Incidental Sobbing

by Michael Ryerson

We’ve had some bad news. It isn’t the first time we’ve heard these words. It won’t be the last. No, it isn’t me nor my wife nor my child, so there’s that. You know what I’m talking about. Time stands still, the air ceases moving, your eyes drink in the light, the world stops spinning and aren’t people supposed to fly off into space if that happens(?), so you involuntarily look outside to check for flying Chinamen but the sky is empty and you end up staring at the blue for a long time. Your hands feel heavy, you look at them to see why. They look normal. I have a memory that comes back in these moments, a memory of a woman crying. I am ten years old. I am playing with my toys on the living room carpet. I have my back to my mother who is in the dining room ironing clothes. A terrible sound comes through an open window and I turn to my mother and begin to ask what is happening but she holds her hand up and makes a sharp ‘shussh!’ Now the sound is clearly someone crying, a woman sobbing and with a ‘Wait right here!’ my mother is gone, out the front door and I am left listening with all my might. My mind races over the possiblities, the lady next door’s daughter is pregnant, has there been an accident, her husband goes to work every morning in a factory, has he been hurt? worse? And now I hear more women crying, maybe my mother’s voice, too, and then some laughter. Some laughter. I’m waiting, not breathing, for what seems a long, long time. And then she’s back, smiling through tears but having trouble finding the words. Did the daughter have the baby?, I asked. No, she says, her eyes enormous, they’ve cured Polio. They’ve cured Polio. It’s hard to remember what a scourge Polio was, the fear it struck in the heart of every family. The burden of carrying the threat around in your belly everyday of every week. The iron lungs, the stainless steel braces, the death. I was ten years old that morning. Mrs. Anderson’s daughter hadn’t had her baby yet. Mr. Anderson came home that night just like every other night except it wasn’t like any other night. In these moments, I think of Mrs. Anderson standing in her driveway crying with relief and joy. In these moments, I notice how blue the sky can be.

Michael Ryerson