My short story, “Frozen in Time”

 

We had a little more space than expected this month, which is wonderful in some ways as we conducted in-depth interviews with some contributors I found especially amazing, resourceful, and creative. However, we’d have loved to hear from more people, so please don’t be shy about submitting ūüôā All are welcome.

Here is another short story of mine, I wrote this piece a few years back after looking¬†through an old college photo album. And I won’t give you a whole long intro to my own piece – so it’s just posted below.

Frozen in Time

 

Imagine a series of snapshots frozen in time, each representative of one singular moment, one instance, leaving the viewer to make the connections needed to tell the story.

 

This was the state of Sarah’s mind while she stared at the three-car pileup by the side of the interstate. At the blue sports car and the grayish sedan that had collided with her husband’s aging Honda in the fog, at the crumpled center divider separating the two halves of the road’s curve.

 

The rescue vehicles had already arrived, their workers hauling two disheveled men out on stretchers and checking vital signs before loading them into the backs of two ambulances. Their walkie talkies buzzed as they relayed messages back and forth, asking questions and giving instructions for a series of daily tasks that they knew would never become completely routine.

 

All Sarah could do, as she looked out from her position amidst the moist iceplants by the side of the road, was to watch the scene, without emotion, as if she were viewing a movie. Only time would tell if the paramedics and Highway Patrol officers would be able to save the lives of her husband Jose and their young daughter Sharon.

 

 

Perhaps her presence there would be some kind of positive force, some kind of motivator, would assist with the rescue efforts in some way. Eventually, she picked her way into a spot between thistles and a few other stickery plants, and sat down to continue her vigil. She had waited there for several hours, after walking there after receiving the phone call informing her of the accident, as it was somewhat close to their family home and the Highway Patrol had closed the entire freeway to cars. Most of the commute traffic had already been diverted off to the nearest exits.

 

A few moments passed, and the fog began to lift. The shapes of the cars, and of the ambulances and tow trucks, were now visible, where at first she had only been able to make out approximations of where they were because of the flashing red lights. Once she had first arrived, she had asked all the questions she could think of regarding everyone’s well-being and whereabouts, and had even insisted several times upon helping the paramedics – until it became obvious that there was nothing more she could do and that she would only get in the way of trained professionals. Someone in a uniform had escorted her to her roadside position, where she remained now.

 

She had often wondered in more tranquil times how she would respond in a disaster of this magnitude – would she be able to maintain her composure, would she cry, would she pester people with incessant orders and demands, would she faint, would she be able to put her own needs aside and help? She had replayed these future possibilities in her mind over and over until she had satisfied herself that she would be at least moderately heroic – yet when faced with the real thing she found herself unable to do much more than sit and watch.

 

Jose and Sharon, who was only four years old and had just celebrated a birthday, were lifted out of the crushed vehicle and carried tenderly to avoid worsening any spinal cord damage. The sight of her daughter’s bloodied magenta pajama feeters triggered a snapshot scene in Sarah’s mind of the last time she had worn that outfit, the night before her birthday party. A friend from preschool was going out of town and had sent her present early, knowing she would be unable to make the celebration.

 

The gift, wrapped in tissue paper with golden stars and comets all over it, had tantalized and captivated Sarah to the point where she had pestered her parents to be allowed to open it before the celebration. The Care Bear inside had only held her interest for a few moments before the paper once again intrigued her. She stared into the stars, tracing their outlines with her fingers, holding the sheet up to light to see the shadows the translucent parts of it created around her room and over her pastel bedspread.

 

Sarah remembered not this whole event, but just the snapshot scene of her daughter standing atop the bed in her feeters, insisting that no, she would not jump on the furniture, she just wanted to reach her window. And in the incoming sunlight of that late March day, she had pulled back the white curtains, which darted towards the room’s center with the incoming gusts of wind, and watched wordlessly as patterns of crescent moons and stars danced about her little portion of the modest family home.

 

The paramedics were now checking her daughter and husband’s vital signs and beginning CPR. Walkie-talkies sounded and lights flickered more urgently as the workers jogged from place to place, knowing that at this point in the operation every second counted. Now was the moment of decision, when they would know whether her little family could be revived and transported to the hospital, or whether they would be pronounced dead.

 

Sarah could not keep her mind focused on the scene before her, and glanced around looking for visual distractions. She noticed her daughter’s brown hair, that thick, rumpled head of tambark brown hair that had been the first thing she would glimpse when Sharon had first learned to walk and had taken to surprising them, sticking her little head around door frames and corners to peek in at her parents and giggle when they were in other rooms.

