Nah…that’s a bit over the top, she thought.
Mournfully. That’s a good one.
Azalea looked mournfully out the window, hardly noticing the fluffy white clouds floating lazily by (there’s a nice one, she murmured). Despite her last-minute reservation, she’d somehow managed to grab a window seat but took no comfort in the fact. Instead, she curled up, cat-like (see, they don’t all end in ly, she thought), forehead pressed to the thick glass.
She recited a list of adverbs, lovingly caressing them like her grandmother’s rosary beads, taking solace from their familiar and oh-so-essential function. “Anyone can throw together an adjective and noun,” she’d told her children, even when they were far too small for the nuances of grammar. “But it’s much more difficult to modify a verb—to truly and deeply explain the how.” Azalea had no idea when she’d become enamored (obsessed?) with adverbs. All she knew was she had a deep need to clearly describe how something was done, felt, experienced. Its genesis unknown, the recitation had become a daily ritual, a pacifier, a-glass-of-wine kind of calming effect for her nerves, a way to bring order to her life. A way to describe the how.
A sharp kick from behind jarred her from her musings, nearly causing her to curse out loud. “Ladies don’t use that kind of language,” her mother would have said, dismissively. “Anyone with a third-grade education can speak that way—I expect more elegant language from you, Azalea.” She had despised her name her whole life, begging to go by Azi, or even her middle name, Elena. Anything to avoid the incessant teasing. But her mother refused, making her practice the slow, languid diphthongs: Ahhhhzalea. Somehow her mother’s thick Spanish accent made it seem exotic and refined.
She had a sudden and poignant memory. At six or seven, she’d come home covered in pink and white petals—“Azalea, Azalea!” her classmates had taunted, throwing her namesake blossoms all over her as she ran from school, tears streaming hotly—yes, hotly!—down her cheeks. Her mother, perfect in her maternal fury, brushed the petals off, none too daintily. “Azalea is a bush,” she said, her voice tightly controlled. “You, my sweet darling, are a beautiful flower.” Somehow, the musical lilt of her name uttered by her mother transcended her tormenters and brought her comfort. As her adverbial litany did today.
It hadn’t always been such a boon. Once, her 13-year old son Alex had burst scowling into the kitchen. “Thanks a lot, Mom,” he grimaced. “You have completely ruined us!” She had hastily composed herself, running madly through her remembered and imagined transgressions, ways in which she was certain she’d scarred her offspring for life.
“I can’t even have a normal conversation! When I ask someone, ‘How are you?’ and the person says, ‘I’m doing good,’ the only thing I’m thinking is that unless he’s in the middle of some charitable activity then that’s an incorrect sentence, because he really should say ‘I am well’ or ‘I’m unwell’ or something with a stupid adverb that modifies his state of being at that moment!”
Azalea’s hands shook as she remembered her son’s anger. Good grief—what has it been? she thought. Ten years? She wondered if Alex would be at the hospital when she arrived. No, she decided. He wouldn’t be able to handle it.
The flight attendants cheerfully passed through the airplane, reminding passengers to buckle up, return their seats and tray tables to an upright and locked position, and generally prepare for landing. The kicking child behind her squealed delightedly as her parents reminded her that she would see her grandparents in a few short minutes.
As the plane taxied to the gate, Azalea turned on her mobile phone, watching the display shift to Pacific Daylight Time. “Goin’ back to Cali,” she whispered.
She walked quickly to baggage claim where she picked up her luggage and headed across the street to the rental car center. Just keep breathing, she thought. But how? How should she breathe? What was the adverb for breathing when there was no breath to be had?
She looked around. It’s different every time I come home. The roads are different, the parking structure is different, the landscape is different. I’m different.
“How do I…” she thought. How.
The rush hour traffic was headed the opposite direction, and Azalea arrived at Good Samaritan Hospital in mere minutes. She pulled out her lipstick and carefully reapplied, looking despondently at her exhausted face in the mirror. “Ladies do not leave the house without lipstick on,” her mother would have opined wisely. Had she ever transgressed her mother’s statute? Not that she could remember. She smiled ruefully and ran a brush through her hair.
Azalea locked the rental car door and headed inside the hospital, feeling a vibration in her handbag. Walking quickly, she looked at her phone. The text from her brother was terse: Sis. Hurry.
Azalea breathed deeply and looked on the wall for directions to the ICU. She ran to the nurses’ station and asked for her mother’s room.
Her father sat at the bedside, holding her mother’s hand. Her younger brother stood quietly, gazing sorrowfully at their parents. The sun—shockingly unaware of the tableau before it—cheerfully lit the bizarre juxtaposition of flower arrangements and gleaming machines.
Her father looked up, tears in his eyes. “Thank God,” he whispered. Her mother turned, a gentle smile slowly winding its way across her face.
“You made it,” she breathed. “My Azalea. You made it.”