York Bites

Pamela "Ande" Cardwell

Don't ever eat York Bites on the day of your sister's surgery - especially if you haven't showered in two days. Because you'll imagine her stomach opened up and malignant tumors popping out like popcorn. And when your head starts to itch and your eyebrows tickle you'll just know you must have head lice.

You'll feel the need to call less than half an hour after she was scheduled to be wheeled into the operating room. You'll go to your bedroom to get the phone. It won't be there so you'll decide it must be in the kitchen. You'll get to the counter and guess it must be in the computer room. You'll shuffle through the books and papers on your desk and start to hear a ringing you wish would stop. You'll realize it's not in your head so you'll search for it and find the phone sitting on the back of the toilet. When you check the Caller-ID and see it's one of those 000-000-0000 numbers, you'll press the TALK button with your left thumb then quickly hit OFF with your right. You'll set the phone back down on the back of the toilet, take a couple steps, and lean into the mirror to pick out the lice you're convinced have set up housekeeping in your eyelashes.

When you find none are nesting there you head to your bedroom to get the phone. Luckily this time you remember it's in the bathroom. So you grab it from the toilet, search DIRECTORY for your mom's cell number and punch auto-dial. Of course she doesn't answer so you leave a shakey message and search DIRECTORY again for your sister's cell number. You almost expect her to answer. You leave her a message too, though this one's more upbeat since she will be getting it as soon as she wakes from surgery. You say something like "Hey, Bren, it's me. I expect the anesthesiologist to answer and say 'Brenda, it's for you.' " Then you can't help but fall into some gushy stuff.

You hang up and immediately call your other sister, the one who's not in surgery. It rings forever and you know she's playing Hearts on the Internet. You try her other number and your niece answers. You talk about her baby and her tummy and how excited everybody is. Then it dawns on you that your youngest sister, her aunt, may be having her chance to have a baby taken away from her this very minute. You ask to speak to her mom.

"Have you heard anything about Bren?"

"Pami, she didn't go into surgery until 1:00."

"I know, but do you know when she's supposed to come out? I called Mom and she's not answering her cell phone."

"I don't know. I haven't talked to Mom either."

"OK, OK. If she calls you you'll make sure she calls me too, OK? Or you call me the minute you hang up."

"She knows we're waiting. She'll call as soon as she gets any news."

"You're right. I need to go to the grocery store. I think I'll go now."

"It's almost time for me to pick up the kids, I'll probably be back home about the same time you are."

"I love you. I'll talk to ya later."

You start scratching your head again, your forehead, and your eyebrows. You bring the phone with you to the computer room, set it down on some papers, and start typing. Your head itches more than ever and you start to feel a mixing in your gut. You close out of Microsoft Word and click on the Solitaire icon. You decide to play till you win. It only takes two games. You click on Hearts. The player names you have programmed in are "Mom", "Lorri", "Brenda", and "Pami" of course. Brenda wins. You click in to Free Cell and win four out of five. The bad feeling is still in you. This isn't good. You believe the tales you've heard about sisters knowing when the other one is in trouble. Your imagination goes wild - her abdomen's filled with cancer... she's dying on the table... "Shit it's the York Bites. I ate those York Bites. It's gotta be the York Bites." The phone's back in your hand - you punch DIRECTORY again and auto-dial a friend.

"Aimee, I'm freaking-out. Today is Brenda's surgery." You rehash the whole Melanoma thing: the bad news, her first surgery, the year of Interferon, the you'll-be-dead-in-three-years-if-you-don't-have-chemo" prognosis, the chemo she finished only two months ago and swears she'll never have again. You talk about how positive Brenda's been feeling and how positive you feel when she feels so positive. You talk about her win-win theory, how if she doesn't have cancer again - she doesn't have Cancer! How if she does, they make a Melanoma vaccine! It doesn't feel as good as she made it sound. You talk about the possibility of a hysterectomy and remind Aimee that Brenda's only forty-one and that she cried when the doctor said the "h" word. You tell her you ate York Bites and that's probably why you're freaking out. Then you tell her you think you have head lice.

