Authors: Triss Stein
On the evening local news, half watching, I glimpsed the Brownsville police station again and the four young men, sweatshirt hoods shielding their faces, butâwait a minute. They were walking out, not in. What? This looked all wrong.
It was not a replay from last night. An African-American man in a sharp suit was declaring at a near shout, “Justice is here today. My clients are not guilty of this tragic crime and their release confirms that. If NYPD had done their work, they would have known these boys have alibis for that night. We all offer our sympathy to Savanna's family and we hope with them to have the right perpetratorsâI say, the
ones!âheld responsible soon.”
What? How was this possible? I pushed the button to replay.
That only showed me I had heard it right the first time. “Well, damn!” A lot of people in Brooklyn were saying that, but I wouldn't hear it, live, until later.
Later, when I was deep into work, my phone made the funny noise that said I had a text. Phone? Where was it? Hidden under a pile of notes? The sender was already gone but the message said,
Kin we talk more????
and was signed
Who was that? Was this even real, not spam?
Then I realized it might be Deandra. I tapped in:
and my phone was ringing in just about a minute.
“Miz Donato?” She sounded breathless. “It's me, Deandra?”
“I thought so. What can I do for you?”
She took a deep breath. Then words tumbled out. “I thought some more, and I want to tell you what I know. I got to tell someone or just bust open.” Then she gasped.
“Oh, crap. I thought I was alone here.”
There was a long silence which ended with me frantically shouting, “Deandra, are you all right? Are you still there?”
Finally, she whispered, “I'm all right, I'm all right, but I can't talk to you now. Not now. Someone too curious hanging around here. I'll call again if that is okay?”
“Yes, of course. But are you safe for now? Is there anythingâ¦”
“Safe enough.” Then she was gone.
I didn't even try to go back to my work after this disturbing call. Had my advice somehow gotten her into trouble? She said she was all right. I didn't know what to do, but thought I would call her tomorrow if she did not call me. Or maybe go find her at the library. I wasn't planning to go back to the neighborhood but it looked like that was going to change.
The news the next morning droned on and on about budget hearings, Albany, some idiotic Hollywood starlet. There was nothing more about the only subject that interested me. But there was a text from Deandra. “Sorry. I okay. Will call.”
I grumped to myself the whole time I showered and dressed like a lady, to the extent my wardrobe allowed. I was making another visit to Ruby Boyle. In fact, I was taking her out to lunch. She wouldn't appreciate blue jeans.
She had responded with pleasure to my late evening call. There was a diner nearby, she told me, with an eight-page menu that would accommodate any special food need and any special craving, too. She had a bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich in mind, something never available at a home accommodating an observant Jewish population. “Of which,” she added emphatically, “I am not one.”
There she was, right on time, standing in front of the reception desk, spine straight as a ruler, in a smart tweed suit with a silk scarf. Perhaps the style was a few decades out of dateâI wouldn't really knowâbut it was definitely an ensemble. I couldn't apply that word to anything I owned. I was glad I had ditched my jeans.
However stylish she looked, she did not look happy. I helped her into my car, not that she really needed it.
“We are not going to lunch,” she announced. “We need to go see Lillian. She is in the hospital.”
“What? What happened?”
“Silly woman got up in the night and fell. No walker. Of course at our age a fall like that means broken bones.”
“When did this happen? Do you know how she is doing?”
“Last night sometime. At least she did have her emergency button on. An ambulance came. She can have visitors now so let's get going.”
She looked around my car as if surprised to see we still hadn't moved. I pointed out she had not told me the hospital name or location.
“You see how upset I am? Montefiore, and it's close. I can direct you.”
With some confusion, we finally succeeded in finding the hospital, the parking lot entrance, the signs pointing to visitor reception. Ruby moved along briskly as we negotiated the long walk, using her colorful cane only where the sidewalk was uneven. I trotted along, keeping an eye on her balance.
At reception she announced, “We are here to see Lillian Kravitz. I phoned and was told she could have visitors today.”
