Ambulance

We spend most of our time in the back part of our house in the kitchen, but this morning, something made me glance out the front door. Across the street – right in front of Pina & Mario’s place – was an ambulance. 

I didn’t really think much of it at first; my in-laws are visiting for the first time since the pandemic began and I had other things on my mind. And yet… Pina and Mario aren’t young. I checked again. The ambulance was still there.

What is the difference between nosy and concerned? On our street, I honestly don’t always know. Mike, who lives next door and keeps treats in his pockets for everyone’s dogs, knows everything and often keeps us all abreast of what’s happening. The house on our other side, split into three apartments, has housed a series of delightful young couples – one by one they’ve left to get married and have children, leaving me happy that at least my kids haven’t made them rethink their plans. Two real estate agents live on the block – in different houses – and each of them is enthusiastically nosy in her own way. Across the street, baby V and their parents and grandparents occupy one house. I’ve been trying to teach V to say “truck” whenever we cross paths. So far, all we’ve got is enthusiastic raspberries and grins, but we’re getting there. Alex and Tessa used to babysit for our kids before they went to university, so we keep up with them via their mom. The couple next to Mario & Pina share gardening tips, and this year they gave me four hot pepper plants; the couple next to them has a very energetic dog, which means that they often pause in front of Mike’s. Two doors down from us is a family with two girls, both one year younger than my two boys; three doors beyond that, the corner house includes two boys who are nearly the same ages as my two: our families tumble over each other quite regularly. We live in a neighborhood where I feel comfortable running out to borrow an egg or a half cup of sugar. We don’t necessarily hang out together, but we know each other.

That ambulance had me worried. I decided to knit on the front porch. I settled in, trying not to imagine myself as a nosy middle-aged lady. The baby sweater was mostly finished, so I patiently wove in the ends and pretended not to watch Mario & Pina’s house. Eventually, Pina came out, well-dressed, fumbling with her purse. She passed behind the ambulance and disappeared. My heart dropped: Mario. It was Mario. 

I waited. The ambulance didn’t move and I tried not to wonder too hard if that meant that they were treating him or if that meant something much worse. No way to know. I concentrated on my sweater.

Mario and Pina have lived on our block for 52 years, longer than anyone else. They bought their house for $34,000 when she was 22 and he was 25. They can tell you how much most of the houses on the block have sold for over the years, and Mario shakes his head when he recounts various neighbours’ renovation antics or inappropriate landscaping choices. He may never forgive the couple that turned their front yard into a driveway to a garage under the house. “Under!” He shakes his head with disgust. Mario himself is always on the go and prides himself on his yard. He mows and sweeps incessantly all summer, then comes out with a snow blower and cleans his sidewalk and driveway, day in and day out, all winter. And yet, Pina is the gardener. Last year she insisted on giving me some of her Rose of Sharon; the year before she took me on a tour of her (immense) backyard vegetable garden. They raised their children here; now their granddaughter – one year older than my oldest – visits every Saturday.

The minutes passed quietly. Pina pulled out in her car and drove off. Moments later, the ambulance followed, no siren. I finished weaving in the ends, then went inside to wet and block the sweater. 

After that, my day filled up: there were children to feed and errands to run. I checked things off my to-do list and immediately added others. The baby sweater dried; I spoke with friends.

After dinner, my partner gently said that it was ok to go over and see if they needed anything. I didn’t want to intrude, but I was worried. I decided he was right. We rang the bell and waited, not sure what to expect. After a few moments, Pina’s face appeared at the door. Through my mask, I asked if Mario was ok. “I saw the ambulance this morning,” I babbled, “and then I saw you.” She stared. “I can bring food,” I offered. 

Food. They are Italian. Their family is in town. I suspect that they never, ever lack for food.

Pina’s eyes darted left, right and then opened wide with understanding. The ambulance! She had left! No, no, Mario was fine. She, too, had wondered and worried about the ambulance. She watched it out her living room window: what was it doing in front of her house? Perhaps it was there for neighbours? Maybe the driver needed a rest? She didn’t want to be nosy, so she had waited inside, but eventually she had to leave the house. Flustered, she had fumbled for her keys as she made her way down the front walk. She did not know that the ambulance had followed after her. Mario, whose knee was bothering him, had uncharacteristically spent most of the day inside. 

They are both fine. 

We looked at each other, and our eyes filled with tears. “Come in! Come in!” Pina insisted. I did. We sat at her kitchen table and talked about our neighbors: is Mike well? Isn’t it a shame that the neighbours don’t sit on the porch anymore? Have I seen how her granddaughter has grown? My son is so tall! I declined the offer of coffee. Mario insisted on showing me around the house because he was fine – fine, except for his knee, but what can you expect? This is what it means to get old. There was their wedding picture, Pina’s train spread out forever and ever. They were so young. “Do you know when we bought this house?” asks Mario, full of good spirits, laughing because I thought he was sick (or worse) and he is not. “We were so 22 and 25! Let me tell you about the neighbourhood…”

And I listen to his stories again. Nosy? Maybe. But at least for tonight, everyone on our street is ok.