The Basket – Easter Weekend

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This is a work of fiction.


I jumped off the couch and ran to my fallen sister. I barely noticed the book and my project hitting the floor. I wasn’t fast enough to catch her, but she didn’t hit her head on the way down.
I checked for a pulse.
There was none.
She wasn’t breathing.
First Grandma and now Laine.
Grandma had been dead for a while, but maybe CPR would help Laine.
I’d taken a first aid course a few years ago and hoped I remembered how to do it properly.
First, I called 911 for the second time that day.
A man answered.
“My sister and me were talking and she just fell on the floor. She has no pulse and isn’t breathing. I’m trying to do CPR.”
He coached me as I waited for the ambulance to arrive.
I continued CPR until two paramedics came into the living room.
“She still doesn’t have a pulse,” I said, hanging my head. “I guess I couldn’t save her.”
They asked me if I wanted to ride with them. I didn’t, but I needed to be at the hospital and I hadn’t brought my car since my apartment was within walking distance of both Grandma’s house and my parents’ house.
This time, the ride was more hectic. The paramedic in the back continued to try to save her, but I knew it was hopeless. She’d gone too long with only me and my pathetic effort to save her.
At the ER, I paced around and tried not to get in anybody’s way, but I couldn’t sit down.
An hour later, a doctor came to find me.
She looked exhausted, and I braced myself. I hadn’t even called my parents yet, and in a way it was a good thing; I would be able to give them all of the bad news at once, and they wouldn’t already be sad about Grandma when they heard about Laine.
“I’m Dr. Simonson. I’m sorry it took me so long to come and talk to you. It’s been a really tough day for your family. Your sister’s alive, but I can’t say for sure if she’ll recover.”
“Laine’s alive?”
She nodded.
“What happened? We were talking and then she just fell down.”
“I’m pretty sure she’s suffering from an eating disorder. Her heart rhythm was what caused her to collapse, and without your help, she most certainly would have died.”
“But she didn’t have a pulse when the paramedics came.”
“No, but you kept some blood flowing, and hopefully that was enough to prevent any damage. She is malnourished, and her recovery might not be complete, but she has a chance.”
“Did you say you thought she had an eating disorder?”
“Yes, I think she has anorexia.”
“She is too thin, but I never thought . . . I guess I just never, I mean, she’s my sister. I’ve grown up with her. I just didn’t see any problems. She hardly eats anything, but she always seemed okay. What she does eat is veggies, so I thought those would keep her healthy.”
“She hasn’t been getting enough protein or fat.”
“So what do we do?”
“First, we wait and see how she does. I have to warn you, she may not wake up. I can’t guess what will happen, and if I tried, I’d probably be wrong. I’m sorry I have to go and talk to another family. Laine will be transferred to the ICU on three.”
I thanked her and wandered around until I found the ICU. I asked a nurse where Laine was.
“She’s just arrived. Can you wait a bit and then I’ll take you to see her?”
“Yeah, sure.”
I paced the hall for half an hour, but nobody came to talk to me.
I approached another nurse and asked about Laine.
“Oh, yes, Emma’s her nurse. I’ll go and look for her.”
She ran off, and I continued my pacing.
Ten minutes passed, then fifteen, and Emma didn’t come to talk to me.
The day was wearing itself down toward night, and my spirits were sinking, as well as my energy level.
I found another nurse and asked if I could see Laine or if it was a bad time.
“You can go right in.”
She started to turn, and I said, “I don’t know where she is.”
“Oh, er, let me check.”
She dashed off and I knew she wouldn’t be back. Nobody wanted to help me, so I walked toward the exit.
As I reached the door, it burst open, and almost hit me in the face.
“Sorry!” a woman said. She was short with black hair, dark eyes, and a frightened expression.
“No problem. Are you okay?”
“Not really. I hate hospitals, but my brother’s here.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. My sister’s in here somewhere, but I don’t know where, and the nurses are too busy to tell me. I’m Cole. What’s your name?”
“Andrea. My brother’s name is Mitch. What’s your sister’s name?”
“Laine. I was just going to go and get something to eat.”
“I should eat something. I’ve been traveling all day, and I didn’t eat any breakfast. If you don’t mind waiting for me, I’d love to have somebody to talk to.”
“I don’t mind waiting. I need to phone my parents.”
We agreed on a restaurant and a time, I left the ICU, and Andrea went in.
I found a quiet place and called Mom.
“Hi Cole, we’re just sitting around drinking coffee. Is everything okay?”
“Mom, I’m sorry, I’m afrad it’s not.”
“Should I go into another room?”
“Yes, I think so, but please bring Dad with you.”
