Short fiction by Emily Calvin
This morning, my grandmother and I enjoyed a routine ambulance trip to the emergency room while the rest of the world sipped steaming coffee in mahogany breakfast nooks and read the morning paper with their spouse, or sped to the gym for their daily kickboxing discipline, or rushed to their cubicle or that boring lecture they want to skip, or, for you night-owls, slept until AM turned to PM. I used to be one of you—oh, creatures of the night, fellow worshipers of the moonbeam—but somewhere along the way I choked on gluttonous family obligations and mother-daughter guilt, and after my mother’s death, my life shifted from night to day. Waking up at 4AM to white lines patiently awaiting my stuffy sinus cavities became waking up at 4AM to Grams lying on the bathroom floor, impatiently awaiting her daily, asinine trip to the doctor. I did the math on the way to the hospital: 1 point for the doctor’s visit, 3 points for the ambulance ride, 4 points if she gets surgery, and 5 points for any excessive rehabilitation and medication. This could be a 13-point morning, if all goes well. Scoff if you want, but this point system has gotten me through many a night with my over-medicated, alcoholic grandmother.
This particular morning, Grams had stumbled into the bathroom in a drunken stupor and mistook a leaking diaper for Death Himself coming to stake His claim on her misery and mine once again. Of all her crazy antics since my move into her home, this morning takes the cake. Imagine my surprise when I get ready for a shower and instead of an empty bathroom, I find my grandmother lying in a pool of her own urine, complaining about internal bleeding and mysteriously fatal food poisoning. My first thought: Impressive; how did she even think up such an absurd excuse for the world’s messiest hangover? Second thought: What the fuck do I do now?
“What the hell, Grams?” I tightened my robe and knelt down, trying to avoid the urine while holding back years of Nausea.
I’ve never read any Sartre, but I imagine the absurdity of this situation does the title of that book justice—soggy diapers mixed with red wine vomit and kitty litter (because of course she chose the bathroom where her 80-year-old bitch of a cat shits to stage this spectacle)—I can’t think of a more appropriate use of the word Nausea.
“It’s blood! It’s blood! It’s all around me! I’m dying!” and on and on she continued. She writhed on the floor as I clenched my teeth, held my nose, and attempted to grasp the reality of the situation so early in the morning.
Is this a nightmare? I started to hope, but my dream fled the scene, pierced by Grams’ incessant screams—“I can’t even move my legs!” she cried, before collapsing into her own mess. The “blood” to which she referred, upon further inspection, matched the purple hue of the three bottles of wine she downed the night before, but it had increased in viscosity due to contact with her urine, which had leaked through her diaper at some point during this gruesome fiasco. And since she insisted on food poisoning as the cause of her overactive esophagus, I began to wonder exactly what senile loon I should suspect planted poison into her microwave dinner last night.
I decided I had to call the doctor.
My legs carried me to the kitchen, where Grams’ outdated phone lay next to an anachronistic sticky note of doctors’ numbers—Dr. Kvetch, for Grams’s permanently failing eyesight; Dr. Bricolage, for that knee surgery she convinced him to give her two days before Christmas last year; Dr. Wassail, for her liver; Dr. Ayoristik, for her undetectable heart murmurs; Dr. Smithsonite, for her mythological kidney stones; Dr. Charivari, for her relentless skin cancer; Dr. Chicanery, for her overall checkups (so he could tell her which doctor she should see for which monthly surgery).
Dr. Fossick’s number hid beneath black pen scribbles—one of the few, the lone, the proud doctors who refused to give her unnecessary surgery just so she could convince her family, i.e. me, to nurse her back to health. Aha! Dr. Nepenthe, the family therapist who also happens to possess the envied medical degree, specializing in Munchausen Syndrome, Alcoholism, and the myriad of faux conditions concocted by half-senile, lonely old women. Dr. Nepenthe, get ready to start your morning with a brutally superfluous “emergency.”
