Old Woman by Ed Yourdon, courtesy of Flickr
The phone rang, breaking the oppressive silence. It took several rings before Phyllis managed to hobble over and reach the phone.
“Hi, Mom, how are you doing?” Her daughter’s voice. Emily.
She paused. “Fine.”
“Mom, that ‘fine’ doesn’t sound too good. What’s hurting today?”
She laughed softly. “How did you know?”
“I hear it in your voice. Is it your leg again? Your back?”
“The leg, honey. But it’s ok.”
“What’s ok? How bad is it? Give it to me from one to ten.”
“I guess today it’s a seven.”
“That’s not so bad, yesterday it was a nine.”
“What does the doctor have to say?”
“There isn’t that much to do. He can give me another shot in a few days.”
“But how are you managing, Mom?”
“I’m managing, I’m managing. Everything gets done; it just takes a little longer.”
Her daughter was unnaturally silent for a few moments. “Mom, don’t you think it’s time you moved in with one of us?”
“Why, will it stop hurting if I’m by you?”
She heard her daughter’s short intake of breath. “Mom, I worry about you alone in the house- all those stairs, those empty rooms! You were always there for us whenever we needed you. I want to be able to take care of you now that you need us.”
“But I don’t need to be taken care of. I’m okay, really. I’m managing. ”
“I know, I know. You don’t need anything. But Mom, maybe we need something. Maybe we need to spoil you a little.”
“Oh, Emily, really. You’re wonderful children. You and the grandchildren and their children- you bring me all the joy in the world. That’s all the spoiling I need.”
She could hear her daughter’s sigh over the wire, over the thousands of miles separating them.
“Mom, I love you.”
“I love you too, honey. Stop worrying about me, I’m fine. And go to sleep already, it’s late by you.”
Emily laughed over the lines. “Don’t worry, Mommy. I’ll go to bed. G’night. Love you.”
Phyllis glanced around the room. Seven years, and she still wasn’t used to her silent home. She walked around from room to room, her ears perked for the sound of children’s voices and her husband’s laughter. Annoyed, but not sure whether it was with herself or with the oppressive silence, she got up and turned on the television. Judge Judy’s voice kept her company as she did her ironing, no longer quite alone.
The phone rang again. She looked at the clock, too late for her long-distance children. With a sigh, she shuffled over to the phone. By the time she got there, however, it stopped ringing. She checked her caller ID. Reba. She reached for the phone to call her back, when the phone rang yet again. What a busy day! Phyllis picked it up on the first ring.
“That was quick, Mom. I guess you’re feeling better.”
“Yes, Bobby.” She smiled despite the pain. Why should she worry her baby boy?
“Not out on the town with your friends?”
“Too cold today. Nobody was up to going out.”
“Well, maybe we were considering driving up next weekend with the kids if it doesn’t get too crazy here.”
“That would be nice. Nice talking to you.” She hung up, missing Bobby’s attempt at trying to prolong the conversation.
Phyllis picked up the phone to call Reba, smiling as she remembered how they had become friends.
Phyllis had never been what she called “a social butterfly.” Life had revolved around her husband and children, and, later, her husband and work. But two weeks after her husband had passed, the doorbell rang. She had opened it to find Reba, one of the neighborhood widows she knew by sight.
“Just came by to see how you were doing, Mrs. Katz.” Surprised, Phyllis had invited her in.
They sat over a bowl of fruit, which neither of them touched, and a bottle of orange juice. After some idle chit-chat, Reba came to the point. “Just wanted to let you know, we have a lecture series, the next lecture is scheduled for next week, Monday. Would you like me to drive by and pick you up?”
Startled, Phyllis paused to consider. She never really went to lectures. But then, maybe it would be good to get out. “Okay,” she said, stretching out the word hesitantly.
“Great!” Reba stood up and started putting on her coat. “And we’re meeting for lunch Thursday afternoon at the corner deli. I’ll pick you up at 12:30.”
She walked out before Phyllis had a chance to word a refusal. After that, almost every week there was a lecture, or a group lunch, or a book club meeting arranged for local widows. She welcomed the opportunity to escape the stifling silence and make new friends. Emily laughingly called them her “widow’s club.”
She could hear the phone ringing. She waited patiently, giving Reba a chance to make it to the phone with her walker. “Hulloo?”
“Hi, Reba, it’s Phyllis.”
“Oh, Phyllis! I tried calling you earlier!”
“I know, till I got to the phone…” Phyllis shrugged, even though she know Reba couldn’t see her.
“It wasn’t anything important. Just wanted to check how you were doing. How’s the pain?”
“So-so. Could be better. How about you? Make it out today?”
“Nah, afraid of slipping with the walker outside in this weather.
I’m doing okay, though. Keeping busy with doctor appointments. Was by the cardiologist earlier this week, and have another appointment with the dermatologist next week.”
Phyllis sighed. “Yes, me too. Seems like a week doesn’t go by without an appointment by one doctor or another.”
“Yeah, but the doctors gotta make a living too. That’s why it’s called the golden age. They’re all making money off of us.”
Phyllis laughed ruefully. Lately, they all seemed to be busier with their doctors than with each other. They chatted on a bit longer and then got off the phone.
Slowly and painfully, Phyllis climbed the stairs to her kitchen to make supper. She paused by the pictures on the wall. Her children, grown up and far away. They flew in from time to time, spacing themselves so she’d have company for longer. She loved their visits, but once they left, the house seemed emptier than before.
Phyllis slowly stroked their beloved faces on the wall. She was blessed with good children. “Mom, move in with us,” each of her children offered, time and again. Phyllis sighed and continued up the stairs.
They meant well, she’d give them that. But what would she do by them all day? The grandchildren were all grown and out of the house. Her children worked all day and had such busy schedules. Chuck would say, “You can read here, just like you read at home.” Emily would say, “But I’m never too busy for you, Mom.” And Bobby? He’s nod sympathetically and agree with her.
Besides, Emily lived in a hilly neighborhood, worse than San Francisco. Chuck lived forty-five painful stairs away from the ground floor, with no elevator. And Bobby, well, even with his good intentions, he really didn’t have room for her in his apartment. Staying with any of them would turn her into a prisoner in a golden cage. Well cared for, but isolated and alone.