Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Check Engine Light

My mother had called my cell phone,
and I let it go to voicemail
because I wasn’t mentally ready
to talk to her yet.
She did not leave a message.
About half an hour later,
she called again,
but I missed it.
About 10 minutes after that,
she called a third time
and left a brief message
in a rueful, anxious tone.
“Hi, honey, it’s your mother.
I’m afraid I have a little problem.
Please call me as soon as you can.”
Now, when my mother says
she has a little problem,
it could be anything from
the need for grocery money
or a tiff with her aunt
or a colony of rabid bats
that have taken up residence in her attic.
So I braced myself
and returned her call.

“Oh, honey!” she exclaimed,
then launched into a story
with a completely unnecessary intro
about her trip to the grocery store
(broasted chicken was on sale!),
but the tale reached its climax
when she was driving home
and realized that her “check engine” light
had illuminated.
“Well, Mom, that could mean a lot of things,”
I explained.  “You’ll just have to take the car in.”

“You know, my check engine light hasn’t come on
in a long time, and I just really hate that check engine light
because what if it’s something really expensive
and my car has close to 100,000 miles on it,
and what do we do if it’s a really big repair bill?”

“We’ll take care of it,” I assured her.  “I can call
Dave if I need help.”

“Yes, please do,” she said, “I just hate asking you
because I know you help so much, and you’re such
a big help, but you just can’t control when that
blankety blank check engine light comes on,
and you know I don’t drive it around that much,
mainly just to the grocery store and back
and the doctor’s,
and I do try to keep the bills down as much as I can…”

“I know, Mom.”

“The car has been running really good until this,
and I was almost home,
but then that check engine light just lit up,
and sometimes I wait a day or two
to see if it goes off by itself,
but no.”

“Well, just take the car in,
and we’ll see what the problem is,”
I reminded her, glancing now at my watch.

“I think the check engine light is just the worst thing,”
she reflected.  “It could be something really simple
or something really expensive. 
But what if it’s something really expensive?”

I felt like we had come full circle
with this conversation,
and not much more information
was to be gleaned.
I knew after she hung up with me,
she’d call her Aunt Sue
and maybe her “Slovak Friend Mary”
or Charlene in Colorado
and discuss this latest troubling turn of events,
her anxiety running endlessly
like a hamster in a wheel.

“I gotta go now, Mom,” I said,
cutting her off in the middle of a sentence
about the precise moment
the check engine light revealed itself.

“Oh, okay, honey.  Are you at work?”


“Well, I guess I just have to take the car in,
I hope it’s not too expensive.
I do try to keep the bills down.
I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Great, Mom. Talk to you tomorrow. Love you.”

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