The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Old Neighbors

Late last night, as I was writing my night’s letters, I saw my neighbor taken away by Ambulance.

The silent red and white flashing filled the small space of neighborhood sky beneath the firs and cedars, binding together our several houses share here at the end of the town, a space we never really see as just ours until these lights come, and show us the boundaries of this little world. Our neighbor is old, and this isn’t the first time he has traveled by ambulance.

My wife and I worry – nay, know – between ourselves that one of these trips will soon be his last, and so I stood looking out my window as the paramedics clambered out of the ambulance, pulling equipment out of various vehicle orifices with a clunk here, a clang there, the sound of bouncing plastic on the pavement taking advantage of the cold night air to hurl itself harder against my window. I stood, wanting to go over, not wanting to get in the way, wanting to help, not wanting to stop the help, wanting that corner of our consciousness to be safe again. I wanted to wake my wife, to share the comfort of our common concern.

In the end I only watched, out my office window. I stood, though sitting was possible, because this moment seemed too reverent to sit for. The flashing lights beat like a gavel, calling to order a Higher Court whose jurisdiction presided over our neighbor’s life. I stood, watching his wife fumble with the keys to the car, bleary-eyed with undone sleep and worry. She seemed so different in the cold, stark flashing strobes, vulnerable to every care she defied in the daytime. The usual warm smile, the “How ARE you, dear” every time she saw any of us, was so far beyond her reach now. She was mortal. His mortality and hers seemed inextricable, one from the other, as I stood worrying.

I could not move. There was no time. She fumbled, and then I could see the interior light in her car come on, the car whose mirror I had replaced when it was knocked off last year, and had taken the time to checked that all her lights worked, inside and outside the car. I started to smile at see it working, but quickly wished it to go back out, for her porch light to go back out, and for the ambulance to drive backwards up the street from where it came. It did not. The interior light was replaced by the brake light, struggling against the still-swirling ambulance lights, then the dimmer tail light. The white glare of reverse lights came on, the ambulance slid away with nothing but the grind of studded tires, and the swirl of all that activity blew down the street. With a velvety rolling sound the neighborhood sky once again fell nearly dark.

I stood, looking out my window, watching that corner of our world, that side of our life that was guarded by a quirky, brickslively old couple whose kindness meant it was safe to be here, wishing it were safe again, wishing strength for her stooped back, courage for her bleary eyes, and for him to get up off that gurney and sit back down on his front porch with his paper.  In the swirling cloud of disturbed stillness, I clipped the leash on the dog, and went and stood in the front yard, watching the night calm slowly return, like a snow-globe village set back on its shelf. I unplugged the christmas lights. My dog looked up at me, as if to say, “hey”, and went back to sniffing the evening’s news from the shrubs and trees.

Sylvia and Don – come home. We are waiting to hear, waiting to know what we can do to repair that part of ourselves that is you, wishing that you could go on forever being that sweet old couple we share our joys with, that we hope to be ourselves someday. Tomorrow’s newspaper will languish in your driveway without you.


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