"MOM", hollered Kelly from the den, "Can you tell me if this looks right?" Midstir in the browning ground beef sputtering in the frying pan, Sara paused and asked, "What do you mean, honey?" She peeked in the den, wooden spoon in hand and looked lovingly at her daughter. Kelly was a fresh faced pixie of a girl, small boned, yet taller than most of the kids in her class at school. Sara smiled at the furrowed brow beneath the tousled blonde locks that framed her freckled face. Kelly so loved school, and had, when younger, often played make believe school with her dolls on the weekends. She was very diligent in her work, as evidenced by the report cards she proudly displayed on the refrigerator with kitty magnets. When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, the answer never varied, "I will be a lawyer, but I won't be mean".
"MOM!" Kelly cut through her Mother's reverie and pleaded again, "I don't know if I've made this descriptive enough". Sara backed into the kitchen and attacked the frying pan with unnecessary gusto. "Read it to me, honey, while I finish dinner so it won't burn, okay?" Kelly dutifully brought the notebook into the kitchen and plopped down on the floor. Dudley Do Wrong, the family cat, took that as an open invitation to use her lap as a nesting place. "Get off, you stinky thing", Kelly shooed, drew her knees up under her chin and began to read.
"Twenty minutes after one. The last lunch hour ended fifteen minutes ago. Right now the only sound in the cafeteria is a muffled conversation coming from the kitchen. I'm sitting at a gray formica table near the door to the main hall. A pool of chocolate milk from an overturned carton has worked its way to the edge of the table, where it's dripping slowly to the floor. Under the table on the right, I can see three crumpled napkins, a plate smeared with half-eaten spaghetti and green beans, several forks, a spoon bent into a U, two grease-stained paper bags, and a half-eaten banana. This isn't unusual. All the tables are dotted with abandoned brown plastic trays, lunchbags and spills. The Pep Club has taped "School Spirit" posters on the walls around the room. Behind me a large orange and blue sign proclaims, "Be proud of your school". It's hard to be proud of this mess! Why can't school spirit include the lunchroom?"
"Kelly!" Sara exclaimed in mock horror, "How can you dare to write about my kitchen like that?" Rolling her eyes, Kelly whined, "Moooooommmmmm, is it okay, is it descriptive? Mr. Burton said it needed to make you SEE the stuff." Laughing and bending down to give her daughter a big hug, Sara assured her, "I saw 'stuff' alright. I sure don't envy your school janitors. Really, honey, it's just great, another A for sure. I'm so proud of you; you read and write so well! You are so much smarter than your mom is! Now, how about setting our clean table, and don't bend any spoons, I like mine just like they are!"
"Kelly, you have hardly touched your dinner", Sara chided, as she watched her wee one push the food around on her plate. "Don't you like beef stroganoff anymore?" "Sure Mom, I'm just full from lunch still I guess. I'm not really hungry. May I be excused?" Placing her hand on Kelly's forehead, Sara commented, "Do you feel okay? You seem a bit warm." Smiling to console her always overly fretful parent, she got up, taking her plate to the sink and turned towards her bedroom, "It's all that thinking I have to do, it steams up my brain!" Picking up her own plate, Sara had barely set foot into the kitchen before the phone rang.
With the phone cradled to her ear held in place by a weary shoulder, Sara dutifully wiped the last of the crumbs from the counter, rinsed the dishrag and hung it over the faucet to dry. The thumping sounds of what her daughter called music resonated through the house, so that more than once, she had to speak into the phone, "What did you say?" Sighing at the other end of the line, Linda repeated, "I said do you have time to alter that dress for me before the dance this weekend?" Sara nodded as she made arrangements for the dress to be brought over the next day and hung up. She worked at home with a small seamstress business, word of mouth for advertising and payment under the table, always holding her breath that ends would be met and that she and the IRS would not. She always had plenty of work but didn't want to be involved in all that went with running a real business. Her income from this and benefit payments from her husband's untimely death early in their marriage was enough to keep them comfortable, although allowing little to be saved toward the fast approaching college years. Sara was so thankful that Kelly was so gifted, a hopeful sign that scholarships would be possible. She had even skipped a grade when they discovered she was reading at a level far above her peers.
