A Dash of Whimsy Series-
Mark Jabaut has brought us today a story of whimsy! So, go grab your coffee, curl up in your comfy spot on the couch, and take a read!
My son Aaron called on Thursday to ask us out to dinner.
“No can do, kiddo,” I said. “Your mom and I are pinching pennies, saving money for the Shot. Thanks for the invite. Maybe another time, Sport.”
I call my son Sport sometimes.
We had been saving for what seemed like forever – but what was, in fact, just a little over eight years – not taking vacations, not eating out, renting videos instead of going to the movies. We discontinued the newspaper and cut the cable down to basic. Who knew you still got over a hundred channels with basic?
The thing was, the Shot was not cheap. It was the exact opposite of cheap. On a scale of zero to one-hundred, where cheap was zero and expensive was one hundred, the Shot was about one-hundred-fifty. It was a bitch saving up that much money, excuse my French.
We had even cut down our food expenses to the bare minimum. We bought dented cans of soup at Mack’s, the discount grocery store, and an oversized box of saltines at Costco, and ate soup and crackers for every meal. Almost every meal. Sometimes we had PB&J if we wanted to splurge.
The thing about the Shot, though? It was worth it. It was a vaccine against all the known diseases of the world. So if you got the Shot, you would never get sick again. And that could add up to twenty years to your life expectancy. So that was worth eating soup every day, three times a day, with the occasional PB&J thrown in for variety. For eight-plus years.
Imagine never being sick again. What a life that would be. What a world! Never having to deal with having that clogged-head feeling, where your brain is in a fog, and you have to blow your nose about a thousand times every hour? Never having to trudge down to the drug store with a sore throat, wearing your coat over your pajamas, to buy cough syrup because your wife forgot to buy some the day before?
Not to mention all the horrible diseases that are out there, even though it’s unlikely that you’ll ever get them, since they are so rare, but still, it would be nice to know that you never have to worry about getting them. Like Ebola! Or that sickle-cell thing with the blood. And cancer, or course. Everyone worries about cancer.
Of course, just because you couldn’t get sick didn’t mean you would live forever. The body ages. Cells die. But I can tell you this – you wouldn’t be dying from malaria, or cancer, or TB if you got the Shot. No way, Jose.
Lots of old people, they get pneumonia and die. But it isn’t actually the pneumonia that kills them, it’s other things that the pneumonia invites in. The pneumonia weakens the body, and then those other things get in and kill the old folks. Sad but true.
So if you’ve had the Shot, you can still die. Just not from disease! But you can still get run over by a delivery truck, or get stabbed by a mugger, and that can kill you, so once you’ve had the Shot, it behooves you to be extra careful about crossing the street and walking in dangerous neighborhoods. It would be ironic to die by getting hit by a truck after you had your Shot that makes you immune to all known diseases of the world. And an ironic death is the worst kind (aside maybe from burning to death, which I’ve always thought was the worst).
Or, how about this? – you get your Shot, and get struck by a truck as you leave the clinic and walk to your car. Talk about irony! I have to think that a lot of people, maybe even most people, take a lot of extra precautions when they leave the clinic after their Shot. Maybe they stand just inside the door to the street, and watch the traffic for a while, worrying about the best time to make that dash to their car and home. Me, I’m going to hire some armed guards and an armor-plated car to get me home.
Just kidding – we’re having a hard enough time saving the money for the Shot. Where am I supposed to come up with enough to pay for guards and military-style vehicles? I’m not, that’s where.
But that’s okay. Just being able to afford getting the Shot will be enough. Everything will be gravy after that.
So, the point is, the wife and I were working really hard to save the money, and we were doing pretty good. We got out the old calculator and made some projections, and we figured out that we only had to save for two or three more months to have enough to get us both the Shot. Which was pretty damn good, right? Two or three months of soup and crackers. It looked like all of the sacrifice – the lack of cable premium channels and vacations, the intermittent PB&Js, the scrimping and saving, all of it – would be paying off soon.