A minute later, Dad said, “The phone’s on speaker. What’s wrong?”
“Grandma. You know we went to see her. Laine had to work last night, so we didn’t go until this morning, except . . . well, she didn’t answer the door.”
I paused and took a deep breath.
“Is she hurt?” Dad asked.
“She’s in Heaven,” I whispered. “She left everyone a letter. I’m sorry it took me so long to call you. I just needed to sit and read my letter and then . . . um, Laine came back and we were talking . . . and then she collapsed.”
“Oh no!” Mom said. “Did she hit her head?”
“No, but she . . . she had to go to the hospital. Her heart rhythm wasn’t good. They say I saved her, but they aren’t sure how she’ll do. She was . . . her heart wasn’t beating for a while. She might not wake up. I’m sorry I just had to say it all like that. I know you’re coming home tomorrow. I can stay at the hospital tonight. I can stay until you come but . . . I’m sorry I didn’t know what to do better and I might not have saved her if she doesn’t wake up.”
I gulped for air.
“Cole,” Dad said. “Calm down. Take deep breaths, Son. Does anybody know why . . . what happened to your grandma and Laine?”
“Grandma said in her letter that she’s known since before Christmas that she didn’t have long. The doctor didn’t know, but he was going to talk to her internist. The doctor who talked to me about Laine says she has anorexia.”
“I thougt she might,” Mom said. “I was trying to work up the nerve to talk to her about it, but I still hadn’t done that before we left. Poor Laine. I wish I’d said something to her.”
“Don’t sleep at the hospital,” Dad said. “Make sure they have your number and if you don’t hear from them, go tomorrow.”
“I agree,” Mom said. “Go eat something and then get some sleep.”
“Thank you for calling us,” Dad said. “If I’d been in your shoes, I doubt I would have had the guts to do CPR or call my parents and tell them.”
We said goodbye and then I walked to the restaurant and waited for Andrea.
She was ten minutes late, and she looked exhausted. She almost collapsed into the chair across from me.
“Sorry I’m so late,” she said. “Dad went to talk to the doctor and it was kind of busy, so I guided Mom to Mitch’s room.”
“Oh, is your mom, um . . .”
“Yeah she’s blind. She can usually manage just fine, but there were medication carts and people walking around not looking, and I was afraid she’d get hurt or somebody would trip over her cane.”
“That makes sense. How is Mitch?”
“He’s not going to make it. We knew that this morning, but they said they could keep him alive until I got there. Mom and Dad are with him, you know, while they pull the plug, but I couldn’t stay.”
“I’m so sorry. What happened to him?”
She picked up the menu and put it back down.
“He rode his stupid motorcycle as fast as it could go, probably took some ridiculous curve, and went flying off into kingdom come.”
She picked up the menu.
“How’s your sister?”
“Laine hasn’t woken up. Our grandma died today, and then Laine collapsed.”
“Do you want to talk?”
I shook my head.
“I think we should eat.”
She nodded, and we both read our menus.
“I don’t know what to have,” she said.
“Me neither.”
A server approached our table.
“Are you ready to order?” he asked.
“I can’t decide what I want,” I said. “What do you recommend?”
“Well, for a nice romantic dinner, I recommend the filet mignon with a good red wine.”
Andrea cracked a smile and said, “I don’t drink, but filet mignon sounds good.”
“Same for me. I’d like water please.”
“Me too,” Andrea said. “Thanks.”
“Would you like soup or salad?”
“A garden salad please,” I said.
Andrea ordered a bowl of soup, we selected our potatoes and vegetables, and then the server left.
“So, is this a date?” she asked.
“I, um, er, well, why not? So is your family from around here?”
“My parents grew up here, Mitch never left, but I went off to MIT. I thought I wanted a career. I loved it, but after I graduated, I got a job and hated it. I was thinking of moving back here, even before Mitch got his stupid self killed. God, my brother was such an idiot.”
“How old was he?”
“Twenty-two. I’m twenty-six. You?”
“Twenty-five. Laine’s twenty-eight.”
“Are you a moron like him?”
“I think I’m pretty careful most of the time, but I have a curious side that sometimes gets me into trouble.”
She laughed.
Her soup and my salad came, along with a huge pitcher of water.
After the server left, I said, “So, what do you like to do in your spare time?”
“Cook. You?”
“I like to read.”
She made a face.
“I hate reading. I only do it when I have to. One time when I was about ten, I had to read a book for school. Mom had that same story in braille, and I begged her to read it to me. She made me read it myself. She’d read to me just for fun, but she made me do it if it was for school.”
“I think I like your mom.”
She stuck out her tongue at me and we laughed.
“Was it a good book?”