Finally having enough, she marched to Kelly's bedroom and rapped sharply on the door. "Kelly, turn that down, please! I don't know how you can study with that racket. Kelly?" Hearing no answer, she opened the door and saw her daughter asleep sprawled across the bed. Going to the stereo and hitting the power button, she approached the bed and gently shook her child. "Kelly, wake up, honey. Kelly? Kelly? KELLY!" She screamed. Mumbling and moaning, she roused and said "Mom, I don't feel so good." With one glance at her daughter's too flushed face, Sara ran back into the kitchen and dialed her neighbor, Mr. Philips. Having no license and therefore no car, Sara often relied on the standing offer of her kindly old neighbor for his taxi services. In return she did yard work and other odd jobs for him. "Kelly seems to be real sick, I think I need to take her to the emergency room", she worriedly rasped into the phone. "I'll be right over, Sara, and don't worry, it's probably just one of those things going around", Mr. Philips replied.
Patting her on the knee, the doctor told Kelly, "In no time you'll be good as new". Turning to Sara, she handed her the prescriptions she had written. "Fill these and be sure she takes the full course and she'll be fine. Even when she starts to feel better have her finish them. She's got a wicked virus and you need to be sure we get rid of it all. Please read the information the pharmacy gives you well." Flushed with relief, Sara hugged Kelly and helped her off the table. "Come on Baby, let's get you home".
With a brief stop at the drugstore, it was nearly ten when Kelly was finally tucked in bed with the covers pulled up around her snug. "Mom.... I can't miss school", she said, tears glistening in her tired eyes. "Honey, you can't go sick, we'll get the medicine in you and hope it kicks in soon, I'll go to school each day and pick up your work, it'll be okay, I promise" Smiling as bravely as she could, Kelly coughed, "Can I have some water? And, I've got an awful headache too" "Sure thing, Let me get the medicine and we'll fix you right up.... AND", laughing, Sara and Kelly in unison said "the peanut butter!" Shaking her head, Sara groaned, "You'll be in the nursing home taking pills with peanut butter! Be right back!"
"Oh my God, oh my God! Please help her, please, please", Sara cried, rocking back and forth on her heels in the bedroom floor. "Oh please God, Please!" The paramedics worked feverishly to resuscitate her daughter as she held herself and whimpered. Amid the blur of feet, the thundering of voices, the clanking of metal, the tearing of paper, sounds of suction, the rustle of movements, someone sat beside her and placing his hand over hers, spoke softly, "My name is Tom. I'm a paramedic and I need to ask you some questions. We need to see her medicine, where is it?"
Shaking her head, wiping her nose on her sleeve, Sara choked, "In..in...the kitchen". Nodding to someone to retrieve it, Tom took Sara by the shoulders and said, "you have to try to talk to us, we need to know what she has taken" Sobbing, Sara pleaded with him, "Please help her, Please, they said the medicine would help her, please help her" "We are doing all we can, Ma'am, now we need you to help us". Handing her the pill bottles, the paramedic said...now what did she have? With shaking hands, Sara pointed to one bottle and said. "It's says take three of them" and taking the other one, she handed it back and nodded, "And that one says the same..and she had a headache, I gave her aspirin. Tom hung his head, a wordless affirmation to the paramedic beside him. "Sara, I need you to look at this bottle, what does it say?" Sara looked at him through tear filled eyes, devoid of all comprehension. "What...why?" "Sara, I need you to read this label to me, please", Tom repeated. "I can't...I can't", she repeated gasping, "I can't...I CAN'T READ IT", Sara cried. Time stopped in the echo of the scream that bared a secret long kept silent to all that knew her. A thin keening erupted as she realized the cost of her long held pride. Tom gently put his arm around her as she clutched desperately at his sleeve. She didn't see the look exchanged between the two paramedics, nor could she read that the bottles stated "one pill three times a day.....Warning, not to be ingested in conjunction with aspirin products"
The reassuring arm left her as quickly as it had appeared when shouts came from the bed. "We're losing her, we're losing her!" Sara dared to lift her eyes to the scene played out before her. A pool of water from an overturned water glass had worked its way to the edge of her nightstand, where it's dripping slowly to the floor. Underneath the bed on the right she sees three crumpled kleenexes, and a smear of peanut butter on a spoon.......