This story is by M.E. Becker and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“What do you mean, you can’t get here?” she bellowed.
Wow, I wouldn’t want to be the person on the other end of that phone call, I thought to myself. Even over the noise of blaring taxi horns, trash trucks, and commuters carrying on work-related conversations, this woman’s voice rose above them all.
“I don’t care. You have ten minutes to get here, or so help me -” Whoever she was talking to must have cut her off. As a result, a vein in her forehead bulged and the pitch of her voice rose another octave. “I don’t want to hear your excuses. Just get here. Now! No, I’ll stay on the phone with you until I see you standing here in front of me. Do you understand?”
I walked on, unsure of what it was about this woman that I found so fascinating. Maybe it was the fact that whoever she was on the phone with only had a finite amount of time to get here before she was going to bring their world to a screeching halt, or perhaps it was just the natural rubberneck reaction we all have when we see a wreck ahead.
“Yes, I can hear the sirens in the background. No, I don’t care about them. You now have nine minutes to get here.”
What was so important to this woman? Surely she could give the person a little more time if there were circumstances beyond their control that delayed their arrival.
“Eight minutes and counting. You do realize how important this is, right?”
The woman was dressed in business attire, just like everyone else who populated this busy street. She looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place where it was that I knew her from. I let my mind wander. A childhood neighbor perhaps? A former co-worker? No, I’m sure I’d remember someone like her. Maybe she’s a spy? But would a spy want to draw that much attention to herself by shouting at someone on the other end of the phone? No, now I’m being silly. She’s definitely not a spy.
“Seven minutes. Where are you now? What do you mean you’re only at Fifth and Chesterfield? You’ve barely moved!”
Hmm… Were they driving or walking? Could they make it here in ten minutes if they’re walking? Maybe if they are jogging. No, I guess they must be driving. I looked at the traffic up and down the street. It was definitely bumper to bumper, inching along.
“Six minutes. You are trying my patience. Do you know how important this day is to me? How could you delay me this way?”
Wow, this woman has no soul. It’s all about her. No one else in the world matters. If someone asked me to describe her I would say she was something akin to the editor in the Devil Wears Prada times ten.
I noticed her negativity had caused a significant drain to what had been my good mood. What was it my friend called people like her? Oh yeah, energy vampires. Haha, maybe the thing she was waiting on was a string of garlic or something else that would transform her into a more pleasant person.
“Five minutes! You have used up half of your time now. I’m hoping you are more than halfway here,” she shrieked.
Ouch, that hurt. Based on the heads I saw whip around, I wasn’t the only one affected by that obnoxious sound.
This reaction from others had not escaped her notice and as a result, she scowled at the next person she made eye contact with and lowered her voice.
What could be so important that she couldn’t wait just a few more minutes for this person to arrive? The world isn’t going to come to an end in that time. I mean if it were, then we’d all be gone, so it wouldn’t matter anymore. Unable to tear myself away, I continued to watch this drama play out before my eyes. Would the climax be satisfying, or would I be let down in the end? Was I creating more drama in my head versus was actually taking place?
With a note of exasperation and dare I say, worry, I heard her say, “three minutes”.
It was as though fatigue had settled in and she could no longer sustain her fury.
Her head hanging down, she missed the two-minute mark. Wait, was that a tear I saw welling in her eye? Was she coming to the realization that just maybe the person she was waiting on, wasn’t going to make it after all, and that her deadline would be missed?
Taking a deep breath and letting it out in a long stream, she huffed, “One minute. I don’t see you coming -”
Before she could finish a courier pulled up, and stopped short of her; his bicycle fell over as he ripped his feet from the pedals. His gloved hand reached into his satchel and pulled out the long-awaited parcel.
With an outstretched palm, she admonished the courier, “Well it’s about time. Give it here.”
Humbly, he handed over a long brown paper wrapped bundle, turned to pick up his bike and sped off as expeditiously as he could.
She tore at the paper and dropped the remnants on the sidewalk. Then with care and tender touch, she lifted the lid of the box and smiled. What was inside that could evoke such a sudden change in demeanor after her constant berating of the courier? From my vantage point I couldn’t see the contents and now I had to know, not only what the package contained, but why she seemed so familiar to me.
While I contemplated my next move, she took off down the street. As her heels struck the pavement, the clattering echo punctuated the urgency of each step.
I followed at a safe distance, as my inquisitiveness continued to grow with each block we traversed. When she came to an abrupt halt in front of the elementary school my mental block began to break down. I watched and waited as she made her way inside until I felt enough time had passed before I made my way up the stairs and into the building.
I heard the strains of what could only be described as a clamor of engaged instruments, not all playing the same piece of music. My feet took over propelled by muscle memory, and followed the old, well-worn linoleum path I had walked all those years before. As I passed through the familiar halls, I saw the bright yellow paint had faded to a dingy mustard hue and smelled the mustiness emanating from the classrooms in this old building. When I opened the door to the auditorium, it was then that I recognized my old, surly music teacher, standing in place at the podium, just as she had done all those years ago when I had been a student of hers.
I took the last empty seat in the back row and watched as she opened the box and drew the baton from its case. One tap, brought the orchestra to silence. Two taps and the first violin drew her bow across the strings. A collective hush fell over the room as the parents, siblings, and teachers of the Homewood Elementary School students sat enthralled while the young musicians performed what I knew from past experience to be, a well rehearsed and much-anticipated recital.