She’s always smiling, always, even when she isn’t taking the order.

Two fish tacos, no salsa.

Which I rarely have to say, because I’m a frequent flier at this tiny taco shop on the corner.

She knows.

But she isn’t smiling. She’s staring solemnly off to her right, looking for an answer in some ethereal card catalogue.

I have an idea about what the question could be, courtesy of the local newspaper stacked outside the glass entry door. The namesake matriarch, who’d started the taco shop almost 4 decades ago, was tragically hit by a car and killed a few days ago.

Maybe that’s why the lady behind the counter is sad.

Maybe not, though.

Maybe she’s sad because her son is sick.

Or maybe because she didn’t have a son.

Maybe because she got into a fight with her partner.

Or maybe because she didn’t have a partner.

We rarely know, do we? What burden the other may be carrying, what internal dialogue may be waging battles between their reason and imagination. And sometimes the other wants to be heard, sometimes just to be left alone.

And so these questions swirl around my own interior as I wait in line to order. When she looks at me with soft, wet eyes and asks ‘Two fish tacos, no salsa?’, I nod and wonder how to tell her that I recognize she’s in some kind of pain, and it’s not my business, but I’m sorry.

I just want her to know.

She passes the receipt over the cash register, and I touch her fingers for a moment longer than usual, until she catches my eye.

I hold her gaze and bow my head. The corners of her mouth raise ever so slightly as she bows her own.


She knows.