A Story that Takes Place Across 10 Seconds.

9:59:52 AM The story had begun, but she didn’t know it yet. A latent pain, hidden these past six years would finally begin to find its resolution in this very second. Curious, how something so significant can go unnoticed at the moment. But for now, she was only aware of the sound of the lo-fi jazz in her headphones. Her soundtrack for the drizzly day muffled the bus noises. The thick bassline gave momentum to the drone of the slowing wheels on the wet asphalt below her. The vague figures outside only giving hints of who was there with jackets and umbrellas.

9:59:53 AM The body becomes aware, starts to react, before the mind translates into consciousness that anything has happened. That happened this time. If she hadn’t been lost in thought, she might have noticed how her hands had started to get cold. She might have noticed her quickening heart rate and breathing, imperceptible. She might have sensed her ears flushing under the multi-colored beanie that concealed her earbuds from view. She might have noticed these things. But she didn’t. She smelled the exhaust mingled with rain and people smells, vaguely heard their murmurs over the gentle piano melody in her private world.

9:59:54 AM At some point, the brain gets around to realizing that what is happening is worth expressing to the consciousness – that whatever the executive function was up to isn’t important enough to keep from interrupting. But sometimes, the interruption doesn’t have words yet. Like now. “Look around” was all her brain could tell her. Which, of course, didn’t make any sense. “Why?” But no matter, she started to look up, not knowing what she should be seeing – like when a word enters your mind and you don’t know where it came from so you scour the page until you find it.

9:59:55 AM Have you ever had the experience where even though you know you should see something, you can’t find it with your eyes? It can be tempting to give up. A quick glance around didn’t reveal anything of importance – just more fellow passengers boarding the bus, paying their fares, finding the seats that had been vacated by other passengers leaving the bus to go on about the business of their days. It was all very ordinary. Her eyes were ready to give up – to drift back down into unknowing, unlooking, unseeing. But there is more to seeing than just the eyes.

9:59:56 AM When the eyes fail to see, or to perceive, what the body has recognized as important, sometimes the intuition must intervene: “Look again!” “Reach out with your heart.” She had been about to rest her eyes again – to look away into the hypnotic passing of the familiar scenery outside the fogged window. But something inside her resisted. “Look again!” But it was not her eyes that looked first this time – it was the heart. This is always dangerous, because when the heart looks, it risks being met by pain. She often tried not to look with her heart these days.

9:59:57 AM When the heart looks, it may do so with anticipation of joy or with yearning. Hope, so often an expression of what is not, but also what ought to be, seems often tinged with longing. She knew, before she raised her eyes the second time, what it was – rather, who it was – that her heart was longing to see. Frozen sadness is like that – ready at any moment to reinsert the past into the present. Ready to will the possible but unlikely into reality. “Oh heart,” she thought, “you know it can’t happen. You know she’s not here.” And yet . . .

9:59:58 AM Even when we look with the heart – and with eyes ready to see – the brain can’t quite make sense of what is being received by the optic nerves. And even though the heart already knows, the prefrontal cortex guards the heart from further injury by filtering out the possibility: “No, it’s not possible – don’t believe in the impossible.” She saw, or rather thought she saw, the very one her heart had willed into the present, out of the desolate land of frozen grief. But doubt is ever present. “How could that be – here? Where neither of us has lived before?”

9:59:59 AM Focus has a strange way of limiting the senses. Focus and earbuds together make a particularly dynamic team for blotting out the auditory world. What sweet music her ears would have heard, if they could have. The bassline was somehow dissonant from the moment – discordant with the reality of a dream becoming reality. The hiss and crackle of the lo-fi music were now costing her the very sound her heart had longed to hear – been afraid to hear – for so long now. But now, in a mere eight seconds, the music had been transformed into cacophony. “What is she saying?”

10:00:00 AM Hope, when brought into the present by unexpected events, pushes perhaps only one undesirable thing to the forefront with it – the fears of what its realization would mean. As realization dawned – that yes, this was her – this was the dearest friend with whom goodbying was missed by some gross misfortune of schedule – the one whose unforewarned absence had caused such deep pain six years ago, as the time for the move was finally upon her. The regret of unfulfilled goodbyes now thrust itself into the present – the doubt of whether to write or call, which she had never quite overcome.

10:00:01 AM The heart, when at last freed from the tyranny of the filtering mind, can sometimes see more clearly than the eyes, the brain, the ears together. She knew now – as she saw the look in her friend’s face – the eyes already welling with tears held back in their own wasteland of frozen sadness. She heard now, the earbuds dropping from her ears as she drank in the voice of this one who she now knew had always been dear to her. And she felt the hot tears on her own cheeks as she entered the warm embrace of six-years’ hope.

Written in response to the Reedsy writing prompt: Write a story that takes place across ten seconds.