She's not the only parent who leaves the purchasing of supplies till the last minute, after all.
By RUTHIE BLUM LEIBOWITZ
Edna presses the button several times, as though her nervous tapping will cause the elevator to arrive more quickly. She looks at her watch and sighs melodramatically, though her anxiety is anything but an act.
Moving to the side to allow a gurney, surrounded by a group of concerned family members, to pass through the hallway between Pediatrics and Geriatrics, she calculates how long it will take her to walk to her car and drive to the book store before it closes. She assumes - or hopes memory serves - that the week before the beginning of the school year, the store stays open later than usual. She's not the only parent who leaves the purchasing of supplies till the last minute, after all. Or so she tells herself to alleviate angst and guilt. A task normally assigned to her mother. One her mother has always performed gladly and effortlessly. The way she does most things. With a kind of amused acceptance born of innate wisdom.
"What are you worried about?" her mother's imaginary voice chides affectionately, as Edna teeters on the verge of a frantic tizzy at the prospect of an elevator that never reaches her floor. "It'll all take care of itself eventually."
Of all the times for her mother to get sick - Edna thinks - before settling on the stairs. These she tackles in leaps and bounds, her heart pounding partly from exertion and partly from pent-up emotion.
"Whoa! Where's the fire?" a janitor calls out in Arabic-accented Hebrew, when Edna nearly knocks over the pail of sudsy water in which he is dipping his mop.
If she hadn't been in such a hurry, Edna might have stopped - or at least paused - to make a quip about her gut being the only thing in flames at the moment. Seeing your unconscious mother hooked up to machines will do that. Particularly when you never considered the possibility that something as mundane as illness could put such a monumental person out of commission.
But Edna doesn't slow down to exchange pleasantries with the cleaning man. She continues running toward the exit, until safely out of the building.
Emerging from the air-conditioned enclosure in which she has spent the better part of the day pacing from Intensive Care to the cafeteria, Edna is suddenly disoriented. Her senses are bombarded by contrasts which take her brain a minute to program: the color of dusk replacing fluorescent lighting; the smell of heat-wave aftermath and parking-lot exhaust fumes supplanting that of disinfectant and boiled chicken.
"I'm never going to make it," Edna says to the dashboard, while rummaging through the glove compartment to find the ticket that awards free parking to close relatives of in-patients requiring round-the-clock care.
"Never mind," the cashier in the booth waves Edna along, recognizing her as a regular.
"You see?" she imagines her mother chuckling. "You make too much of everything."
Edna's instinct is to enter into an argument, to justify her malaise. It's an argument she seeks to lose, of course, because winning would leave her alone with her hysteria. But her mother is lying in a bed beyond oppressive gray walls and reinforced glass, as peaceful in a coma as she is when cognizant.
"YOU'RE NOT there yet?" Edna's daughter shrieks, her anger almost palpable through the speakers of the car-phone. "You're never going to make it on time."
"Of course I will," Edna answers, her mother's tone invading her speech. "The book store stays open late during the last week of August."
"Well, even if you do make it, that's no good," her daughter wails. "Because they'll have run out of the books on my list."
"We won't know that until I get there, will we?" Edna says, wondering where that burst of common sense came from.
"And then I'll have to order them," her daughter moans. "And then I'll have to go again on another day."
"As far as I can tell," Edna says, "you're not the one going at all."
"That's not my fault," her daughter says indignantly. "You're the one who said you'd deal with it."
"So I did," Edna says calmly, in spite of being stuck in a bottleneck cause by an accident in the opposite lane. "And so I will."
"Oof," her daughter grunts - minus her original gusto - before hanging up.
EDNA PULLS up to the curb in front of the book store and curses under her breath when she discerns it is closed.
"What do you say to that, huh?" she challenges her invisible mother. "Everything always works out, does it?"
"So you'll go tomorrow," she envisions her mother shrugging. "It's not the end of the world."
"Oh yeah?" Edna howls. "Tell that to the surly adolescent waiting to pounce on me the second I walk into the house."
"No thanks," she hears her mother chuckle, as she enters the driveway of her duplex. "I've had my own share of surly adolescents to fend off."
Edna braces herself for a barrage of berating, ready to launch a counterattack that consists of making her daughter feel guilty for not visiting her beloved grandmother in the hospital enough. After managing to tame the tremor in her hand that threatened to prevent her from sliding the key in the door, she walks in with purpose.
"AWESOME!" COOS her daughter, who is sitting on the floor next to a stack of books, binders, folders, pencils, pens and a new, state-of-the-art backpack. "Daddy bought all this on his way home, because he said we shouldn't bother you with stuff like that while Grandma's in the hospital."
"You see?" Edna sings to her daughter in harmony with her mother. "Everything takes care of itself eventually."
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