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Open Doors by Gloria Goldreich released on Oct 21, 2008 is available now for purchase.
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RD has had many incarnations but she found her true calling reading books for the Library of Congress program, Talking Books. She has won both the Alexander Scourby Award and Earphones Award from AudioFile magazine. She now records commercial audiobooks and performs with various theaters.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Her cell phone, programmed to the opening bars of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," rang just as Elaine had reached a crucial moment in the coloring of a glaze and waited for the chemicals to meld. She was thinking, as she often did during the mindless moments when her work was merely technical, of the dinner she would prepare that night, luxuriating in the memory of the brightly hued produce she had carried home from the farmer's market. Thoughts of food always suffused her with an oddly lambent sensuality. She would imagine the shape and color of the vegetables, match them to color, shape and size, envision the pairing of disc-shaped carrots with tubular zucchini, the flash of bright-red bell peppers against slowly browning meat. It was, she supposed, a reaction against the hasty meals of her immigrant parents' home, the food purchased because it was cheap and prepared swiftly because time was money and the kitchen table was needed for the piecework that supplemented a meager income. She had substituted their indifference with her own creative concentration, a checkpoint of her Americanization.
Tonight, she thought, as the phone continued to ring and as she continued to ignore it, she would insert saffron-spiced rice into the scooped-out womb of the pale purple eggplant plucked with much exultation from her own vine. It was a dish that Neil especially liked.
Unlike their friends, other empty nesters who ate out often and filled their calendars with social engagements, she and Neil preferred their quiet dinners in the dinette that overlooked the garden. They reveled in the calm of their quiet home, in their soft exchanges, their easy silences. Their own music filled the book-lined living room during the calm predinner hour as he turned the pages of the newspaper and she caught up with The New Yorker, now and again reading an amusing bit aloud, inviting his laughter, his appreciation, as the aroma of the slowly simmering food drifted toward them. Even when their children were young, she would often serve them dinner first and she and Neil would eat their own meal later, savoring their togetherness, the small alcove transformed into an island of intimacy, isolated from the waves of activity that rose and ebbed in the other rooms of the large house.
She might make a soup tonight, she thought, and tried to remember what vegetables she had on hand but the continual ringing of the phone distracted her. She stirred the chemicals, lifted the jar of titanium oxide and briefly considered ignoring the call. Then, with a shrug, she set the jar down on her worktable. It was unlikely but it might be one of her children—perhaps Sarah, who could never clearly calculate the time difference, calling from Jerusalem, or Lisa fitting in a duty call between consultations and the reading of problematic X-rays. She discounted her sons, Peter and Denis. Caught up in their busy careers, they never called during the day.
Sighing, she plucked the phone out of her bag. The caller was probably Mimi Armstrong, the anxious gallery owner who had already phoned twice that morning, concerned about the shipment of tiles especially commissioned for an important client. Elaine had shipped the tiles ten days earlier and she had already given Mimi the tracking number. But she knew that if she did not take the call now, Mimi would surely call again. She wished now she had opted for one of those new phones that displayed the callers' number on the screen. Her son, Peter, who was addicted to technology, had been right. Such a feature would be useful for her as well as for Neil, whose patients often invaded his hard-earned privacy. Next week. She would get new phones for both of them next week, she thought as she pressed the talk button, not bothering to disguise the irritation in her voice.
"Elaine Gordon. And I hope this call is important."
"Elaine." Neil's voice, oddly faint, quivered as he spoke her name. "Elaine, I'm not feeling well. You'll have to pick me up at the office."
She looked at her watch. Eleven o'clock. That hour would be emblazoned on her memory for all the weeks and months to come. She glanced absently at the unfinished glaze, meant to be a deep cobalt, that she would not complete that morning and would never again try to replicate.
"But Neil, don't you have a patient now?"
Later the irrelevance of that question would haunt her but as she asked it, it seemed quite reasonable. In all the years that he had been in practice Neil had never cancelled an analytic hour and his eleven o'clocks were especially in demand. Women patients in the grip of depression, free-floating anxiety, distress, real or imagined (and Neil, sensitive psychoanalyst that he was, considered both equally important) were partial to that hour which, when completed, left them free to have lunch in the village, with hours to spare to think about the session before the onslaught of late-afternoon family life.