“I don’t remember. It was probably drearily boring, just like all the other novels my teachers made me read.”
She picked up her spoon and tasted her soup.
“Yum. So how about you? College, work, and all that?”
“Yep, and I’m still at college.”
“Law school? Lawyers love to read.”
I shook my head.
“Med school?”
“Heck no!”
“Mitch wanted to become a doctor. He was actually a good guy, except for his stupid motorcycle. God, what an idiot he was! He was the best younger brother anybody could have. He loved to read and he loved to play games. He kept us all young. Mom and Dad both look about ten years older than they did last week when we Skyped. Eat your salad.”
“Oh yeah.” I picked up my fork and took a bite. Not bad.
We ate in silence for a few minutes, and then the server came and took away our empty plates.
“Your filets mignons will be ready in a few minutes,” he said.
“We’re looking forward to them,” I told him.
Andrea nodded and smiled at me.
Once he’d gone, she said, “What are you studying at college that has you still there? I give up.”
“English.”
She groaned.
“Mom studied that. She likes poetry.” She made a face. “She even wanted me to study it. I told her to forget it. Mitch took some English and even told Mom he liked the poems. I believe him. What a dork. Novels are boring, but they’re nowhere near as dumb as poetry.”
“My high school English teacher didn’t talk about poetry much,” I said. “We read mostly contemporary short stories.”
“Man, I wish I’d had her.”
“Him. I liked some of the stories, but when I went off to college, my first-year English professor started us off with a poem. It was long and it changed my life.”
“You like poetry?”
I nodded.
“Your mom and me will always have something to talk about. I know she’s probably not thinking much about poetry right now, but I’m dying to meet her.”
I hit myself in the forehead.
“Gosh Andrea I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that.”
“You are such a . . . oh never mind. It’s okay. I still like you, I think. Hey, here comes our romantic dinner!”
The meal was amazing.
For dessert, Andrea had fruit, and I had a slice of good old American apple pie.
We each paid exactly half of the total.
As we walked out into the cool evening air, I said, “Are you renting a car or taking taxis?”
“Taxis. Do you have a car?”
“Yes, but it’s at my apartment. I went in the ambulance with Laine.”
“Where’s your apartment? Maybe we’ll be able to share a taxi.”
I told her the address.
“My parents live about five blocks from there.”
She told me the address.
“Oh, I think I might have seen your mom. I sometimes see a woman walking with a white cane. Red hair, sunglasses, and the cane has a neon purple tip.”
“That’s Mom! She spends so much money on her hair. Mine’s lucky if it gets cut once a year.”
“Grandma cut my hair. Laine goes to some salon and gets hers ‘professionally done’ as she puts it, but Grandma did a great job.”
“Mitch liked to do his own hair. Mom would touch it and make him fix parts of it.”
“Did Mitch ever cut yours?”
“He would have, but Mom wouldn’t allow it. Let’s see if that taxi will take us.”
It would, and we climbed in.
“You go party?” the driver asked.
“No sir,” I said. “We’re going to my apartment.”
“Oo,” Andrea said, and we both burst out laughing.
“What’s the address?”
I told him, and he pulled out into traffic.
“I actually don’t want to go home,” Andrea said.
“Why not? Are you having too much fun with me?”
“Yeah. Besides, my old room’s full of God knows what and there might not even be a bed in there anymore. I’ve been gone for a few years. I’d have to sleep on the couch and listen to them crying about Mitch. I’m finished crying. He was a total idiot and he got what he got because he didn’t have any common sense. A hundred miles an hour on that rusty piece of crap.”
“I’m not planning to sleep at my apartment. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve spent Easter at Grandma’s house.”
“Oh, er, um, okay, so I guess I’m stuck with my parents’ old couch.”
She looked and sounded disappointed.
“Not at all. Her house has eight bedrooms.”
“Wow. But won’t there be a bunch of people there?”
“No. Mom and Dad are in Florida, visiting Mom’s family, and the rest of Dad’s family is spread out over a few different states and countries. The closest one is two hours away. Dad’s the oldest, and the only one who didn’t go far from the nest.”
“Well, if you’re sure, I’d love to sleep in a real bed.”
“I’m sure, but I still need to go get my car. Do you have a suitcase or a bag?”
“Oh crap. Yes, it’s in Dad’s car. I don’t have any of my stuff.”
“Grandma always has spares.”
“Pyjamas and such?”
“Yep. Everything kids and adults might need.”
“Well, if you’re sure she won’t mind, I’m happy to . . . shoot, I’m sorry, wouldn’t have minded . . .”
“She wouldn’t have and she won’t. She loved everybody and still does.”
A single tear made its way down my cheek.
