The Gray Man
A family sitting shiva is visited by a mysterious and uninvited guest.
By Coby Dominus
•   •   •
They had been sitting shiva for five hours when the man appeared.
He wore a black tie over a gray suit, well fitting, very respectable.
He walked through the open door and into the hallway where the walls were lined with photographs. He turned to a short woman sitting in a reclining chair.
“I’m here to pay my respects,” he said.
“Yeah,” she replied, gesturing to the door behind her with the hand not holding a martini glass. “It’s in there.”
He thanked her, adjusted his jacket, and walked in.
The living room was lined with tables holding plastic trays of food. In the center, two chairs and a couch. The skeleton of a crowd was scattered throughout, engaged in hushed circles of conversation. The wallpaper was lavender.
He made his way over to the table against the left wall and stood there, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
An older woman approached him, of medium height, with curly hair. She asked him if he was hungry.
“I’m good.”
She shook her head.
“Man like you,” she said, “should be hungry.”
“Thanks,” he replied, “but I’m all set.”
“You look familiar,” she said. “I—”
“I’m all set,” he said, cutting her off.
She frowned and walked away. He faced the wall and listened, to the two women sitting on the couch, to the woman sitting on the chair to their left.
He couldn’t quite hear what they said, until suddenly, the woman on the couch burst into tears.
“I just didn’t think,” she stammered between sobs, “I just didn’t think it would be so hard.”
“I know,” the woman sitting next to her replied. She took her into her arms and said, “I know.”
The woman began to cry harder. “Is there anything,” the other began to say, struggling now to fight off tears of her own, “is there anything I can get you? From the kitchen? From the car? I just parked in the driveway.”
She looked at her and asked, “What the fuck would I want from the car?”
Then they both cried into each other’s arms.
Turning his head a little too much, he made eye contact with the woman sitting in the chair who, seeing him attempt to suppress a grin, stood.
She wore a black dress. She came to him.
“Is something funny?” she asked.
“Sorry,” he replied. “Of course not, no.”
She looked at him for a moment, then asked, “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m just here to pay my respects,” he said. “Door was open.”
She looked at him again. “Right,” she said. “It’s been a really long day.”
He shook his head as he flashed a smile and said, “Not at all.”
She sighed. “Well look, I’m getting another drink,” she said, and walked to the kitchen.
When she arrived, she found him already there, leaning against the fridge.
“How did you do that?” she asked.
“Just came through the other way.”
“How did you even know where to find it?”
“I’ve been here a little while,” he said. “I’ve walked around.”
From a white cabinet she took out two glasses and a black bottle. She set them down on the counter and opened the freezer.
“No ice.”
He told her that was fine and she poured a drink. As she was about to pour the second, he said, “I’m all set.”
She shrugged and said, “Suit yourself.” She placed the spare glass and the bottle back in the cabinet.
As she took a sip from her drink he asked her, “So how long had they been married?”
“We,” she replied.
“He was my husband. Back there, crying for your amusement, that was his sister, her wife, his sister in law.”
“It’s not like that,” he said. “And I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Why do I doubt that?” she asked before finishing her drink. “I mean, you didn’t even know the guy.”
Again, he smiled. “Sure I did,” he said.
A moment passed.
“Well I think that’s odd,” she eventually replied.
“Because I don’t know you.”
As he opened the back door, he asked her how well she thought she knew her husband.
“Pretty well,” she said, following him out on to the deck before quietly adding, “I think.”
He leaned against the rail, looking out at the yard. She moved to join him, her shoes crunching the November leaves.
He asked her how they had met.
“Back in college. Through a friend.”
He placed his hands in his pockets and told her that must have been a long time ago.
“Not as long as it should be,” she replied. “Not as long as you’d think.”
The sun had begun to set. A shadow moved across his face.
She sighed and turned to him, her left hand palming over the wedding band on her other.
“Can I ask you something?” she said. “Maybe it’s a weird thing to ask, but—”
He interjected. “You can ask me anything.”
She placed her hand flat on the rail, her fingers spread.
“I guess I never really thought about it,” she said, “but what do people usually do with the ring? What’s standard procedure?”
“Well,” he replied, “I wouldn’t throw it out.”
She feigned a smile. “That’s not what I meant.”
To the right, a dog barked. She looked briefly towards the direction of the sound, then turned her attention back to him.
“When he died?” she said. “That was the first time in years that I became really conscious of the ring on my finger. Not that I’d ever forgotten, but after a while it stops registering, you know? Soon enough, it’s just an extension of your body. Like, I breathe, I eat, I sleep. My finger is flesh and gold. And then all of a sudden, drop of a hat, it just feels…” She paused for a second to find the right word. “Unwieldy.”
He asked her what she wanted to do.
“Do I want to take it off? Is that what you’re asking?”
“Well, I don’t know,” he replied. “Do you?”
She sighed. “Maybe. Eventually. Not yet. Not during…” She gestured to the house behind them. “This. That just feels wrong.”
“Yeah,” he said. “How very inconvenient. But it’s only a week.”
