Waiting

Nancy Pyzel

Nancy Pyzel

First Place Winner; Adult Category. San José Public Library | Fall into Fiction Contest, 2022

The newscaster spoke with controlled urgency, his face a mask of well-practiced concern. "A bus ran a red light at Mission and Howard, killing twelve pedestrians at 5:05 this evening. Victims have not yet been identified." My concern was neither practiced nor forced. Every weekday evening my husband crossed that street at 5:05 to catch the bus home from San Francisco. He was very punctual. He hated to miss his bus, and he always crossed that intersection at 5:05. I prayed he was safe. Can prayer be retroactive? If he's already dead, does praying do any good? Does God know what we need before we need it? Is time linear, or fluid?
I sat on our front porch watching the street. Time ground to a halt. Seconds were sloths climbing a tree in slow motion. Minutes were a parade of icebergs inching their way through a becalmed sea. Part of me just wanted to know. Was I a wife or a widow? Had my husband suffered an agonizing death, or was he dozing on the bus? We didn't have cell phones then, so there was nothing to do but wait. I tried very hard not to think about what it would be like to live in this house without him. I forced my mind to occupy itself with reminiscences about our house, our history, who we were and how we got here.
We met seven years ago in San Francisco, wide-eyed refugees from far flung suburbs. Later we moved to Alameda, an island across the bay, escaping San Francisco's high rents, and bought our first house. It was tiny - 900 square feet. The postage stamp yard was all concrete except for a sad, neglected rectangle of dirt, and a storage shed in desperate need of a new roof. We put our hearts and souls into tenderly and forcefully bringing it back to life. We stripped a dumpster full of old roofing from the shed and refitted it with fresh tarpaper and shingles. I sewed draperies for the windows. We refinished the hardwood floors and peeled hundred-year-old paint, liberating redwood door frames. We covered the grey concrete walls with terra-cotta stucco, bejeweled with a row of hand-made Spanish tiles. We built a planter and filled it with flowering shrubs, transformed the front yard from half dead grass to a fern and rhododendron grotto with flagstone walkway. We chose the weekend of the Oakland firestorm to paint the exterior, ashes from the black sky falling like snow. Our love language was work. The transformation of our first home was the embodiment of the transformative passion we felt for each other.
I felt that my husband was alive, but could I trust this feeling? When someone loses a leg or an arm, they know it's not there, but they can still sense it. It's called the phantom limb phenomenon. Their brain remembers the way it felt, the way it moved, its weight, the way it balanced the rest of their body. When you lose someone who is a part of you, does your nervous system fool you into thinking they are still there, like a phantom limb? If he were gone, I would go on with life, but the missing part would throw my life out of kilter, like a limp.
I knew the exact time the bus arrived, how long it took him to walk from the bus stop. I had never noticed that I knew these things. They had settled into my mind like the scent of his body, or his laugh. As 5:45 came and went, I became convinced that I was a widow. My brain went into overdrive, strategizing, plotting, organizing. Who should I call first? Did I have the energy to call his father, five siblings, assorted aunts, uncles and cousins? I thought about the mortgage payment, the funeral. Should I sleep on the couch for a while? Should I call work and leave a message that I wouldn't be in? Do we have enough tissues?
I planned the next ten years of my life in detail in the fifteen minutes it took for my husband to saunter home from the bus stop. He hadn't heard the news and was blissfully unaware of my agony. Before leaving work, he'd had a sudden impulse to buy a roll of Lifesavers candy. He left a few minutes early and stopped at a convenience store. Emerging from the store, he saw a chaos of blocked traffic and police on the street. He had to catch his bus so didn't stop to find out what happened. His urge for Lifesavers had literally saved his life.
As we watched the news together, we found out that one of his co-workers was among the dead. My heart went out to those families who waited and worried with me but did not have my happy ending.

First Place Winner; Adult Category. San José Public Library | Fall into Fiction Contest, 2022

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