Chapter Seventeen: Lake Forest
"You’ll be hearing from my lawyer, Dr. Glass!” The voice of Leo Shelton’s widow blasted from the other end of the line.
I replied calmly, “Mrs. Shelton, I know how upset you are, and I am deeply sorry for your loss...”
“Sorry!? If you were sorry, you would have done more to save him!”
I remained calm, “The paramedics did all they could...”
“Then why didn’t they use those paddle things!? Those things can restart a heart, right!?”
No, defibrillators can correct an arrhythmic heartbeat. They can’t restart a heart that had stopped. But I couldn’t tell Mrs. Shelton that.
“And why didn’t you prescribe him medicine to save him!? Medicines are supposed to cure everything, right!?”
No, especially when the patient won’t take them. All the things I prescribed and recommended to Mr. Shelton could have prevented his early death, but only if he used them. I couldn’t tell Mrs. Shelton that either. The only thing I could do is listen to a frightened and heartbroken woman rant about a painful situation she couldn’t control.
“I’ll sue you, Dr. Glass! I’ll sue the hospital! I’ll sue the paramedics! I’ll sue the County of Orange! And if I could sue God, I’d sue Him too!”
She became silent, waiting for me to respond.
“Mrs. Shelton, all I can say is that I am deeply saddened for your...”
She hung up on me.
I couldn’t be mad at Mrs. Shelton. I knew the type of rage she felt. I had seen it before.
It was a mistake to put Grandma Dinah in the back seat with Mom. It was a mistake to have her in my car at all. I was driving. Teresa was six months pregnant with Muriel, so she had to sit in the passenger seat next to me. Grandma Dinah and Mom sat as far apart as the back seat of my 1993 Ford Escort would allow.
I didn’t expect Grandma Dinah to be there. We had a falling out since I married Teresa. She didn’t like her, she didn’t like that she’s Christian, and she didn’t like that I married her because I got her pregnant. Mom wasn’t completely happy with the arrangement either, but she tried to get along with Teresa and treat her like part of the family. Mom helped us plan the wedding and gave us a beautiful toast. Grandma Dinah and her side of the family didn’t come.
And they didn’t come that day, even though it was Maury’s funeral. Grandma Dinah did. I was relieved that she was on her best behavior. She didn’t say a word through the whole service, but I could imagine all of the horrible things she could say. Her silence was more damning than her words.
We drove back to Mom’s house. We pulled into her driveway and kept the engine running.
“Wouldn’t you like to come in?” Mom’s voice was both sweet and strained.
“Of course.” I turned off the ignition. Teresa turned sharply towards me and scowled. I was breaking an agreement we made to leave as soon as we dropped off Mom and Grandma Dinah. How I could I say no to Mom, especially at a time like that?
The click of the power door locks broke the silence. Each of us opened our door. I stepped around to Teresa’s side.
“Do you need...”
She shook her head angrily in reply.
Mom came around to Grandma Dinah’s side. Grandma Dinah had her cane out and put one leg after the other out of the car.
“Let me help you.” Mom held out her hands.
“I’m fine,” Grandma Dinah grumbled. “Why does Oliver’s car have to be so damn small?”
Teresa’s scowl tightened more, even though she confronted me with the same question many times.
Grandma Dinah wobbled as she tried to come to her feet. Mom reached out again, but Grandma Dinah shook her off. I waited as Grandma Dinah made her way out of the car. Teresa stood impatiently at the other end of the driveway. Mom followed close behind as Grandma Dinah trudged slowly up the walkway. It seemed strange to see this once physically intimidating and brutal woman act so feeble. I went over the door Grandma Dinah left open and closed it. I then went back over to the driver side door, stuck the key in the lock, and turned it. All of the power door locks clicked.
Teresa and I had to wait until Mom got Grandma Dinah to the door and unlocked it. We waited until they were through the doorway and past the tile entryway before we followed them in. The house didn’t seem the same as I remembered. Dust particles glowed in the shafts of light that snuck in through the shades. Everything seemed old and dingy. The beige carpet had worn spots. I noticed a stain in the family room. That was when Grandma Dinah hit Maury so hard, he bled.
Mom walked over to me. “You gave a wonderful eulogy.”
I nodded. “Thank you.”
We continued to the family room. Teresa took a seat at the sofa.
Grandma Dinah grimaced at her. “We’re still sitting shiva.”
Mom narrowed her eyes at Grandma Dinah. “She doesn’t have to. She’s pregnant.”
“And she doesn’t know our traditions.” Grandma Dinah sat down on the love seat and looked away.
Teresa scowled at me again, but she opened her eyes wide, as if to beg me to hurry up and leave. I turned to Mom. She tightened her lips. She shifted her eyes towards Grandma Dinah, who was staring silently off into the distance. I didn’t know what to do. I started formulating excuses for leaving, but I tossed each one out when I thought about leaving Mom alone with Grandma Dinah.
Mom cleared her throat and forced a smile. She knelt in front of Teresa. “So, how have things been coming along with the nursery?”