Ring ring ring. “Hello? Dr. Nepenthe?” I twisted my right index finger around the curly chord. A mumble and a rustle of sheets sounded from the receiver. “Mmyes…who is this?” Even in the early hours of the morning, his voice still resembled a British doctor who just arrived on his horse and buggy to pay a visit to the town square and pass out bottles of ether for every woman suffering Victorian marriage pains. “Hi Dr. Nepenthe. It’s Bucky…”
The rustling of sheets continued, and I suspected this poor doctor, after glancing at the clock, escaped his bedroom so as not to awaken his sleeping beauty, and began pacing along the massive hallway that separated the kitchen from the bathroom, out of earshot, with plenty of space. “I…I’m really sorry to call you so early…it’s just that…that…” “Just breathe, Bucky,” Nepenthe found his morning voice. “It’s alright. Everything’s alright.” He knew how much I dreaded phone calls (hey, after a few years of this shit, don’t even try to tell me you wouldn’t develop some neuroses), so he instantly forgave the unforgivable hour.
“Okay.” I began by forgiving myself for such nonsensical anxiety and talking myself back into the sarcastic, bitter state that gets me through emergencies such as this.
“She’s full of shit,” I said. I released the telephone chord wrapped around my finger, and jumped onto a seated position on the counter. If grams saw me sitting on her counter, I thought, I’d be stuck washing her diapers for a week. I jumped back down. “What’s she complaining about this time?” he asked. I wondered how he managed such a saintly level of patience. “She’s crying about some sort of hemorrhaging and paralyzation from the waist down,” I said. I began to pace in a manner I supposed similar to Dr. Nepenthe.
“How much did she drink last night?” he asked. The inevitable question. “Three bottles. I had homework. I stopped babysitting her for two fucking seconds, and she downed three bottles of merlot and stumbled into the bathroom to throw it all up.” “So there’s vomit?” “Ugh,” Nausea face, “everywhere. She claims it’s blood.” “She does know hemorrhaging means internal bleeding. Doesn’t she?” Aha…sarcasm. “You’d think, considering all those medical books she reads, that she’d get her crises straight if she wanted to be taken seriously,” I said.
“BUUUUUUUCK!!!!!!!!” reverberated through the house.
My shoulder twitched, as it always does when she screams like this. “Was that her?” he asked. We both ceased our pacing. “Yep.” I walked toward the receiver. “I gotta go. I just need to know if it’s worth taking her to the hospital or if there’s any way I can talk her back up to bed,” I said. I grabbed my shoulder and failed to stop its twitching. “Hemorrhaging or not,” Dr. Nepenthe said, “she could probably use a stomach pump, and you know she’s not going to leave you alone.” “Emergency room it is,” I sighed. “Thanks for your help.” “Anytime, Bucky. Call if you need anything else,” both receivers clicked simultaneously. So what now? I wondered. Do I drag her out of her own piss and vomit, wipe her down, and cart her to the hospital, or do I make the glorious phone call that makes grams’s heart race—911?
Ring ring ring.
“911. What’s your emergency?” I jumped. When did my fingers dial? “Umm, yeah, hi…my grandmother fell and needs to go to the hospital…please,” I said.
I started to hang up. Why should I let her run my life? I wondered. It’s 4 o’clock in the goddamn morning, for chrissake. But, no, this isn’t fair, I reasoned. She needs to go to the hospital, and you can’t let your stubbornness get in the way of your grandmother’s needs. I began my internal pep talk. So what if she’s not really sick? Apparently, she needs attention and love and doesn’t fee it for some reason…at least that’s what Dr. Nepenthe said…so get on with it. “What’s your address, please?” the calm robot cooed. My mouth spouted the address. “Don’t worry, ma’am, help is on the way.” Click. I played the conversation over in my head. Ma’am? Help is on the way. Hell is on the way. Which will come first?
My legs carried me back into the bathroom, where Grams had dragged her body across the tile and was now splayed half over the hallway and half still on the bathroom floor. “My legs!” she cried. “They’re in so much pain.”
I crouched to her level, again while holding my nose, and inspected her bottom appendages. All clear, save a few burns from scraping along the bathroom tile. “The ambulance is on the way,” I said, “and your legs are fine. You just burned them when you decided to move halfway out of the bathroom.”
“I was trying to get your attention.”
“Right,” I turned to wait in the living room, “of course.”
