Elmwood Springs, Missouri.
Monday, April 1
9:28 am, 74 degrees and sunny
After Elner Shimfissle accidentally poked that wasps’ nest up in her fig tree, the last thing she remembered was thinking “Uh-oh.” Then, the next thing she knew, she was lying flat on her back in some hospital emergency room, wondering how in the world she had gotten there. There was no emergency room at the walk-in clinic at home, so she figured she had to be at least as far away as Kansas City. “Good Lord,” she thought. “Of all the crazy things to have happen this morning.” She had just wanted to pick a few figs and make a jar of fig preserves for that nice woman who had brought her a basket of tomatoes. And now here she was with some boy wearing a green shower cap and a green smock, looking down at her, all excited, talking a mile a minute to five other people running around the room, also in green shower caps, green smocks, and little green paper booties on their feet. Elner suddenly wondered why they weren’t wearing white anymore. When had they changed that rule? The last time she had been to a hospital was thirty-four years ago, when her niece, Norma, had given birth to Linda; they had all worn white then. Her next-door neighbor Ruby Robinson, a bona fide professional registered nurse, still wore white, with white shoes and stockings and her snappy little cap with the wing tips. Elner thought white looked more professional and doctorlike than the wrinkly, baggy green things these people had on, and it wasn’t even a pretty green to boot.
She had always loved a good neat uniform, but the last time her niece and her niece’s husband had taken her to the picture show, she had been disappointed to see that the movie ushers no longer wore uniforms. In fact, they didn’t even have ushers anymore; you had to find your own seat. “Oh well,” thought Elner, “they must have their reasons.”
Then she suddenly began to wonder if she had turned off her oven before she had gone out in the yard to pick figs; or if she had fed her cat, Sonny, his breakfast yet. She also wondered what that boy in the ugly green shower cap and those other people leaning over, busy poking at her, were saying. She could see their lips moving all right, but she had not put her hearing aid on this morning, and all she could hear was a faint beeping noise, so she decided to try to take a little nap and wait for her niece Norma to come get her. She needed to get back home to check on Sonny and her stove, but she was not particularly looking forward to seeing her niece, because she knew she was going to get fussed at, but good. Norma was a highly nervous sort of a person and, after Elner’s last fall, had told her time and time again, not to get up on that ladder and pick figs. Norma had made her promise to wait and let Macky, Norma’s husband, come over and do it for her; and now not only had Elner broken a promise, this trip to the emergency room was sure to cost her a pretty penny.
A few years ago, when her neighbor Tot Whooten had gotten that needle-nosed hound fish stuck in her leg and wound up in the emergency room, Tot said they had charged her a small fortune. On reflection, Elner now realized that she probably should have called Norma; she had thought about calling, but she hadn’t wanted to bother poor Macky for just a few figs. Besides, how could she know there was a wasps’ nest up in her tree? If it weren’t for them, she would have been up and down that ladder with her figs, making fig preserves by now, and Norma would have been none the wiser. It was the wasps’ fault; they had no business being up there in the first place. But at this point she knew that all the excuses in the world would not hold much water with Norma. “I’m in big trouble now,” she thought, before she drifted off. “I may have just lost ladder privileges for life.”
Earlier that morning Norma Warren, a still pretty brunette woman in her sixties, had been at home thumbing through her Linens for Less catalog, trying to decide whether or not to order the yellow tone-on- tone floral design chenille bedspread, or the cool seersucker 100-percent-cotton-with-plenty-of-pucker in sea foam green with ribbon stripes on a crisp white background, when her aunt’s neighbor, and Norma’s beautician, Tot Whooten, had called and informed her that her Aunt Elner had fallen off the ladder again. Norma had hung up the phone and immediately run to the kitchen sink and thrown cold water in her face to keep herself from fainting. She had a tendency to faint when she was upset. Then she quickly picked up the wall phone and dialed her husband Macky’s cell phone number at work.
Macky, who was the manager of the hardware department at The Home Depot out at the mall, glanced at the readout of the number calling and answered.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Aunt Elner’s fallen off the ladder again!” said Norma frantically. “You’d better get over there right now. God knows what she’s broken. She could be lying over in her yard, dead for all I know. I told you we should have taken that ladder away from her!”
Macky, who had been married to Norma for forty-three years and was used to her fits of hysteria, particularly where her Aunt Elner was concerned, said, “All right, Norma, just calm down, I’m sure she’s fine. She hasn’t killed herself yet, has she?”
“I told her not to get on that ladder again, but does she listen to me?”
Macky started walking toward the door, past plumbing supplies, and spoke to a man on the way out. “Hey, Jake, take over for me. I’ll be right back.”
Norma continued talking a mile a minute in his ear. “Macky, call me the minute you get there, and let me know, but if she’s dead, don’t even tell me, I can’t handle a tragedy right now. . . . Oh I could just kill her. I knew something like this was going to happen.”
“Norma, just hang up and try to relax, go sit in the living room, and I’ll call you in a few minutes.”
“This is it, I am taking that ladder away from her as of today. The very idea of an old woman like her . . .”
“Hang up, Norma.”
“She could have broken every bone in her body.”
“I’ll call you,” he said, and hung up.
Macky walked out to the back parking lot, got in his Ford SUV and headed over to Elner’s house. He had learned the hard way; whenever there was a problem with Aunt Elner, having Norma there only made matters worse, so he made Norma stay at home until he could get to Elner’s and size up the situation.
After Macky hung up, Norma ran into the living room like he had said to do, but she certainly could not calm down or even sit down until he called to tell her everything was all right. I swear to God, she thought, if she hasn’t killed herself this time, not only am I taking that ladder away from
From the Hardcover edition.