|Ted turned his attention from the TV to his mother-in-law, wearing a blanket over her knees, and scraping her fork across the dinner plate in her lap, separating bits of food.
“Cybil, it's just lamb, nothing bad. Try some. Be adventurous; go on, you'll love it.”
Cybil, however, paid Ted no mind. She continued to pick, prod, and push the food about the plate.
“Donna's kebab, you said?”
“Not Donna, as in the girl’s name. Doner kebab… as in Greek!” Frank retorted, shaking his head, and woofing down another large chunk of meat.
“Well, all I can say is, it may be sold as lamb, but then again, it may not actually be lamb.” She replied, suspiciously prodding the food with her fork.
“Look, Cybil, if you're not hungry… then...”
“Well I'm not this hungry!” Cybil interrupted, holding up to eye level something squirmy hanging from her fork.
“Then give it over to me, Cybil. I'm starving. Jenny will fix you something when she gets home from the launderette."
“What happened to you, Ted? When you married my daughter you were such a nice young man?”
“Things change, Cybil. We move on. We grow old and we die. And if we don't eat anything, we die a lot quicker. So my advice to you is, eat while you still can!”
“Damn and hell…are you hungry or not?” Ted blasted.
“Maybe...just a little.” She replied, her voice sounding meek.
“Then eat! Stop wailing. Or maybe I should spell out the results of self-induced starvation?”
Ted, having lost his patience, expertly retrieved the TV remote with a sock-clad foot from its hiding place, between the settee cushions, and didn’t notice Cybil circling the meat around her plate before cautiously stabbing a green chili pepper, having first inspected it for insects. Ted switched on the TV and watched with mindless distraction, turning his head just in time to see his mother-in-law stuff a large green chili pepper into her mouth. He leapt from the settee in an attempt to stop her...but was too late. There followed a long pause, then the old girl began to shuffle in the chair. Her facial features started to contort and wrinkle, her eyes blinked ferociously and became watery. She had stopped chewing. A moment later those same eyes had become wild and piercing. Ted sensed the pain behind them, the ferocity of the chili pepper burning in her throat; sending violent thoughts to her withered brain. He watched in terrified awe as her weak hands gripped the armrests, her teeth grinding, her body shaking as she wobbled from side-to-side in the chair, while her vocal chords emitted a last suffering whine just as her eyes rolled back into her head. Ted could not decide whether he should race for some water or dive for the phone. He chose to do the latter, cursing his choice of Greek food as he dialed the emergency services.
“Ambulance please...what? No...ambulance...my mother-in-law, she's eaten a chili pepper and is choking to death...what?... it happened last week! Idiot! Of course it just happened! 202 Fore Street...yes above the ‘In-A-Spin' launderette...what do you mean twenty minutes, she'll be dead in two! The best you can do...what does that mean, my mother-in-law is riding the lightning here! I understand ...be quick...age?...I don't know…anything between eighty and a hundred...she's pretty damn old. Just hurry, okay.” Ted slammed down the phone, and then turned to Cybil. She was slumped forward in the armchair.
“Oh my God! I've killed my mother-in-law with a kebab!” He blurted out, jumping over the coffee table to be at her side. He grabbed her skeletal hand, and felt for a pulse.
“Com'on, Cybil, you know your daughter will kill me when she learns I’ve killed you; don't you be dying on me now. I've already paid for your flying lessons!” He felt her forehead, and then shook her wildly. But she didn't respond.
At that moment Ted heard a key turn in the door, when it opened, his wife, Jenny, was standing in the open doorway with an armful of laundry.
“Ted, can you help me wi…oh my god! What the heck are you doing? You'll kill her!”
“I'm trying to save her, honey. I think she's dead already!”
“What!” Jenny cried, dropping the laundry to the floor, and shoving Ted aside.
“I think I killed her with a kebab. I called emergency services, they're on the way.”
Jenny placed an ear on her mother's chest.
“She's alive...just. Her pulse is very weak...she's hanging on.”
“You think she'll be okay to fly?”
“Fly…fly…she's an inch from the damn grave!”
“But she'll be okay, right?”
“She's unconscious. How did this happen.”
“Well…er, okay, so she said she was hungry. I fancied kebab myself. We were watching TV, so I ordered a take-out from ‘Artburn’… you know, Al's place down the street. I think she ate a green chili. I didn't see it, well...no, I did see it, just as she ate it, by then it was too late.”
“You gave an eighty-eight year old woman Greek food, with green chili peppers?”
“You know how she likes to try new things, honey. I thought she would like a change. The menu said nothing about there being green chili peppers.”
