Pamela York Klainer
Rose could have put up with a Jew doctor, because everybody knows they’re born smart and besides it was Christmas eve and the other doctors were home with their families. Rose’s landlady had called the ambulance when Rose came in pale as a ghost and sweaty despite the cold and said she was too sick and weak to walk up the stairs to her room. The landlady was having no deaths in her spartan front hall because it would spook the rest of the renters. At the hospital a short, swarthy, bearded young man wearing a turban and scrubs pulled aside the curtain and walked in. The custodian, Rose thought; he was there to bring fresh linens or clean the floor. But he had a stethoscope around his neck, and the nurse was respectful when she called him Doctor. Rose sighed from the depths of her old bones, wondering what the world was coming to and knowing she didn’t like the idea of turbaned doctors one bit. She should have been at her daughter’s on Christmas eve, not shunted off until the next day when she had been firmly told that arriving before one-thirty for two o’clock Christmas dinner would be inconvenient. Rose began breathing hard, feeling the indignity all over again, and her blood pressure rose even as they were giving her medication to try and help her relax. Rose knew the landlady had called her daughter too, not just the ambulance, but Rose knew the daughter wouldn’t come because she and that snooty husband of hers were having company. Leaving dinner guests for a mother who might be dying would be really inconvenient Rose thought, as she frowned and clenched her fists. She should die on the spot, and leave that daughter of hers to explain why serving cold potato soup in the middle of winter was more important than rushing to the side of her own mother. Rose felt all alone, even with the nurses coming in and out and the turbaned doctor nearby in the hall and the needle in her arm, and if she got out of this place alive it was one more thing that she’d never let either of her daughters forget.
Rose felt cold on the hard bed despite the blankets they put on her and the cup of hot tea brought by an aide. You need something more lady? the aide had asked, and Rose wondered why they didn’t make them learn better English if they were going to live in America. She asked for another blanket, which the aide brought, and then Rose was truly alone while someone in the bowels of the hospital looked at her lab results to decide if she’d had a heart attack. That took a long time. Rose tried to close her eyes but she couldn’t sleep because her hip had begun to ache from the hard bed, and the nausea had passed leaving her hungry, and because he daughters should have dropped everything to rush to her side and neither had.
The turbaned doctor finally came back and said she would be going upstairs because the tests showed she’d indeed had a heart attack and they would be keeping her for a few days. Rose’s chest fluttered with the thrill of it, and with a little fear too. Her nearby daughter was always accusing her of making a mountain out of a molehill and being a hypochondriac, and now she’d had a real heart attack and even her know-it-all daughter couldn’t dispute the tests. The turbaned doctor said he was sorry she’d have to be in the hospital on Christmas but Rose wasn’t sorry. She hoped the table at her daughter’s house was already set for Christmas dinner, and that her empty place would be a terse reminder that she wouldn’t be around forever. Once on the cardiac ward Rose would have breakfast in bed, and TV all day, and nurses to bring her more hot tea. Rose wished she’d had time to bring a pretty pink bed jacket, because the green hospital gowns didn’t favor her. Rose would make a list for when her daughter finally did come, and she’d would ask for her plate of Christmas dinner to be frozen and brought to her when she got home.
Rose was hardly in her room when the phone rang next to her bed and she picked it up, hearing the voice of her daughter from far away. That daughter had sent her a tiny real Christmas tree in its own pot and paid a lot of money for express delivery before midnight. She couldn’t get lights and ornaments because the order had been phoned in too late, but at least Rose would have something to let people know she had family who cared about her. If the tree didn’t come Rose was to call the daughter back right away so she could get a credit on the delivery. Rose was finally happy, sure she would be the only one in the hospital with a real tree. After the call Rose dozed off, content although still hungry and a little loopy from the medication they had given her for pain.
Rose awoke with a start, sure she felt someone in the room, and was shocked to see the nearby daughter sitting by her bed. A little confused, Rose asked if the daughter knew anything about the tree, making it seem as if Rose was delirious or had suffered a stroke. That made Rose angry, as did the fact that the tree hadn’t arrived as promised. She hit the call bell, and when the nurse came Rose demanded the tree for which her other daughter had paid a lot of money. The nurse tried to take Rose’s pulse, and Rose pulled her arm away and her voice grew shrill and loud. I WANT THAT TREE. Rose turned to her daughter, who sat wide-eyed and alarmed. AND I WANT YOU OUT OF HERE. I CAN’T SLEEP WITH PEOPLE STARING AT ME. Rose’s daughter tried to say she’d feel better if she could stay until Rose got settled again but Rose wouldn’t hear of it, and the daughter looked at the nurse who said that maybe it would be better if she came back tomorrow. The nurse left to get someone, and the the daughter left, and the tree never came. They gave Rose something to make her sleep. As she slipped into a troubled dream she heard them say something about more tests, but she knew her brain was fine. People thought that when you got old you didn’t know what you wanted any more, but Rose knew very well. She wanted that tree because it would tell everybody she was loved. She didn’t want anyone around while she was sleeping. She wanted her Christmas dinner, even if it was left over, because even though her son-in-law was stuck-up he was a good cook and Rose herself never made a whole turkey with stuffing and gravy any more. She wanted money for her Christmas gifts from her daughters, not some stupid presents, so she could go on a bus trip to the casino.
Rose woke up on Christmas morning. The tree was still missing, and her daughter stayed home, and the aide failed to arrive with tea. Rose felt a little shaky from all the medication, but she wasn’t in pain and her heart was still beating. She wondered if she’d still be able to climb stairs, or if she’d have to look for another rented room. She wondered how soon they’d bring her breakfast. She picked up the remote, and turned on the TV.