Barbara D. Krasner
If I had been able to drive, what a different future I would have had. But women in my day didnít have to. We gave our children to the hired help, and we sat on our porches with glasses of iced tea and ashtrays kibitzing about how hard our days were. Some, like my neighbor Stella, learned how to drive with the A-1 Driving School. Not me. Mort took me wherever I needed to go, he was good that way. Of course, he worked close by, so it was easier for him to slip out of the store and take me back with him every Thursday morning for the weekly grocery shopping, the beauty parlor every Friday morning, and thank God, he took the kids out all Sunday so I could finally get some peace.
I didnít expect him to die so soon. He really should have taken better care of himself. But he was just like his mother. She didnít listen either. Her doctor told her not to have any more children after Mort. But she did and they gave her nothing but pain the rest of her miserable life. She ran the store. And she died at age 53 of cancer. If it hadnít been that, the diabetes would have claimed her like it did Morty.
If I had been able to drive, I would have gone to the movies while Mort watched the kids. I would have sat there for hours, undisturbed. No screaming, no yelling, no watermelon pits spit on the floor, no tiny Barbie shoes finding their way between my toes.
I would have driven to my sisterís or my brotherís, because truth be told, I donít see them enough. Now, sheís gone and he has Alzheimerís. I donít know how we got so old so fast. I still remember the day my brother was born. I was five and the apple of Bubbeís eye until he arrived. But I soon grew to love him, too, and I protected him fiercely against our Benson Hurst neighborhood bullies when they pulled his blond curls and knocked his books out of his hands. When he got older, he outsmarted them all and he shielded my sister and me.
I live with my daughter, Wendy. The divorced one with no children. She works too much and is never home. Her idea of dinner is a frozen meal zapped in the microwave. I donít trust that thing.
If I could drive, maybe I would have left Morty. I went right from my parents to him. No time for myself. Papa thought I could change the world. He refused to believe that I didnít want to.
But if I had, I could have been somebody. And not just because I had so many suitors, although my gams attracted a lot of fellows, especially those sailors from the Brooklyn Navy yards. My teachers told me I could write. I preferred to shop.
Mama liked Morty. She said heíd be a good provider and he was. But he had no manners. I had to train him to sit down and eat. To wash his hands. To not wear plaids with stripes.
This is the worst winter on record. Global warming, they say. Pfui. My bubbe told me such stories about her shtetl in Poland. Snow is snow. But today thereís ice. And Iíve slid getting the morning paper. I am lying on the driveway and Wendy is in the house and I canít seem to scream for her. I am in my white flowered housecoat and slippers. They say you grow wise with age, but this was just plain stupid. I am freezing. My teeth are chattering. Well, they would if they were in my mouth and not in a glass on the bathroom counter.
I donít know which hurts more Ė my pride or my backside. I am getting freezer burns.
If I could drive, Iíd never be living with Wendy. Sheís got to come out of the house some time to go to work. Iím behind the car, because thatís where the newspaper was. Goddamn New York Post. But I love to do the scrambles, keeps my brain working. I donít want to end up like my brother. What good could the smarts be if you canít remember you had them?
The snowplows grumble up the street. I want to wave my hands in the air and say, ďHey, an old lady is in distress Ė help, help!Ē But my voice gets lost in the scraping of the plow against the buried asphalt.
The garbage men would see me if today were Friday and it was garbage day. I donít think the mail comes until after lunch. Iíll be a frozen stiff, and I mean that literally.
I donít know the time. I hope Wendy hasnít overslept. The words are coming to my mind more slowly now. Even they donít want to budge out of their warm little beds.
Iíve never liked the cold. Of course, over time my definition of cold has changed. So, sue me if I keep the house at 90 degrees. Wendy complains about the ConEd bills. I tell her Iíll pay them. She says, ďMa, keep your money.Ē So she walks around in shorts and tank tops. Thatís cute when youíre young, but when youíre in your forties and you canít find someone to marry you, thatís not so cute.
Sheís not bad looking. She is a little on the zaftig side. I wish sheíd lose weight. Iíve been saying that since she was in the third grade. Thatís when she started staying up late with Morty and heíd bring home a Pepperidge Farm chocolate layer cake and theyíd pull two dairy forks out of the kitchen drawer and go at it from opposite ends. They wouldnít stop eating till their dairy forks clanked in the middle.
Sheís going to be diabetic just like Morty, I just know it.
But I may not be around to see it if someone doesnít see me out here. I try to wiggle my toes to make sure I still have them. They work. My arthritic fingers, especially my ring finger on my right hand, not so much. Maybe if I focus on something warm I can keep myself warm. I heard a story once about someone freezing to death in a railroad car because he thought he was stuck in a refrigerated car. It wasnít refrigerated. Itís amazing what the mind can do.
If I could drive, Iíd get into my big, fat Cadillac and press the button for the seat warmer. And Iíd drive, just drive, because I could. Iíd maybe go see all those women from the Sisterhood who had to pick me up for the Chinese Auction nights at the shul and say, ďHa! The jokeís on you. I could drive all the time.Ē
But fate isnít that kind. I canít drive and Iím 88 years old lying on ice behind my daughterís car.
The garage door hums as it rolls up to the ceiling. Wendyís boots shuffle along the ice. Her key beeps the doors open. But sheís on the driverís side and Iím behind the wheel on the passengerís side. The garage door closes.
She doesnít see me. The car starts up and the exhaust suffocates me. I cough and cough and cough. I canít breathe. Tears well up, but they freeze right away. I canít brush them away. I keep my eyes closed, it hurts too much to keep them open.
I am going to die. Either from the fumes of the car or from several tons of automobile, excuse me, SUV, pressing themselves across the decrepit 140-pound body of an ancient woman. I try to think of a prayer, but in my mindís eye, I see Mama. And Bubbe. And Morty, at whom Iím still mad because he died. But maybe now Iím not so mad, because Iíll be with him soon.
The wind smacks me in the face, but maybe itís Morty. My muscles relax. Iím beginning to let go. I donít feel the cold. I donít feel the pain. I think I can feel teeth in my mouth and theyíre in good shape. Maybe even real. The wind smacks me again.
ďNo,Ē I say, ďI called my mother Mama. Never Ma.Ē
But the voice still calls out, ďMa! Ma!Ē
I feel a warmth spread across my body. I am leaving the body. I am flying over Brooklyn, over Queens.
There are Mamaís and Papaís graves at Old Montefiore. Mortyís grave at New Montefiore. Iíll be there tomorrow in my shroud. At least my body will. My spirit will be somewhere else. I know this, because when I saw Mama in her coffin, she wasnít there. She just wasnít.
But this warmth, itís scratching me. It covers my legs, my stomach, my chest, and my arms.
ďMa! Help is on the way!Ē
Someone is stroking my hair and saying my name. ďRiva, pretty Riva.Ē The touch is soft and I want to curl into it. Itís not Morty. His hands were always so rough from unloading the stock onto the store shelves.
When I open my eyes, I am looking into Wendyís and she is crying. She has dragged my torso into her lap and she rocks me. ďWhat if I hadnít opened the trunk for my briefcase? What if I hadnít seen you?Ē
I hear sirens but close my eyes and nestle against Wendyís down coat sheís wrapped me in. Just like Mamaís featherbed.
Morty will be upset with me for staying here a little while longer. If only I could drive. But I donít think cars can go that far with a driver whoís had no lessons.