She looked at the floor. “Oh,” she said. “Oh, for fuck’s sake. We buried him this morning. And it’s not that I’m in any way ungrateful or relieved that he’s gone or that I don’t already miss him or—”
“Did you love him?”
She looked him in the eye. “Yes.”
“Then do what you want,” he said. “He’s in the ground. He’d want you to be happy. I’ve never understood when people get mad at others for being disrespectful towards the past. Like, the past doesn’t care. And it’s not malleable. The only way to be disrespectful towards it is to forget.”
He held out his hand and said, “Here.”
She asked him again how he knew her husband.
“Ex-husband,” he said. “Recently deceased. And we grew up together.”
She asked where.
“Tampa.” His hand was still out. “Here,” he said.
He told her to give him the ring.
She slid it slowly off of her finger and held it for a moment in a fist before she passed it to him.
He felt its weight on his palm, its cool touch.
Then he threw it into the trees.
He spoke before she registered, before she could gasp. “Shit crowd. Where the fuck is everybody?”
She answered softly. “There were more earlier. You showed up so late.”
“Getting here was a process,” he replied. “Now where’s the mother?”
“Upstairs,” she said. “In hers, lying down. Fading in and out, half the time it’s like she thinks she’s talking to him.”
He thanked her before walking over to the door. As he stood part way through it, he stopped and turned back and saw her staring up at the tangling branches.
He shut the door behind him and walked up the stairs.
He let go of the black banister and walked into a hallway. He paused to look at his reflection in a mirror, then walked over to the second door on the right.
He rapped his fingers on the wood.
“Who is it?” a voice called from behind it.
He didn’t answer. He simply turned the crystal knob slowly until the lock clicked, then pushed the door open and walked into the room.
In it a woman lay on a large bed with silk sheets. She had short silver hair and deep lines around her eyes. She wore a black dress. The wallpaper was green.
Without stirring she asked, “Do I know you?”
He sat on the foot of the bed.
“You smell like him,” she said.
“It’s been a long day,” he replied.
“I know you,” she said.
As she reached for the glasses on top of her nightstand, he reached over her and snatched them away. Her hand searched fruitlessly on the table.
“My glasses,” she said. “Where are my glasses?”
He suggested that they fell.
“You sound like him too,” she replied.
He told her she was losing her mind.
“He’d say that to me,” she said. “He would tell me that I was seeing things.”
“Were you?”
As she spoke the curtains rustled in the breeze. “Yes.”
“Well what did you see?”
She sighed. “Only sometimes,” she said. “Things that weren’t there. Just little things. Nothing crazy. Nothing huge.”
He asked her how she knew he wasn’t seeing things too.
“No, I don’t think so,” she said. “I don’t see how he could.” She took a deep breath. “But, still. Reluctantly. He’d talk to me. Stay with me. Talk me down. And now he’s gone. And I don’t understand it. Maybe I shouldn’t try to.”
“You should talk to someone,” he said. “You still have family. Call a friend.”
“I don’t trust any of them,” she replied. “None of them would understand.”
He asked her if she was seeing things right now.
“What do you see?”
Her lip began to quiver. “It’s soft,” she said. “Fuzzy, but I think I see him. That I’m talking to him right now. Right here. In this room. Like he isn’t really gone.”
The sound of silence filled the room. They listened to the ticking of a clock.
“Maybe he’s not,” he eventually said. “Maybe it’s true. Maybe, somehow, he’s here in this room with you right now.”
“That’s what they all said,” she replied. A tear rolled down her cheek. “That’s what they’ve been saying all day.”
He sighed and said, “I’m sorry.”
She looked at him. “Sorry for fucking what?”
He swallowed the lump in his throat. “For leaving you alone.”
He put his hand on her back.
“Your hand,” she said. “It’s so cold.”
“Yeah, Ma,” he replied. “It’s freezing.”
For a while they stayed like this. Frozen in their pose. Then quietly, he got up and walked to the door. He turned back.
“You want it open or shut?” he asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” she replied. “If you shut it, he’ll just open it anyway.”
He left the door open and walked back into the hall.
He walked down the steps.
He was moving through the hallway, looking at the photographs, when the woman in the reclining chair spoke. One word.
He turned to her. He opened his mouth to speak but couldn’t find anything to say. He turned away and walked outside, through the front door.
It was dark out now. Night. He walked down the walkway and stopped in the driveway and looked at the car.
A four door. Honda. Red. A family sedan with Jersey plates.
He reached into his right pocket and pulled out a wallet. He opened the wallet and pulled out a key.
He squatted down. On the lower left side of the car was a thin white line where it had been keyed years ago, running from the front wheel to the back.
With his key he traced over it. A perfect match.
He put his key back in his wallet then put his wallet back in his pocket then walked down the street.
A gust of wind blew. He looked up at the moon.
The street lamps flickered.
He moved in and out of the shadows until he disappeared.
•   •   •
Coby Dominus studied creative writing at Bard College, and works primarily as a screenwriter. He lives in Los Angeles, but would like to stress that he is not from there, and is in fact, from New York. He can reached via his website or email

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