Kayla looked at her cell phone mournfully. Justin was calling again, which meant it was about Mom or Dad. Otherwise, he just would have texted. She pulled out her cell, hoping that whatever the issue, it would wait until next week, when after-Christmas sales and New Year’s celebrations were finished.
“Hey Justin. What’s going on?” she said into the phone.
“You gotta come down here!” Justin exclaimed. “You’ll never guess what Mom is up to now.”
“You’re right. I can’t guess. Just tell me.”
“Well, you know how Mom has been trying to get Dad to let her wallpaper the living room?”
“Yeah. She’s been at him for ages. Don’t tell me she’s doing it by herself.”
“Worse!” Justin said. “She decided that since Dad’s not coming home from the hospital until tomorrow, she would do it herself, before he’s released.”
“So, she is doing it by herself,” Kayla said.
“Worse!” Justin exclaimed. “She’s gluing old Christmas cards to the walls!”
“I’m not kidding,” Justin said. “You know she’s got years of old Christmas cards. She’s cutting the fronts off and she’s gluing one after another on the wall facing the kitchen. And that glue is pretty stinky. I couldn’t stop her, Kayla! I tried!”
“Oh crap! Mom is such a packrat. She probably has enough old Christmas cards to paper half the house,” Kaya lowered herself to the sofa. “What do you mean you can’t stop her? Take away her scissors! Get rid of the glue!”
“Kayla, you know how stubborn she is. She’ll just hitch a ride with one of her friends and go buy more of anything I get rid of. She won’t listen to me. And I’m worried she’s gonna get on a ladder to reach higher on the walls.”
“Oh, please tell me you took the step ladder! She’ll fall and crack her head open!”
“I did! When I couldn’t talk any sense into her, I went right out to the garage and grabbed it. It’s in the trunk of my car. She saw what I was doing and took after me with a fly swatter!”
“Okay, that’s funny!” Her brother was three inches over six feet, and strong as any two men she knew. The mind picture of Mom chasing after Justin with a fly swatter was enough to send her into peals of laughter.
“Kayla! Stop it! She’ll just go buy another step ladder, or borrow one from the neighbors next door. This is serious.”
Kayla sobered instantly. She knew Justin was right. “I’ll get the Franklins to watch the kids. I should be there in a couple of hours. In the meantime, don’t let her get hurt!”
“Hey, I’ll do my best. But it may just be putting off the inevitable. Do you have any idea what Dad’s reaction is gonna be when he sees red Santas all over the walls?”
“Oh damn! I hadn’t thought that far,” Kayla said. “Will Mom let you back in the house?”
“I’m at the store now, buying white-chocolate peanut butter cups. By the time I get back, she’ll take the bribe and let me in. Maybe. I think.”
“I’ll be there as fast as I can.” Kayla ended the call and yelled to her kids. “Pack your pajamas. You’ll be sleeping next door tonight!”
In less than half an hour, Kayla had dropped the kids at the Franklins next door. They were really good friends, thank goodness. She could hear their laughter as she ran to the car. She gave them a familiar finger as she drove away, prompting more peals of laughter. Praying for good weather and no law enforcement, she stepped hard on the gas and pushed the old car to well over 80 on the highway.
Kayla ran through countless scenarios on the trip south. Mom falling and in the hospital with a concussion. Dad worried sick over Mom’s glue-sniffing adventure. Dad having a heart attack when seeing sleigh rides and manger scenes on the walls.
They can recover in the same hospital room! I am in no mood for this! She turned on music and watched the white lines on the road slip away.
The door was ajar when Kayla pulled up to the house. She ran up the front walk, then took a step back and coughed. Glue fumes came wafting out the open door. What the hell is she using? Airplane glue?
“Mom!” Kayla yelled. “Justin!”
She walked into the house. Glittery pictures of sleigh rides, elves, holly, angels, bells, every Christmas scene imaginable reached head-high on two walls. A riot of color—reds, greens, golds, blues, silver, accosted her eyes. And the glue fumes kicked off a long coughing fit.
Kayla called out again and heard her brother’s response from the patio. She hurried out the back door to see Mom in a lawn chair, and Justin holding a cloth on the back of her bent neck.
“Deep breaths Mom,” Justin said. “Deep, slow breaths!”
“Oh my God!” Kayla exclaimed. “Justin, did you call 911?”
“Already done, little sister. They’re on the way.”
It was then she heard the sirens in the distance.
“Why didn’t you call them after talking to me?” Kayla asked.
“Mom didn’t feel dizzy until just a few minutes ago,” Justin answered calmly. “And you know there’s no way I could stop what she was doing, short of picking her up. Frankly, I didn’t want to fight that tiger.”
“Do you know where she got the glue? I’ll bet it’s outlawed in 10 states.”
“She told me she bought it from a yard sale.”
“Mom!” Kayla knelt beside her mother. “Mom! Can you hear me? How are you feeling?”
“Of course, I can hear you,” Mom answered, then giggled. “I feel fine . . . a little light-headed.” Mom leveled her head and looked at Kayla. “Why are your eyes so big?”
Kayla looked up at Justin. He shrugged. “She’s been talking weird since I got her out here.”
“Mom, you’re high,” Kayla said.
Mom began to laugh loud and long. Leaning her head back into the chair, eyes squeezed shut, she shook with laughter, then coughed. Justin pushed her head back down to her knees.
