Tuesday, April 23, 2013

It Is Not Contagious, You Know!

Father pulls his skin taught across his lips with left hand, takes the metal shaver in right and aims flawlessly for the moustache scrub. I watch in silence, admiring each gesture. The foam floats above the bowl of warm water, the sound of precise scraping focuses the act in daily sequence. I sit, grateful to be able to watch him today in this usual routine. I slip on my good socks and fine faux alligator loafers. I am twelve. The uptown apartment is clean. The stew is ready for supper.

He turns around and hardens his gaze upon my clothing, pleated 
plaid skirt, wrinkle-free, white cotton blouse, impeccable, navy cardigan, all buttons properly aligned. I smooth my hair, I feel him struggling to find any detail to chastise me about. “you know your mother will notice anything when you get there” his voice trembles over the last words, he averts my gaze.

As we turn toward the cathedral, I watch women pull their mantillas over their chignons and curls, each tapping their heels on the limestone walkways as a genteel army of the faithful. My throat so parched that I believe I would not be able to speak if asked, I step lightly behind his brown shoes, conscious not to waver. I have never been in a hospital.At the large iron door to St Josèphe Clinique, he stops and passes his hand over his pale cheeks, takes a deliberate deep breath, “she almost died you know! Don't bother her or ask anyth..” his voice falters.

A nun approaches us, father straightens his shoulders and asks for my mother's room number. We are taken to a ground floor waiting room, bronze statuettes of saints line the long space in discreet niches. I scrutinize each in order to keep my pulse from running away from me. I have never bothered to learn which is supposed to help whatever ails people, so I scatter a few begging thoughts across the hall. I touch one sleek be-robbed monkish figure and quickly withdraw my hand for fear of being spied upon by a rigid Supérieure or so. I don't want my father to find me weak.

When I finally am allowed in my mother's room, he loosens his jaw, “ I' ll be going to the café, don't wait up for me” he starts toward me, I open my arms slightly, he stares past me then turns abruptly, the heavy door creaks behind him. My breath is shallow, my eyes painful, I hear faint echoes of graceful nurses on duty. A doctor exits mother's single room, “ your mother will be fine, she will stay with us for another week, don't touch the bed, it may hurt her” he smiles directly at me.

Mother's face seems like a bloated ivory figurine floating above pristine sheets, I have never known her to be so filled and friendly. Who is this person so relaxed and amenable? She reaches for my hand, I hesitate. “ it' s not catching you know, I had appendicitis and it busted and caused peritonitis, very dangerous, very painful” I sit on the padded chair beside her iron bed, looking at all the medical implements around. A book on her table, next to a short glass of water with a straw in it. I wonder how she can sit there all day, she neither reads nor drinks water. She tells me of friends visiting her, I am surprised to hear she has friends, I am not allowed any..

Well, her seamstress and the jeweler she works for have been here, then she tells of a family acquaintance, but warns me against sharing this information, I forget immediately as usual. The doctor comes by and motions me to rise and depart, I lightly touch mother's hand and suppress an awkward grimace which is surging from my chest and threatens to turn me into a wailing child, “come back next week-end” she says, softly. The tears refuse to be contained, I pour out of the huge front door along with an unstoppable stream of tears and moans. Blind and deaf to traffic, I rush to the park across the street and hide by the reindeer enclosure, they know me well, I know them, they snort at me in consolation.
I wonder if the spotted deer are orphans, I don't have dry bread to give to them today. I don't have anything to give to anyone today.


  1. Wonderfully written, Nadine! Your voice is back...Excellent! Editorial note... A tiny edit One tiny typo in 3rd para. ":)

  2. it isn't often that a writer can so fully take my mind into that of someone else and with such ease. thank you for sharing this, nadine.

  3. Nadine, great story! I almost died of peritonitis myself, about 6 weeks before my 15th birthday. I remember being rushed to the hospital, the horrible pain afterwards (it was so bad I needed morphine) and later while I was recovering, the bad food. It was my first time in the hospital, and quite an ordeal.

  4. oo katley, sorry to remind you of such an ordeal--i was in retrograde mood when writing this short piece and pared it down to the emotive essentials, thank you for sharing again,