A bit of brie.
For a time I worked at a small discount bookstore in an affluent suburb of Philadelphia. Primarily, I worked the cash register. As I rung up the sales on the cash register, I would engage in a friendly conversion with the customer.
One day, an older gentleman approched the counter with a large stack of books in his arms. I was impressed with the amount and the various types of books that he had selected.
Wow, you have quite a stack there!
Yes. They are for my wife..., he said haltingly. Slowly, he volunteered to tell his story.
She is paralyzed, he said. I read to her everyday.
She has Listeria Meningitis... They first believed it was something else... It was originally diagnosed as Bells' Palsey. But it got worse as time went on...
Wow, I said. (Not knowing what else to say.)
It has been 11 years now... I read to her every day... It was from a bit of brie.
A bit of brie? (What is brie?)
Yes. Imported cheese from France. Not pasteurized. You have to eat the stuff right away. My wife did not eat it right away and it went bad.
Oh. What happened?
My wife held a small afternoon bridge party and offered the cheese on crackers to her guests. Thank God she was the only one to eat the cheese!
Wow. It must be hard on you to take care of your wife. How old are you? If you don't mind me asking.
I'm 75. She's 70. We have two children but they live far away. Our daughter was in Paris at the time of the accident. She's a diplomat stationed in the Rome Embassy. It was she who found out about the unpastuerized cheese. The French eat the stuff all the time.
Yes. My wife always loved books.
Yes. This thing wiped out all of our savings. We had to cut back a lot.
I said nothing. He fought back the tears.
You're a good man, I said.
He shook his head in disagreement. I don't mind so much. What else could I do? he said, his voice quivering. After all, she is the light of my life.
He paid the bill and left the store. His back was hunched over from carrying the two heavy bags of books to his car.