I had walked over to the neighbor’s house to bring her some homemade biscotti.
“My mother said to say thank you for helping to take care of me while Tony was in the hospital,” I told Mrs. Goldberg.
“Come on into the kitchen Melanie. How’s the baby doing?”
I hated the name “Children’s Hospital.” Children shouldn’t have to have hospitals named after them — especially children who are really just 9-month-old babies. But in 1951 it was the only hospital that would take babies with spinal meningitis.
My father had sneaked me in to intensive care to visit Tony and when we got there it scared me to see my reflection in the nursery window and it scared me to see my brother there too. His eyes were closed and he looked shrunken since the day they’d taken him away and he had tubes coming out of everywhere.
My father tapped his finger on the window to get a response from Tony, leaning into the glass like he wanted to reach right through it and pick up his son. He took his car keys out of his pocket to make a louder noise.
“Look, Tony. Your sister’s here.” Tap. Tap.
He tapped again. Then he turned to me and I took the keys and jangled them against the glass too.
“Tony. Look. It’s me, Melanie.”
Again, nothing but the hum of the hospital and the sound of me and my father waiting.
I jangled the keys again.
“Did you see that!” my dad almost shouted.
I had seen it. Tony had moved his head in the direction of the keys. It was just a little move, but he had definitely moved his head.
“What’s it mean, Daddy?”
“Don’t stop jangling those keys, Melanie.” I could hear my father’s ragged breathing. “It means your brother’s coming out of the coma. It means he’s not gonna die. He’s gonna live!”
Back in Mrs. Goldberg’s red and white kitchen I sat at the table where I had watched her punch down bread dough so many times before. I put the package of biscotti on the table in front of me and stared at it as I slowly began to tell her how Tony was doing.
I told her everything from the beginning. My mouth just kept moving. I told her about bulging soft spots on top of the head and about needles in the ankle and doses of antibiotics big enough to save horses. I told her about comas and deafness and brain damage and about 50/50 chances. She listened, her head down watching her own hands as they turned the dough, and finally I started crying and told her about how it was really all my fault and that I was the one who’d made Tony sick.
“Mother told me to leave him alone. She told me not to pick him up. But he was so sick, I couldn’t stand it. I picked him up and made him scream.”
My nose ran and I stared at my tears where they had fallen on the bread flour sprinkled on the kitchen table. I was too ashamed to look up.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Goldberg,” I said, and got up to go to the door.
That was when Mrs. Goldberg came over and put her arm around me. She’d never done anything like that before.
“You know, Melanie,” she said in a soft voice.”You know what I’m thinking?”
We got to the doorway together.
“I’m thinking it’s a good thing you did what you did with Tony.” She took me by my shoulders and turned me to look right at her.
“If you hadn’t picked him up like that and made him scream, he probably would’ve just laid there in his crib and nobody would’ve found out how sick he was until it was too late.”
She smelled of fresh bread dough and her arm felt strong and warm and leaning against it made me feel good.
That night in bed I thought about Mrs. Goldberg, I thought about how she let me go over there to watch her bake on all those Saturday afternoons while Tony was in the hospital and I thought about what she said to me after I’d poured out my little girl angst.
I pictured bringing Tony over to her house one day. He would perch on my knee while we watched Mrs. Goldberg knead bread. I would unwrap the package I had brought and we all would sit around the table talking, laughing and eating fresh bread and fresh biscotti while Tony waved his arms and slapped the kitchen table.
For the rest of my life I would remember Mrs. Goldberg and what I would always refer to as her “magic kitchen;”the one in which she had quietly reached out in kindness to a 10-year-old little girl who was feeling guilty and ashamed and with her simple words had changed everything.
Author Bio: Carmelene Melanie Siani
Carmelene writes stories from every day life and how life itself offers lessons to help us grow, expand, and put our feet on higher ground.