| Out of Step |

Out of Step: Chapter 16

What if there’s a blackout during surgery and they accidentally amputate my leg?

The house smells of olive oil and smoke; scents of Chanukah that make me nostalgic for the childhood I’m in middle of.

“I absolutely love Chanukah,” I announce to no one in particular from my office chair in the dining room.

Naftoli smiles as he strolls by, on the phone with his chavrusa in Eretz Yisrael, no doubt.

Ma comes out of the kitchen, dusting flour off her sweater. “Me, too,” she says. “You coming to help me fry latkes?”

“Uh, Ma. Can’t really move here.”

I gesture to my chair and take a deep sip from the mug of hot cocoa at my side.

I then have the very intuitive feeling that my mother is trying not to roll her eyes. Call me brilliant.

“Yes, dear, I remember you are incapacitated. But I’ll ask the boys to move you into the kitchen so you can peel potatoes if you’d like.”

I would very much not like, but considering that Babby is propped up on the couch surrounded by pillows, I figure Mommy needs a break from the infirmary her house has become.

“Sure, Ma.” I smile sweetly.

Moments later, Naftoli and Yehuda are rolling my chair into the kitchen, making the usual comments about how it’s like pushing a small elephant through a swamp. Oh, hardy har har.

I take up my post at the table and begin peeling.

Daddy pokes his head in. “Half-hour to lighting alert,” he says, taking a deep breath. “Mhhhm, it smells amazing in here.”

I bob my head regally. “Why, thank you, Father.”

“Bella! You haven’t even started cooking yet!” Mommy says, exasperatedly, but she’s laughing.

I grin and take a bow and then a twinge of pain makes its way up my leg like a small bolt of lightning. “Ow!” I mutter. I drop the peeler in agitation. “I can’t. I just can’t. I can’t do anything!”

Ma freezes, one hand on her frying pan. “Bella—”

I know, I know I’m being over the top, but take a regular person and tell them they’re having leg surgery, and they’re bound to get anxious. Tell a ballet dancer, and she’ll be jittery all week. Tell me, and I’ll have full blown conniptions every time I think about it. There are just too many what-ifs and worst-cases.

What if there’s a blackout during surgery and they accidentally amputate my leg?

What if the surgeon opens up my leg, takes one look, and decides it’s inoperable?

What if they accidentally sew my Achilles tendon together inside out?

Or, putting all those crazy-person theories aside, what if I have smooth, drama-free surgery… and it fails? And I can never dance again?

The tears, never far these days, begin to flow.

“Naftoli,” I choke out thickly, “please come move me.”

My brothers come silently, pushing my chair toward the living room, while Mommy watches from the stove, mouth set in a firm line. I settle next to Babby, she shifts to make room for me.

“We’re a sorry lot, aren’t we?” she says conversationally.

I laugh through my tears. “Babby, what am I going to do? I don’t want surgery.”

Babby looks at me over her reading glasses; I clap a hand to my mouth.

“Ohmigosh, I’m so sorry, you literally just had surgery.”

She laughs again. “That’s okay, bubbele, And, to be honest, surgery is frightening. But when it’s a routine procedure, like mine was and yours will be, it really takes the edge off. The surgeons do these procedures all the time, it’s just a regular Wednesday for them.”

I take a deep breath and run a shaky hand down my face, feeling the sticky track of tears.

“I hear you. Thanks, Babby.”

She pats my shoulder. “Now, why don’t you stop abusing your poor brothers, swing around those crutches propped there in the corner, and go help your mother?”

I laugh again. She’s totally right; I just hate the crutches, they’re annoying and take tons of effort.

But I hop, one footed, swinging them along until I’m back in the kitchen.

Wordlessly, I take the peeler from Naftoli and join the preparations.


Later, after the menorahs are burning brightly — major plus of having brothers, tons of menorahs! — and the house has settled down into a cozy, muted glow, Mommy finds me. She settles onto the bed; I move over to make room.

“How you doing, princess?” she asks softly, stroking my thick hair.

Her eyes roam over my room, with its pink ballet motif, piles of tutus, pointe shoes scattered across the rug, half-filled exercise bags in every corner.

I stare down at my Chanukah present: new Uggs. Or new Ugg, to be precise. The other foot is carefully ensconced in a bulky cast.

“I love these,” I say. “Thank you.” I admire the pale lavender and grey fur and then look up.

“When I asked you for them… it was to wear to and from ballet class.” My voice shakes slightly.

Mommy strokes my hair. “I know.”

“Mommy, I’m scared.”

I meet her eyes, they glisten with unshed tears.

“Me, too, zeeskeit. But everything will be okay. I know it.”

And I know, in a sad, grown-up way, that she has no way to guarantee that, but just for the moment, I decide to believe her.

“Thanks, Ma. Happy Chanukah.”

She gets up from my bed slowly, knees creaking. “Goodnight, my ballerina. I love you.”

And she closes the door behind her softly.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 792)

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