*
Andrea said she needed to stretch her legs, so I drove and she walked. I suspected she wanted to give me some time to myself. I didn’t need any, but maybe she really did need to stretch her legs.
I parked outside Grandma’s house.
I’d left the door unlocked.
What an idiot I was.
Terrified that somebody had broken in and stolen the basket of letters, I dashed inside.
The basket was right there on the coffee table.
The knitting needles and book were on the floor where they’d fallen.
I put them on the couch.
I sat down beside them and picked them up.
I started trying to knit again.
Ten minutes later, the doorbell rang.
I put my knitting down and went to the door.
Andrea stood on the porch, looking uncertain.
“Are you sure it’s okay for me to be here?”
“Yes, and in fact, I’m . . . well, there are eight rooms, but do you really think we need to use two of them?”
Andrea agreed, and although she said she was probably too tired to be much fun, she was as passionate as the best love poem.
*
On Saturday, Andrea went home to see if her old bedroom was still there, and I went to the hospital to see Laine.
She lay in her bed, surrounded by wires and tubes, and I couldn’t think of a single thing to say. She didn’t react to my presence, so after a few minutes of awkward silence, I left.
At eleven, Mom called.
“Cole, I’m so sorry. We won’t be able to come home today. There’s a huge storm coming, and nobody wants to be caught in it driving to the airport. They’re saying the flight will be canceled anyway. We’ve decided to fly home on Monday. Will you be okay on your own?”
“Yes. Please keep your phone charged in case there’s a power outage.”
“I will. How is Laine?”
“Still the same. She looks like she’s sleeping.”
I’d just gotten off the phone with Mom, when Grandma’s landline rang.
I’d better answer that, I thought.
“Hello.”
“Hello dear. May I speak to Linda please?”
It took me a second to figure out that she meant Grandma.
“Um, er, I’m her grandson, Cole. Who’s calling?”
“Ellen from church. I was wondering if your grandma was coming to our Saturday afternoon knitting group.”
“Oh, um, I’m so sorry. I didn’t . . . I’m sorry. Grandma passed away yesterday. I’m sorry nobody called you. Uh, was there anything she had that you need for your group?”
“No dear. Thank you dear. I’ll give you the church’s number so you can let them know.”
“Um, thanks. Can you tell me who’s who and what’s what? I don’t know how to plan a funeral.”
We talked for twenty minutes, and by the time we said goodbye, I knew all about planning funerals.
I got my grandma’s address book and started making unhappy calls.
We all agreed to wait and see if Laine woke up before we made any plans.
How long we’d wait, nobody said, but we were assured that there was no rush; Grandma’s ashes would be ready when it was time for the service.
Just before six, Andrea called me.
“How’s Laine?”
“Still not awake. How are you?”
“Tired, but at least my room’s still here. Mom only put about a ton of her braille books in it.”
“Can you read braille?”
“I used to, but I haven’t in years. They’re labeled in print, so I don’t need to read braille to know what they are, if I cared. I just put them in Mitch’s room. Somewhere under all the books, I found my bed. It’s so small. I guess I was a kid last time I was here.”
“Maybe, and the one we used last night was quite large. Would you like to sleep in it again tonight?”
“I’d love to, but Mom and Dad want me to stay here tonight. They’re not crying as much, and I’ve got my room back, so I’d better stay here. Can I ask you something?”
“Sure.”
“Do you like women who don’t want a career?”
“I like women who are nice people, career or not. Do you like men who like poetry and who want to study it all their lives?”
“I suppose I do.”
“So could we see each other again next week?”
“We sure could.”
We agreed on Thursday evening, said goodbye, and then I went into the kitchen to look for something to eat.
*
I woke up on Sunday and remembered that it was Easter.
If Grandma had still been alive, we would have been waiting for Mom and Dad to come so we could start celebrating. If Laine weren’t in the hospital, she and I would probably be waiting for Mom and Dad to arrive so we could start celebrating Grandma’s life.
With everything that had happened, I hadn’t even looked in the storage room.
It was just after seven, and I went into the kitchen to make myself eat something, even though I wasn’t hungry.
As I was about to open the fridge, my phone rang.
I checked the caller ID.
Caller unknown.
I tapped Accept.
“Hello.”
“Hello. It’s Rachel calling from the hospital.”
My heart started to pound.
Laine.
She must have died and gone to join Grandma.
All my strength left me and I sat down hard.
As I did, I realized that I was sitting pretty much exactly where Grandma had been lying.
“Am I speaking with Cole?”
“Yes,” I whispered.
Just get it over with, I wanted to scream, but I supposed she needed to make sure she was talking to the right person.
“I’m happy to inform you that Laine is awake, aware, and talking.”

Part 3

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