“Fine.” The word came out with a nasal snark. Teresa exhaled before speaking again. The snark went away. “We ordered the crib and dresser. We’re still trying to decide on a theme. We’re looking at either The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, or that new one, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
I glanced at Grandma Dinah. She still stared off into the distance in silent anger.
Mom kept her focus on Teresa. “You must be excited you’re having a girl.”
Teresa finally smiled. “We are. I can’t wait to go clothes shopping with her. It’s so much fun to dress up a girl.”
We didn’t know it then, but Muriel would prefer jeans and t-shirts to frilly dresses, and a new glove and softball bat over a Barbie Dream House. It didn’t stop Teresa from driving me to near bankruptcy from shopping at the Disney Store, The Children’s Place, and Baby Gap for clothes Muriel would outgrow in a month.
Mom smiled. “So, have you and Oliver picked out a name?”
We hadn’t talked about a name. I was surprised that she was going to answer.
“I was thinking,” Teresa said, “I know there’s a tradition in Judaism to name children after a loved one who passed away. So, I was thinking we would name our daughter after Oliver’s brother Maury.”
I was surprised. Pleasantly surprised. Mom blinked her eyes to hold back tears. She reached over towards Teresa and clasped her hands.
“Oh, Teresa. That is a wonderful thing for you to do.”
“It’s a stupid thing, if you ask me.”
All faces turned towards Grandma Dinah. She didn’t turn her head as she kept grumbling.
“Do you really think after what happened...”
Mom let go of Teresa’s hands and stood up. “Mother, this is not the time...”
Grandma Dinah finally turned towards us. “Then when!? Are we supposed to keep wringing our hands and saying ‘What a tragedy’ and ‘It’s a shame he was taken so young’ when we know full well...”
Teresa and I looked at each other. She kept her eyes fully open and shook her head rapidly, silently begging me to leave. I couldn’t. I found myself frozen in place, like I always did when things like this happened. Especially when Mom raised her voice.
“How can you talk about this?” Her voice started to tremble. “Right after his funeral?”
Grandma Dinah shook her cane. “Come on, Josephine! You don’t think everyone wasn’t thinking the same thing? No one will say it, but we all know...”
Mom’s anger turned to tears. “For the love of God, Mother! How could you...”
“Could I what? Tell the truth! Your son was an addict, Josephine! When they found him in that motel in Costa Mesa, he had overdosed on -- what is that crystal stuff again?”
“We did everything we could to help him!”
“Well, you didn’t do enough, did you, Josephine?”
Teresa looked at me. She then put her hands on her belly and spoke softly to Mom. “This talk, it, it really isn’t good for the baby.”
That was when I knew I had to say something. “Perhaps we should...”
“Go.” Grandma Dinah snapped a curt wave. “Just go. It’s not like you’re a part of the family anymore anyway.”
Once again, Mom had to defend me. “Oliver has his own life. He has his career. He has a wife and a baby on the way...”
Grandma Dinah’s curtness grew. “And how they going to raise this baby? Jewish? Christian? Are they going have her baptized? I hope that priest doesn’t drown the little...”
Mom stepped over to Grandma Dinah and planted his fists on her hips. “You are the most hateful, bitter, spiteful, miserable human being who ever walked the face of the earth!”
“And you are a terrible mother! You raised one son to knock up a shiksa and the other die of an overdose!”
“And you drove your son to commit suicide!”
Even at her age, Grandma Dinah’s hand moved so fast I didn’t even see it. Mom seemed unfazed. She snapped her face forward and narrowed her eyelids.
“Get out of my house!”
“What did you say, Josephine?”
“GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!!”
After the echo of Mom’s shout, silence. All of us stayed fixed in place. I was afraid to even turn my head. Then, Grandma Dinah leaned forward and put her weight on her cane to raise herself from the love seat. Her shoulders remained slumped as she stood. She shuffled a few steps forward and stopped. She turned her head slowly towards us and gave us a hateful glare.
“You will never see me again.”
She continued shuffling out of the family room, past the blood stain on the worn beige carpet.
She made good on her word. She died not too long after that. Jews have the ability to die out of spite. Anything to make someone feel guilty. No amount of guilt would make me go to her funeral. She had some money, but she wrote us all out of her will. She gave her entire estate to charities supporting Israel. So, in a way, Rachel wound up with her inheritance.
The sound startled me back to reality. It was from my iPhone. There was a new email. I put my thumb on the Home button to unlock the phone and tapped on the Mail app. The message was from Muriel. I cradled the phone in my palm as I slowly scrolled through her message. I knew she would be upset, but I didn’t expect how distraught she would be.
Then Alison stuck her head in the door. “Dr. Glass, Mr. Sembello is here for your two thirty.”
“Thank you, Alison. Um...” I glanced down at my phone for a moment. “Have Joy take his vitals. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“OK, doctor.” She closed the door behind her.
I should write Muriel back, but more importantly, I needed to write to Dylan. I tapped the icon for a new message. This couldn’t wait.