She was a young child in a yellow dress. Old enough to loudly ask questions of strangers, but too young to be by herself, let alone in a gym. Although she was clearly not dressed for working out, she was determined to learn what she could about the strength-training machines.

When she got to Jose, he was glad to take a break. She introduced herself as Stella and said he looked like her uncle. He told her his name and said her uncle must be quite handsome. It didn’t seem she got the joke, but she did say quite confidently that her uncle was smart, too.

“Is your uncle around?”

“My grandpa is talking to someone.”

“Does he know where you are?”

“I know where I am.” She beamed proudly.

A man in the distance yelled, “Stella!” He was dressed in a suit, so was obviously not working out, either.

She turned around and waved. The man started approaching rapidly. “Stella, I told you to stay nearby.” Then he looked at Jose, “I hope she hasn’t troubled you. She can be very inquisitive.”

“She’s a charming young lady.”

Stella interjected, “Are you brothers?”

The men exchanged looks.

The suited man probed, “Why do you ask, Stella?”

“You look like brothers.”

“Well, Stella, we haven’t met before.”

Jose chimed in, “If we were brothers, then I would be your uncle and you would be my niece.”

“And I’d let you hold my doll, Sandy. Only my closest friends can hold her.”

Jose smiled, “I’d be honored.”

The man in the suit said, “Stella, we’ve got to get going.”

She asserted, “I’m going to call you Uncle Jose.”

The suited man paused, somewhat intrigued, “Stella, I left my hat over at the desk. Would you please go get it for me?”

She ran off.

“Walk, Stella, please walk!” The man in the suit turned his attention to Jose. “My brother recently passed away. They were close. She misses him. I’m closing out his membership here.”

“I’m sorry.” Jose was startled by the news and realized he might have met the departed.

“Of course, it’s hard on the whole family.” The man watched her retrieve his hat from the desk on the other side of the gym. “But I can’t imagine how this has been impacting Stella.”

Jose wiped his face and hands and stood up from the equipment. “My condolences, sir.”

They quietly and slowly shook hands. Waves of emotion percolated. “She recognizes something in you.” The space reverberated with energy.

Stella returned and handed over the hat. “Here you go.” She turned to Jose, “I’ll see you again, Uncle Jose. And I’ll introduce you to Sandy.”

Jose felt a stimulating vitality throughout his being. He had never felt so energized. It wasn’t like too much coffee. It was more like a naturally enhanced aliveness, an accentuated alertness, a heightened intuitiveness, or an extended perceptivity.

The words came out of his mouth, without Jose even thinking, “Albert was probably very fond of Sandy.”

Stella responded instantly, “He loves her!”

Grandpa looked puzzled, “How did you know his name?”

Before Jose could say anything Stella declared, “Because they’re brothers!”

Grandpa chuckled and shook his head in bewildered amusement.

Jose watched them depart holding hands. He observed himself waving while experiencing a profound nostalgia that didn’t seem entirely his own.

by George Alger


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