"I can't see a patient. I have a headache. A terrible headache." His voice was weaker still.
Responses flooded through her mind. Take two aspirin. Lie down for a bit. Open the window. Maybe even go for a short walk. She knew at once that any such suggestion would be foolish, absurd. Neil had never before, throughout their long years of marriage, complained of a headache. He was stoic about discomfort. His hardworking parents had had no time to spare for illness and he had clothed himself in their forbearance. He had never before asked Elaine to drive him home from his office. Always, even on the grimmest winter days, even when his arthritic knee caused him to limp, he had preferred the long walk from the town center to their home. This call, the desperation in his voice, meant that something was wrong, very wrong.
"I'll be there in a couple of minutes," she said, already unbuttoning her smock, surprised that her fingers trembled and that her heart was beating too rapidly. "Hang in there, sweetness, zieskeit." But he had hung up. Her endearment lingered in dead air space.
She rushed out of the studio then, pausing only to turn off her kiln and grab her soft oversize leather purse. It was late autumn and although an almost wintry chill tinged the air she did not stop at the house for her coat. She drove down their rural road at a reckless speed and accelerated as she reached the village, screeching to a halt outside the small building where Neil's shingle swayed against the impact of a sudden wind. She had supposed that he would be waiting outside but it was his secretary, pale overweight Lizzie Simmons, who leaned against the front door, the spongy flesh of her face gelled now into a quivering anxious mask.
"Oh, Elaine. Thank God. I wanted to call an ambulance but he wanted to wait for you. I did call the hospital though. Take him straight through to Emergency, they said." Her words tumbled over each other, her voice high-pitched.
"Lizzie, what are you talking about? He told me he had a headache, just a headache." Elaine spat the words out as she raced into the building, furious with this woman who had a flair for the dramatic, a penchant for darkness.
Lizzie lumbered in behind her, breathless, her voice almost a shriek now.
"More than a headache, he said. An explosion, his head was exploding, he said. Call the hospital, he said."
But Elaine was no longer listening. She was in Neil's consulting room, kneeling beside her husband who lay on the leather couch, his hands pressed against his head. His fine-featured face was porcelain white, his agate-blue eyes were bright with pain. Drops of perspiration beaded his high forehead, dampened the irrepressible lick of silver hair that fell across it.
"Neil, Neil, what is it?"
"I'm not sure." That same quiver in his voice, that same faintness as though he could barely give breath to the words that she had heard on the phone. "A terrible pressure, pain at the back of my head. All of a sudden."
"Can you get up? Can you walk?"
"Yes. I think so."
Slowly he brought his hands down, wincing as he used them to bring himself into a seated position and then held them out to her. She took them, pulled him gently to his feet.
"Help us, Lizzie," she said, no longer angry with the woman who loved her husband and feared for him as she herself did.
And Lizzie stood behind him, supported his back and slowly, slowly, thrust him forward. Somehow then, they managed to walk him through the door, down the path. It was Lizzie who settled him into the car, affixed his seatbelt with a maternal solicitude and firmly closed the door. Elaine saw her through the rearview mirror as she drove away. Absurdly Lizzie waved in the manner of mothers who linger after a school bus has departed and even more absurdly Elaine waved back.
She sped down Cedar Street, past Oak, toward the small village hospital where her two younger children had been born and where her husband's name was affixed to an office door on the small corridor reserved for psychiatric care. She herself had designed the plaque, ivory white, each letter etched in jet. Dr. Neil Gordon. But Dr. Neil Gordon sat motionless beside her and Elaine, driving more carefully now, dared not look at him, fearful that he had stopped breathing, that he, whose body had been warm against her own that very morning, was dead.
He was not dead. She heard the labored rhythm of his breath and said his name again and again, willing him into consciousness.
