Old News

By Edward Hamlin

In August of 1934, when my father packed his bags and went to bury his friend Otto, I was still too young to have any friends among the dead. Otto would have been a good friend to have, I suppose, if his keen sense of politics helped him to open any doors in the world beyond, but the sad truth was that I could barely remember his face. For obscure reasons he’d stopped coming to visit us long ago. By the time I was eight or nine years old his traditional holiday postcard, always from America, no longer found its way to our box, and my mother could no longer count on her basket of marzipan roses when he went down to see his relations in Munich. By a chain of such omissions Otto quietly made his changed feelings known to us. On the single occasion when my father had dared to place a direct call to him—determined to have things out—he got no further than the housekeeper, a surly bulldog who hung up the instant he identified himself. I remember the night well: my Papi paced the floor for hours, carrying on with us the conversation he’d meant to carry on with his old friend. Such were our relations with Otto in his last years.

Not that we hadn’t tried to save the friendship. Again and again my parents had asked him up, knowing how much he loved the mountains. But at a certain point these invitations were met with such an arch silence that Papi’s dignity curtailed them forever. And so, as families do, we’d gradually killed Otto off. Though we had word of him now and then, though we knew perfectly well that he was flourishing in Trier, in time we began speaking of him the way one speaks of a dead man. Slowly we forced his jaunty life story, his booming voice, even his erstwhile love for us to crawl from the plain past tense into the glacial darkness of the pluperfect, the absolute zero of our esteem.

So it was that when I saw Otto’s death telegram I felt little more than a slump in his name, a collapse of its gutted o’s, a razing of the sharp, turreted t’s. Sadly, the death of this burly, six-foot-two slice of garrulous Germankind—this man who’d always worn a white rose boutonnière and had once convinced me that pigeons were descended from the dinosaurs—meant even less to me than the death of President Hindenburg, whose mustachioed scowl, at least, had never deserted us. Otto’s might have been a face in a newspaper, ruined by a drop of rain.

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Edward Hamlin

Edward Hamlin / About Author

Edward Hamlin’s "Night in Erg Chebbi and Other Stories" was selected by Pulitzer Prize finalist Karen Russell as winner of the 2015 Iowa Short Fiction Award and went on to win the Colorado Book Award. Over the past few years Edward’s stories have won the Nelligan Prize, the NCW Short Story Prize and a Top of the Mountain Novel Prize, and have been finalists or runners-up for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, the Narrative Story Prize, the Bridport Prize, Missouri Review’s Jeffrey E. Smith Prize, Sarabande Books’ Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, the Nelson Algren Award, the Mary C. Mohr Editors’ Prize, the David Nathan Myerson Fiction Prize, the Press 53 Fiction Award and other competitions. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Colorado Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Missouri Review, American Fiction, Chariton Review, Printers Row Journal, Tiferet, InDigest, Cobalt and elsewhere. A New York native, Edward Hamlin spent his formative years in Chicago and now lives in Colorado. www.edwardhamlin.com

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