Poised

She sat there, fingers hovering above the nubs on the F and J keys just as she had been taught to do all those years ago in Computing class. She was petrified, in the etymological sense of being stone-like. Eyes staring straight ahead, unblinkingly seeing through the screen rather than focusing on the persistently flickering cursor. The thoughts should have been translating from mind to visual embodiment on the page. Instead, they flitted across her mind, speedily, like the fly you can hear but can never quite catch. Too fast. Too urgent. Too much.

---

Three years ago, she had been softly singing to herself on the sidewalk near work. It was a Monday morning. She liked Mondays. The return to routine; the fresh beans in the neighbourhood coffee machine, only just roasted and wafting through the train station. That sense of eager wakefulness for whatever lay ahead. The simple conversations around the office about everyone's weekend and catch ups in the tea room over mediocre, company-purchased biscuits. She had heard a catchy tune at the coffee shop and was fumbling her way through the mental trove of lyrics. Her eagerness to drink the coffee superceded the heat-requiring wait. She had just burnt the top of her tongue and was cringing about the lack of taste that was likely to accompany the next few days.

And then, out of nowhere, a white four-wheel drive careened off the road and hurtled its way into the pharmacy only metres ahead. It hadn't been there one second, and the next there was chaos. She stood, frozen in place. Her right arm remained halfway to her face for another sip of brown perfection. Her left arm was bleeding, blood splurting from the point where a shard of glass had flown through her skin to lodge in the muscle below. She didn't budge. She heard screaming, an awful moan from beneath the vehicle. She saw people rushing from either side of her, from across the street. Someone told her to get out of the way; someone else asked if she was okay. Still, she didn't speak.

The rest of the day is hazy. Blood. Broken glass. Crying. A hospital room with bleeping machines and voices hovering over her. Being wheeled from one place to another. Her mother, beside her, holding the hand where once there had been coffee, clear fluid streaking her cheeks. So much buzzing. So many people. But all she could hear was the moaning. All she could see was the child she had never met exsanguinating in front of her.

A week later, she went back to work. She didn't have that same spring in her step that Monday morning. She took the earlier train and skipped the coffee stop. She crossed the road to avoid the pharmacy, now bereft of any evidence of the accident only a week earlier. City-workers bustled on the concrete as if it were any other day. Unaware. Ignorant of the calamity only 167 hours earlier. There was no trace of a flower outside the pharmacy. Nobody stopped to reflect. The feet kept scuffing along the surface. Litter ran along the ground in the wind. Her cross light signalled and she paused for a second, unable to remember which foot she normally used first to step off the curb. A man behind her, in a hurry, shouldered her and she lurched forward. The right foot. That's the one that goes first.

That day was filled with condolences. Other staff who stopped by her cubicle to check on the bandage around her left forearm and offer chocolates and words of wisdom. They all asked how she was doing but no appropriate response formed on her tongue. She just nodded, pointing at her computer screen and wincing occasionally at the pain when using that damaged arm. How could she forget?

She had been pregnant that day. Three cycles of IVF had come and gone, each with their own expensive misery. But this time, this time was different. The stick had two lines this time. She even put on her glasses to double check. She did a second test. She had run out of the bathroom, elated, waving the sticks madly at her husband who had been nervously twiddling his thumbs while perched on the couch. He smiled, ecstatic too, then frowned. Always the pragmatist, he'd said not to get too excited yet. It was still early. There were hurdles to jump. But she could tell that wasn't what he was thinking. They jumped and smiled and said words that didn't quite make sense. It was a good weekend.

But then on Wednesday, she felt it. That sharp pain at the base of her abdomen, like a knife twisting inside her. And on Thursday, the torrent came, thick and dark, just like her mood. All she could see was the little boy, redness beneath the white four-wheel drive.

It was over, she thought. They had exhausted their nest fund, the one they'd nurtured for years to start these cycles. There would be no mini-me. There would just be a scarred left arm and broken dreams. There would be her sense of guilt and failure. If only, she asked herself, she had taken the earlier train that morning. If she hadn't spent so long fluffing over her shoe choice. Or, if she'd spent a little more time at the coffee shop and bought that ham and cheese croissant she had been eyeing off but left behind because she was on a health-kick. If only she worked in a different building, or had had a meeting. Or. So many things. If only.

She would sit for hours, eyes glazed over, staring at nothing. She could only see the memories. The reels of family videos that were never filmed. The birthdays. The Christmases with Santa and easy picnics on hot summer afternoons. She had flushed that all down the toilet. And, before long, her husband couldn't stand it either. She woke up one morning and he was gone. There was a note on the fridge, "I'm sorry there's no more milk." And there wasn't. It wasn't exactly like she felt hungry that morning but when her stomach grumbled, there was no way of preparing her ritualised cornflakes breakfast. Two years they had struggled after that day. And all he could say was that there was no milk.

Her work colleagues had distanced themselves. She had heard them whispering for a while, concerned. But then they gave up. She had turned to stone in front of their eyes. The exuberant, bouncy, ever enthusiastic woman in cubicle 8 had turned into a shadow. She would clack away at the numbers, hand in assignments early after staying late at night. She never bought coffee downstairs anymore. She had those terrible instant packs in the tearoom instead. Saving money, she had told anyone who cared to ask.

Today, the emptiness had been overwhelming. The fly inside her mind flitted back and forth. The boy, the husband, the hope. And for the first time in three years, it was she who started crying. Instead of being cemented to the spot, the tears began to flow.



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