Everything is Story

The Wangs aren’t the kind of people you wave to as you pass their house on the way to yours. Not because you don’t want to wave, but because they turn their backs when you try to make eye contact. They put orange cones at the edge of their driveway, and after they mow their lawn, they use salad tongs to pick up clumps of grass.

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Tonight there are so many police cars and ambulances in front of their perfect yard that we collect on the front porch and squint. The neighbors across the street do the same thing, and we end up congregating.

Mr. Wang was a Taiwanese refugee a long time ago, someone says, but I think they mean immigrant. He got a job with a big factory in town and did pretty well. He and his wife don’t talk to people in the neighborhood except to the lady across the street. They have brilliant kids who didn’t know to roller skate when they were little. They’re grown up and living in California now. One became a doctor, maybe? Anyway, they’re smart.

Mr. Wang had, has? cancer. He’s small to begin with, but now he weighs 98 lbs, a lady says. He still worked in his yard up until two days ago, though he started sitting on a low seat under the Japanese maple a lot and wore a surgical mask.

My husband walks down to the Wangs’ house, though neither one of us has ever so much as said hello to them.

EMT’s carry a gurney out of the house, a tiny shrouded body on it. We can’t tell if the face is covered from where we stand. Someone says he’s gone already. But then the ambulance turns on its siren, and we figure they wouldn’t do that if he was already dead, would they?

When my husband returns, he tells us Mr. Wang had died, that the emergency people broke his sternum trying to get him to breathe again. His chest caves in at a steep angle, but he’s alive, for now.

I helped Mrs. Wang into the ambulance, he says.

This morning, one of the neighbors from last night’s huddle tells us Mr. Wang died again at midnight, but not before he became responsive in the hospital. That’s what he said: became responsive. We imagine him grasping his wife’s hand, telling her it’s okay, to let him go. But we don’t know anything for sure. Or at all, really.

Mrs. Wang is out in her yard exactly five and a half hours after her husband died. It’s trash day, and she moves her cans to the end of the street so the trash man can do his work without walking on her driveway. Then she gets out the salad tongs and cleans up her grass.

And I can’t help but wish I’d said hello before.