By Steve Legomsky
The nicely dressed, 70-ish lady waited anxiously in her doctor’s waiting room, resolved to continue bearing her stress alone until her diagnosis was definitive. Even Marlene’s husband didn’t know.
Her nerves already frayed, the shrill, piercing sound of the loud ring jolted her. She dug frantically into her purse, scattering some of the contents onto the floor. By the time she got to her phone, the ringing had stopped. She touched the screen and waited.
“Hi, sweetie. Sorry, my cell phone was stuck at the bottom of my purse.”
“You don’t have to call it a cell phone. You can just call it your phone. Anyway, I’m on my way to pick up the kids from day care.”
“Gracie, I love when you call, but not while you’re driving.”
Gracie raised her eyebrows and exhaled. “Mom, it’s a hands-free phone. We go through this every time.”
“It’s still distracting.”
“It’s not dangerous. I keep telling you – it’s just like talking to a passenger.”
“There’s someone else in the car?”
“No, I’m just saying that talking on a hands-free phone is as safe as talking to a passenger. You do that yourself.”
“I don’t have one.”
“Mom! Focus! I’m saying when you drive Dad around, you talk to him, right?”
“Of course I talk to him. He’s right there.”
“That’s what I’m saying. So now I’m talking to you. It’s the same thing.”
At the appearance of the nurse, the mother’s heart began to race. But the nurse called for the man with the plaid flannel shirt. As he walked past her, the mother noticed his cowboy boots. She found herself thinking about how you don’t often see cowboy boots in Minneapolis.
“Mom, you’re still there?”
“Yes. I’m worried you’re going to have an accident.”
“Do you want to not talk to me? Is that it?”
“I just want you to be safe. When you have kids of your own, you’ll understand.”
“You don’t have to remind me that I’m a grandmother. I’m not senile.”
“Then why did you say ‘when you have kids of your own?’”
“I meant kids who are driving age. You’re not going to want them doing all kinds of crazy activities while they’re driving, are you?”
Gracie slammed on the brakes as the traffic light turned red. “I’m not doing ‘all kinds of crazy activities.’ I’m just talking to my mother. Or trying to. Never mind, this is getting really aggravating. We’ll talk later, OK?”
Another nurse appeared. “Sorry, dear, I couldn’t hear that last thing you said. The nurse was just telling me the doctor’s ready to see me.”
“What are you seeing the doctor for? Is something wrong?”
“OK, bye, sweetie. I have to run now, but let’s talk later.”
After a few moments, the phone rang again. Marlene didn’t answer.
Author’s Note: This story is lovingly dedicated to my dear departed wife and our two beloved daughters.
Steve Legomsky is a St. Louis-based former mathematician, Washington University law professor, and Obama Administration official. He has published three scholarly books, numerous academic articles, a novel (“The Picobe Dilemma,” Booklocker.com), and a short story (“High Roller,” forthcoming, Broadkill Review).