The ambulance appeared just in time for Grams’ guilt to sink into my flesh, and her eyes lit up like a child’s at Disney World. Lights flashing, sirens blasting. You know they never play the whole siren anymore? They just beep it at cars—Beep! Beeoop! Beep Boop! My shoulder twitched every time the siren stopped and started, which happened more than I could count. I zoned out for most of the ride. When the ambulance came, I finally allowed myself a break. The experts could take it from there, even though not even the ultimate expert could really handle Grams.
But they try, so I let them.
Sirens, lights, speed, stretchers, doctors, white coats, closed doors, waiting room. And there I sat, like a duck in a still pond, thinking up stupid analogies and writing them off as metaphors. I thought about my mother—her stupid life lessons, her stupid cleaning methods, her stupid rules, and her stupid car. If it hadn’t been for that car, the one she bought because she decided, “Women in their 50s deserve to drive fast cars!” Well, mom, how old did you feel when you swerved off that cliff and ended up nose down in the ocean? I bet you didn’t feel “fast and fifty” then.
She was full of shit, and so was everyone else—Dr. Nepenthe when he told me I was the only one who could take care of Grams; my teachers when they said they were so proud of how much of an adult I was; that woman on the 911 phone call who couldn’t even act like she gave a shit about my emergency; and Grams every time she forced me out of the comfort of my own slumbers and into the bright lights and cold floors of emergency rooms and hospitals.
You know what? I thought, Fuck this shit. I’m outta here. Grams is fine…or at least she will be, once she gets enough opiates in her system to shut the hell up for five minutes. Then they’ll just send her home with me, to care for her, ‘til death do us part. Well, guess what, Grams, death is never going to do us part, so this time, I’m doing us part. I’m getting outta here while I still can, dammit. Quietly, calmly, discreetly, I reached down, grabbed my purse, stood from my chair, and walked through the sliding glass doors of the emergency room. I waived down a taxi that sped up to me with a screech.
My kinda speed. I jumped in. “13 Brady Drive, please,” I smiled, and off we drove. Highway to hell. Good job, Bucky! I congratulated myself. I had finally thought of myself for once. I paid the cabbie and raced into the house. I threw off my clothes and ran up to the bedroom. Sleep at last! I jumped in bed, pulled the covers over my head, pushed every thought of Grams, her “food poisoning,” and that mind-numbing ambulance ride out of my mind, and drifted into meditative sleep.
Ring ring ring—what the hell?
Blankets flew off my startled body as I staggered to the kitchen to answer the phone. “Hello? What? Is this the hospital? Yes, I’m home, can you just put Grams in a taxi? I’ll pay the fare. Address is 13 Brady Drive.” I reached to hang up, but I paused at a mumble from the other end of the phone. “I’m sorry. Miss Martin? Bucky Martin?” the voice trembled. “Yeah, it’s me. Look, is this about Grams, or is this some kind of weird, stalker phone call? ‘Cause I was sleeping, goddammit!” I said. “No, Miss Martin, this is about your grandmother,” the voice grew determined. “Bucky. It’s Bucky. Okay, what? Out with it.” Impatience clouded the kitchen like smoke from the oven. “Bucky, your grandmother passed away just a few minutes ago.” Silence. Nothing. Numb. Tears. A scream or two. A broken mug. I fell on the floor and blamed myself. The phone beeped off the hook. Footsteps neared my front door, a key turned, my eyes darted, the door creaked, I grabbed a mug, smashed it, and picked up a large piece of broken glass. First, a foot appeared in the doorway; then the door opened completely; then I ran at the door with the glass; then Grams fell to the ground, half in the house, half on the concrete, blood pooling from her side where a shard of the “Number One Gramma” mug I bought her last year jutted proudly. “Grams?” I backed away. “You’re not…you’re not…you’re…you’re supposed to be…dead…well…you are dead…now…” Shit. I walked into the kitchen and picked up the phone. Ring ring ri— “911. What’s your emergency?” “No emergency. My grandmother has passed away. Send a hearse. I have to run. The door is open.” I smiled, dropped the phone, stepped over Grams’ body, and never looked back, not even when they wrapped me in a straight jacket, put my wrists in hand cuffs, and threw me into a cloud.
My blog is: http://kairosrae.blogspot.com and my website is: http://emilycalvin.com. Also check out the book from Emily Calvin: “Grey Prose” and it is available on Amazon. The link to the book is: http://www.amazon.com/Grey-