I write novels & short stories. With a small, local press, my husband and I are publishing a book about MUNI, San Francisco's bus system.

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Abigail flew out to Sligo Creek Nursing Home twice a year, to visit Lucille, her mother-in-law. For these four-day trips, arriving Sunday via a red-eye flight, Abigail made arrangements ahead of time to take Lucille to appointments: eye checkups, ear wax removal, the hairdresser, the manicurist. It was all forward motion, from San Francisco to Tacoma Park, Maryland. 
Motion Sickness 
The first morning had been a disaster, the van driver arriving late. 
"I'll get you there on time. I know how to cut across town." He didn't think it necessary to secure the wheelchair. "You got the wheelchair brakes on, right? Those belts are broken," he commented as he caught Abigail in his rearview mirror belting the wheelchair in. "She's not going anywhere." 
Abigail used her arms and legs to brace herself as he sped through the streets, weaving across lanes. She noted he sped up for yellow lights beyond reason. 
"I feel sick," Lucille said. "We're going to crash." 
Abigail noticed how her mother-in-law's hands gripped the armrests—how her wheelchair tipped side to side. She could see powerful vibrations, conducted through the floor of the speeding van, rattling through Lucille's body. At the least, Abigail comforted herself, if jet lag hit her during the transport back and forth to the ear doctor, there was no chance of her falling asleep. 
"I'm going to throw up," Lucille moaned. 
It seemed that Abigail had not applied the right—or enough—social lubricant. She was a successful project manager in San Francisco, known for her ability to work with many different personalities and get things done. But here in Maryland, she was floundering, as if she spoke a language others didn't understand.  
"I expressly bought my plane tickets to bring Lucille to this appointment today," Abigail said. She remembered the receptionist's tone of voice from a month ago, how she'd bristled when Abigail had repeated everything back to confirm. What had gone wrong? 
"Lucille's appointment is two weeks from now," the receptionist repeated for the fifth time. "We can't possibly fit her in today." 
Motion to Adjourn 
Minutes had ticked by, and the receptionist beckoned Abigail. 
"I'm sorry. but I'm going to have to ask you to leave. Since Lucille doesn't have an appointment, you can't sit in our waiting room." 
"It's nearly one hundred degrees outside and the van won't return for another half an hour." 
"Your mother-in-law is making our other patients nervous." 
Abigail turned to look at Lucille, an aged woman in rumply, stained clothing, smelling of urine, suffering from dementia. Her hair dirty and her nails uncut. Dozing. There were no other patients in the waiting area. 
Loco meaning "crazy" in Spanish. In this case, it was "loca," the feminine, the madwoman. Abigail wheeled Lucille out of the suffocating atmosphere. The van driver would arrive in forty minutes or so, and being outside was preferable. In another setting, the single level wooden structure might have been a luxurious summer beach rental. The ear, nose, and throat office sat on squat piers, at the end of an empty parking lot devoid of features except where weeds poked through the buckled asphalt. A generous wheelchair ramp zig zagged up to the front door. There were no cars, and Abigail assumed the staff parked behind the building, which stood alone, a forgotten corner in a ghost town industrial park, as if it had been a developer's bungalow for a shopping mall project that never materialized. 
Twenty minutes after the van driver was to have appeared, Abigail pushed Lucille back up into the building. 
"Our driver is quite late and it's very hot in the sun," she told the receptionist. "I wonder if I could use your phone to call him." 
"We're not allowed to let patients use our phones." 
"In this case, do you think you might make an exception?" 
There were several patients now in the waiting area. 
It seemed the driver had been waiting to hear from Abigail and he had two pickups before her. He estimated forty minutes. 
Back out in the parking lot, the heat had intensified. 
"I'm thirsty," Lucille said. The water Abigail had brought was gone. 
"I'll get more water," Abigail said. What had she been thinking? Bringing Lucille on this fool's errand in the heat? Neglecting to bring a hat for her? To cover her in sunscreen? She was a madwoman. Jet lag had seeped into Abigail's bones, and she didn't think she had the strength to push Lucille up the wheelchair ramp again. It had been more than three hours since she had used the restroom, and she feared the exertion would further push out her doubled tampons, one of which was already beginning to leak and slip. She really did not want to face the receptionist again. 
"I'm going to leave you out here for a moment and get you some water." 
Abigail pushed Lucille to the only relief available, a lone stand of trees halfway across the parking lot. The half dozen trees were slender, more like poles than tree trunks. The trees' sparse leaves, motionless on spindly branches, provided no shade, but Abigail hoped this small spot of nature would give Lucille a sense of refuge. 
"You are not a patient," the receptionist said. "You really need to stop entering this building or I will need to call security." 
"I need water for my mother-in-law." Abigail held up her water bottle and pointed. 
"The water dispenser is broken," the receptionist said. 
"You have a bathroom, don't you? I can fill my water bottle at the sink." Abigail saw the receptionist pick up the phone. 
"Are you going to deny me the use of your restroom? I came here in good faith with my eighty-six-year-old mother-in-law for a simple procedure and we have been here for over two hours and I'm on my period and blood is streaming down my leg onto your office carpet and you are treating me like a criminal."  
Abigail ignored the receptionist and walked past the counter and down the hallway to the restroom. It was too comical. She had burst into anger at the receptionist. Carefully, she took off her shoes, removed her pants, and then took off her blood-soaked underwear and rinsed them out in the sink. She had never bled so heavily and did not have a fresh tampon with her. 
Thanking the receptionist, Abigail left the office and hurried down the wheelchair ramp. She had been admonished by the nursing home not to let Lucille out of her sight. "They wander, you know." She began to run. Lucille was slumped over. Had Abigail remembered to lock the wheelchair's wheels? Was Lucille belted in? Was she in motion, tumbling? Nearing, Abigail slowed herself. Was Lucille dead? Cautiously, Abigail reached out to touch Lucille's shoulder and heard the gentle sound of her breathing. It was possible, she guessed, that Lucille might die right here, in this parking lot, from heat exhaustion and exposure. But would that be so bad? All her life, Lucille had preferred the outdoors. It was something she and Abigail shared. Abigail crouched beside the wheelchair and took Lucille's hand. What was life anyway, but an opportunity for emotions and sensations? Just then, there was movement in the air, and Abigail heard the delicate fluttering of leaves. 
"Mmmm," Lucille said. "That breeze feels nice on my face." 

