“You know I have to have my teeth removed.”
“Not your teeth, mom, one of your molars.”
“And my doctor said that at my age, which we will not discuss, I could die in the chair. Actually, he said, there is a good chance of that.”
“I also spoke with him, mom, and he told me that though anything’s possible—that’s true—you are not going to die from Novocain, or whatever it is they use these days for extractions.”
“So this may be our last conversation,” she insisted on continuing in this vein. I didn’t try to cut her off. Many of our conversations recently have been of this sort—about how old she is (more than 104), about how her body is “breaking down,” how she has lived too long, and how “any little thing” can “take me away.”
In what has become the usual, I said, with as much comfort as I could muster, “I understand. It is reasonable for you to be feeling this way.You are in fact very old, but you also continue to take pleasure from life. Especially getting together with the ladies for breakfast and dinner.”
“The girls themselves are dying one-by-one and I am almost the only one left. And the same-after-the-same night-after-night is also not helping. The food, which I can’t chew. What we talk about. Everything.
“I understand, mom, I really do.” Which, strictly speaking, is not true. But I was hoping that saying this would bring her some sense of assurance that all was not hopeless or nearing the end.
“I don’t know why I’m going, I should just go to sleep and not wake up, but your brother wants me to have the teeth taken out . . .”
“Tooth. One tooth.”
“One tooth, teeth, what difference does it make to someone like me who has more than one foot in the grave.”
“But, mom, you . . .”
“I don’t want to be late. Your brother will be angry with me if I cancel again and . . .”
“I too, we all want you to do this. Your doctors say you can tolerate it and unless you have it removed you are risking getting an infection, then an abscess, and after that who knows what.”
“If they made a movie of my life, Who Knows What could be the title. But, as I said, I have to go. My driver is waiting to take me. I don’t want to be late for him either. So I called to say hello so I could say goodbye.”
“No, mom, that’s . . .”
“That’s that. But if I somehow don’t die in the chair, if I can talk with a mouth full of gauze, I will call you again later because I have something important to talk with you about.”
Joining her in thinking the worst—she has me well trained to do this—I said, “But you have all your papers in order. You did that many years ago and you have been wonderful about keeping everything up to date and have made sure we know your wishes for . . .” I couldn’t complete the sentence.
“It’s not about that.”
“What is it then?”
“What Mitt Romnik said about the Jews.”
“You mean about Israel?”
“To the girls it’s the same thing. The Jews and Israel. But I have to go. I don’t want to be late. Maybe I’ll call you this evening. That is if . . .” With that she trailed off.
* * *
In fact, I called later that afternoon to see how she was doing. I had heard earlier from my brother that she not only survived but did very well. “The whole extraction took maybe two minutes. She lost very little blood, she’s in no pain, and should heal quickly.”
But I was surprised that when I called she quickly took the phone from her aide so she could talk directly with me. She was clearly doing very well.
“Ath I saying, the laydith are nit all voting for Obamin.”
“Mom, you’re mouth is all full of gauze and your gums are numb with Novocain. So don’t try to talk. The main thing is that you did it.” I didn’t add, “And you’re still alive.”
“I know yu think I’m steel live. I wost just talkink about this day when I calt morning.”
“Mom, really, don’t strain yourself. Lie down. Rest. We will have plenty of time tomorrow to talk about whatever it is you want to talk about.”
“Want to tak now.”
“Whatever you say.” I was delighted that she was feeling well enough to do so. Even if it was nearly impossible to understand what she was saying. Her mouth was so packed with cotton.
“Dey say he is disappointin. Obamin. I say you are wronk. It the Publicans. Dey won’t give him chance. Listen to vat der senator say. Make him one-term present.”
“Him. So I say, vatch Volf on CN. They have tape of Mitt Rominik. In Florda, saying he isnt interest in being percent.”
“Yes, mom, that he doesn’t care about the 47 percent who see themselves as victims and are irresponsibly living off the government and voting for Obama.”
“Nit pay tax too.”
“But of course most of them do. They pay payroll taxes. And the others . . .”
“Are like girlst. Too little money to pay.”
“Yes,” I kept jumping in to help so she wouldn’t have to strain to talk. “So the people he resents, and isn’t interested in representing if he became president . . .”
“Please Gut. No.”
“I don’t think he will get elected, especially after what he said and the distain he shows for half the population, which, by the way, includes many Republicans. In fact, the majority of that 47 percent on Social Security and Medicare are Republicans.”
“Yes, it is ironic.” I was beginning to get better at following her swollen speech.
“But dats not why I calt.”
“As I saying in the morn, about what he said about us. Chews.”
Again, attempting to fill in the gaps for her, “Because of what he said about Jews, Israel and the Palestinians?”
“All of dem.”
“How the problems there can’t be solved. How maybe somehow in the future things will happen. Though he doubts it. How he suggests kicking the ball down the field.”
“Didt understand that. Kick?”
“He meant, don’t deal with it know, defer dealing with it, and leave it to others.”
“If he’s lected?”
“I suppose, leave it for his successor.”
“I think that’s what he meant. In fact, that’s exactly what he said. He wants to be president but apparently not to lead.”
“Need soon to change mouth.”
“You mean the cotton gauze?”
“Dat. Soon. First, some girls said they wer’t not vote for Obamin. Maybe even vote for Romnik. But now, when I tell about Romnik and Isr’l, dey reconsider.”
“They want a president will work on the Israeli and Palestinian situation and not do any kicking.” I realized that I was beginning to talk as if my mouth too was stuffed with swabs.
“You heard Romnik say he spoke with sectary? Not Hillary. Nother one. Who said he had idea about solvin problem.”
“I did hear that. A former Secretary of State called him to talk about the Middle East and indicated he had ideas about how to solve the problems.”
“What Romnik did?”
“To be honest, I forgot.”
“Now I remember—he said that when the former Secretary of State indicated he had ideas about how to solve the problems in the Middle East, Romney said, ‘I didn’t delve into it.’ Or something like that.”
“X’actly like dat. Dat’s how much he cares? And when girls heard, all sed, voting for Obamin agin.”
“I can understand why they would say that. For Romney not to care enough to even spend a few minutes getting his ideas. It could have been Colin Powell.”
“Esther said, ‘Was him.’”
“Could very well be. But I think you’ve talked enough. No? Bed time for you after such a day?”
“Always put me to sleep. When I die, plenty of time. Which I'm not doin now.”
“That’s what I was hoping to hear. I'm so happy to hear you sounding like your old self.”
“Olt. That I am.”
“I love you, mom.”
“Sleep.” And with that she let go of the phone.