(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013, all rights reserved)
Somewhere, the world was ending. It was ending with a clanging, a jangling, a screaming that swelled and cannonaded and multiplied into the throbbing scream that was her aching head. Sandy dragged herself up into consciousness, and somehow connected the clamor with the phone that sat in the downstairs hallway of her rented house. “Oh, God, make it stop! Somebody else get it, please . . ”
Then she remembered. It was the first day of Spring Break, and Danielle and Barbie, her roommates, were both out of town.
The phone kept ringing.
She lifted her head from the pillow. It was drenched with sweat. She was cold, so cold . . . but burning, burning . . . No one could burn like that and have anything left . . . “I don’t care who it is,” she moaned, “just go away!”
The pandemonium from the hallway below went relentlessly on.
“Oh, Jesus help me, I guess I have to . . . ”
She climbed out of bed and by hanging onto the furniture made it out of her room and onto the landing. Clinging to the bannister, step by step she managed to make her way towards that howling demon of hell, that infernal telephone that didn’t care how ill she was, that wouldn’t cease its ringing, that wouldn’t let her rest.
Three steps short of the bottom her legs buckled under her and she pitched forward, saving herself only by her death grip on the railing. Swaying, she sat down hard on the stairs and descended the rest of the steps sitting down, till at last she could lay a hand on the receiver and pick it up.
“Sandy here,” she croaked, suppressing a cough. “Who is it?”
“Hey, Sandy, old lady, it’s Marvin,” his heedless voice came over the wire. “Hey, you know that stock car race I was going to take you to tonight over at the speedway? Well, you mind if we reschedule that?”
“Yes, please,” she responded in a whisper. “I’ve got the flu and I can’t go anywhere.”
“The flu? Man, that’s tough breaks, specially over Spring Break and all.” He laughed loudly at the silly joke, which sent hot daggers into her aching head. “Well, kid, two or three of my buddies from high school have rented a cabin down on Blue Lake, and they’ve invited me to go fishing with them.”
She tried to pull herself together. Maybe she could be generous, as long as it wasn’t for too long. “Can you come over tomorrow?” she asked him.
“Oh, hell, no, Sandy, they’ve got the place till Saturday, and we’re planning on making a week of it. It’ll be a hell of a lot of fun, too bad you can’t go. But it’s all guys anyway, so I guess you wouldn’t want to! ’Less you want to come along and clean the fish for us, ha! ha!”
“Marvin, please,” she ventured, overcoming her shame at her weakness, “I’m really sick. I have the flu. I need you here to take care of me, like you promised. My roommates are gone and I’m running out of clean towels and toilet paper. I can hardly walk, I don’t know when I ate last, when I felt like eating last. Please, Marvin, please, don’t go!”
“Hey, you don’t want me to get sick, too!” he protested. “The flu’s no big deal, you’ll get over it. See you in class on Monday, or maybe I’ll drop by Sunday evening! Luv ya! Take care!”
And he rang off. Sandy pulled herself upstairs and collapsed back into bed. For a few hours she tried to convince herself that he was right, that the flu wasn’t that serious. But by evening she knew her condition was very bad. Nor had she exaggerated, supplies in the house were dwindling low. Being a student her mind did not run to calling ambulances, and in her depressed state she could think of no one who was still around who could drive her to the student health center.
Finally, though it meant another odyssey down those interminable stairs, in desperation she called her mother long distance.
“Mom, I’m sorry, I’m, I’m . . . ”
“Sandy, what’s wrong? You sound terrible!”
“I’ve got the flu. I’m sorry, it’s stupid of me, but . . . ”
“Sweetheart, is anyone there with you?”
“No, Mom, I’m by myself.”
“All alone in that house? Sick? Sandy, why didn’t you call me sooner?”
“I didn’t want to, Mom.” She began to cry. “With Dad– with Dad dying in December, you’ve got enough to worry about without me– without me– ”
“Alexandra Marie! Do you think it would do me any good to find out my only daughter was lying there sick and alone and never called her mother? You know me better than that.”
There was a pause on the line, then a rustle of paper. “I’m checking the roadmap,” Mrs. Beichten confided. “If I start in a half hour I should be there by 9:30 tonight.”
“Oh, no, Mom, please, you don’t have to . . . ”
“Sandy, what do you want me to do?” her mother responded gently. “I can’t do a thing for you sitting here. I’m coming to get you and bringing you home. You hold on, and if you can get someone to sit with you, please do. Where’s that boyfriend of yours, that Marvin?”
“He’s gone fishing for the rest of the week.”
“Before or after he knew you were ill?” Her mother’s voice conveyed both suspicion and annoyance.
“After, Mom, after.” Sandy always knew where the subject of Marvin and his character was likely to go with her mother; even when she was healthy the wrangle wore her out. She couldn’t stand getting into it now. “Mom, I’m so tired, I can’t talk any more. I want to sleep. Get here as soon as you can. I love you, Mom . . . ”
Less than two hours later her mother arrived, having driven the hundred miles in ninety minutes flat. She sat up with her all that night and took her home to nurse her the next day.
Her mother’s demonstration of love made Sandy feel like a fool where it came to her boyfriend. And when he come back from his fishing trip totally unapologetic for letting her down, and when she got him to admit that while she was lying there gravely ill he and his friends had been tossing back enough beers to refill the lake, she found she had enough.
The breakup was awkward for awhile. Marvin could be charming when he wished, and her need to feel needed was a powerful drug. She found that if he was walking up the stairs in the Architecture building and she was walking down, she had to do an about-face and take another staircase to keep herself from giving in and sliding back into old habits.
Fortunately, Sandy didn’t have to struggle for very long. Without her propping him up, Marvin soon came to the end of his professors’ patience. Forced to drop out of school, he never did get his bachelor of architecture degree or his licence. When he’d made contact again with Sandy after her return from Boston, he’d been working as a contractor’s representative for some heating and cooling equipment firm. She wasn’t really sure, and as she examined her own motives and behavior in the relationship, she knew it was better for her if she never bothered to find out.