Just Another Lunch

Ellie is twenty minutes late, and I stand just inside the doors of the restaurant beside the glass walls of the fireplace trying to appear nonchalant. The hostess gives me a quick look over the rim of her rectangular black glasses and smoothes her sleek asymmetrical black bob.

“Your friend will be here soon?” she says with a slight clip to her voice.

“Any minute. Traffic,” I say.

She gives me a brisk nod and guides a couple into the dining room. Ellie sweeps in, her gold bracelets jangling as she waves to me. She talks into her mobile phone.

“Have to go. Lunching today. Toodles.” She disconnects and gives me a wide, white smile. “Sorry I’m late, darling. It’s been a hellish morning. The decorator never showed up with my swatches. I don’t know how I’m supposed to redo the little parlor without swatches, though I picked out the most gorgeous wallpaper. Donald’s in a snit because it’s three hundred a roll or something, but it’s just amazing. White silk with a very thin ecru stripe. You have to see it.”

“I can’t wait.”

The hostess returns, and Ellie announces that we need our table at once.

“Oh yes, Ma’am,” the hostess says.

I take a breath. Ellie has a way of steam rolling people, but today I don’t mind.

Ellie leans closer once we’re seated. “So, how are you?”

“Well, I—“

“Oh, damn. That’s my phone. Just hold that thought.”

Ellie pulls out her phone. “Hello, Hello. Oh, yes. I can talk. No, nothing important.”

The waiter comes over to take drink orders. I order a Sauvignon Blanc, and Ellie waves her hand to indicate she’d like the same thing. I sit back as another waiter fills my water glass.

“What is this for?” Ellie holds out her hand and studies her nails, admiring her fresh manicure. I fold my hands together. I could use a manicure. I could treat myself to one so at least my nails would look decent before all my hair falls out.

“Is that right?” Ellie says. “Well, I hate the idea. I don’t want to host anything. Why don’t you ever offer up your house?”

“Well, if you must know. We’re redecorating, and we couldn’t possibly. It’s a tremendous burden. Yes. I have a hard time picking the kids up from school too.”

Ellie smiles at me, and I smile back, trying to look sympathetic. I haven’t even thought about picking up the kids. Who will do that if I’m too nauseated to drive?

“I suppose I’ll have to let Donna get them. Last time Donna drove she nicked the fender of the Mercedes.”

Donna is Ellie’s au pair. I’d like an au pair.

“Well, that would be nice if you want to have them over some time. I’m sure they’d love it. Yes, do stop over and see what we’re doing. We’re opening the pool at the end of the month. It’ll be great.”

I visualize floating in a pool of warm water and try to tune out everything around me, but Ellie’s voice breaks through.

“No. Of course, I’ll be glad to help with the faculty luncheon. I’ll just pull some volunteers together like always.”

I won’t be one of Ellie’s super-reliable volunteers this year. I’ll be getting my monthly chemo treatments starting in two weeks, but why remind her? She’s smiling at me with that anticipatory gleam in her eye while I take another sip of water. The waiter arrives and plunks down our wine. I take a long swallow.

What’s the theme?”

What is the theme? Survival. My youngest is only in fourth grade.

“I think we could do something with yellow and violet. That would be lovely. I’ve just got so much on my plate right now, let me think about it.”

The walls in my doctor’s office are painted soft yellow. He believes yellow is an positive color. He tells me it’s important to keep a positive outlook.

“Well, let me know, dear, and I’ll get back to you.” Ellie clicks off, and says, “Now what were we talking about?”

“Your wallpaper.”

She frowns. “No. I’m sure there was something else.”

I shake my head. I’ve already swallowed half a glass of wine. “No, Ellie, really. Tell me about you.”

Coming Home

I walk down the polished floors of the hospital with a heavy heart. After five years my father’s kidney cancer has come out of remission with a vengeance and spread to his bones, liver and lungs. His doctor is talking aggressive chemotherapy to give him an extra six months, but Dad’s been marking time here since Mom died.

He loves me and his grandchildren, but his heart belongs irrevocably to Lily, the woman to whom he had been married for forty-nine years.

She died a month before their fiftieth. He still hasn’t gotten over it. “The first time she was ever early for anything,” he always says.

Now I slip into his room to kiss him. His skin has grown as papery as the skin of an onion, and his veins are purple snakes twisting up his arm. We talk of simple things: the warm June weather, baseball, Mom’s roses. I tell him that the kids are starting summer camp in a few weeks, and take a breath.

“The doctors want you to take a course of chemotherapy. Is that what you want? Or do you want to come home with us? We have plenty of room.”

I tell him this knowing he has already given me power of attorney and knowing he doesn’t want any extreme measures taken.

“Oh, no, Lily. We discussed this,” he says and shakes his head. “Don’t leave me here.”

“No, Dad, it’s me. Susan.”

He just smiles. “You’ll do the right thing.”

I think about that conversation when I argue later with his doctors who tell me my father was in full agreement with their chemo plan. We bring him home anyway, and he dies peacefully in his sleep on Father’s Day morning surrounded by his family.

“It was a gift,” my husband tells me. “You brought him home.”

All I can hope is that somewhere he’s sharing a drink and laugh with his beloved Lily.