by Steven R Malikowski
A clear clank came from Kelly’s coffee cup after she set it down. Some coffee leaped out, and several drops landed on the hand holding the cup. She didn’t look bothered by the hot drops on her skin. She wiped off the coffee with a napkin and noticed more wrinkles on her hands. That did bother her. Still looking at her hands, she said, “There’s no need to raise your voice, Lauryn.” She wiped the rest of the spilled coffee off the table.
“I’m sorry,” Lauryn replied from across the booth, “But you should listen to your doctor.”
Kelly looked out the window and gazed at the old bank across the street. It was built from stone with spirals carved into the rock toward the top. The windows were boarded up.
Still gazing at the bank, Kelly spoke, “You’ve always had a lot of spirit, Lauryn. Your grandpa would be so proud of you. He would have never expected to have a nurse in our family.”
“Thank you,” Lauryn replied, in a calmer voice. “I miss Grandpa, but he listened to his doctor. You should listen to yours.”
Kelly looked at her coffee. “He was a really good man, not many like him anymore.” She looked into Lauryn’s eyes. “But his doctor didn’t help much, did he?”
“They did everything they could!”
“There’s no need to yell, sweetheart.” Kelly looked out the window. “We don’t get to see each other much, and I like talking with you. But nobody likes to hear yelling.”
Lauryn sighed and sipped her coffee. “I’m sorry, Aunt Kelly. But I work with doctors and patients every day. Sometimes, patients don’t get better, but usually, they do—when they listen to their doctors.” She spoke with more authority. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to tell patients to just take their meds or do PT. This is the same. You need to listen to your doctor.”
Kelly kept looking out the window. “Lecturing me is about the same as yelling.”
“I’m just talking the way I talk! And this is important.”
“Yes it is.” Kelly looked at Lauryn. “But I’m not one of the patients you can order around. I’m your aunt, please show a little respect.”
Lauryn sighed, picked up her coffee cup, and sipped from it. Still holding up the cup, she looked over it and asked, “Can we talk about what your doctor said?”
“Yes, but there’s something else I want to tell you about first.” She looked out the window again. “Did you know that your grandma worked at that bank?”
“No, I didn’t know that.”
“It was only for a little while.” Kelly sipped some coffee. “But she liked it. Everyone was dressed up every day, and the building looked so much better than it does now. Back then, the windows were bright and clean. Even the boards look bad now, falling down with foul words painted on them.”
Lauryn looked out the window. “It is a nice building, or was, but I’m not sure what that has to do with your doctor.”
“This whole town used to be better. We had a movie theatre, a little grocery store, and this café used to be busy all day.”
“That’s wonderful, Aunt Kelly, but—”
A clear clank came from Kelly’s coffee cup dropping on the table. Both women looked at the empty cup.
Kelly spoke calm and clear. “I will talk about my doctor, but right now, talking about this town is more important.”
“Ok, fine.” Lauryn crossed her arms. “Tell me about the town.”
Kelly’s tone stayed calm. “Sweetheart, could you relax? I just want to spend a moment talking about the town.”
Lauryn nodded and relaxed her arms, which were still crossed.
“Your grandpa and grandma used to take me and your mom to the movie theatre, but it closed around the time you were born. We used to go shopping at the grocery store. It had old wooden floors that creaked a little. Your mom and I used to pick out fresh fruit and vegetables. That was fun.”
“I remember that store,” Lauryn nodded and sipped some coffee.
Kelly smiled and looked at her niece. “We used to take you there, when your parents brought you here for the holidays.”
“I remember that too.” Lauryn sounded more relaxed. “You let me pick out any candy I wanted.” She mimicked a stern version of Kelly’s voice. “But only one piece!” Lauryn smiled at the memory.
“That was fun.” Kelly looked out the window again, and her smile faded. “That grocery store was by the bank. It’s a bar now, and not a very nice one.” She sighed, “We had no grocery store for a long time, had to drive about an hour to get groceries. We have a Dollar Store now, by the freeway, but it doesn’t have many fruits and vegetables.”
“That is sad, Aunt Kelly, but this is still a nice little town.”
“Can I give you guys a refill?” a waitress asked.
“Thanks, darling.” Kelly said while moving her cup toward the waitress.
“How’re you doing, Kelly?” asked the waitress. “Haven’t seen you for a while.”
“I’m fine, thanks. Do you remember my niece, Lauryn? I think you two were in high school around the same time.”
“Lauryn! I do remember you.”
Lauryn paused. “I’m so sorry. My memory’s always been horrible.”
The waitress pulled down her mask. “How about now?”
“Janet?” Lauryn asked.
The waitress nodded and smiled.
“It’s so good seeing you again.” Lauryn said while moving a hand toward Janet. “Would you mind if I gave you a hug?”
“I usually don’t, but I’ll make an exception.”
Lauryn stood up, and the friends enjoyed an overdue hug. After letting go, she asked, “How’re you doing? It’s been so long.”
Janet pulled her mask back up. “I’m great, considering what we’re all going through.” She had to step aside when a group walked by. “I better clean up their table, but I’ll stop by later.”
Lauryn nodded, watched her friend walk away, and sat down.
“She’s such of a nice girl,” Kelly said.
“Aunt Kelly, I can’t stay much longer, so I’d like to talk about what your doctor said.
“My doctor is very certain about what I should do.”
“Yes she is.”
“Do you know why your grandma left that job, at the bank?”
Lauryn shook her head.
“It closed. The whole town knew there were problems, but the bank president said everything would be fine. Then one day, they just closed up, the same way the grocery store did, and almost every other shop in town.”
“That’s sad, Aunt Kelly, but I’d like to talk about your doctor now.”
“I am talking about my doctor.” Kelly looked into Lauryn’s eyes. “My doctor is so confident, just like the bank president was confident, just like the mayor was confident, and just like governors and presidents are confident.” She looked at the bank and shook her head. “And now, look at this town. I have a lot of friends who say that natural medicine is better.”
Lauryn spoke to herself, “This really is like people who don’t take their meds.”
“And maybe that’s ok.”
Lauryn nodded and waited for her aunt to say more.
“People around here are just tired of it all, Lauryn. We’ve seen this town change. We’re getting older, and doctors keep telling us to take more pills. They didn’t help your grandpa, and they’re not helping my friends, at least not much. I lost two friends just last month.”
Lauryn moved a hand toward her aunt. “I’m sorry. What happened?”
“One died of the same cancer your grandpa had, pancreatic cancer.” She looked down at her coffee cup. “The other had a few problems, but they say it was that damn virus.” Kelly wiped away a tear. “I couldn’t even say good-bye since they didn’t allow visitors. I feel so sad for him. He died without any family or friends around.”
“That’s not a very nice way to die.” She picked up a napkin and wiped away more tears.
Lauryn spoke softly. “No, it’s not. It tore me apart when one of my friends was in the ICU.”
“You knew someone who got the virus?”
Lauryn looked at her coffee. “Yeah, he worked in the Covid ward, a few months after it showed up.”
“Is he ok?”
She sighed. “He’s gone.”
They looked into each other’s eyes for several seconds.
Lauryn looked at her watch. “Aunt Kelly, I’m very sorry, but I really have to go now.”
“It was so good seeing you, sweetheart.”
“It was really good seeing you, and if it’s ok, I’d like to lecture just a little.”
“If you really want to be safe from the virus, you could use natural medicine and take your doctor’s advice, get the shot.”
Kelly spoke soft. “Maybe.”