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Image of J. Raynaud
 J. Raynaud · ago
Clever !
Image of Francie Sloan
 Francie Sloan · ago
This is a wonderful story, Lia. You created a well-defined place. I could see it clearly and feel the heat. I liked how you built up the tension and then ended with a philosophical note. The section headings were clever and amusing.
Image of Angie Matt
 Angie Matt · ago
Well written Lia. The caretaker role is a tough position from all angles and you have offered a well crafted glimpse into one slice of it. Looks as if you have filled the garden void but please know you are missed and regarded. Keep writing and I look forward to your piece on MUNI!
Image of Susan Yelda
 Susan Yelda · ago
"What was life anyway, but an opportunity for emotions and sensations?" Beautiful piece, Lia Smith.
Image of Lia Smith
 Lia Smith · ago
Wow! It's so wonderful to see your name pop up, Susan. How are you doing? Are you still teaching? Thank you so much for reading my piece and commenting. We haven't forgotten your wonderful teaching for our daughter, Cory, over twenty years ago.
Image of Susan Yelda
 Susan Yelda · ago
Ah, the wonderful Cory! I will message you on LinkedIn. :-)
Image of Susan Yelda
 Susan Yelda · ago
Oh, and I shared your piece on Facebook.
Image of Kim Austin
 Kim Austin · ago
What a wonderful vignette of love and struggle. Trying to do what you believe is best, while pushing through needless obstacles and life’s awkward moments. Making us laugh and brushing it off our shoulders. And seeing a glimmer of light at the very end. That indeed is a life in a nut shell. Thank you Lia for his beautiful story.
Image of Tina Martin
 Tina Martin · ago
Lia Smith is a very good writer! The story is compelling without being sentimental, and she very cleverly carries out the theme of motion, locomotion, commotion, etc for transit writers lucky enough to get a print out of her story!
Image of Joanna Axtmann
 Joanna Axtmann · ago
Great image of struggle to care for another while needing/being forced to care for oneself - loved the ending!!!! -the sustenance of nature!

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