June 12, 2010 by The Citron Review
by Jody A. Forrester
Mrs. Friedman’s world was well-lit. She walked on the sunny side of the street, drank from a glass half-full and sent money to Jerry Lewis’s kids. Of course, she fed and clothed her son and daughter, but thought them privileged, and that there were others who needed her more.
“Frankly” was her favorite word.
Her favorite sound was a knock at the door or the telephone ringing. She had the mailman in for coffee to discuss his invalid mother, hosted baby showers for her friends’ daughters, and sat twelve in the living room for a luncheon to raise money for the City of Hope. On Fridays, Mrs. Friedman made sandwiches, pastrami on rye, for the crippled woman who sat in front of the bank mumbling into her hands.
Mrs. Friedman did not need to guard against the evil eye or knock wood or toss salt over her left shoulder. She didn’t believe in luck or God, but in something called “A Positive Attitude.” She learned about this on the radio. Interviews with psychologists, dieticians and best-selling authors were her academy of higher learning.
At seventy-three, Mr. Friedman suffered a sudden heart attack and died. The children married and had children of their own. Mrs. Friedman was a grandmother who shared pictures and anecdotes with friends, but frankly, was more pleased with her grandchildren when they were napping. She warned her daughter that she was spoiling her newborn by nursing him on demand and upset her son’s wife with fond memories of placing a red Bullwinkle bowl filled with Cheerios in her son’s crib every morning. He would gum them for hours, Mrs. Friedman said, and never cry.
It was a spring day when Mrs. Friedman asked her daughter to drive her to the cemetery. She wanted to lay stones on her husband’s grave, but, once there, they stayed in the car and watched a storm arcing towards them. The daughter said that there was something she had to say. Mrs. Friedman sat up straight. The daughter told her mother that the neighbor with hairy ears had molested her when Mrs. Friedman was preparing for a luncheon. Mrs. Friedman said that Mr. Friedman had always had a bad feeling about the man. The daughter said that the neighbor had put his tongue inside her six-year-old mouth. Mrs. Friedman said here comes the rain, we better go.
On her eightieth birthday, Mrs. Friedman announced that she was moving back to New England. Her daughter packed up drawers of candle stubs, torn-out recipes on yellowed newspaper, and bags of fur from the family’s Samoyed that was one day meant to be woven into a coat. Her son found an apartment not too far from his own, on the main road in Queechee, Vermont.
Mrs. Friedman started falling. Up one minute, down the next. Her new doctor said that she was depressed and that she was falling for attention. Mrs. Friedman proclaimed that she had never been depressed, not ever. Frankly, she didn’t believe in it. Her son took her to a specialist who diagnosed her as having a “fast-track” Parkinson’s disorder. He warned that she would deteriorate quickly. Mrs. Friedman pooh-poohed. She accused her son and doctor of being fuss-budgets.
But soon she could no longer live alone, and so they packed her up to move into a nursing home. Mrs. Friedman didn’t object, which made her daughter wonder if she understood what was happening. Her mother had always said that that day would never come, to shoot her first, but come it did and her daughter felt that she needed to understand. She asked her mother to explain how it was that she wasn’t resisting. What had changed?
In lieu of the volumes that her paralyzed vocal cords could no longer express, Mrs. Friedman looked pleased with herself when she responded with a single word: “Life.”
But at the home, Mrs. Freidman’s half-full glass drained away. She was not at all happy with the plastic tablecloths, paper plates and single-ply napkins. Not that she could eat. But still. She preferred to stay in her room during mealtimes, but they said that she would be lonely, and besides, there were rules.
Only three weeks after the move, a nurse’s aide phoned the daughter in California. It was a sunny Sunday, and the daughter and her husband were in the process of gathering leashes and plastic bags to walk the dogs to the beach. The aide was calling California because she couldn’t reach the son who lived less than a mile away. She sputtered dozens of words, none of which added up to a proper sentence, none that had any meaning to the daughter trying to understand what the purpose of the telephone call was.
The nurse said that they were using cardiac paddles, but that they weren’t working, so could they stop?
“What do you mean? What happened?” The daughter shrieked and her husband came running, one sock on, the other clutched in his hand.
“Your Mother has died. But.”
“We need you to tell us to stop.”
The “Do Not Resuscitate” form, signed by Mrs. Friedman and witnessed by her son, was buried in the “to be filed” basket on the supervisor’s desk. Nobody at the Home remembered until it was too late and law dictated that the next-of-kin give the order to Cease and Desist. This was not a decision Mrs. Freidman’s daughter was prepared to make. And if she didn’t? How long would they go on trying to revive Mrs. Friedman? She would not be pleased. Not at all. Enough, she would say.
At Mrs. Friedman’s graveside burial, the daughter wanted to tell the gathering about her mother’s generosity, to cite all to whom she had given, but the rain was slanting sideways and the faces that looked up at her pleaded to be allowed to return to the shelter of their cars.
Jody A. Forrester is a recent graduate from the Bennington Writing Seminars, living in Venice, CA. She received a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts with a concentration in Creative Writing and Literature from Antioch College, Los Angeles, in 2007. Her story “Train” won honorable mention in the 2007 Anderbo/Open City Competition, and her story Watts was chosen for the 6th Annual Emerging Voices Group Show at the New Short Fiction series in Los Angeles.