I checked my watch. “She’s late.”
“Careful,” Maria said, “or the auctioneer will think you’re bidding.”
“Not on these kids.” Three gangly teenagers holding gardening tools stood on the stage.
“Have hoe, will travel!” announced the auctioneer. “How much will you bid to have your garden tilled and ready for your homegrown tomatoes?”
As hands shot up around the fellowship hall, I glanced toward the front door. I had chosen this seat so I could keep vigil, while being fully supportive of the fundraiser causing my congregation to sell themselves to the highest bidder. Until a few years ago, this event had been called a “Slave Auction for Missions” but had since been renamed a “Time and Talent Auction” to comply with the need to be politically correct. Judging by the long faces of the boys standing on the stage, it was unlikely they had gotten that memo. Just then, from the corner of my eye, I saw my mother, Glo, waving.
“Is that a bid?” called the auctioneer.
Flustered, she shook her head. I pointed out toward the hallway as I rose and headed in that direction.
“How was the drive?” I asked as we met near the door.
“The traffic through Westchester was awful. Some idiot cut me off just as I was getting on the Throgs Neck Bridge, so I flipped him the….”
“Glad you made it okay,” I interrupted, conscious that her word would have made a large blip on my parishioner’s radar. “The Time and Talents auction is almost over,” I explained. “I sold myself to two families.”
“To do what?” she snapped.
“Be the entertainment for their children’s birthday parties.”
Glo rolled her eyes as Maria approached. She leaned over to give my mother a hug.
“Hi Glo, how was the drive?”
“She hit lots of traffic,” I said, and pointed to the restroom. “Bathroom?”
Glo nodded. “Uh huh, and I better check my eye while I’m in there.”
“What’s wrong with your eye?” I sighed as I narrowed mine and peered at hers. Of course, it had to be something. It always was.
“It looks bloodshot,” said Maria.
“I gave myself a perm this morning. I didn’t have time to get one before then and I didn’t want to go to Mexico without having one. So, I did it myself. Louisa May All Catt helped. That’s how I got this scratch.” She stuck out her arm to display the long red mark near her elbow. “She did that just as I was squirting the perm solution and, by accident, it splashed in my eye. She didn’t mean it.”
“Did you flush your eye right away?” I asked, now concerned she may have an actual problem.
“I tried, but the perm stuff was dripping out of my hair as I bent over the sink, so… well… it really burned.”
“I’m sure it did! Did you see a doctor?” I already knew that answer before asking.
“No, I didn’t have time. I still needed to pack and say goodbye to my kitties. But don’t worry. I’m fine. I’ll be okay.”
“Want to stop by the ‘Doc in a Box’ clinic near Kmart? It’s open until nine.”
“No. Now. No. I’m fine. I’ll put a wet paper towel on it for a few minutes while you go back in and talk with your parishioners.” She headed for the ladies room.
No. Now. No. Code words I’d learned in childhood that meant the conversation was over and she’d gotten her way. Butt out. Problem was that my butt was headed to Mexico with her and my friend Maria in less than twelve hours. That she had dismissed me to tend to the congregation meant something really was amiss with her eye and she wanted to work on the problem without my input.
“Well… Maria…” My voice faded, less from a loss of words than from the need to filter them. Just then, the sound of metal chairs scraping floor tiles interrupted my creeping sense of doom. The auction had ended, and the exodus had begun.
“Was that your mother?” a parishioner asked as she walked into the hallway where Maria and I were standing. Before I could answer, Don wandered over. “Traffic in Westchester was bad, again? You know it’s gotten—” Lucille interrupted him. “What’s wrong with her eye? I’ll go check on her.” She headed for the ladies room.
“Radar,” I said under my breath.
Maria laughed. “Lucky you…”
“Lucky us,” I replied as my mother exited the ladies room, with Lucille hot on her heels calling out advice.
“Let’s go. Now!” Glo demanded, as she stared at me with one eye almost closed. “See you at 6 AM, Maria. We’re leaving.”
Having already cleared my desk, I ran to the office just to grab my purse. I lingered a moment in the quiet and took a deep breath. I really needed a break from my pastoral work, but was this going to help?
“Have a great vacation!” a parishioner called as I walked to my car. Near me, my mother was yelling as she backed out of her parking spot. Thankfully, the windows were closed.
“God, I hope so,” I said. I’m sure it was a prayer.
