She was on the phone when it happened. I was playing on the floor in the living room, so I could see her standing in the archway between the dining room and kitchen, the dark corner where the telephone sat on its narrow wooden table.
I wasn’t listening to her conversation, being wholly absorbed in lining up a series of Matchbox cars on the ramp of my Fisher Price service station. I can still hear the skittery sound their tiny wheels made on the hard plastic ramp, like dry leaves blowing across the pavement on a fall day. The pleasant tone of her voice droned in my ear, probably an ordinary conversation with one of my aunts, whom she talked with daily. From the corner of my eye the hem of her pale blue house dress was visible, its wide circle skirt hanging in gentle folds just above her ankles.
It was the skirt that first caught my attention, for it puddled across the hardwood floor when she fell creating a pale lake on the dark wood. I turned my head just in time to see my mother’s body crumple to the floor, a dull thud the only sound she made. The heavy black telephone receiver fell from her hand as she went down, taking the rest of the telephone clattering to the ground behind it.
Within seconds my grandmother came tearing through the kitchen door – I”m sure she was screaming, because she screamed at everything anyway, and the sight of her only daughter lying unconscious on the floor would certainly have set off paroxysms of alarm. But I didn’t hear her – I was frozen, transfixed by the sight of my mother so still and motionless on the floor, one arm awkwardly folded beneath her back, the other outstretched, reaching toward me. The next sound I remember was the relentless cry of ambulance sirens, racing toward our house. Huddled behind the brown sofa, I stared wide-eyed as paramedics burst through the front door, quickly buckled my mother’s still form onto the stretcher, and rushed her into the ambulance. As they sped down the road, sirens screaming away into the distance, I became aware of the telephone, ominously droning one long penetrating tone into the empty room.
In medicine we talk about sequela, a pathological condition resulting from an injury, disease, or attack. Not surprisingly, there were a number of sequela resulting from my mother’s allergic reaction to penicillin, back on that spring day in 1959. For her, it spawned a life long fear of taking medicine – even though she had been taking penicillin all her life, that one dose nearly killed her. For me, a frightened three year old who watched her mother collapse instantly in front of her eyes, and then be rushed to the hospital where she would remain for nearly two weeks, it triggered an obssessive need to be close to her every moment, so great was my fear that something would happen to her.
Oh, and one more sequela from this event – I despise telephones.
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