Crystal Bridges Anthology

by Shirley Lamberson

Inspired by “Stacks,” the work of Hamilton Poe. This piece reminded me of steps going upward while life is beginning—as eggs in a nest—like hats moving and spinning randomly.

 “What’s taking so long?” the old woman croaked at the man dressed in white just ahead and to her left. “I’ve been waiting for ages now and I’m ready to go.”

“Everyone must wait their turn. No one can go before their assigned time.” His gentle smile was obviously meant to calm and placate the sometimes impatient people who waited in line.

She shifted her feet slowly, holding her walker for balance. The long line stretched high before her and she sighed, frowned slightly, and turned her walker to sit on the padded seat.

The crowd was a strange mixture of young and old, men and women, all races and religions, some seemingly healthy, others obviously infirm. The pale walls glowed in the morning light and the ceiling appeared to be a soft blue with wispy puffs of white. There were no clocks on the walls, so no one really knew how long they had waited. The woman didn’t notice any of those things.

She was 89 years old by her reckoning, and all her family and friends had gone long before her. She was lonely and in pain. Her eyesight was failing badly, and her hearing was somewhat hit and miss.

“What do I have to live for?” she growled at the man in white. “I’m no use to anyone, including myself.” She looked at her old, crooked hands, bending her fingers painfully. The people ahead moved a few paces, so she rose from the walker and took a few steps up and forward.

The man in white smiled but did not respond. The old woman noticed a second line had somehow formed to her right. She considered changing to the new line, but it was already as long as her current one. Frowning, she looked down at her hands, shifting her weight. She looked around without interest, seeing only grey, dull surroundings.

“What’s she doing here?” asked the old woman, pointing to a small child slightly ahead of her in the next line. The child was sitting on the low steps, hugging her small stuffed bear, totally absorbed in her own activities. As the old woman watched, the girl stood up, still hugging her toy, and smiling angelically.

“That isn’t right. She shouldn’t be ahead of me. She has to put in lots more time before she goes.” The old woman looked dismayed and confused. How could things be so out of kilter?

As she questioned this anomaly, the child suddenly moved forward into the doorway where she was met by a smiling older woman who scooped her into her arms. How could that child be so happy? How could the woman who received her show such joy?

The old woman looked at the man in white. This time he did respond. “Some people have less time than others,” he said. “No one can choose their time to go, but everyone can live their time fully, cherishing each moment of each day, like that child.”

She stood there, shaking her head slowly, trying to understand his meaning where the child was concerned. The little girl did not have enough time to grow up, have a family, have a career, or make her mark on the world.

The old woman stood up again, gazing off into the distance, waiting for the end of her trip. Gradually, she noticed some bright yellow splotches just ahead. Looking closer, the splotches appeared to transmute to yellow daffodils like the ones she used to grow near her front door. A smile wavered upon her lips, and a light came to her almost-blind eyes. She took a deep breath and her old, tired face seemed to lose years of pain and sadness.

With newfound energy, the old woman turned and retraced her steps, finding a new place much further back in the line. Looking around in her new position, the old woman was now surrounded by glowing light and vibrating colors. She smiled at the people before and after her, and stood up straight, using her walker for stability more than support.

“Hey,” she yelled at the man in white. “Maybe no one can go before their assigned time, but I can take a later spot. See you then.”