I want to shout, “Can you all please move? Can I go ahead of all of you? I need to buy something for my sister to eat"
“Are you in the grocery by any chance?” my niece Leah asks when I answer my phone.
I’m not. I’m working, trying to finish up two reports before I leave early to attend a family wedding. But I plan to go to the grocery store soon. On my way home.
“I’ll also get there soon. I need someone now. My mother’s in the mood for a slice of salmon, and my father is leaving for the hospital shortly to visit her.”
I’m no longer working. I grab a fistful of bills from my purse and hurry out the door. Down the stairs. Past the warehouse, into the café adjoining the grocery. My sister Toby wants a slice of salmon!
It’s early Wednesday afternoon, and the place is mobbed. Quite a few people are ahead of me in the line. I want to shout, “Can you all please move? Can I go ahead of all of you? I need to buy something for my sister to eat. The sister who we almost lost three days ago.”
I deliberate over the choices available as the line moves at a pace mismatched to my energy levels. Sweet or savory? To be on the safe side, I’ll order one of each. Because I can actually buy a slice of salmon for Toby.
She can eat!
She wants to eat!
I do a head count of the people still ahead of me. Too many. My mind wanders. I think of my black top with the gold sequins I wore on Sunday when I got the phone call informing me that Toby had had an aneurysm and was being rushed into highly risky brain surgery. The prognosis wasn’t promising, and I thought I’d be tearing that top later in the day.
But now, the top is still in one piece, though I doubt I’ll ever be able to wear it again. I think of Toby’s children, her toddler named after my father, her newly married son, her school-aged girls.
I want to hurry along the two customers still in front of me. Who cares if you order a calzone or deep-dish pizza or a cheese pretzel? They’re pretty much the same. Dough and cheese and toppings. Just make your selection and let me place my order, thank you.
I examine the display and decide to order some buttery mashed potatoes. Maybe some mushroom rice as well? And she might also enjoy a light stir-fry. And definitely a piping container of vegetable soup, because my gratitude is too large to be contained in a measly slice of fish.
My turn finally arrives, and the server packs a slice of garlic-mayo salmon into the black container and asks for my choice of sides. I don’t want anything touching anything else. Maybe Toby won’t be in the mood for potatoes, and she’ll lose her appetite completely.
“If you want it packaged separately, you’ll have to pay per pound,” the server explains.
“So I’ll pay,” I nearly yell. Who cares? All that matters is that I can buy food for my sister. That she’s alive. That she’s awake. That she’s moving and talking and eating.
My phone buzzes as I look at the choices for the second slice. Teriyaki? Sesame? It’s my niece Leah. “Did you buy the salmon already? My father is passing a grocery on the way and it’s just easier for him to go in and buy it himself and skip all the traffic to you.”
I pay for the garlic-mayo salmon and head back to work. I have two reports that still need to be finished, and I need to head home shortly. But I have a slice of salmon for my husband to eat before we leave. And a close family wedding I’m so lucky I’m able to attend.
And I have my sister Toby, who’s breathing. And walking. And eating. And did I mention that she’d like a slice of salmon?
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 777)
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