“Just give me a moment.” The young woman tapped a few keys and looked up. “Are you Lillian's family? There is no other visiting until later.”
“Young lady. I am ninety-one. I can't wait around until then. And Miss Kravitz,” she added some emphasis, “is also ninety-one. She has no family left at all. Please make the necessary arrangements for my companion and me. This is Erica Donato and I am Dr. Ruby Cohen Boyle”
Behind Ruby's back, I tried to look apologetic to the girl at the desk.
“Let me see what I can do.” A few more taps on the keyboard. “Well, why didn't you say so? You are listed right here as her primary contact. Off you go.” She wrote the room number on a card. “Just follow the green line on the floor.”
There was Lillian, looking older than when I had last seen her. Older, smaller and frail. Her eyes were closed, but Ruby put a hand on her hand and she came instantly awake.
“How do you like this? I am dying of cancer, but a stupid fall is what gets me into the hospital!”
“Stop the cancer talk, you vain, silly woman. You were trying to get around without your walker, weren't you? And now you have a broken pelvis.”
Lillian looked sheepish. “I wake up and I forget. In my dreams I am young. Twenty and ready to jitterbug all night.”
“Just as I thought. When they let you come back, you are going to behave yourself, right?”
“Of course. I'll do whatever they say.” I noted that the expression on her face did not match her compliant words.
Ruby exclaimed, “Oh, where are my manners? Look who I brought to see you.”
“My dear, thank you for coming. It's good to see a young face.” Did she remember me? My guess was that she was on substantial pain meds and did not.
“Now, dear, how are you eating? Is that your lunch over there?” Ruby leaned across to see the tray.
“See for yourself.”
She uncovered bowls of soup, Jell-O, and some kind of cereal.
“What is this mess? Do they call this a meal?”
“They seem to think I need to be on a soft diet. Told them I broke my pelvis not my jaw. I haven't forgotten how to chew and swallow.”
“We'll see about that! I'll be right back. I'm going to have a discussion with the nurse in charge!”
Off she went, before I even had a chance to say, “Do you want me to walk with you?”
Lillian gave me a slow, sly grin. “Now we have a few private minutes to talk.”
“Did you know she would react that way?”
“It was a good hunch, wasn't it? Now tell me quickly, have you learned anything?”
So she did remember me. I reported what I had done, which sadly wasn't very much. She looked at me with a calm, unemotional, expression.
“I'll recover from this current stupidity, or so they tell me, but I am running out of time. If I were in better shapeâand of course twenty years youngerâI'd do it all myself.”
“Why didn't you, back then?” I hastily added, “I'm just wondering. Not criticizing or anything.” Though perhaps I was.
“Good question. That would be another whole story.” She smiled and closed her eyes, drugs kicking in.
“Lil, darling. Listen to me.” Ruby was back. Lillian opened her eyes slowly, with effort, at the sound of her voice. “The nurse apologized and said you will have a real dinner tonight.
young Erica and I can go to the cafeteria and bring something up for you. What would you like? I'm thinking of a BLT for myself.”
“Mmm. Pasta. Something pasta would hit the spot. And chocolate cake.” She drifted again.
“Off we go, Erica.”
It was a long walk, a very long walk, to the cafeteria on the other side of the connected buildings, but when we got there, we found lasagna, chocolate cake, and a BLT for Ruby. Plus a chicken wrap for me.
Ruby talked and ate, and I listened. No, she was far too upset about Lillian to be bothered with making a recording now. Yes, she would love to do it another time. Childhood memories? Of course. She was already making notes.
“You know, dear, my memory, good as it is, really is not what it once was. Fortunately for your request, the old memories are more vivid and accessible than the newer ones. I remember the number of my first telephone.”
I tried to look impressed. No, I was kind of impressed.
“She's dying, you know.” Ruby looked past me, toward the other side of the cafeteria, but I knew she was seeing something else.