 

Once she had toddled into the living room to greet her and Jose one night while they enjoyed a rare moment just for the two of them, eating dinner together in the kitchen atop their grandmother’s card table, covered with a faded tan cloth from the thrift store.

 

They had recently taken down part of a wall in an effort to expand their kitchen, at least enough to hopefully bring their refrigerator out of the garage and into one of the corners, so they could display Sharon’s drawings. And this was the one scene that stuck in Sarah’s mind, those lush curls framing her daughter’s face as she peered in and smiled as they ate, pressing her chest against the particle board partition separating them from the living room and allowing them some privacy.

 

Furnishing the apartment had been a challenge on their limited budget, with Jose working as a high school English teacher, illuminating Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and Shakespeare’s Macbeth to high school students who often would much rather go to parties and play sports and chat with their friends. He endeavored to be creative, though, and had had the entire class put on presentations and dress up as the characters, and had accompanied them on field trips to such literary destinations as San Francisco’s North Beach and Monterey’s still-existing Cannery Row.

 

Yet Sarah and Jose had managed to decorate their place in a rather decent way, with hand me down pieces from various aunts and grandparents and older siblings. Jose had a large family, and there always seemed to be someone with a few extra things.

 

Sarah was a writer, and had taken a few years off from her editing job in the publishing industry to work on a novel and raise their daughter – and she was determined to finish at least two pages a day, while Sharon slept. This was why she had been home during the day to receive the unfortunate phone call, and why she could reach the accident scene so quickly.

 

A bright blue tow truck had arrived on the scene, its metal frame splattered with mud that its large wheels had kicked up from the moist ground on the way there. And her husband’s faux-Rolex was visible, glimmering in the emerging sunlight as the paramedics tried one final time to discern a pulse after several rounds of CPR. Their toughened hands worked firmly over his body, applying one more series of chest compressions, then hooking him up to something inside the ambulance while shaking their heads.

 

Shifting position once more, Sarah visualized the light from that watch leading him and Sharon out, away from the accident, away from death, away and across the street to where she now crouched amongst a few blades of green grass peeking up between the iceplants.

 

In her mind was the way it had shimmered in the drugstore when she bought it for him as a Valentine gift, the way she had played around with the patterns of reflected light it created, admiring both its solidity and grace. The clerk had given her a whole spiel about its features while she stood at the counter, but she only half listened, engrossed in the beauty of the design and the joy of giving it to someone she loved.

 

The paramedics and firefighter were now shaking their heads as their walkie talkies continued to sound. The tow truck driver stopped to look on also, momentarily halting the work of hooking up the first of the three cars’ bumpers to his vehicle. Sarah knew what that meant – her husband and daughter had already passed on, and there would be no need to transport them to the hospital.

 

***

 

And she noticed that crumpled center divider for one more moment, staring off into empty space for a little while longer from her position beside the curve in the road by the freeway entrance. It was now almost noon, and the morning fog was gone, as well as the morning commute traffic; now only an occasional vehicle made its way through here, speeding sometimes because no other cars were in sight.

 

Someone could die here, she had thought briefly while noticing the steepness of the curve and the already damaged divider one day when she and Jose had traveled around that corner with a few other friends on their way to the graduation party of another friend of his. These thoughts had come to her again when she had passed this way again in the early morning, the misty fog encouraging a dramatic, dreamlike mood. 

 

Fingering an old photo album from her college days, she continued to visualize scenes frozen in time from an accident that had never happened, from a marriage and family that had never existed, from a life that she never had lived.

 

She and Jose had chatted briefly at a few parties they had attended together during college – they were both English majors and enjoyed poking fun together at their motley crew of professors. The two had become friends, and she sometimes fantasized that more would come later – however, he had stopped returning her calls soon after they graduated, claiming that he was busy and could not keep track of everyone.

 

Now, once again, just as she sometimes had while they had known each other, she was envisioning how she would respond to the sudden loss of her family, to an abrupt end to their life together. And she realized that, despite all of her fantasies of rescuing her relationship, there was little more that she could do but sit and watch.

 

However, as she still had the rest of the day off from her publishing job, there was one more option available to her. She could go home and write, finish off the story she was creating that was loosely based on her past experiences, on her past and future dreams. She could take those mental snapshots and release them from being frozen in time, connect them into a cohesive work of art.

 

She sighed and then smiled, wiping the mud and grass stains off her faded blue jeans, and finally stood up and began to walk home. As she neared her house, she quickened her step, pulled her shoulders back a bit, and squinted her eyes to better admire the way the iridescent sunlight glowed off of the tops of the cars ahead. Maybe there would not be an accident today after all.  

 

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