Last Call

When her phone rang, Carlee was measuring her mom’s evening dose of medicine and, with no hand to spare, did not pick up. Nina Marie was querulous – had been all day. Her cracked voice could no longer carry the melodies that had once been her love and livelihood, but despite that, Nina launched into a verse of “Some Enchanted Evening” – it didn’t matter that she only remembered half the words.

“Please, mom,” Carlee begged. “You know you need this medicine.”

Nina regarded her resentfully. “You’re my daughter, not my nursemaid.”

Carlee gave a half-laugh and then scowled so that her mother wouldn’t notice her eyes fill up. She would not fall into self-pity, but she was so tired these days, so worn with the task of easing her mom towards the end. And then what? It had always been the two of them. “I’m both, it seems.”

Her mom plucked the sheets of the hospital bed filling in the dining room. “Where’s Chip? Chip should be here. I thought he had set up an audition for me.”

“Chip’s been dead nine years,” Carlee snapped. Her patience was gone. She couldn’t do this any more. “Mom, I have a date with William. I’m going to be…” She looked at her watch. “I’m late.” Her voice was flat.

Somehow that pierced the fog gathering around Nina. “I’d better have that medicine then, so you can skedaddle. Don’t know why you’re so late with it tonight.” She grasped her daughter’s wrist and their eyes met. “You can do better than that prune-sucker,” Nina said.

I’m afraid to be alone, Carlee thought.

Nina swallowed the medicine, then lay back, eyes closed. Carlee watched her for a moment for signs of breathing distress or change. Her mom seemed stable for now. The night nurse would arrive in less than an hour. Desperately relieved, Carlee scurried to throw on some clothes that were a little less sick-room feeling. Dab some makeup on her wan face.

It took some resolution to leave her mother. Guiltily she remembered how Nina had never left her, even when it meant a hit to her career. But she had broken her last three dates with William and he had not been so understanding the last time.

“You have to have a life,” he’d argued. “You can’t let that old prima donna suck everything out of your existence.”

Carlee had swallowed her anger at the way he dismissed Nina Marie. She had tried to explain that it wasn’t like that. But William’s family was large and constantly in some kind of bitter argument. He just didn’t get that for long years it had been the two of them against the world. For all her smiles and glitter, Nina had been hurt by critics, directors, and husbands alike. Carlee had seen it, admired her mother’s relentless courage.

Gawky and without singing talent, Carlee too had been stabbed by the little jokes of their“friends” in the theater world. Until a documentary, fully paid for by her mother, had displayed her talent for direction and launched her career.

“Could any daughter of mine be less than brilliant?” Nina demanded at the awards ceremony. The punitive glitter in her eye slew their collective enemies.

“You got the award, but I, too, was brilliant,” she had murmured that night in the limo. Carlee had laughed and squeezed her mom’s hand.

Thinking of that, she got out of the elevator smiling.

“Evening, Carlee.” Marco, the doorman, handed her a folded slip of paper. “William Drace, that actor you’ve been seeing, left this for you.”

Carlee plunked into one of the lobby’s chairs and stared at the unopened paper. Then she checked her phone for messages – a text from William.

Make a choice, babe,” he wrote. “I’m off to the club. Join me if you want.

“Do you want me to call a cab?” Marco asked.

Carlee shook her head. “Not this time.”

He looked at her with sympathy, but remained silent.

Riding up the elevator, she let out a breath of relief. William really was a prune sucker. Having been unconditionally loved, even if it was by her mother, she knew the real deal.

And she was not going to settle for anything less.

“Hi mom, I’m home,” she called gently.

Nina opened her eyes and chuckled. “Gave the twerp the boot, did you? That’s my girl. You’ve always been the best. Always the best.”