“Le tme go!” she mumbled, laughing between coughing fits. “Let me go!”
Justin helped her straighten, and she looked, bleary-eyed, at Kayla. “Do you know how often I’ve said the same thing to you?” Mom sunk deeper into the lawn chair and continued laughing. “High . . ..” she chortled. “High . . ..”
“I’m going to pack her an overnight bag for the hospital,” Kayla said. She made her way to her parents’ bedroom and immediately flung open the windows.
“Justin,” she called out to her brother. “You might want to call 911 back and let them know about the glue fumes.” Not airplane glue. Back alley-industrial-strength-super-bonding-respirator glue! What the hell is the matter with people, selling this kind of stuff at a yard sale?
Kayla retrieved a bag from the closet, quickly packed a few necessities, found her Mom’s medications on the kitchen counter, and threw them in the bag as well.
The sirens grew loud and then stopped abruptly. Half a minute later, she heard a call from the front door. “Hello?”
“Come on in!” she told the paramedics. “Through here to the back yard.”
One of them barked a quick laugh as they passed through the living room. Both smiled as they followed her out the back door. They set the bag down next to her Mom and began their examination. Justin hovered close by.
The EMT conversed with the local hospital as they administered oxygen. Stationing herself at the front door, Kayla heard a second siren and watched an ambulance pull up to the curb. Two paramedics unloaded a stretcher. She ushered them through the house to the back yard.
“Is she going to be okay?” Kayla asked.
“The doctor needs to examine her. She’s breathed some pretty hefty fumes,” The EMT explained. “Do you have any idea where she got ahold of that glue?”
“Yard sale,” Kayla answered.
The EMT raised an eyebrow at Justin. “Does your Mom have a history of substance abuse?”
“Of course not!” Kayla answered indignantly.
“Is your Mom married?”
“Yes. Dad’s in the hospital, due to be released tomorrow.”
“One of you needs to come to the hospital and explain things to your Dad. If she needs to be admitted, he’ll have to do it. She’s in no condition to sign the paperwork.”
“You go, Justin,” Kayla said. “I’ll close up here and then be right behind you.” She really didn’t want to be in the room when Dad got the news. Not that he’d be done expressing himself by the time she got there.
As the ambulance pulled away, Kayla shut the bedroom windows and locked the back door. She set two floor fans to blow out the living room windows. If burglars break in, with any luck they will pass out before they can take anything. Poor Mom! I hope she’ll be okay! Kayla climbed in her car and drove to the hospital as fast as traffic and speed limits allowed.
Dad was standing at the admittance window when she arrived. He had a walking cast on his left leg. She ran over and hugged him tightly. “Where’s Mom?”
“In examination room three,” he answered. “I’ve signed everything. Finish filling all this shit out, will you? I’m going in to be with your Mom.”
She took Dad’s place at the window and watched him hobble quickly toward the ER double doors. He turned back toward his daughter, “When things settle down, I’m gonna find those fuckers who sold your Mom that glue.”
Two days later, Kayla carried both her parents overnight bags as Justin and a ward assistant pushed Mom’s and Dad’s wheelchairs toward the hospital exit.
“I can damn well walk myself out!” Dad grumbled.
“We’ll be out in two minutes,” Justin answered him. “Then you can drive home if you want.”
“I damn will drive home!” Dad exclaimed. “Making an invalid out of everybody . . .!”
Kayla barely listened to Dad’s continued protests. Thank goodness Mom is back to normal, more or less. Her doctor had cautioned them to return to the hospital if she showed any changes in mental acuity or stability. Kayla sighed as she pushed the break on the wheelchair with her foot.
Kayla and Justin helped their parents into the truck. Then Kayla followed in her car as Dad drove home. She couldn’t stop thinking about the living room walls. They’d broken the news to Dad, who was so completely preoccupied with Mom that she wasn’t sure he’d paid much attention. But describing it and seeing it were two different things.
The glue fumes had dissipated by early that morning, and she had attempted to remove one of the cards. Every one of them was amalgamated to the walls. She wondered if the drywall would have to be torn out.
Dad didn’t even glance at the living room when Justin opened the door—just walked Mom slowly into the bedroom and helped her into a clean pair of pajamas. “Do you want anything, Mama?” The kids heard Dad talking quietly. “Are you hungry?”
“Maybe we should go,” Justin said.
“You go if you need to,” Kayla answered. “One of us should stay here to see what help Dad needs to fix the walls.”
“There’ll be no removing these cards,” Dad commented as he exited the bedroom. “Justin, you and I are going to finish this job for Mom as soon as she’s feeling up to cutting her Christmas cards. I’ll tell you what kind of glue to buy.”
“What?” Kayla and Justin exclaimed in unison.
“We thought you’d hate it!” Justin said.
“Yeah!” Kayla added. “We thought you’d go ballistic!”
Dad took a few seconds to stare at the sparkly walls. “Well . . . I might have. Except your Mom could have died on me.” He was silent for a long moment. “She’s everything to me.”
Kayla and Justin stared at their Dad. His eyes were red.
“The walls don’t matter,” he said. “Nothing . . . nothing is as important as she is!”
Later that evening, kids tucked in bed, Kayla sat with her husband. “You know what I want, Honey?”
“What’s that, Babe?” he asked.
“I want you to love me like this.” She held out her cell phone—her parents’ living room glittering in a mishmash of brighter-than-bright colors.
© 2017 T J Barnum