Boiling Over by Nancy Smith

Nancy Smith: I live in Ashfield with my husband. Together we raised three wonderful children who have flown our coop. I began writing seriously with Genie Zeiger in 2007. In 2009 I was trained to be an AWA workshop leader and now run my own writing groups. I am a Straw Dog Member.

Boiling Over

Your husband asks, “Is your mother still paying for her cell phone?”

You can see that brick of a phone plugged into a socket in your mother’s kitchen. She has long since forgotten how to use it. That phone gathers only dust and messages never to be heard.

“Oh my God, you’re right! She probably is.” One more thing you’ve forgotten to take care of, one more drain on your mother’s bank account. However, you are not sure who her carrier is, and because of the pandemic, you’re unable to go to her apartment to search for a phone bill. New worry adds to your simmering worries: am I safe, is my husband safe, are my children safe?

Going online, you check your mother’s bank account. Enough for now. Next you check her credit card: $60 to some veterans group in Nebraska, $75 to a Leukemia Foundation, only the word leukemia is spelled incorrectly, $80 to firefighters in Ohio. For the umpteenth time, you cancel your mother’s credit card and hurl hatred towards those who prey upon the weak. But even more, you viscerally despise this new contagion for making everything so much harder. 

With a heart feeling like it’s beating too fast – and that’s another concern. Your blood pressure seems to be rising, you pick up the phone to call the carrier you hope is your mother’s.

Armed with scribbled notes from seven years ago, you think you know your mother’s password, her pin number, the answer to her secret question. Yolanda comes on the phone. “How can I help you today?”  “I’m calling about my mother, about her cell phone. I don’t even know if you’re the right carrier, but I need to cancel her plan.” 

Yolanda is patient. After many false starts the two of you determine that this is in fact your mother’s carrier, but the only way to cancel her service is for Yolanda to send either a text to your mother’s dusty phone, or an email to your mother’s unchecked-for-years AOL account.

And that’s all it takes. You boil over. Your voice gets high and raspy, tears fall and choke. “This is so fucking complicated!” Fear, uncertainty, too much for too long, harsh words flood from your mouth and into Yolanda’s ears. But then, somehow, you remember to breathe. You apologize to Yolanda. “I didn’t mean to swear. I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.” “You calm yourself, dearie. No need to get so upset. I’m gonna help you and your mama.” You wipe at your eyes and your nose, sticky and wet.

With creative problem solving, you and Yolanda find your way through this miasma. The cell phone plan is canceled. You apologize again for your inappropriate language. Yolanda thanks you for being a loyal customer and the call ends. Sitting in your emotional aftershock, you stare, blink, and take a sip of the clean water you are so lucky to have.