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There is a short story by Ray Bradbury–an underrated master of American literature–that I read long ago. In it, Mr. Ramirez, an illegal immigrant, and tenant of Mrs. O’Brian, is being taken away to be deported. He is a good man, and she likes him, but she is unable to help him in the face of the law. At the last moment, desperately, he cries out to her, “Oh, Mrs. O’Brian! I see you never! I see you never!” After he is gone, the woman starts to go on with her interrupted dinner, when she suddenly puts down her knife and fork, painfully struck by the realization that she will never see Mr. Ramirez again.

In winding up the details of my late mother’s estate there are large griefs and small ones. Each time I come back from her house I am spent from the turmoil of emotion. There are so many things to do: the paperwork, the bills, the wrapping, the packing, and the decisions about what remnants of my parents lives to keep and what to abandon. It is heavy work. I never liked the house itself, but the finality of each step of the parting beats on the walls of my heart.

The house will be sold tomorrow, so I was there yesterday to meet the movers. The mailman, whom I have known for decades, was on his way to deliver a package across the street, and he stopped to talk. He is a kind man, always smiling, and he delivered mail to me in my own small house when I lived in that town, as well as to my parents. I haven’t lived on his route for many years, but when we see each other we exchange pleasantries. He is, as a friend of mine likes to say, one of my life’s cast of characters. He doesn’t have a major part, but he has played in many small pleasant scenes, and his cheerful interactions have given me some of the happy little ordinary moments of everyday life.

Our conversation was light, and he enquired about the house. As we parted we shook hands for the first and only time, and I said to him something I don’t think I’ve ever said to anyone before: I will probably never see you again. I had to turn away quickly to hide my feelings.

The finality broke hard, and I cried all the way up to the house.

I don’t even know his name.