Glo followed me to my small apartment a few miles away. I had already opened up the sleeper sofa so she could get as much shut-eye as possible before our early morning flight.
“Want some tea?” I asked, after we had donned our jammies.
“No. I’m tired. The drive upstate wore me out.”
I padded down the hall to my bedroom. “Goodnight, see you in the morning light,” I called before closing the door.
Just after midnight, my mother knocked. “Come look at my eye.”
I tumbled out of bed, switched on the light, and let her in.
“Your light is on. Why weren’t you sleeping?”
“Let me see your eye,” now redder than before. “I think you need to have this looked at by a doctor.”
“Is that Doctor Box thing still open?”
“Closed at nine. Get dressed. I’ll take you to the emergency room.”
“Isn’t there anywhere else?”
“Not at this hour.”
We headed out to my car. I waved to my downstairs neighbor was just home from work.
“She must be sneaking in to see her boyfriend,” Glo said, smirking.
“She lives here.”
“I bet you see a lot of ‘things’ in an apartment complex.”
“Don’t rub your eye. You’ll make it worse.”
Thankfully, the wait in the emergency room was short. The doctor gave her drops and told her to see the hospital’s ophthalmologist in the morning.
“No. I’m not gonna do that. I’m flying to Mexico in the morning. Just fix it now so I can get out of here.”
The physician took a deep breath. “Ma’am, this is serious. There’s a chance you could lose sight in that eye.”
“Well, then the last thing I’ll see is Mexico.”
I stuck out my hand. “Thank you, doctor. I’ll take her home now.”
“Are you going on vacation with her?” he asked as we shook.
We walked over to the hospital pharmacy to pick up eye drops. “Is there anything else you need while we’re here?” I asked.
“I’m not gonna see a doctor tomorrow. We’re going on vacation.”
“Uh, huh,” too tired to say much else.
We arrived home just after two.
“Remember to put drops in your eye before you go to sleep. The doctor said every four hours.”
“The bottle says to keep my eye covered after using it.”
“Like with an eye patch?”
“I think so. Where do you keep them?”
“What? I don’t have eye patches. I might have gauze, though. Let me look.” I fumbled through the bathroom cabinet, but there was none to be found.
“I thought ‘Miss Always-Prepared’ was ready for anything,” Glo snipped.
Sighing, I continued my search, but all it yielded were sanitary napkins. “Here, see if you can make something out of these. I’m going to bed. I have to drive to Newark Airport in three hours.”
At 5:30, I took a quick shower, donned summer clothes and a raincoat with a removable lining. I slipped a new tape in the answering machine to make space for incoming calls, then dragged my packed suitcase into the hallway. “Vacation, here I come!”
Glo sat in the living room, dressed and ready. A sanitary napkin, cut in half, duct taped across her eye. “What did you say?”
I stared at her. “Do you want me to adjust that patch for you? Maybe trim it a bit?”
“No. Now. No. Let’s get going.”
I said nothing all the way to Maria’s house. The ride to the airport took over an hour. Glo and Maria chatted about the church, an upcoming craft fair, and what they hoped to do in Mexico. Ever tactful, Maria let Glo bring up the eye patch.
“Laura didn’t have any gauze for me to use like the doctor said, so I’m stuck with this. I don’t care. I’ll do what I want,” Glo said.
“Looks like it works,” Maria said, and left it at that.
We parked in the long-term lot and rode the crowded shuttle to the terminal. Every eye turned to Gloria’s eye. After checking in, we got coffee and bagels and took them to the gate. Maria ate hers slowly.
“You okay? You look tired,” I asked.
“Fine. I didn’t sleep well. This is my first time on a plane. I’m a little nervous,” Maria replied.
“I didn’t know you hadn’t flown before. Don’t worry. This will be like sitting in an easy chair with a cool view. And even if you’re anxious, no one will notice you. You’ll be sitting with my mother.”
When we got in line to board, Glo was the center of attention, a position she seemed to enjoy. “People are looking at me. Why do you think that is?”
“It’s not every day you see a woman with a sanitary pad duct taped to her face,” I replied.
“Well, if you had had gauze in your bathroom, I wouldn’t have to walk around like this.”
I bit my lip.
Once we found our seats, we gave the one next to the window to Maria, for her first flight. Then, tired, we settled in for a nap. That lasted until take-off.