“It's been a joy to have her here with me. We were so close, back when. I only had my big brother, who was horrid to me, and she had one big brother and baby sisters. So we became like each other's sister. Then we lost track. She went to Douglass College in New Jersey and I was in New York andâ¦” She shrugged. “Things happen and you lose people along the way.” She blinked hard, rapidly, for a minute. “And now I will lose her again, and soon.”
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask her about Lillian's brother, if she could add or expand that story, or even tell me it was true. The words were right there, but I stopped myself just in time. It was Lillian's story and her choice to talk to Ruby about it. Or not.
Instead, I cautiously asked, “Did you never connect after you went to college?”
“Of course we did. Weddings, reunions, all that. But it was never the same, and then over the years, there are husbands and children and moves. My second husband was a professor at Yale and Lil never married at all. She liked men, though. And they really liked her. She had a very, very good time in those days. I know she thought I disapproved. Perhaps I did.” She saw my face and said, with an edge, “Are you shocked? Did you think your generation invented sex? And nowâ¦and nowâ¦”
She looked around, not seeing, and then stood up. “Let's get back to her room. Can you carry the tray?”
Lillian was awake, just barely, and Ruby just barely got her to eat a few bites. She drifted off again, and we knew it was time to go. Determined, talky Ruby had not one word to say in the car.
That was fine with me. I was having a flashback to my mother's last weeks in the hospital. She had been ill, on and off, for a long time, but we all thought she'd make it to enjoy some of my dad's retirement. She didn't.
It was a lonely ride back to Brooklyn, with too many thoughts in the car. I played the classic rock station, full volume, but it only helped a little.
Home with a massive headache. I had to park many blocks away from my own house. The weather was sharply chilly for spring. In the planters in front of my house, a few buds were coming up, daffodils that had survived from last year. I didn't plant bulbs this fall. I was too busy and Chris was now too grown up to think it was fun. I remembered when she was little, so excited to see the bulb plants peeking up, sometimes through the last of the snow. It seemed like a miracle.
A beer from the refrigerator did not raise my spirits. The smart, mature thing would have been to do something productive. Instead, I took a nap, curled up under a frayed, stained comforter that was a long-ago wedding present. At some point I must have come to. I heard voices and laughter, but fell asleep again.
The next time I woke up the house seemed deeply dark and quiet. No sounds from anywhere, not even the street. I got up and looked out the bedroom door. No light peeking out from under Chris' door or glimmering dimly from downstairs. What time was it? Three a.m.
Back in my room, eyes more open, I found a note Chris had left on my bed.
You were out cold so I left you alone. Joe came by to see you and stayed to cook eggs for us both for dinner. He called me an abandoned child. Just kidding! I called him Uncle Joe and he laughed. Said to tell you he was here. Sleep tight.
That was thoughtful. It seemed there was hope for her as an adult human being. Except for the sarcasm of course
Now I was up and awake for real. I raided the refrigerator, watched re-runs of a television show I had never even liked in real time. It seemed better in the dark of night. I did not feel awake but knew I would not get back to sleep. Another night on the dawn patrol. Damn
I thought I'd do some work but I was sidetracked by a middle of the night message on Facebook. It was Zora and it wasn't personal.
Y'all heard what happened? Those nasty little creeps who hurt my girl? Now they're out walking while she is in the hospital tied up to every machine. And that SOB lawyer. Oh, I know him. He's only interested in making his big name. Did you see him on TV? All up in the microphones about justice? Alibis, pul-leeze! We know what we know.
And he's going to get his ass bit over it, too. We are planning a demonstration, right over there at the cop shop where he had his news conference. Two days. Details up tomorrow AM. Sometimes you just got to holler. Know what I mean? Pushing those fool cops to do their job and get the right ones off our streets.
Information attached. Y'all come and make some noise
There was a ping from my mail. Something else from Zora and this time it was personal.
You come too. See it in person. It will be big. It's going up on Facebook and we got posters up all over the hood and beyond. We got to make something happen. Ya know? Not just for my child but other people's children too, I'm going to send you a flyer. Be good for you to be making some noise.