Making Whoopee

The ways we are

A month before my parents move into the Edith S. Diamond Home for the Jewish Elderly, my mother starts calling me every night. She only wants to talk about two things: The “Diamond” and transportation.

“Wheels, baby,” she says, “wheels are everything.”

“How so?” Like I don’t know.

“Number eleven stops right in front of the Diamond, boom, shoots straight down the drive to the Loop. I hop the six over to Water Tower, jump the Mich. Ave, connect up with the El. Bam. Easy street.”

Who’s she kidding? Fanny’s 84 with phlebitis. It’s walk. Wait. Wait. Walk. She has friends who never leave their apartments.

But she…she sees every art exhibit, traveling museum collection, every aquatic addition to the Shedd Aquarium at least three times. I ask her if she’s noticed anything new seeing the same Monets over and over.

“New? I wouldn’t say new. Honey I’m so tired when I get there I just sleep on a bench in front of his Haystacks.

“So they’ve got plenty to keep you busy at the Diamond.” I know the answers, she knows the questions.

“Oh I could go non-stop with the yoga groups, Jacuzzi groups—we’re not allowed to tub alone—the coffee shop, they have capocheena, you’ll like that, Edie—and they bring in the famous talkers from everywhere.”

Herb, my father, comes alive on the extension phone. He’s been listening the whole time, which I sort of forgot and sort of knew. He starts calling Fanny crazy, tears down the Diamond, says he went to one of their lectures once and the speaker was a nothing. A nobody. Big deal, he says. Big lousy deal.

“Liar,” my mother says.

“Pants on fire,” my father says.

This is how they talk now. Second graders on a sugar high.

“Hang up, Herb.”

We wait for him to say what he always says. We wait for him to set us free.

“Adios,” he says, finally.

We don’t answer Silence. Click.

“At least he sounds happy,” I say, to say something. “

A regular gay caballero. Listen, your father wears a diaper now. So don’t talk about it when you visit him.”

Visit him? “I’m not planning any visit, you’re coming here, remember?”

She pauses. “Would I not come to you? But come. See him. Come. He’s gone down a few notches.”

“From what?’

“Don’t be mean Edie. Time’s a-wasting.”

“How many notches?”

“He doesn’t remember things.”

“Neither do I, Ma.”

“You? You remember everything baby, even things that never happened. Don’t wait for the Messiah. Because you know what? No Messiah’s waiting around for you.”

It’s Fanny who moves them into the retirement home. Herb goes to the synagogue and prays for a winning number at the track. She’s exhausted when she visits me in Seattle, but it’s a good visit. We rent old movies, hold hands.

She cleans my stove and finds parts under parts I never knew were there. Cleans them with a toothbrush and a knife. Slices up her finger. I take her to the emergency room for stitches. She’s never had stitches before. She lies on the emergency room bed with her gray chicken hair sticking up and those glasses that make her eyes swim.

“Do you need anything from me Ma?”

“Sing something, that would be nice.”

Doctors and nurses frown around us, moving fast.

“Like what?”

She thinks a minute. “Making Whoopee.”

I go through the whole bit. Another bride, another groom, etc. She stares like I’m singing salvation and never lets go of my hand. We fall in love again.

The next day she seems better We go out for lunch and she’s piecing together parts of men she thinks would make a good life for me. That one has the eyes she says, and catch the feet on that garbanzo. Or, over there, a kind man. You need that, baby. I wish that for you.

At night, she holds court for my friends who pour her wine and eat her stories. I’m washing dinner dishes to turn them into dessert plates when she touches my cheek with her own. She feels hot and soft.

“I’m weary, dear. Kiss everyone good night for me, will you? Tell your friends I adore them. See you in the funny papers.”

In the morning she’s not in the kitchen and in that moment I know, but I don’t give it words. I make coffee. Call her a couple of times. No answer. I drink the coffee. Climb the stairs. She’s sitting up, glasses half-way down her long nose, bed jacket tied, book open, place marked. For a minute I think everything’s fine, then I get in bed with her and lay on top of the quilt, over her feet, the way she always liked me to. I don’t call anybody. Anybody is my father. I don’t cry that she’s dead, I hold her feet through the quilt and think about keeping her here with me. I start praying. I pray for minutes not to be the same: measured, insistent, always moving into the slippery now.

At the funeral my father does not look at me. We sit shiva at my Aunt Ida’s and Herb let others hold him, cry with him, tell the stories, show the photos. He never once looks at me. I cut up casseroles and honey cakes in the kitchen and sing to myself, to her

Daniela Kuper is a Colorado writer whose stories have appeared in The Sun, Coe Review, Cream City Review, Breaking Up is Hard to Do, and an upcoming Penguin anthology, Storming Heaven’s Gate. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and is completing her first novel, Raised Voices.