Eric Singleton was stuck. At a standstill. Doubly so: physically, for one: stopped in traffic behind a late model Toyota Camry on 7th Avenue at the corner of 9th Street in Park Slope; and existentially: locked in a self-imposed worry-worn straitjacket of self-absorbed spiritual stagnation.
The light at the corner was green but a crammed B67 bus, lights flashing, kneeled at the curb, with the patience of a stewed prune, in front of Smiling Pizza, picking up a line of passengers: Men in steel-toed work boots and lunch buckets, women with shopping carts, drooling infants, juuling teenagers, and homeless souls with sacks of clattering bottles and cans bound for redemption.
Louise Little, the driver in the Toyota, her NicoDerm patch running on empty, held a cigarette in her taut quivering lips and a Zippo in her right fist tapping on the steering wheel to a Deep Purple guitar riff, which she had not gotten out of her head since she woke up this morning. In nine seconds, tops, she would either light up the god-damn Newport or run the yellow light the instant the lousy bus made a move.
Eric’s fog-encased crisis of faith was, simply, an unwavering acceptance of the Calvinist sublapsarian belief in predestination and in the decree made by God before the Fall that he would choose from among the living those to be saved and those not. Eric was thirty-four and he could not know within which group he’d be counted. Worry and doubt consumed his every waking moment. Not the least of his worries was whether Wendy, the woman he loved, and to whom he had plighted his troth just shy of seven years ago, would be in the same state of candidacy for salvation as he hoped he was.
“Seven years,” she told him, “is a hell of a long time for a woman to sit on the shelf waiting for you to make a move.” Just this morning, waiting to brush her teeth in his apartment while he took his time in the bathroom she said, “Eric, shit or get off the pot, I have to get to work, goddamnit.”
She once told him, and she was in a position to know, that he had a bad case of ED totally unresponsive to Viagra— Existential Dysphoria, she called it.
On the corner opposite Louise and Eric, stood Lois and Irv Rothstein, an elderly couple waited for the light to change so they could cross the avenue and make their bus for the early-bird special at Juniors on Flatbush. Though they were resigned to the possibility of missing it, they retained the hope that, God-willing, the light would change before the bus righted itself and they could flag down the driver and make it across the street before it left the corner.
Irv watched the light. Louise watched the light. Lois watched the light. Eric watched the photo of Wendy he kept on taped on the dashboard in front of him, The B67 began its slow rise. The light changed. Louise lit her Newport. Irv and Lois began their walk across the avenue, waving and calling to the driver.
As she walked, Lois’s upper body swayed slightly from side to side. It was the thickening arthritis in her hips.
Her shoulders rocked first one way and then the other. It slowed her down, and Irv, a spare man, a few inches shorter than his wife, held on to the sleeve of her jacket, trying to keep her moving and on an even keel. He held on to the brim of his hat with his other hand.
The walk sign flashed its orange digital countdown.
“Hold your horses,” said Lois to the young woman talking on her cellphone in the car behind the bus, holding a cigarette in the open crack of the driver’s side window, but it was only loud enough for Irv to hear.
“Come along, dear,” he said to her, not without considerable affection.
As the countdown reached three, they had made it safely to the opposite curb and then at the precise moment that the zero flashed, Lois turned to Irv, “I dropped my glove,” she said, and she stepped stiffly up onto the curb. Irv looked back.
The glove, in a shade of green that matched her jacket, and which she had been holding tightly, and which Irv had bought for her on sale at the Conways in Manhattan for her birthday, lay in the roadway. Irv let go of her arm, stepped back into the street, holding his hand up to the path of the oncoming traffic.
Louise hit the gas at the green light and, when she saw the man, only a few feet or so from his outstretched arm, she slammed on the brake pedal and twisted the steering wheel to the right to avoid hitting him.
A car horn from behind him blew, startling Eric. He stepped on the gas, rear-ending Louise’s Toyota, exploding both of their airbags and pushing her car up onto the sidewalk hitting Lois squarely in her stiff hips and crushing her against the back of the B67.
Irv’s heart stopped, exploding with grief and he fell to the pavement.
Louise was later saved by the ‘jaws of life.’
And Eric? He sustained, with vertebrae-cracking suddenness, multiple spinal cord ruptures causing his surgical team to place him in a medically-induced coma until they would be able to assess the best course of action, if any, leaving him with only a 50-50 chance of survival and plenty of time to ruminate on his chances of salvation.