YOU’RE LUCKY YOU CAME IN TONIGHT by Susanna Baird

Pickleball is a fun sport that combines many elements of tennis, badminton and Ping-pong, according to the USA Pickleball Association. Kids and teenagers play it. Seniors, too.

I am middle-aged, but anyway, I play pickleball. According to me, pickleball is an okay sport you play with a paddle and a Wiffle ball.

I play pickleball with my aunt in Arizona, the day before I fly home. She is a senior. She falls.

***

The registrar in the emergency room looks like her name should be Gail, and she says You are lucky you came in tonight. Last night, 40 ambulances. Tonight, nothing. Seems like your aunt maybe broke her hip. I hope I’m wrong. 

You’re lucky you came in tonight.

***

My aunt has cracked her pelvis. I change my flight. 

***

My aunt’s roommate is sad and annoying and confused and petulant and friendly and annoying, which I said before, but she is.

First I am polite. Then I pretend I can’t hear her. Then I hide behind the curtain separating her bed from my aunt’s. She asks my aunt to pull the curtain back so she can see me. She says My name is Kitty.

***

The first day, a physical therapist moves my aunt’s legs and it hurts. My aunt says I might swear. The physical therapist says My wife went to Catholic school and didn’t know anything about swears. Now we like to sit in the car and swear for five minutes at a stretch. 

***

Two signs are outside the door of the room my aunt and Kitty share. The signs say Catch a Falling Star. My aunt and Kitty are Falling Stars. They are not supposed to walk without help.

Other rooms have other signs. One says Stop Call, Don’t Fall. One says Wake me up to see if I’m breathing

***

In the hospital, the elevator doors are decorated with life-size pictures of hospital staff. I study the elevator people while I wait to go up or down. Always, they look cheery.

A lab director is pasted on the elevator doors by the Joint Academy. His hands are on his hipster eyeglasses and he is happy, maybe because the glasses are new, or maybe because he’s just been accepted to the Joint Academy.

***

The second day, a physical therapist helps my aunt stand up and sit down. My aunt says it hurts

***

When I am bored I pretend I am in an episode of Nurse Jackie. I find Jackie and Thor but I can’t find Zoe. I love Zoe.

***

Kitty is always forgetting she is a Falling Star. She rips out the oxygen tubes running into her nose and shuffles to the bathroom. 

At first, I report Kitty to the nurses. Eventually, I only say Kitty you are going to get me in trouble and I watch her shuffle. In my head, I start to call her Fucking Kitty. When she returns, I say Kitty put those tubes back. Sometimes, I pull her covers up and tuck her in.

***

The elevator doors by the Cool Beans coffee shop are decorated with a life-size poster of a nurse. She has one hand out low and one hand out high, maybe because she wants to high five and low five at the same time, or maybe because she just said ta-da!

***

I make a Five-Minute Friend on the elevator. We discuss the life-size cheery elevator poster people. I say I wonder what the photographer said to them right before taking their pictures. My friend says I wonder if they are just naturally like that

***

The chaplain visits and prays for Kitty. I write my aunt a note that says Shut your eyes and pretend to be asleep. When the chaplain comes to my aunt, I whisper She’s sleeping and we talk about pickleball.

***

On the third day, my aunt takes 10 steps. She says it hurts.

***

A Five-Minute Friend rings up my lunch, which totals $5.55 and would be a bargain in Massachusetts where I am from. She says 555 and Did you know the lottery is at 212 million? I did not know. We agree I should put those fives into play.

***

When I am bored I spy on the nurses. One afternoon, they get angry. They tell each other they are having to do jobs the assistant nurses should be doing. Not that they mind, they tell each other, but still. 

***

My aunt moves to a single room. I do not miss Kitty and I go visit her. She says How is your aunt today, and I say Just fine how are you, and I think Fucking Kitty you are all right

***

On the fourth day, my aunt takes 40 steps. She says it hurts. On a scale of one to ten, it’s a ten.

***

A Five-Minute Friend looks like Jimmy Buffet and has just the one kid. The kid’s all right now, but he had a hard time with the reading. They wanted to hold him back but Jimmy Buffet went to school and helped his kid and a few others with the reading. And you know what, it worked.

***

When I am bored I read Lila by Marilynn Robinson. This book is the loveliest thing that happens to me at the hospital. 

The saddest thing that happens to me at the hospital is a body being rolled out through the sliding front doors. That thing is the saddest, but it doesn’t make me ache like Lila by Marilynn Robinson does.

***

On the last day, my aunt rides in a wheelchair down the hall, to the elevator, to the lobby, to the sliding doors, to a van that will take her to rehab. Behind her, I walk. The floor is wet and my shoes are rubber. I slip and land on my ankle, my knee. I say it hurts. On a scale of one to ten, it’s a seven. Tomorrow, I will fly home.


Susanna Baird is a writer and editor in Salem, Massachusetts. Her nonfiction has been published in The Boston Globe and Boston Magazine, among others, and her fiction in failbetter, Across the Margin and more. She’s a contributing editor to Spine Magazine and serves as authors co-chair of the Salem Literary Festival. When not writing or reading, she enjoys hiking with her dog and goofing off with her family. Find her online at susannabaird.com.

 

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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