“Do you think we can take her?” Aunt Alice whispered. I lay on the back seat as Uncle Jim drove their old car down the highway.
I waited and heard him say, “She’s a sweet thing, Ali, but aren’t we too old?”
“There’s no age limit on lovin’ a child.”
“Yeah, but we’ve been workin’ and raisin’ kids our whole lives. Time for some rest and grandkids soon.”
Aunt Alice didn’t answer. I was half asleep, wondering what they were talking about.
“Should be in Phoenix by midnight,” Uncle Jim said. “Do Ed ‘n Mary know we’re comin’ in this late?”
“Yes. They said to just go on to their place. We’re going to have to talk about it, Jim. Maybe with Ed and Mary. Evie’s your baby sister.”
Uncle Jim said that when Aunt Alice set her cap for somethin’ it was h – e – double toothpicks to pay until she either got her way or finally gave up. And that it was h – e – double toothpicks all over again if she didn’t get it.
I slept and when I woke the car had stopped. I pulled myself up and saw the front porch light on. Uncle Ed and Aunt Mary were in their bathrobes and Uncle Jim and Aunt Alice stood there. Then Uncle Jim looked my s/way, came over and opened the back door.
“Hey, sweetie,” he whispered, “we’re here. Put your arms around my neck and I’ll carry you inside. Your bed is ready.”
“Don’t forget Jasper,” I mumbled.
“Got that bunny rabbit right here,” he said and handed Jasper to me. “Hold on tight. Here we go.”
The next morning I woke alone in the double bed, remembering where I was. Whenever we visited Uncle Ed and Aunt Mary, Mommy and I slept in this bed together since Daddy went away two summers ago and left us alone. I reached for Jasper.
I lay there and looked at the window. The shade was pulled down but curled in on both sides. I could see and hear rain fall. That was what I’d heard; the water I’d thought was the bathtub filling up was rain. It would probably rain on Christmas day next week.
The door opened and Aunt Mary came in. I smelled toast and coffee. “Are you awake, Ellen?” she whispered. She always called the kids “child”. Mommy said it was so she didn’t accidentally call someone the wrong name. But not this morning.
“Breakfast is ready. Your suitcase is on the chair. Put on your robe for breakfast and then we can talk about going to the hospital to see your Mama.” She sat on the bed and hugged me.
In minutes I was at the table for toast with blueberry jam and scrambled eggs with cream cheese. My favorites.
I ate as the grownups talked about stories in the paper which Uncle Jim held, the weather and then Aunt Alice asked about the plans for going to visit Evelyn. I looked at the calendar on the refrigerator. It was December 1980. All I wanted for Christmas was Mama to come home.
“Visiting hours don’t start until 1 p.m., but we can go anytime,” Uncle Ed said. He turned to me. “Do you want to go see your Mama?”
I nodded. Mommy had taught me not to speak with food in my mouth.
“Okay,” he said. “Finish your breakfast, get dressed and then we’ll be ready. Jim, Alice, you want to go with us or come later?”
“We’ll go as soon as breakfast is cleaned up. We can see Evelyn then sit in the waiting room while Ellen is with her,” Aunt Alice said. She stood up and began to clear the table. Her eyes were red and puffy and she blew her nose.
I finished breakfast and Aunt Mary and Aunt Alice started the dishes. I went to get dressed. When I came back, Aunt Alice and Uncle Jim were gone.
“They went to the hospital, honey,” Uncle Ed said. “Are you ready to go and see your Mama?” He hugged me, “you’re such a big girl.”
“You know I’m ten,” I said. “Let me get Jasper, then I’ll be ready.” I pushed away, ran to the bedroom and grabbed Jasper.
“Let’s go see Mommy,” I whispered to him. “Maybe she’ll be better.”
I sat in the waiting room with Uncle Ed as Aunt Mary went to Mommy’s room. We were in a different part of the hospital.
“She’s in the ICU now,” Aunt Mary explained. “The doctors and nurses are giving her stronger medicine now. It goes through a tube right into her arm to make her feel better faster.”
I thought about that. I didn’t know what the ICU was and if it was stronger medicine I wondered why they hadn’t given it to her before.
“Does that mean she’s getting better?”
Aunt Mary just hugged me but didn’t answer.
The next three days were back and forth to the hospital. On the third day Aunt Alice called me into Mommy’s room and told me it was time to tell Mommy “good-bye”.
“When will we come back to see her?” I asked.
Aunt Alice hugged me. Something wet splashed on my head. “Ellen, remember when the doctor told you that your Mommy was sick and might die? That’s what’s happening. She’s going to die. She can still hear us – hear you – do you want to tell her good bye and that you love her?”
“No! She’s getting stronger medicine. Aunt Mary said. She’s getting better!” I cried.
Aunt Mary came over and hugged me. “It wasn’t strong enough, Ellen.” Tears streamed down her face and she kept rubbing my head.
The next day Uncle Jim drove us back to Gila Bend. There wasn’t any sunshine and the sky cried just like me. I lay down on the seat, held Jasper tight and heard Aunt Alice say to Uncle Jim, “Do you think we can take her?”