Maria’s eyes grew large as the plane’s ascension pressed her against the seat back. I patted her hand. “We’re okay. Just heading skyward. When we reach the proper altitude, we’ll flatten out.”
“My easy chair never did this,” Maria said through clenched teeth.
“And it never gave you a view of New Jersey, either. Look at those fuel storage tanks and that huge traffic jam. Better up here than down there.” As we gazed at the sights below, the plane leveled. “See, all good. Welcome to our vacation!”
Maria stared past me at my mother. “I’m beginning to think this is your father’s vacation.”
“Sure is, every year. Don’t worry, she’s less caustic in an unfamiliar environment.”
Gloria poked my arm. “Who are you two talking about?”
“We’re just watching the traffic on I 95. Go back to sleep. You didn’t get much last night,” I replied.
“Did you see that couple who boarded ahead of us? The way she hung on him was disgraceful. I bet they aren’t married.”
“I need a nap. Wake me when the flight attendant comes around with coffee.” I closed my eyes.
When I awoke, I saw Maria staring at the movie playing on the screen in the front of our cabin. “You know you could ask for headphones, right? The movie is probably more interesting with sound.” She didn’t respond.
As the flight attendant poured coffee for the three of us, she turned to my mother. “Do you need help for your eye? We have gauze in our first aid kit. If you need to change the… uh, bandage.”
“No. Now. No. I’m fine. Just sugar. Thank you.”
After coffee, I did a crossword puzzle and took another nap. Lunch arrived over Texas. Maria didn’t each much. Once our trays were cleared, I helped Glo redo the eyedrops and readjust her “patch.”
“This is your captain. We’re approaching Mexico City with several planes ahead of us. I’ll put the seat belt sign on when it’s our turn to land.”
“Coffee in, coffee out,” I said as I unbuckled my seatbelt and slid past my mother. “Doesn’t look like there’s much of a line for the toilet, yet. I’ll be right back. Try to behave while I’m gone.” She smirked.
While washing my hands, the captain made another announcement. “Please return to your seats immediately and fasten your seatbelts. We have a medical emergency onboard. We’ve been taken out of the holding pattern and have been given the green light to land now.”
I slid the latch from “occupied” to “available” and headed back toward my seat. The emergency was, of course, on our side of the plane. A few rows from the bathroom, a flight attendant pushed past with a small oxygen tank and mask in her hand. At least it wasn’t an eye cup. My mother didn’t need any more attention than her medical “accessory” already gave her. Arriving at the emergency, the attendant slipped into a row of seats and when she did, I could see my mother standing in the aisle, facing me.
“Get back here, now,” she shouted as she shook her finger toward the floor.
I walked toward her, ready to tell her to take a seat and butt-out of someone else’s emergency, when I saw Maria. She was having a seizure. The shaking had caused her to slide down in her seat, with the seatbelt now around her chest. An attendant behind her was trying to raise her back into a seated position while the one who had run past me now held the oxygen mask over her mouth and nose.
“Are you with them?” a third attendant asked. I nodded. “We’re about to land. An ambulance will be on the tarmac waiting. We’ll have the other passengers quickly deplane out the back so the EMTs can bring a stretcher onboard.”
“Thank you,” I mumbled.
“One other thing, ma’am. Our flight attendants are required by regulations to be seated during landing. But your friend still needs oxygen. We’ve cleared a place for you to stand behind her so you can keep the mask secure on her face. Would you be willing to do that?”
Wrapping my left arm tightly around the headrest of my former seat, I stood in place with the mask firmly over Maria’s nose and mouth. The plane descended rapidly. It took all my strength to keep her head from whipping forward and me from flipping over the seat. For once, my mother remained silent.
By the time we landed, Maria had regained consciousness. “What happened to me? What’s going on? Why is there blood on my shirt?”
“You bit your tongue, Maria. But you’re safe now. I think you had a seizure. The EMTs will be here in a minute.”
“A seizure? I don’t have seizures… Who is that man?”
I turned to face an EMT talking to my mother, trying to find out how she hurt her eye. “Aqui esta mi amiga Maria. Ella está la única con la problema médico,” I said, pointing to Maria. “La otra es loco en la cabeza, comprende?”* He pointed to her “eye patch” and nodded.
And so began my much-needed week-long vacation in Mexico.
*“Here is my friend Maria. She is the only one with a medical problem. The other is crazy in the head. Understand?”
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