Scarlet Fever

Oh my God! Check this out:

I’m driving Ma’s car while she’s in it. We’re rolling back from Mike’s IGA and she’s telling me, all of a sudden like, but in no particular hurry about it, about how she talked with her brother recently about getting a hearing aid. Apparently he lost his hearing in his left ear when he was a child and only as an adult got a transmitter for it, plus a hearing aid for his other ear, which had aged like ears are wont to do. He often takes the transmitter out, especially at parties, complaining it makes him hear too much. Things he knows he isn’t supposed to hear.

Oh yeah? Like what? I’m totally excited when someone knows their limits like this. What does he think he isn’t supposed to hear?

Someone eating a triscuit, she said.

I’m nodding, That’s bad. I’d do what he does.

Then she says:
Well he lost his hearing when he was a child. My poor mom, all alone in that apartment with a sick boy. I had gone to nursing school and she was by herself and they wouldn’t let me see them. He had scarlet fever and was bleeding from his left ear. I couldn’t go, well I could go, but we had this arrangement where I would go to the back door and they would talk to me through the glass.

Oh! I’m thinking. A quarantine thing. She’s in nursing school. No good bringing back scarlet fever cooties. I wait for her to add more, but she just sits quietly addressing some middle distance: center dark, periphery clear.

Then a little nagging image: My own ma talking to her ma through the glass. I miss my turn and circle back to it. Ma doesn’t mind because car rides are infrequent enough that a delay is welcome, and she’s very polite about our incompetencies. Always has been.

Then the image again. My uncle pressed against the glass. His good ear pressed against the glass. What were they saying? What did they talk about? Hi. How are you. You look much better. The door glass is especially clear today.

Then the image once more: sinister. My uncle smiling at the door, blood coming out his ear. My grandma holding his shoulders, a mild smile of shored-up fatigue, casting out onto the back stoop where my ma stands: Helpless. Remote. There.

Everyone is waving that accelerated wave you see in home movies, mouthing the words I Love You Bye Bye I Love You Bye Bye I. The herky jerkiness of everyone walking the home movie walk.

What did Ma think about on her (train)(bus)(cab) rides to and from the home with the woman all alone and the sick boy?

Was it a long ride?

Was it as long as this ride I’m taking now?

Did she think what I’m thinking?

Did everything turn out OK?

Is everything going to be OK?

I’m going about 85. I miss my exit not even close. When I circle back to it on a cloverleaf, my forehead touches the glass and feels cool. I keep my hand on it the rest of the way home: that’s what glass feels like.

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