Polaroid in Hand
M. Elizabeth Hershey
THE DAY SHE DIDN'T DIE
Things were great when my dad worked in a factory that made plastic combs with sparkles in them—because back then he would come home in the middle of the night so exhausted he would fall asleep on the kitchen table.
But that didn’t last. He was fired for drinking on the job, and that left it to Mom to keep the family going. She already has one job as the janitor of an office building, and now she also waits tables in a fancy restaurant.
She comes home at nine, and that way I get to get my homework done and then we get to make dinner together and eat in front of the TV. But the sad part is the TV makes her sweat and take down her hair and hold on to me as tight as a pipe wrench so she won’t spill her pills.
“I love you, Raleigh, but I’ve got to get my beauty sleep. See you in the morning,” she says to me as she downs her pills.
Usually she drives me to school at seven-forty, but that day I heard the lazy whine of her car starting, so I dressed as quickly as I could.
“Wait for me!” I shouted down the stairs, but as usual it took me forever to find my lunch money in my backpack. Then there I was, three steps down the stairs, when I saw my father in the driver’s seat of my mother’s car.
Hey, wait a second, I told myself, half sure he was kidnapping her. Or asking for money. But what could I do?
Off I went to school knowing I was going to be late even if I ran.
Later, Mrs. Harper, the permissions lady, waved to tell me she had sent illness notes to my morning teachers. “It was none of their business," she said, "but let’s go to my office and see if we can straighten things out.”
When we went to her office, three men were waiting for us: the principal and two policemen and one of them was a captain. It was the principal who explained that my mother had called an hour earlier to ask if she could take me home, then the phone had gone dead. I told them I thought my dad was kidnapping my mom, but the captain shook his head no and seconds later Mrs. Harper’s phone rang again and it was my dad calling to pick me up so we could go to the hospital together.
“Hold on, sir, this is Captain Williams from the north precinct. Is your wife in pain?”
“No, she’s stretched out in the backseat out cold.”
“Wherever you are go straight to the hospital, and Raleigh and I will meet you there.”
The captain and I arrived forty minutes before my dad did because he had to stop to clean her up and throw her pills into the woods.
“Where is she? I need to see her,” I said, getting teary-eyed.
“Never mind, but guess what. Your father has a job with a highway department,” he said, blinking.
“You sit here, son” my father said, pointing to a sofa in the huge hospital entrance waiting room. “I’ll find out what room she’s in.”
I watched as my father was joined by my mom’s doctor who talked softly so I couldn’t hear but my father could.
“Good news, son. There is one bed available at House on the Hill, and your mother is checking in at this very moment.”
But that was my cue. “Dad, I can’t stand it. Please take me home,” I said.
Norman Klein is an Iowa Workshop MFA graduate who has published twenty stories in the last twenty months. He also has taught at UMASS Boston followed by a decade in Chicago.
M. Elizabeth Hershey is a Philadelphia-based freelance photographer who specializes in events and weddings. She continues to pursue artistic endeavors from inks, painting, and paper designs to different photographic projects.