"What the heck are York Bites?"

"You know... those bite-sized Peppermint Patties!"

"Oh," you can hear her shaking her head, "you work at a pediatrics clinic, for Heaven's sake; you'd know if you had head lice. Did you have somebody check you?"

"No, it's the York Bites, I know it's the York Bites."

She remembers you don't do well on sugar and caffeine and you laugh together at the thought of you on a Double Mocha Cappuccino if there is such a thing. She says she'll call you after work.

You call another friend and go over everything all over again. And then once more. The third time seems to do it - you hang up and walk a few more circles around the house. Then you call Lorri back; your youngest niece Barbara answers the phone. "Barb! Have you heard anything about Aunt Bren?"

"I don't know Aunt Pami... Mom, have we heard anything about Aunt Bren?"

"No. No word yet."

"No, Aunt Pami, no word."

"Barbara, I'm kinda nervous. I'm feeling like it's a long time in surgery. It's prob'ly " because I ate too many York Bites." She giggles.

"I love you," she says.

"I love you too, baby, let me talk to your mom... Lor, I never went to the store. I'm going now. Make sure Mom leaves me a message if she calls."

You hang up, reprimanding yourself for telling an eleven-year-old that you're nervous about her aunt's surgery. You jump into the shower. Finally you're off to Ray's Grocery. For what, you can't quite remember. It doesn't matter.

Shopping goes rather smoothly. You remember your husband wanted bread and cereal. You even buy shell pasta, spaghetti sauce, chopped tomatoes, canned corn, an onion, and ground turkey for goulash tonight. You haven't cooked in months. And you seldom buy meat. You also throw in two pints of strawberry sorbet, pretending one is for your husband. You're disappointed that they're out of Cascadian Farms Orange Sorbet and Cream and downright irritated when you see the freezer label's been removed. You start to tell a man in a blue apron, but decide you're not up it. You don't want to chance going off in the ice cream aisle. You rent two DVDs before you leave - Disney's "The Rookie" and a comedy with Brad Pitt. You try to think of other places you might go before you go home. You can't think of any. You go home. It's after 4:30.

The red light's blinking on the answering machine and there's a red three in the window. Not Mom, skip; not Mom, skip; Mom! "Pami..." her voice cracks and you shudder. "It's the best news possible."

"Shit! Why didn't you say so!" you yell at the machine.

"There was no cancer. The doctor was able to save her uterus. And she has both ovaries and both fallopian tubes. They removed fourteen tumors. She'll have to have a C-section if she has a baby, but he sees no reason why she couldn't get pregnant. I'm calling from outside; I can't have my cell phone on in the hospital. I'll talk to you tomorrow dear. I love you. Bye-bye."

You don't wait for Aimee's call back. "Aimee, it was the York Bites! I just listened to a message from my mom. Bren doesn't have cancer and she can have a baby! ...No, I don't have head lice; I took a shower and I'm not itching anymore. ...I know, it's all great news! I've gotta go - I wanna have dinner started when John gets home. He'll be so surprised. Uh-oh, that's him. Bye."

You run out the door to greet your husband yelling, "Honey it's the best possible news!" You hug each other tight and walk inside; he gets mauled by the dogs. You tell him you've got dinner planned; he says naw, let's go out. You only try to change his mind for a second. He puts the groceries away while you hop around wanting to help but just keep getting in the way. You never watch "The Rookie," but the goulash is ready for him when he gets home the next night. You finish the York Bites that you left that morning after breakfast; there were six left. Two more than you ate the day before.

© Pamela "Ande" Cardwell

Ande has been discovering herself through writing since she was a teenager. She highly recommends it. Her essay, "To Tell The Truth," will be included in Simon & Schuster's nationally bestselling "Chocolate" series sequel (not yet named, to be published in May. Her poem, "Home," will be published in the literary magazine "Dream Fantasy International" in 2003.

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