweight thing, hardly
worth savoring, not at all like barbecue or French toast. It is a girly treat, about as nourishing
as foam.
        Time to say goodbye and go. No point in standing around in the living room,
which is a replica of Freddie’s across the street, except that it smells of liniment and
dust and will soon be erased of everything belonging to Mr. Ernesto.

        Mom asks about Mr. Ernesto’s trip. She says this over his head. Freddie sighs.
As if she doesn’t already know. As soon as the for sale sign went up, Mom had picked
up the phone and nosed out all the details.
        Before the daughter can reply, Mr. Ernesto speaks. In a couple of days, he says.
As soon as the moving van is filled with the stuff he’s going to keep. Not everything. It’s
not possible to take everything with him. Not where he’s going, out of state with his
daughter and the grandkids.
        Mr. Ernesto’s hands flutter as he repeats the words “out of state.” He drops the
meringue, and everyone stares at it for a moment.
        Freddie picks it up and puts it on the table. It sits next to the envelope of cash
like a coin from a foreign country for which no change can be made. Mr. Ernesto’s
daughter nods in approval.
        The box feels good and heavy against Freddie’s stomach. Time to go home and
see what’s in it. Freddie is getting goosebumps in anticipation of spilling its insides all
over the plaid bedspread. Peering at the faded ink scribbles through the magnifying
glass.
        Yes, there will be a private treasure to sort through. There might even be a letter
or two left in the envelopes, just like the last time Mr. Ernesto gave Freddie a pile of
them—and Freddie could savor them line by line, wondering about the people who
took the time to write them.
        Freddie will cut out the stamps then drop them into a bowl of water to soak and
free them from the paper. Next will come the mounting of the stamps, using hinges—
little glassine squares as sheer as butterfly wings to affix them into the album. Hinges

are invisible connectors, Mr. Ernesto once said, helping to preserve the stories he saw
in each stamp.
        “Come on, Freddie.” Mom says. “Let’s say goodbye.”
        Mom knows better than to say give Mr. Ernesto a kiss. Freddie doesn’t do kisses.
        Mr. Ernesto, though, does deserve a hug. Freddie leans down and reaches around
Mr. Ernesto’s shoulders, drawing him close.
Mr. Ernesto pats Freddie’s hand. “You take care of yourself, kid. And don’t forget
them roses.”

Karen Grajales holds an MFA in English from Penn State. Her

fiction has appeared in Gargoyle before (as Karen Trimbath) in print issue #53. You can read more of her work (fiction and opinions) on Medium. She’s currently working on a novel.