Then the bad news. Carrie, Aaron’s littlest, comes down with some auto-immune thingamabobby that makes her very tired and causes her three-year-old little nose to run endlessly, and of course, the crappy insurance that Aaron gets through his work is only going to cover part of the treatment. And can we loan them some money, they want to know? Well, of course we can. I mean, what are grandparents for, right? If we can’t step in to help out little Carrie and her auto-immune problem, then who is going to? Who is going to make sure she grows up healthy and happy and not lacking in the immunity department but us? Not Aaron and his wife, that’s for sure. They’ve never saved a penny in their lives.
So we say, sure, no problem, and how much are we talking about to treat this suspiciously fake-sounding disease with no real symptoms except for a general feeling of tiredness and an incessant runny nose, which I contend is a normal and constant condition in children this age anyway? And Aaron mentions a figure which, if I were to say it here, would cause my blood pressure to soar and would make me yell all the swears I could think of, so suffice it to say, the figure is almost exactly the amount the wife and I have put away for the Shot.
And so, after a spirited and half-whispered discussion in which the wife repeatedly uses the term “stingy ass-wipe,” we tell Aaron to meet us at the bank the next day when we will get him the money he so desperately needs to help little Carrie recover from this dreaded condition. Because that’s what love is about.
Despite the fact that I have agreed to loan this huge sum of money to my son and his family, and despite the fact that when I say “loan” I really mean “give” because both Aaron and I know that he will never pay it back, I am drowning in second thoughts. I mean, I’m really wallowing, here. I’m wallowing and drowning in regret and the knowledge that I will have to start over saving money and spend the next eight-plus years eating soup three times a day, and will probably even have to waive the infrequent reprieve of a PB&J because things aren’t getting any cheaper, you know, they never do – and this wallowing and drowning feeling is making me resent my son for asking for the money, and resent my wife for talking me into loaning the money, and even resent little Carrie who really doesn’t have any concept of what is going on or the thousands of dollars that are being spent for her benefit in order to make her less tired and slow the flow of snot from her nose.
And it’s then, when I start resenting Carrie, my innocent, snot-nosed granddaughter, that I realize that maybe I am a stingy ass-wipe. What is eight-plus more years of nothing but soup when compared with the health of a young girl? What kind of heartless grandfather would begrudge his little granddaughter a hand up in the world? What kind of jerk would want a three-year-old girl who never did anything wrong except for the time she got snot all over the new sofa when she spent the night to have a less-than-optional shot at life?
Not this grandfather. Not this jerk. At that moment, I resolve to lose all resentment. Things happen for a reason, I tell myself. It will work out. I like soup.
And at the bank, everything is all smiles and happy tears, and the bank representative kind of grudgingly hands over the bank check that I’ve had made payable to Aaron, and I hand that to Aaron and he hugs me. And I know, right then and there, that this was the right thing to do. And I feel a sense of calm.
We leave the bank, and the thank-yous are still flying profusely from the mouth of Aaron as we head to our cars, and I’m nodding and picturing Carrie, healthy and dry-nosed. I stop for a final handshake with Aaron as the wife goes to the street to unlock our ten-year-old car. And as I’m shaking my son’s hand, there is a squealing of brakes and a dull thump, and I turn just in time to see a city bus rolling over the wife. Aaron runs over to her, and passers-by are screaming from the sidewalk and someone is shouting into a cell-phone about an ambulance, and I take one look at the wife and I know that no ambulance is necessary. She is not going to recover from that.
I stand there, still as ever, and watch the activity whirling around me. I’m still calm. In fact, if anything, what I feel is relief. Because I realize that, now, it will only take me four years to save the money I need for the Shot.
Mark Jabaut is a playwright and author who lives in Webster NY with his wife Nancy. Mark’s play IN THE TERRITORIES, originally developed via Geva Theatre’s Regional Writers Workshop and Festival of New Theatre, premiered in May 2014 at The Sea Change Theatre in Beverly, MA. His 2015 Rochester Key Bank Fringe Festival entry, THE BRIDGE CLUB OF DEATH, went on to be featured at an End of Life Symposium at SUNY Broome County and is listed with the National Issues Forum for those who wish to host similar events. Other plays seeing the stage in recent years include THE HATCHET MAN, DAMAGED BEASTS and COLMA! Mark has authored many short plays performed by The Geriactors, a local acting group. Mark’s fiction has been published in a local Rochester magazine, POST, as well as The Ozone Park Journal, SmokeLong Quarterly, Spank the Carp and Defenestration.
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