“Mrs. Bender, I hope you have a wonderful day. It’s beautiful out there…the sunshine and all. I think my roses could use some rain though. If I have any…Mrs. Bender? Are you ok?” Diane, at the front desk, asked her.
Betty stared out the front windows, her face totally vacant. I came alongside her and gently took her arm. She pulled it away abruptly and looked at me with a face like she’d just eaten a turd.
“Don’t touch me Marvin! I don’t NEED your help. I’m just fine without you doting on me.”
The sound of papers being frantically shuffled arrested Betty’s attention, and she turned to look at the woman at the reception desk.
“And YOU! Don’t talk to me about your damn roses! I have one month to live, woman. ONE MONTH! Didn’t you hear? I bet you were listening over the intercom somehow.”
“Mrs. Bender, I would never have—“
“Don’t ‘Mrs. Bender’ me! You just mind your own business.”
Betty held her arms stiffly at her side, fists clinched. The doctor cautiously leaned out his door. I looked around the room, now full of young faces, waiting for their own appointment with the doctor. A woman with long dark hair was sitting in one corner, nursing a baby, with a toddler sitting next to her, playing on her phone. Where Betty and I had been sitting only a few minutes ago, there was another young woman with several children. One of them, wearing a tank top, shorts, and pink flip-flops, stood with a gaping mouth and eyes on us like she was in a trance.
“Honey, come on. Let’s go eat something. How about that?”
“You can eat shit, Marvin. You can ALL eat shit.” Betty announced to the crowd.
I winced and tried to force a smile. She erected herself, huffed, then walked briskly and proudly to the door, quickly pulling on her white lace gloves. The door chimed pleasantly as it opened.
“Come on, Marvin!” She snapped just before the door closed behind her.
“I’m sorry.” I said, sheepishly.
“Marvin, no apology needed. Just, get her home.” Dr. Harris said.
I looked down at Diane, sitting at her desk and whispered, “I’m sorry.”
She looked away from her computer for only a moment and mouthed, “Thank you.”
Betty was standing next to the car, looking away. I unlocked the car, opened her door for her, and she sat down without words. The seats were like liquid-hot magma and the air in the car was like a furnace. Betty said nothing as I started the car, rolled down the windows, and began driving.
“Aren’t you going to put on your seatbelt, Betty?”
She turned to look at me, but there was no expression in her face. Then, she reached over her shoulder, pulled the seatbelt down, and hesitated. She gazed out the windshield, holding the buckle an inch from the other end. I watched from the corner of my eye. The bright purse in her lap heaved upward as she took in a deep breath. Slowly exhaling, she let the buckle go. Instead, she rifled through her purse and withdrew a small Gideon’s bible. She tried to turn the pages with her gloved hands, but she quickly pulled them off, held them both out the open window, and let them fall. I unbuckled my own seatbelt and slowly slid it back over my shoulder.
Neither of us spoke. I tried to drive and act normally. After looking through the book, Betty placed it back in her purse, leaned her head against the seat rest, and held her hand out the window…feeling the hot breeze pass through her fingers.
When, at length, I shifted the car into park, Betty roused from what looked like a brief nap, and looked at me with slightly squinted eyes.
“What are we doing here?”
“I thought it would help if you saw the grandkid—“
“I don’t need to be cheered up, Marvin. Take me home. I want to go home.”
She relaxed against the head rest.
“I told Kyle and Dana we’d come see them. I think we could both do with some company.”
“What…tired of me already?”
“No, that’s not what I meant.”
“Well…you never say what you mean, do you Marvin? You and that stupid boat. That’s all you care about!”
“What does the boat have to do with this?”
“You spend all your time with it, and none of it with me. How do you think that makes me feel, Marvin? HOW?”
“I didn’t know what else to do.”
“What do you mean by that?” She twisted her face and furrowed her brows.
I looked away, soreness building quickly in my throat.
“Oh…well…fine!” She said.
I turned back to her. “Betty, we can—“
“I hate you, Marvin.” She said, looking me squarely in the face.
She brushed nothing from her lap and exited the car. I sniffled and did the same. Two small children were running across the grass to Betty’s outstretched arms, while Kyle and Dana stood in the shade of the porch looking at me.