In the distance sirens could be heard approaching. Ted, after first pacing up and down, insisted on gathering up his mother-in-law into his arms, and carrying her toward the door. Jenny asked him to leave her where she was, but Frank, stubborn and thinking he could help, gathered up the lifeless eighty-five-pound body. Then watched in horror as the second tragedy started to happen in what felt like slow motion. She lunged in an attempt to move the laundry, but was too late.
Ted's legs gave way underneath him as he tripped forward, his clean underwear wrapped around his ankles. The thrust of the Ted’s falling gave Cybil’s airborne trajectory real momentum. She crash landed somewhere between the coffee table and the rocking chair, hitting her head on the bookshelf, knocking to the floor a Dummy’s Guide to Health and Nutrition.
Jenny screamed, and then climbed over her husband, who was then slumped over the coffee table after making an attempt to catch Cybil. There seemed no way the old girl could survive such a hard landing. Gray's Anatomy was just beginning on the TV.
“Hell, Ted! Now you've definitely killed her,” Jenny exclaimed, sobbing. On the TV Meredith was telling Derek Shepherd that she was going to leave him. Meredith was sobbing too.
“Maybe...honey, maybe she was already dead, you know, even before she hit the floor!” Ted responded, choosing to opt for the best of any bad outcome; which just happened to be better than one where her insides were being charred to a crisp by a chili fire.
When the doorbell rang, Ted opened the door. Two paramedics were standing there.
“Hurry, please. My mother-in-law was choking when I called you. I think she may be dead.”
One paramedic, the one who bore an incredible resemblance to Vice President, Joe Biden, knelt beside the old girl and looked over her with concerned suspicion. Cybil was ashen, and then he noticed a rather large bump on the back of her head. He grew suspicious as to why this old woman was spread-eagled across the floor, one furry slipper gone from her foot, and chili sauce dripping off her chin. The second paramedic, acknowledging the informative nod from his partner, immediately reached for his radio.
“Better send the police here,” he told the dispatcher, “…this looks suspiciously like there’s been a vicious beating!” He said, sounding as though he was Dr. Phil.
“What? No...no...” Ted insisted. “She was choking, and then went unconscious. I was carrying her to the door, trying to save precious seconds. I fell over the laundry. Here, see…” He demonstrates, removing a pair of whitey-tighties from around his ankles, and holding them up. “Really, she flew forward as I fell. I think she may have already been dead in flight! Ask my wife.”
“That's right. He was only doing what he thought was best. There's no malice...is she alive?”
“Step away, please. Both of you. Let me get a better look at her.”
The paramedic screened the old lady, first taking her pulse, then he opened a small case with some complicated medical equipment inside.
On the TV, Dr. Mark Sloan was busy explaining a procedure to a new intern.
‘The two major complications of atherosclerosis are acute myocardial infarction and acute ischemic stroke. Both are life-threatening conditions characterized by the abrupt cessation of blood flow to respective organs, resulting in an infarction. It is possible to limit the extent of infarction with early intervention. In both conditions, minutes count.’
There fell a complete silence.
Ted reached for the remote, but not before Dr. Mark had invited the new intern out for a Greek meal. Jenny snatched the remote from Ted’s hand and hit the power button. The TV shut down.
“Hmmm...very weak, but alive.” The paramedic announced, in somber fashion. A flutter of relief beat through Ted's heart. “Let's get her to the hospital.' And he instructed his partner to help lift Cybil. "You two wait here. I'll give the police a report over the radio, but we must get her to the hospital immediately.”
“She has a flying lesson on Monday,” Ted announced.
“Honey! Please!” Jenny said, putting her head in her hands.
“Well… I think she was really looking forward to it, you know.”
“I think she's done enough flying, honey. Let's just make sure she's going to be okay.”
The paramedics lifted Cybil onto the gurney, and two police officers arrived as they were squeezing her through the doorway. The first paramedic whispered to one officer.
“These two called in that an old woman was choking. I’ve only done a short examination, there’s nothing in her throat, but there maybe a couple of broken ribs and she’s certainly taken a blow to the skull! I’d get your handcuffs out! Suspicious I'd say.”
One policeman, the one clearly showing signs of early baldness, takes out his notebook.
The paramedics continued down the stairs with Cybil showing no sign of awareness.
“Look, officer, nothing but an accident happened here. I need to go with mother to the hospital” Jenny pleaded.
“I'm sorry, madam. We need to get a statement from each of you.”
The policeman was then interrupted by a knock at the door. It was Al Pashwa, from the Greek restaurant. Ted looked at him blankly. The officer explained that an investigation was in progress, and asked him to come back.
Al stepped back. Then spoke.
“I just wanted to tell Ted, my delivery boy brought him the wrong order. I hope it hasn't ruined their evening. I’ll willingly give him a free take out for any inconvenience.”
Ted peered over the policeman's left shoulder.
“Hey Al, no problem, mate. Do you want to buy a flying lesson for your mother by any chance?”