Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Oil Patch

The interpreter was walking up the hill on his way to the grocery store, where there was a two-for-one sale on suet. Nearing the intersection, he heard what sounded like a gunshot. This was followed by a liquid splat, something viscid landing on pavement. On the far side of the four-lane street a white pick-up truck had backed up, then pulled out from its parking spot, leaving behind a crumpled plastic container. The interpreter understood what had happened. For some reason, a plastic bottle of motor oil had been lying on the road near the far curb. When the truck backed up, it compressed the bottle, causing it to rupture violently and send a sheet of oil over the curb lane.

As the interpreter reached the corner the light turned yellow. On the far side, a Filipino couple in their forties was hurrying to catch the bus that was approaching the stop on the interpreter’s side of the road. The woman saw the light, and stopped, but the man thought they could make it. He grabbed his wife’s arm and pulled her into the intersection. They hit the oil. The woman’s feet shot out and she landed on her back. One of her shoes flew off and skittered to the middle of the road, ending up on the yellow line. The light changed from yellow to red. The man looked at his wife, at the shoe, at his wife…

The woman struggled up and hopped on one foot back to the curb. Her husband followed. Traffic, which had been waiting, started flowing through the intersection. The bus the couple had intended to catch glided through.

In a lull in the traffic the husband ran to the middle of the street to retrieve his wife’s shoe. He darted back through moving vehicles and handed it to his wife, who was standing on one foot, gripping the top of a parking meter. She snatched the shoe from her husband and swung it at him, smacking him on the shoulder. She unleashed a verbal barrage in a rapid-fire Tagalog. After a few seconds the husband said a few words. They looked at each other, and laughed.

The light went yellow, and then red, and the traffic stopped. The woman dropped her shoe and gracefully slid her foot inside. She took her husband’s arm and they crossed the street as the interpreter crossed in the opposite direction. He studied their faces as they passed, and saw two people completely happy with each other. He felt a wave of sadness, a longing for something from long ago. You see, not only did the interpreter live in a difficult, unpredictable present; his past had been more or less along the same lines.

Stepping onto the far curb, the interpreter turned for a last look at the couple. He said, wistfully, “I once loved someone that much.” He had forgotten about the oil.

As he fell, he twisted and flailed at the parking meter.
Clutching it, he sank to the sidewalk.

A woman carrying shopping bags looked down her nose. “Drunk!” she said.

Next story...


  

6 comments:

PSYL said...

A couple of my Filipino friends are some of the most cheerful people in the world. Always smiling and laughing.

I wish I can be that happy all the time.

And poor interpreter, especially at the end.

dAwN said...

Great story!

Marvin said...

... and so it goes ...

Neon Swan said...

My officemate thinks I'm insane and given to fits of unprovoked laughter. But how bittersweet. There is more love like that out in the world somewhere.

(oh, this is tully monster. I've begun a new blog.)

Susan said...

My favorite blogposting since the bird-count account - You have such a gift for observing life and sharing the story.

Hugh said...

Thanks, all, for the encouraging comments, and Hi Tully!