The occasion was a family get together, of sorts. One fraught with geographic disparity. One long overdue. The son, a musician of some renown, was in town, visiting his recently widowed mother for the first time since his father had passed. They’d decided to lunch together at a local mom and pop diner. “A nice lunch”, the mother had said.
On the drive to the the restaurant the mother mentioned inviting the musician’s sister who also lived in town and while they were at it, invite her children, too. The son encouraged her to do whatever she felt. So, she pulled her cell phone from her purse and did just that.
While being seated, the mother’s cell phone jingled. The caller was her granddaughter, telling her her grandson had decided last minute he needed a shower, so they’d be a bit late.
“Fine. So be it.” she said and hung up.
Her daughter called a second later to say she was finally on her way, and was bringing a coworker.
“Fine. So be it.” she said, and hung up again.
The son said nothing, but he’d seen this movie before, and knew their nice lunch together was suddenly compromised, taking on an energy that could, in a moment’s notice, take unsuspecting turns and twists that could be less than pleasant. But still, he said nothing, just happy to be spending time in his mother’s company. As long as she was happy, he decided, it’s best to go with the flow, whitewater, or not.
After more than a few minutes, the son’s appetite couldn’t be held at bay any longer so he queried the waitress as to what was the soup of the day. She mentioned three different ones and the son asked her if they were homemade. She said yes, and he chose one. A cup.
The soup arrived at the table before any of the other guests, the son telling his mother after just one spoonful the soup was, indeed, homemade, and very, very good.
When the waitress appeared again, asking if he liked the soup, the son, having just finished it, told her of his appreciation for the cook’s prowess.
“And while you are here,” the son said, “I noticed after perusing the menu bowls were available. And if the bowl is equivalent to two cups, could you bring me another cup and charge me for just one bowl? I know it’s bending the rules a tad, but is something like that possible?”
With an all-knowing wink, the waitress said, “I’ll be glad to fix you up, sir.”
Returning just minutes later and brandishing a bowl, instead, another wink was exchanged.
The mother understood the unsaid. “Fine”. she said, nodding her head appreciatively at the waitress, “Thank you, if you please, kindly ma’am.”
The waitress smiled at the mother, turned, and walked back toward the kitchen, a new bounce in her step.
“Yes, yes… a nice lunch, indeed.” the mother said to no one in particular.
The son was halfway through the bowl of soup when his sister and her coworker appeared. Pleasantries were exchanged, the daughter inquiring the whereabouts of her children, the mother informing her of the recent developments.
After a few more minutes it was decided to move the lunch forward and order since the daughter and her coworker only had so much time.
The order was placed, faces brimming with smiles like nervous monkeys.
The granddaughter and grandson managed to appear right as the food arrived, the grandson launching into an effusive apology, the granddaughter bypassing the table altogether, headed for the back of the restaurant, not a syllable uttered.
The grandson quickly ordered. Lunch continued, unabated.
Friendly banter littered the air. Everyone seemingly happy with their choices, especially the mother, having ordered her “favorite item on the menu”, she said.
Happy to be surrounded by her brood, life was good for the moment, thought she. The sadness, always looming ever so close since her husband’s passing, momentarily erased by this familial gathering.
“To a nice lunch.” the mother said to all, raising her water glass. Nodding their heads in agreement, everyone at the table raised a glass with her.
Halfway through the meal the granddaughter still had yet to appear. Her mother asked the guests at the table if they would spare her daughter any embarrassment and not say anything about her conspicuous absence upon her return.
“But, of course,” it was agreed, by one, by all.
Unable to stem his curiosity as well as his concern, the son wondered aloud what could be happening to his niece. “Something seems terribly out of wack”, he said. His sister agreed and summarily left the table.
Gone for an unusual length of time, the sister finally returned to the table and quietly announced, “My daughter isn’t doing so well… as a matter of fact, she is porcelain pale, her lips are blue and she is lying on the bathroom floor. Her times of the month can be so unpredictable.” She grimaced and clutched her napkin.
The mood swiftly changed at the table; a collective, heightened awareness of calm prevailed. The family swung into action, the mother requesting the bill from the waitress, the son inquiring if here was an emergency exit close by (there was) so he could bring the car closer for their imminent departure, the daughter and grandson saying nothing, jointly headed for the restroom.
The son drove the car over to the emergency exit, opened the back door of the car, and waited.
The door swung open and the family exited, surrounding and supporting the granddaughter, her face a ghostly white, her lips purple by this time.
The son’s cellphone rang. As soon as he answered he heard the unmistakable voice of a very famous drummer, also his friend, his mentor.
“Zig”, he said, “I’ve been really looking forward to hearing from you, but as we both know, timing is everything, and the timing of this call couldn’t be any worse… I’m smack dab in the middle of a family situation right now. Can I call you back within the hour. Sound doable?” The son closed shut his cell phone, having received the answer he‘d hoped. “Of all times”, he muttered, under his breath, the twists and turns he’d dreaded in full gravitational pull. The family, working as one functioning unit, was able to help his niece get settled into the back seat.
Once behind the wheel, the son asked, “Which hospital?”
After a quick, muted discussion amongst the principals, it was decided to take the granddaughter back to the grandmother’s house where she could lay down and be watched over and cared for by family. Her lips had returned to their natural color.
“Crumb”, the grandmother said to no one in particular, absently staring out the passenger window.
Upon opening the front door to his mother’s house, the son recoiled, met by a sickening smell eager to escape the closed confines of the house. His mother pushed the door aside and gasped.
The son had to admit it was a thorough performance. Never in his life had he seen such an enormous amount come from such a small dog, and artfully rendered, too, he had to admit, albeit incredulously.
This new revelation threw the mother and daughter into a whole new tizzy.
The mother went directly into her cleaning mode, the son and his sister got the niece back into the car. The son started the car, turned up the the air conditioner, then went back inside to see how his mother was faring with her part of the awful bargain, the twists and turns of this familial get together unnerving, if not outright laughable, by this time.
“Amazing”, the son said, chuckling, marveling at his mother’s speed and precision, her skill. The room was practically clean again, already smelling like a newly opened orange, devoid of the earlier carnage whose size and scope still impressed him.
The sister escorted her daughter into the guest bedroom and got her settled, tucking her under the covers, turning out the light, pulling the door shut behind her.
Within minutes the sister was fast asleep on the couch. The son used this lull in the ongoing family drama to excuse himself.
“Okay, darlin’, his mother said, sitting happily in her new recliner, the one her son helped her find just the day before.
The moment the son engaged his bodily process, he felt intensely uncomfortable. The more he strained, the worse he felt. And quick. The son thought, “Where have all the polar bears gone?” as he pitched over onto the bathroom floor.
With a thud.
The mother heard the sound. Shrugged it off. “What more could possibly go wrong?” she said, with a laugh, shaking her head. “Lawsy mercy.”
Relaxing against the padded headrest, she thought, “I am so blessed, and…such a… such a nice lunch, too. My babies…” wistfully recalling her husband’s face.
The mother was soon snoring.
All the children lay silent.
The dog couldn’t hold it any longer…