"Neil. Neil. My darling. My zieskeit." She did not realize that she was weeping until she braked the car at the emergency room entrance and their friend Jack Newnham, the director of emergency medicine, opened her door and gently wiped her face with his stiff white handkerchief. Swiftly, two orderlies hefted Neil onto a waiting gurney and rushed him into the building.
"Easy, Elaine. He'll be fine," Jack said and she nodded, although she did not believe him. She was a doctor's wife and familiar with such false assurances.
The small emergency room was crowded; the usual mid-morning patients filled the molded orange plastic seats. Elaine's eyes skittered from the weeping golden-haired boy who had perhaps fallen from a playground slide and sat on the lap of his Filipino nanny to the harried young woman holding a bloodied bandage to her finger and then to a muttering old woman in a bathrobe seated beside her elegantly dressed, much annoyed blond daughter. But Neil's gurney had disappeared.
"Where's Neil?" she asked Jack who approached her then and her own voice, shrill with terror, sounded like that of a stranger.
"I've had him taken upstairs. I want to get an MRI before we do anything else. I just need you to fill out the paperwork, Elaine, to sign the release. Just routine red tape. Can you do that?"
Jack placed his hand on her shoulder, an awkward comforter. He and Neil had been classmates at medical school and then had been surprised to rediscover each other on staff at this small northern Westchester hospital. Several times a year the Gordons and the Newnhams had dinner together and Claire Newnham made a point of buying Elaine's ceramics whenever she had to give a wedding gift. Jack and Neil occasionally met for a hurried meal in the hospital cafeteria. Neil was more than a patient or a colleague to Jack. He was a friend. Jack would do everything he could for him. They could rely on Jack. He would keep his friend alive. Elaine seized upon this, newly calmed.
"Of course," she said. Obediently she took the clipboard and, with deft strokes of the pen, gave Neil's date of birth, his allergies, his relatively uncomplicated medical history, listed their insurance carriers and then signed her name on the lines indicating next of kin. She hated the ominous sound of those three words and when she was done, she closed her eyes against them and handed the form back to the nurse.
"Dr. Newnham asked that you wait for him in his office," the nurse said, her voice icy with disapproval. "He has a conference this afternoon," she added accusingly.
Elaine shrugged and followed her down the hall. Nurses, she knew, resented doctors' wives, resented any interference with hospital routine.
"Did he...did Dr. Newnham say how long it would be?" she asked.
"He didn't say. It depends on the radiology schedule but in the case of an emergency..." Her voice trailed off and she blushed as though she had already said too much.
Elaine sank into the chair opposite Jack's desk and glanced at her watch. Only a quarter to twelve. Only three quarters of an hour had passed since Neil's call. Could that be right? She tried to figure out what time it would be in Jerusalem, nine at night or perhaps ten. Sarah's children would be asleep, Sarah herself would be busy at her drawing table or bent over her account books. Her thoughts raced to her other children. It was morning in Santa Fe. Denis would just be leaving for court or for his office. Morning, too, in Encino but Peter, hard-driving ambitious Peter, would already be at his desk, placing calls, taking calls, doing deals. Lisa in Philadelphia would just be leaving her office for her health club. Treadmill and a smoothie sandwiched in between consults—that was Lisa's lunch break. Of course she could reach each of her children if she had to—-just as Neil had reached her. This was the age of the cell phone, everyone instantly accessible, lives tethered together without even a wired connection. But there was no need to call them, not yet, not until Jack Newnham returned to report the results of the MRI and tell her what that omnipotent machine had discerned when it trained its magnetic beam on her husband's brain.
She glanced again at her watch. Too soon. Much too soon. Jack would not have any news for at least an hour, perhaps even two. She sighed, picked up a magazine, scanned its pages unseeingly and dropped it onto her lap. Scabs of the white clay she had been working with that morning clung like snowy teardrops to her gray skirt and she scratched at them, allowing the granules to fall to the floor. She used Jack's small private bathroom, tucked her red sweater into the waistband of the skirt and then pulled it out again. What difference did it make how she looked? she thought irritably. Still, almost instinctively, she brushed her thick hair with punishing strokes.
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