The next morning you are still high from holding her as you walk home to find Henry on your stoop holding a cat. He shoves it into your arms and says, Here. I found it in a Dumpster. I’ll die if something happens to it. You are about to ask him in for coffee when he gets back into his car and drives away. The cat licks your shoulder and tries to bite at your ear. Inside, the red dog seems taken with this new creature. You think about Henry’s growing attachment to the wounded. You pour some milk in a bowl and add cat food to the list on the refrigerator that reads: spatula, paint for the living room, box grater, call the electrician about the fixture in the hallway, find a surgeon who takes your insurance, milk, and now cat food. You cross off a few things; ones you think about every day and never do. Last time Henry had been over for dinner he had scrawled at the bottom of the page in red ink: Having a list is almost as good as having.
At the supermarket to buy cat food you stop in the cafeteria to eat lunch and catch up on reading. You are at the corner of a long table sitting beside a quiet Middle Eastern family. There are four of them, father, teenage boy, a slightly younger girl, and a young boy who seems perhaps seven or eight. You watch as the younger boy reaches for his father’s food, the old man slapping his slender fingers away from the cardboard box of tabouli. When the boy hangs his head in shame the father beckons him back, fills a spoon, and hands it to him. None of them have said a word, which makes you curious about them, but to learn anything you would have to look directly at them and that feels strange, invasive. Still, you glance at them from time to time. The young boy is now playing with his plastic spoon, his older sister obviously annoyed, and then he loses control of it and the spoon slingshots through the air and lands, lentils splattering, in the center of your book. You pause, knowing he is watching, wondering how you will react, and you slowly reach down, pick up the spoon, and raise it to your lips as though you are going to eat the lentils and you and the boy both start laughing almost uncontrollably and the laughter breaks the silence and words come tumbling out of the boy, racing out of his mouth, his body shifting with each one as though words themselves were at the very heart of what animates him. He wants to know, Do you like movies? Have you seen any scary ones? Do you know about Chucky? He asks you if you are a boy or a girl and you shrug and he teaches you an elaborate handshake ritual that ends with the two of you pulling on each other’s earlobes. The girl tells you how much she loves Michael Jackson, gets up, and does a pretty good moonwalk, her slight form gliding across the cafeteria floor, sneakers squeaking on the tile. The teenage boy leans in and asks you what you are reading. You look down at the books; there are always two, as though your brain needs to be able to move in two divergent directions at all times. One is The Melodious Plot: Negative Capability, Keats, Axis Mundi, and Learning to Love Beyond Logic; the other is a dog-eared copy of Self-Esteem for Dummies that you picked up at a tag sale last summer. You can’t help but blush as you read the latter title out loud but when you look up the family is nodding thoughtfully. It occurs to you then that the father may be mute, that until you interrupted the family had been communicating in his language, a language made of gesture. For a moment you feel bad, as though you have inadvertently created a situation in which he might feel excluded. But when you nod back at him the father smiles and silently offers you a box of cookies. -from The Third Twin