We schedule a taxi for 3:00 pm. When I arrive she’s waiting outside, pressing into her cane, her coat heavy, her spine rounded and hunched. The sky is overcast, filled with big grey clouds threatening to break. The taxi arrives. The journey is long and she wants to talk. I’m still full of my day, and it takes time for me to ease into being with her, to be present.
We arrive at the hospital. To the left of the entrance there are twelve elevators, six on each side, some of them for passengers only, some of them freight, and when there’s a beep signaling that one of them has arrived, it’s always a mad dash to locate it before the doors close again. We ride down to an underground floor, fluorescent lights, long, narrow corridors, people waiting on either sides. She lets go of my arm. “Go ahead,” she says, “I’m fine”. We reach the receptionist’s desk with its tall glass partition, and she takes a seat on one of the plastic chairs nearby as I handle the bureaucracy. Every time it’s a struggle: paperwork, reimbursements, endless receipts passed through the little slot in the glass, the receptionist’s nails long and adorned with glitter.
The wait is long. She speaks to me about politics, things she’s seen on the television; I don’t watch any. I listen but my thoughts are still elsewhere, I struggle to land here, with her. I wonder: Who will accompany me when I grow old? Will I be alone? Will I have any children?
There are a lot of people waiting, mostly in pairs, a husband and wife, mother and daughter, the occasional child, teenager. The man across from us takes out an oily burekas, the pastry shattering everywhere as he breaks it into two. Some have pouches on one eye, some are rolled in on wheelchairs, others have their eyes covered with dark sunglasses. The one nurse scurries about, pregnant, in sneakers, one piece of her hair longer than the rest and wrapped in colorful thread, a tiny seashell dangling from its end. My grandmother takes a little plastic bag out of her purse and hands it to me: a peeled apple, three little triangles of cheese wrapped in foil. I’m not hungry.
Each month she can make out less and less on the eye exam. And each time she shakes her head, repeating with frustration how she used to have perfect eyesight. “Like yours,” she says, adding: “I hope you keep it.” Something in the way she says it makes me wince.
She fiddles nervously with her wedding band, twisting it left and right. She’s anxious although we’re here once a month, and it’s always the same, although she pays extra to see this doctor she trusts. She uses a grating, ingratiating tone with him, and asks questions I wish I didn’t have to translate.
Is it ok for her to watch tv?
He checks her retina and I translate: keep your eye open, don’t move, try not to blink. Next, we’ll wait out in the corridor again and the nurse will start giving her drops to prepare her eyes for the injections.
One time I have something in my eye, and I ask him to look at it. He takes me to a side room, tells the other patients to wait. He puts drops in my right eye, and tells me to keep it open as he reaches in with tiny tweezers; his other hand beneath my chin. He takes out the tiniest insect wing.
My grandmother’s name is called over the loudspeaker and I walk her to the room where the injections are given. There’s a sign on the door forbidding entry to anyone accompanying the patient. I wait outside. A few minutes later, one of the nurses rushes out and calls me in. My grandmother is wearing all black and I can see the problem as soon as they open the door- one of her eyes is completely flooded with blood, red where it should be white. The doctor straightens himself up and says: “It happens, it’s only superficial, it doesn’t mean anything, don’t worry”.
I’m grateful she can’t really see herself in the mirror.
It’s night when we leave the hospital, and she takes out her sunglasses. The drive is long again, and I teeter between understanding and impatience, I want to be held.
I walk her upstairs. She struggles with her keys, struggles to reach up for the light switch, struggles to take off her coat. She goes to the bathroom, each step a deep sigh. I wait for her to be settled, and leave her the treat I usually bring her for after the appointment, a slice of cake, imported grapes, thick crackers full of seeds.
I go downstairs, to my apartment right beneath hers. I turn on the lights, everything is quiet, the dishes are piled up in the sink just as I left them. I place the pint of ice-cream on the counter, and slip out of my shoes. I wrap a kitchen towel around it, and take it to the couch as the loneliness settles in. I text my best friend, my sister-in-law, but their houses are so full, how could they possibly understand?
Fear of death, of aging, and this piercing loneliness creep in, and I numb them with a flood of sugar.
Martha’s Moist Devil’s Food Cake
with Mrs. Milman’s Chocolate Frosting
from Martha Stewart
This is my go-to chocolate cake for celebrations. It’s the ultimate showstopper: rich and decadent and gorgeous with layers and big swoops of thick shiny frosting.
A couple notes: It stays moist for days, so it can be made a day or two in advance. The frosting needs to be chilled for about 2 hours, and stirred every 20 minutes or so; it’s worth it. Also, I’ve made it dairy-free a few times, with margarine, soy and dairy-free whipping cream.
Makes one 8-inch round layer cake
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks; 340 grams) unsalted butter, plus more for pans
1/2 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising)- (*I’ve used regular flour and it’s fine)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder, plus more for pans
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup milk
For the frosting:
24 ounces (680 grams) semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
4 cups whipping cream
Heat your oven to 350F/180C, with two racks in the center of the oven. Butter three 8x2inch round cake pans, and line the bottoms with parchment. Dust bottom and sides with cocoa powder, tapping out any excess.
Sift cocoa into a medium bowl, and whisk in boiling water. Set aside to cool.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on low speed until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes, scraping down the sides twice. Beat in vanilla. Drizzle in eggs, a little at a time, beating between each addition until the batter is no longer slick, scraping down the sides twice.
In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Whisk milk into reserved cocoa mixture. With mixer on low speed, alternately add flour and cocoa mixtures to the batter, a little of each at a time, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.
Divide batter evenly among the three prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of each layer comes out clean, 35-45 minutes, rotating the pans for even baking. Transfer layers to wire racks; let cool, 15 minutes. Turn out cakes, and return to racks, tops up, until completely cool.
Make the frosting: Place the chocolate chips and cream in a heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until combined and thickened, between 20-25 minutes. Increase the heat to medium low; cook, stirring, 3 minutes longer. Remove pan from heat, and stir in the corn syrup. Transfer frosting to a large metal bowl. Chill until cool enough to spread, about 2 hours, checking and stirring every 15-20 minutes. Use immediately.
Assemble: Remove parchment from bottoms of cakes. Reserve the prettiest layer for the top. Place one cake layer on a serving platter, and spread 1 1/2 cups chocolate frosting evenly over the top. Add the second cake layer, and spread with another 1 1/2 cups frosting. Top with the third cake layer. Cover outside of cake with the remaining 3 cups frosting, spreading it on in big decorative swoops. Get ready to celebrate!
*The cake keeps well for several days stored on the counter- wrapped with plastic wrap or beneath a glass dome.