Why was the clock in her car always off? Daylight Savings or Fall Back, she could never remember to change it on time. So, is it 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. now? "Oh, well,", she thought, "I'll be a half hour early or late.".
Even as she said it, her Tia's displeased look, which she was sure to get, again, crossed her mind, and she half smiled. Being late, or early, was one of Tia Tona's pet peeves, and the source of many a lecture on responsibility and timeliness over the years.
So, it's a Saturday, and very early for most working people, like her, who like to sleep in. Why a Tupperware Party, and why NOW?! Yet she dared not even question it. Since her mother's passing, Tia Tona had stepped in and taken over completely, and would stand for NO lip! How many years now? Six? Seven? Her devotion to her sister's children was awesome, and sometimes suffocating, but unquestionable.
Once, for Tia Tona's daughter Tati's birthday, she had stopped to play with a stray kitten along the way, taken it to a safer place, and, of course, arrived as they were cutting the cake. The looks shot her way, by her own mother, and Tia, could have killed a horse! But she could not tell them that she was late, AGAIN, to save a wild kitten. No, that would not be acceptable, so she endured the lectures and an ear pulling and told her brother jokes to make up for it.
Actually, Tia Tona was NEVER late for anything, or early, that she could remember. She took great pains to be sure to arrive ON TIME, every time, perfectly dressed, made up, hair done and with the perfect gift. Perfect. Her favorite word...for all that SHE was involved in. Not so much for the inept or slower people involved with her, especially ME, she mused, as she turned into the clean swept driveway surrounded by a perfectly manicured lawn and flower gardens.
There were no other cars parked there, or on the street. Had the party been cancelled? She dug her cell out of her cluttered purse and looked for messages, but there were none. "Ah", she noted, "I'm early! Well, that's not as bad as missing it entirely!". She checked her hair and makeup, straightened her clothes and smiled. Tia Tona didn't miss one thing out of place.
Walking up the drive, she expected the dog, Lucy, to run out and greet her, jumping on her legs and barking her welcome, and the shrill, "Deja eso Lucy! No dejes que te brinca ensima, Mela!", but all was eerily silent. She was going to ring the doorbell, but not wanting to startle her aunt, probably busily preparing all the delicious "entremesas" that she was famous for, she turned the knob, and stepped in.
Through the semi-darkness of the sala, drapes still tight shut and no lights on, she made out a form on the easy chair, jumping back as it moved! Tia Tona's voice, weak and muted, called out to her. "Mela? Eres tu?". "Si, tia.", she rushed over and knelt by the chair, grabbing her aunt's hand. It was cold and clammy.
Her hair was still in rollers and she was in her robe. Not at all like a woman expecting guests in a half hour, and especially not like her Tia Tona. Something was terribly, horribly wrong! She kissed her tia's forehead. She was sweating, a cold sweat, and trembled through her whole body. Lucy lay whimpering at her feet, looking confused and afraid.
"Tia! Have you called for help?". No reply. Mela pulled her phone from her purse and dialed 911. "Please, help us! My aunt is very ill and needs assistance right away! PLEASE!'. She was sobbing as she hung up and went running up the stairs for a blanket.
She lovingly wrapped her tia in the first blanket she had found at the foot of the bed. It was hand knit, and the vision of her mother quietly knitting and humming some old song from her childhood in Mexico, came to her. Mama had given that blanket to her little sister so many years ago, for her birthday. She had used bright blue, green, yellow and rose to make the flowers, because she knew how Tona loved her garden. "She will always be surrounded by her flores.", mama had said, smiling at her handiwork.
It seemed years until she caught the faint wail of sirens flying down the street. She ran to the door and down the path screaming, "Here! Here! Over here!". She could hear her heart beating frantically as she tried to answer all the questions.
Tia Tona had fallen silent, her eye lids half closed, her mouth slightly agape. She turned away. "Oh, God, please! Not again!". She saw her mother, grandmothers and all the beloved faces she had tearfully said goodbyes to, one by one, drifting before her. The grass looked so soft. "NO!", she screamed in her head. "You MUST be strong!". She raced to her car, then remembered her purse and keys, were still in the house. Did she close the door as she left? No time to check. She was doing her best to follow the ambulance to the hospital.
It must have been a bad day all around, as there were no parking spaces in the emergency area, so she had to park in the garage a block away. "What a time to be in heels!". As she rushed from her car, she saw an elderly man slowly making his way to the elevator. She got there first and pushed the button to go down to the emergency entrance. The old man looked up and, seeing the elevator door open, began to make an effort to hurry, tripping on his cane.
