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The next morning, Toothache brought with her the news that the tests had come out all right, that in spite of what had shown up in my blood the CAT scan was okay, the doctor would explain it all later. Toothache had also brought with her a gossip magazine, and she asked my mother if shed like to read it. My mother shook her head quickly, as though shed been asked to handle a persons private body parts. Id like it, I told Toothache, holding out my hand, and she gave it to me and I thanked her. The magazine lay that morning on my bed. Then I put it into the drawer in my table that had the telephone on it, and I did that hid it in case the doctor came in. So I was like my mother, we did not want to be judged by what we read, and while she wouldnt even read such a thing, I only didnt want to be seen with it. This strikes me as odd, so many years later. I was in the hospital, essentially so was she; what better time to read anything that takes the mind away? I had a few books from home near my bed, though I had not read them with my mother there, nor had she looked at them. But about the magazine, Im sure it would not have made any dent in my doctors heart. But that is how sensitive we both were, my mother and I. There is that constant judgment in this world: How are we going to make sure we do not feel inferior to another?

It was merely a magazine about movie stars, one my own girls and I, when they were older, would look at for fun if we needed time to go by, and this particular magazine often featured a story about an ordinary person who had suffered something extraordinarily awful. When I took the magazine from the drawer that afternoon, I saw an article about a woman who had gone into a barn in Wisconsin to find her husband one evening and had her arm chopped off literally chopped with an ax by a man who had gotten out of the state mental asylum. This happened while her husband, tied to a post by the horse pens, watched. He screamed, which made the horses scream, and I guess the woman must have screamed like crazy it did not say she passed out and the sound of such noises caused the escaped-from-the-asylum-man to run off. The woman, who easily could have bled to death as her arteries were spurting blood, managed to call for help, and a neighbor came right over and tied her arm with a tourniquet, and now the husband and wife and neighbor made a point of starting each day by praying together. There was a photo of them in the early morning sun by the barn door in Wisconsin, and they were praying. The woman prayed with her one remaining arm and hand; they were hoping to get her a prosthetic soon, but there was the issue of money. I told my mother I thought it was bad taste to photograph people praying, and she said the entire thing was bad taste.

Hes a lucky husband, though, she said in a few moments. I see on the news those shows where a man might have to watch his wife be raped.

I put the magazine down. I looked at my mother at the foot of my bed, this woman I had not seen for years. Seriously? I asked.

Seriously what?

A man watched his wife be raped? What were you watching, Mom? I didnt add what I most wanted to: And when did you guys get a TV?

I saw it on television, I just told you that.

But on the news, or one of those cop show things?

I saw I felt I saw her considering this, and she said, The news, one night at Vickys house. Somewhere in one of those awful countries. Her eyes flipped shut.

I picked the magazine back up and rustled through it. I said, Hey, look this woman has a pretty gown. Mom, look at this pretty gown. But she did not respond or open her eyes.

This is how the doctor found us that day. Girls, he said, then stopped when he saw my mother with her eyes closed. He stayed just within the door, he and I both watching for a moment to see if my mother was truly asleep or if she would open her eyes. That moment, both of us watching to see, made me recall how in my youth there were times that I wanted desperately to run to a stranger when we went into town and say, You need to help me, please, please, can you please get me out of there, bad things are going on And yet I never did, of course; instinctively I knew that no stranger would help, no stranger would dare to, and that in the end such a betrayal would make things far worse. And so now I turned from watching my mother to watching my doctor, for in essence this was the stranger I had hoped for, and he turned and must have seen something on my face, and I so briefly felt I saw something on his, and he held up a hand to indicate hed come back, and when he stepped out, I felt myself dropping into something familiar and dark from long ago. My mothers eyes remained shut for many more minutes. To this day I have no idea if she was sleeping or just staying away from me. I wanted terribly to talk to my little children then, but if my mother was asleep I couldnt wake her by speaking into the phone next to the bed, and also the girls would have been in school.

All day I had wanted to speak to my girls, I could barely stand it, so I pushed my apparatus out into the hallway and asked the nurses if I could make a call from their desk, and they pushed a phone toward me, and I called my husband. I was desperate not to have any tears drip from my eyes. He was at work, and he felt bad for me, hearing how much I missed him and the kids. Ill call the sitter and have her call you just as soon as theyre home. Chrissie has a play date today.

So life goes on, I thought.

(And now I think: It goes on, until it doesnt.)

I had to sit in a chair at the nurses station while I tried not to cry. Toothache put her arm around me, and even now I love her for that. I have sometimes been sad that Tennessee Williams wrote that line for Blanche DuBois, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. Many of us have been saved many times by the kindness of strangers, but after a while it sounds trite, like a bumper sticker. And thats what makes me sad, that a beautiful and true line comes to be used so often that it takes on the superficial sound of a bumper sticker.

I was wiping my face with my bare arm when my mother came to find me, and we all Toothache, myself, the other nurses waved to her. I thought you were napping, I said as she and I went back to my room. She said that she had been napping. The sitter may call soon, I said, and I told her how Chrissie had a play date.

Whats a play date? my mother asked.

I was glad we were alone. It just means shes going to someones house after school.

Whos the play date with? my mother asked, and I felt that her asking was her way of being nice after what she must have seen in my face, my sadness.

As we walked down the hallway of the hospital, I told her about Chrissies friend, how the mother taught fifth grade and the father was a musician but also a jerk, kind of, and they were not happy in their marriage but the girls seemed to like each other a great deal, and my mother nodded throughout all this. When we got back to my room, the doctor was there. His face was businesslike as he swished the curtain and pressed on my scar. He said, brusquely, About the scare last night: An inflammation was showing up in the blood and we needed the CAT scan. Get your fever down, keep some solid food down, and we can send you home. His voice was different enough that he might have slapped me with each word. I said, Yes, sir, and did not look at him. I have learned this: A person gets tired. The mind or the soul or whatever word we have for whatever is not just the body gets tired, and this, I have decided, is usually, mostly nature helping us. I was getting tired. I think but I dont know that he was getting tired too.

The sitter called. She was just a young girl, and she kept assuring me that the kids were doing fine. She held the phone to Beckas ear, and I said, Mommy will be home soon, again and again and again, and Becka didnt cry, so I was happy. When? she asked, and I kept saying soon, and that I loved her. I love you, and you know that, right? What? she asked. I love you and I miss you and Im here away from you so I can get well, and Im going to get well, and then Ill see you very soon, okay, angel?

Okay, Mommy, she said.

| My Name Is Lucy Barton | c