Another visit back home with my mother, another milestone as I notice her shuffle has slowed while the concentration with which she eats her meals intensified. She is a successful, producing artist, yet with each visit, her delight to see me is progressively underlined by her awe at the adult I have become.
There is something new at this visit, though; I have brought my laptop computer. Every AOL’s robotic chant "You got mail" brings her rushing in. She stands mute, her faces disapproving, as though the computer defied God in some mysterious way.
I am chatting with a friend at a café when my cell phone rings. My mother reports that the power in the entire building is off.
"Call the electric company," I say.
"It's your computer."
"What about my computer?"
"You know," she says. I used to hear her voice not through my ears but through my skin. Now it is breathless, flustered. "The computer has burned up the switches--"
"Mom, my computer will go up in smoke before it burns the switches for the entire building."
"So how come there is no electricity?"
The next day, as I am nursing a late morning cup of coffee in the kitchen, my mother pulls out the chair across from me. The resolve squeeze of her lips tells me something serious is about to be discussed. Maybe her living will.
"I got a wake up call this morning," she says. "At five o'clock."
I look at her, waiting.
“The phone rang funny. Ding--ding--ding--” When I seem to have turned into a dimwit, she adds, "It's your modem."
I sip my coffee, my eyes registering the faint remains of the cheekbones of her youth, the cheekbones I inherited, and which one day, too, will be no more.
"I don't understand," I say.
"I didn't order a wake up call." Her tone means it is all self-explanatory.
"What does this have to do with my modem?" I ask.
"Isn't it connected to the phone line? It has made the phone ring!"
Slowly, I put down my cup. I count slowly. One, two, three. "My modem doesn't make your phone ring. It only dials out for data."
"So why would suddenly my phone ring at five o'clock in the morning?"
"I'll disconnect the modem whenever it's not in use. Okay?"
But the solution rattles her. She picks up the end of the phone cord, its plug loose on the desk like an elderly who's lost her way home. Fumbling for the context in which to frame her question, she examines the small, clear plastic tip, turning it around for a better view.
"This wasn’t meant to be plugged in and out," she finally says. "It will break."
"All over America, everyday, plugs are being plugged and unplugged," I say. "These plastic thingies are sturdy little creatures."
"It will break." Gently, she lays it down and turns to leave. But the room--with her her turpentine and linseed oil--is still filled with her presence.
I follow her out and touch her shoulder. "Tell you what; I'll stop in the hardware store, and use my own cord."
The next evening, while I'm out visiting a friend, my cell phone rings. On the crystal display I identify my mother’s cell number."
She is agitated. "I've told you," she says. "Now our home phone is dead."
"At least you won't get any wake up call at five o'clock in the morning," I say.
"You really have to do something about your computer. Since you arrived it has given me nothing but troubles."
"Okay, Mom." I sigh. "I'm sorry. I'll put it away."
For the next several years, when visiting, I stay with friends whose building’s electricity, phone service--and well-being--remain unaffected by my laptop.
This year, when I arrive at my mother’s apartment, she leads me to the study. There, on a polished oak stand, gleaming through a clear vinyl protective cover, a new computer greets me.
"What happened?" I asked.
My mother replies in the no-nonsense, purposeful tone I haven't heard in years. "Oh, on the way back from another funeral I stopped at the computer store. They gave me a good deal--"
"I'll e-mail to the grandchildren," she cuts into my silent gulp. The creases on her cheeks bunch up with pride. "And it will cost nothing. Your sister's son will show me how."
My nephew is eleven-years old. I could ask how the electric power and phone lines will withstand the heavy traffic of my mother’s e-mails to her octogenarian friends, but something swells up in me. In my head I hear the drum beat of time receding. My mother has made it turn around, go someplace else. I am so proud of her.
"I want to improve my bridge game." There is the old spark in her eyes as she points to a stack of software packages. She fumbles behind the computer and plugs it into the electric socket. "Just install these games and show me how they work."
But as I lift the monitor cover and then turn on the switch, I can't read the screen. My eyes are misted.
P.S. It’s five years later. Last week, my mother befriended me on FaceBook. When I called to tell her that at 85 she was probably the oldest FaceBook user, she explained that she this was how she would keep herself informed about her grandchildren. “You should see the photographs they post,” she said, sighing. I smiled. This is how I, too, check on my children’s lives.
Talia Carner’s heart-wrenching suspense novels, PUPPET CHILD and CHINA DOLL, (and upcoming JERUSALEM MAIDEN,) are inspired by social issues and are often the choice of reading groups. Please check <a target="_blank" href=”www.TaliaCarner.com” target=_blank>www.TaliaCarner.com </a>