Da Nile
by Barbara Straus Lodge


Everything was flowing smoothly until the pharmacist started crying. The day was almost done. My mother and I had shared no tears, no fears and, thankfully, no eye contact or touch. We had optimistically listened from opposite sides of the room as the oncologist told us there was a 50% chance of recurrence--could be liver cancer next time.

"That won't happen, Mom."

We had blithely sailed through warnings about the toxicity and side effects of the chemotherapy drugs.

"Oh, don't worry, you'll probably feel just a little tired."

We had nonchalantly scheduled appointments for bi-monthly pet scans to determine where, if anywhere, the cancer had metastasized.

"Won't it be nice to get those tests out of the way before the end of summer?"

We even managed to work in an Opera joke as we were leaving the Comprehensive Cancer Center: "I hope I can get through the first act of La Traviata next week without vomiting."

We were just fine, really, and already on our way home maintaining a safe distance from each other and the truth of the situation.

Feeling adventurous, efficient, and otherwise pushing my luck, I suggest, "Let's stop by the pharmacy to pick up the pills so you don't have to later." I knew that would be a big help to her, and it would just take one short stop at Randall Boots' Pharmacy to get the job done. That place is a veritable home away from home where she has gotten her prescriptions filled for over 20 years. She called Randall (always reassuring to be on a first name basis with the owner and pharmacist) and asked him to come out to the car to receive a "surprise" prescription she has for him.

"We are 4 minutes away," she cheerfully declares.

"I'll be outside waiting; look forward to seeing you, Elaine."

As we turn onto his block I see a gray haired man standing on the sidewalk in a white doctor's coat. I have never met Mr. Boots before, although I have heard his name mentioned repeatedly over most of my life whenever anyone was sick. He approaches the open passenger window and warmly shakes her well manicured hand. Over his right breast pocket the word "Pharmacist" is embroidered in royal blue. I like him already. He is our chemotherapy connection. His demeanor will surely match the professionalism of his attire. "For your eyes only, Randall," she smiles, handing him the paperwork. He takes it. He reads it. He doesn't move. He stares. He stares some more. He continues looking down at the paper, not saying a word.

Say something, for Christ's sake! Mr. Boots you are not allowed to get emotional. You are ruining everything. That is not a tear rolling down your cheek. WE ARE IN DENIAL IN THIS CAR. We have almost finished our uneventful little outing to the oncologist and this is our last stop before I take her home. Then, I will go directly to Crate and Barrel and buy something unnecessary and expensive like a colorful throw rug. Or maybe a new coffee table.

From the driver's seat, I frantically reach across my mother, manhandling her just a little as I push her thin body out of my way. Shooting my arm out towards him, I attempt to shake his hand and interrupt the flow of despair that is pouring in through the passenger window. "Hi, I'm Barbara, her daughter. Don't cry Mr. Boots, she is going to be just fine. This is nothing. I'm sure you know hundreds of other people who are much sicker than she is. In fact she's not sick at all. The chemotherapy is just precautionary."

Turn around, walk away and fill the fucking prescription.

He leans his teary face in through her window, takes my hand and silently clasps it in both of his as if I had just lost my mother and he is the rabbi presiding over her funeral. Is that what's going on? Is my mother dying? Is she dead already? I hate this man.

No. This is just like any other day except for the fact that I'm driving her Lincoln Continental and we are coming back from Hell, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Cancer Center, having just met with the resident authority, who verbally administered her fate while studying his computer screen and answering a page at the same time. I dare to turn and look at her (which is no easy feat as my right hand is stretched out the window and my upper body is hovering over her lap). My face is remarkably close to hers, and I can see the uneven way she applied her thick makeup foundation leaving both streaks and empty spots. She is getting old; losing her edge. I can also look through her large sunglasses and see that the rims of her eyes are red, and watering. Her lips are shut tight and thin, and she stares straight ahead. Shit, I am seeing an elderly, frail, frightened woman trying not to cry. Shit, that's my mother, she needs comforting, and what's worse, there's no one else in this car besides me. In my entire life, I have seen her cry only once, and maybe she wasn't even crying. She told me she was having a stomach cramp.

"Ok then, Mr, Boots." I wriggle out of his death grip and settle back into my seat, straighten out my seatbelt, and rev the gas. "I think we won't wait for the prescription to be filled today. We'll just go home and pick it up tomorrow. Thanks so much for coming outside. Have a lovely day."

Window up.

"Bye bye," I say as I take one last look at him standing on the sidewalk staring blankly at the ground. Almost sideswiping an oncoming car, accompanied by the sound of distant horns, I careen back into the flow of traffic, and begin the short drive to her home. "Would you like me to make you a melted cheese and avocado sandwich for lunch?" I innocently ask, as if the last 15 minutes hadn't happened. I blow through the stop sign at the corner of her block. "I'm not hungry," she quietly answers, looking down at her delicate hands clasped in her lap.

"Neither am I," I say touching her leg, if only for a second.


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