Without thinking, Mela ran to him. "Are you ok?", she asked as she helped him to his feet again, gingerly brushed the dust from his worn knees. Slowly they made their way to the elevator, waiting as the lights came down. "Mi esposa me espera. Tengo que llegar a tiempo..." his voice trailed away and dark, cavernous eyes filled with tears. His wife...waiting? "Where is she? Do you know?", he looked confused and she realized he did not speak English. "Donde esta su esposa?", she asked again. His thin shoulders shrugged as they stopped. He didn't know.
She didn't want to leave him, but her tia? What was happening there? The reception desk was busy and they would have to wait. A furtive glance around them did not readily reveal anyone who might speak or understand Spanish. When it was finally their turn, he glanced up and touched her hand. "Gracias, mija."
"Please sir, this man needs to visit his wife, who I assume is a patient here." The red-faced man glanced her way, then continued his conversation on the phone. She did not want to appear frazzled, but her aunt's face was haunting. "Please! Sir! This is an emergency!". Obviously annoyed, the man hung up and turned to her, "Everyone who comes to this desk has an emergency, honey.", he muttered bitterly. "What's her name?". Her name? She turned to the old man, "Su nombre? Como se llama su esposa?".
He looked down, thinking. How could he not know his wife's name? "Se llama Rosa. Rosa Rodriguez y Huertas. Es que, se me olvida a veces como se llama mi Rosita." He smiled, embarrassed.
"Rosa Rodriguez y Huertas is her name." The man looked up from the computer screen. "Well, which is it?". She realized he was not accustomed to people who carry two last names, as the Latinos do.
"Try Rodriguez first, then Huertas, please." Her heart was racing again. "Oh mi querida tia! Please hang on. I'm coming!", she prayed.
The guard handed her a piece of paper upon which he had scribbled, "Room 5025". Fifth floor, he'd have to take the elevator and look for room 25. As she handed him the paper, she said, "Esta en el quinto piso, cuarto 25. Tendras que tomar el ascensor alla y...". He looked frightened, then straightened up and said, "Gracias, esta bien." and turned to go. "He'll never find it alone", she thought. Catching his arm at the elevator, she pushed the button. It creaked and seemed to stop on every floor while coming down. When it finally arrived, she looked at the sign on the wall. Room 25 was to the left. Holding his arm, she guided him down the hall, 20, 22, 23.
The door to Room 25 was closed, but she could hear a lot of hushed talk and movement, like medical people do in an emergency. Should they open it? Just then, a scared looking young woman emerged from the room and went running down the hall. "Code Blue in 25!", came over the intercom. From every door, doctors, nurses, people came running! Should they go in? She turned to the old man but he was gone. His grey sweater disappeared against the green walls of Room 25. Whatever was happening in there, he would soon know.
The young woman was back, arms loaded with medical supplies. "Please Miss! Is it-Rosa Rodriguez?", she asked, fearing the worst. "No! It's bed B, new patient. Antonia I think." and she rushed in.
The world stopped. Antonia? Could it be? Mela pushed her way in behind the harried staff. From the wall she could barely make out her aunt's face, pale and gray. She felt someone take her hand. Looking down, her frightened eyes met the deep dark sadness in the old man's face. "Estara bien.", he said softly. "Todo estara bien".
An eternity later, her aunt's heart monitor started to beep again. The thin green line moved up and down, jagged and irregular at first, then smoothing out. The staff laughed with relief, then began to leave. Noticing the young woman and old man against the wall at last, the young nurse look startled. "You're not supposed to be in here.", but she did nothing to make them leave.
Smoothing back Tia Tona's hair, she bent and kissed her. She was warm again, and the color was coming back to her face. "Te amo tia." She kissed her and thought she saw a smile.
Jesus, the old man who had finally introduced himself to her, led her to Rosa's bedside. Her eyes danced as she looked at her husband, then to her. "Gracias.", she said as she took Mela's hand into her own thin brown fingers. "Es tu madre?". Mela shook her head, "Es mi tia, pero me crio". Rosa nodded knowingly. "Yo quidare de ella, no se preocupa."
Sitting in the dim light of the hall, both Rosa and Tia Tona sleeping soundly, Mela thought about her day. She was early, she was late, she was just on time. For once, the clock that so often pushed or pulled her, had stood unattended as she made her own time, and for once, just this once, it was...perfect.