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Packing and Unpacking, Town to Town, Up and Down the Dial

"This screws up your book," my mother said, the dim green lights on her IV mottling the pillowcase.

"No it doesn't.  Okay, that is a zebra longwing butterfly.  See the wingspan?"  I said, and pointed again at the computer screen.  The last time the nurse asked her to rate the pain from a scale of one to ten on the incision on her hip, the fourth time it's been split open, she said, "Eight." It's two hours to her next dose of Percocet and about twenty minutes before the The Ohio State Marching Band takes the field in Columbus for the Buckeye Classic.   We are having an Everglades slide show on my laptop.

"But you I thought you needed to be up in Columbus all day today.  You were supposed to be watching the marching band."

"Two baby alligators there.  One in the water.  He jumped in right as I was taking the picture."  

"I'm sorry, Beth."

I dropped both hands in my lap.  "You seriously cannot be apologizing for being in the hospital.  For surgery.  For emergency surgery."

"But you need to--"

"I need to be right here."  Click.  "Here's a great blue heron.  I saw these mostly in the northern part of the park."Everywhere at once

She resigns herself to the heron.  But she reads this site.  She knows what I miss when I miss it, that where The Ohio State Marching Band is concerned, the YouTube replay is a weak substitute for reality, the tired tinge left behind on a coffee cup where a strong hot brew once sloshed against the sides.  She's heard the "I get one shot at this season for this book" speech, both in conversation from Columbus and overheard while on the phone to my husband in Mobile.  

And I know that, having lost one parent one year ago this month, the opportunity to discuss picture after picture of swamp grass and stupid yellow-legged brids with the remaining one is not to be bypassed. 

My mother shifts in the bed again; I leap up to rearrange and retuck sheets for absolutely no purpose other than to rearrange and retuck.  Out the window, the last swipes of the autumn sun were bending out of the sky. I glanced out at my car, which had faithfully carried me from the shore of Lake Erie to the outer southern edge of Key West and back to the cradle of my home civilization.  Today, perhaps aware of the easy availability of antibiotics in these parts, it at last begun to tremble into submission, one tire sinking to the asphalt while the other three bore the load of the clothes, cooking utensils, and books necessary to sustain me from August through December. My sister, dropping me off from the other side of the hospital parking lot, looked on in astonishment. 

"How long has it been like that?"

"I... I needed to get to Ohio...."

"You need to get that taken care of!  What are you doing?"

At the tire shop down the street from the dim hospital room, a mechanic came walking towards me dusting bits of disintegrated rubber from his hands.  "Miss, I'm sorry, but where the hell you been with this car?  You got slow leaks happening on three tires here.  You pushin' this thing."

I looked up from my laptop, where I'd been grading papers; on the Facebook page minimized to the bottom of the screen, my husband had just written the following on his profile:  "I feel like I've had a one-night stand with my own wife.  She even left a note on the pillow."  Everglades National Park to Mobile, 749 miles; Mobile to Bowling Green, Kentucky, 511 miles; Bowling Green to Cincinnati, 210 miles; Cincinnati to Columbus, infinity.

"How much time you got for the service?  You got anyplace to be today?"

On the flatscreen across from us on the wall of the customer lounge, Ohio State intercepts an Illinois pass and assembles its offense; my mother-in-law affixes a like to her son's Facebook status. "Yes.  A minimum of three places.  At the same time."

The mechanic, meanwhile, well aware that he has interrupted on a creative nonfiction conversation with myself, is fittingly frightened.  "What's your call on the tires?"

"Replace them," I said.  "I'm gonna be driving."

Today's Tasting Room Musical Note is sponsored by heading up that highway, leaving you behind:

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