“Amour” — A conversation

“So, what did you think of the film?”

My daughter raises her eyes from the menu. “It was…intense.”

“Yes. I’d say that’s a good word to describe it: intense.”

We drove to the restaurant in separate vehicles directly from the cinema, where we had taken in a matinée showing of the 2012 Cannes Palme d’Or film “Amour.”

“What scene stuck in your mind the most?”

My daughter and I both agree on the same scene, the one that is never mentioned in any of the reviews I have read to date.

“I didn’t get the part about the pigeon, especially the second episode.”

“I’m not really sure I understood that myself. The first time round he shoos the bird out of the apartment window. The second time he closes the window first with the express purpose of capturing the bird. It’s not clear what he does after that.”

“Ready to order?” The Japanese waitress stands pencil straight by our table, clothed in black. After the scenes we just witnessed, what better color? I think.

“May I ask you a question first?” my daughter says. “What’s the difference between sushi and sashimi?”

“Ah, sushi is a mixture of raw fish and rice; sashimi is only raw fish.”

“I get it; thanks for explaining that. I think I’ll have a spicy tuna roll with a green garden salad on the side.”

“For you?” The waitress regards my face.

“I’ll try the dragon roll with a salad and a bowl of miso soup.”

“Very good.” The waitress holds her hand out for our menus and disappears down the aisle.

“I’ll tell you what really upset me,” my daughter says, taking a sip of soda. “The way the daughter spoke to her mother after she’d had the stroke. I mean, there the mother is, lying in bed, practically unable to speak; and her daughter’s talking a mile a minute about buying a house and interest rates and—it was so pathetic.”

“Almost as though the daughter couldn’t focus on anything but herself and her own emotional needs.”

“Exactly.”

The waitress reappears with the salads and the soup. We spread our napkins and pull the chopsticks from the paper wrappers.

“The actress did a great job, though,” my daughter says. “It was almost like she actually had a stroke in real life, she played it so well.”

“I think she got an award for her performance,” I say. “Best actress—I’m not sure what it’s called in Europe.”

“They both did a good job—both she and the guy, too.”

“A very realistic performance,” I agree.

The waitress stops by to clear the dishes and brings us our entrées.

“So, do you have to go back to look in on Evelyn and Randy this evening?” I ask my daughter.

“Technically, no. The hospice nurse might drop by. But I’ll probably give them a call just to check in. Evelyn feels better when I call.”

“Did you talk with the hospice nurse about her prognosis?”

“A little bit. She told me less than three months. I never noticed how yellow her eyes were before today.”

“That’s usually not a good sign when you’ve got liver cancer,” I say.

“I guess not.”

We turn to the food on our plates in silence. After a bit I say, “Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea for me to take you to see that particular movie.”

“No, I think it was good that I went. It brought up a bunch of stuff that I’m dealing with right now—even if it was hard to watch.”

“It’s always hard to watch,” I say, fumbling a piece of sushi with my chopsticks.

Emmanuelle Riva as Anne in Amour

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Winter advisory

"Winter Window" 2012 © Brian T. Maurer

Since acquiring an iPad, I’ve gotten used to checking the Weather Channel app every night before retiring. Most times the predictions are humdrum, but every once in a while I’m brought up short by an unanticipated forecast.

Last night the app carried a winter weather advisory. A major storm would strike our area shortly before noon today. The advisory called for 3 – 5 inches of snow over the course of the afternoon and night, ending in sleet and freezing rain.

I got up early this morning to run several errands before the storm. I topped off the tank in my car and brought back additional gasoline in a 2-gallon container for the snow blower, should the need arise. I pulled the snow shovels out of the garage and cleared extraneous debris from the driveway. Last night my wife had made a big pot of chicken soup for dinner. I turned on the burner and let it simmer. After working outside in the cold, there’s nothing like coming in to a bowl of steaming soup .

I gave myself a pat on the back, pleased that I had been able to prepare for the weather in advance. But even the best laid plans can’t anticipate everything.

Mid-morning I stared at a reply that popped up shortly after I e-mailed the editor at one of the medical journals I write for. Entitled “Away,” the automated message informed me that the editor would be indisposed for an undetermined period of time. Several personal contacts were listed, among them his spouse and granddaughter—not the sort of contacts that you would typically find in an automated e-mail.

Immediately, I shot off a couple of messages to some friends, asking whether they’d heard anything recently about the state of this editor’s health. I’m probably jumping to conclusions, I muttered under my breath as I pounded the keyboard; but I couldn’t help it—my clinical nose was twitching. I feared something was up.

The snow started to fall shortly before noon. Within an hour the yard was blanketed white. Snow lay on the bare branches of the maples in back of the house and accumulated on the cars parked in the street. Outside the window of my office it continued to come down steadily. This was certainly no ordinary snow, I mused, recalling the advisory. Such a rate of descent portended more than a mere dusting.

Another message popped into my Inbox. This one was from the editorial assistant. She confirmed my fears: the editor was indeed in the hospital. She didn’t know the particulars. She imagined that he wanted to keep things quiet—no fanfare, no fuss. She admitted that she was worried too. She would let me know as soon as she heard anything more. Meanwhile, outside the snow continued to fall.

Soup—piping hot, chocked full of fine noodles with bits of celery, carrots and corn. I lifted a spoonful from the edge of the shallow bowl to my lips and blew softly to cool it off. The dog perched at my side, eyeing the spoon and begging for cracker crumbs.

Years ago a friend and I had visited the editor at his townhouse. For lunch he had warmed up some homemade soup on the stove.

How different the hospital must have looked through his eyes from the bed. This esteemed professor emeritus who had attended so many patients over the course of his lengthy career was now at the mercy of his own attending physicians, a patient himself.

A thick layer of heavy wet snow accumulated on the driveway. I downed a cup of fresh brewed coffee, pulled on my cap and coat and stepped outside into the winter whiteness. I grabbed the shovel on the back porch and started pushing the snow off the driveway, herring-boning my way down the long expanse of macadam to the street. As I worked the snow continued to descend. The wet snow stuck to my woolen cap and my coat; soon I was blanketed with the wet whiteness.

“Do you tip your barber?” the editor had written after reading the manuscript of my piece Haircut. “I still do, though people tell me it’s no longer done.”

“When I read your latest, I was reminded of the stout cigars I used to love when I was stationed overseas.”

“Crafted with your characteristic twist, served up with a touch of grace—imprimatur!

Imprimatur!—that was his stamp of approval: Let it be printed! I learned a bit of Latin phraseology through our casual correspondence. He was a wonderful mentor, even when he wasn’t aware that he was teaching.

By the time I reached the street the upper driveway was once again covered in snow. I shouldered my shovel and trudged back to the top. For the second time that morning I threw myself into my work.

Afterwards, I pulled the car into the driveway off the street. My wife let our little white terrier out and handed me the leash. We took a short walk around the block. Several times the dog stopped to shake the snow from her rough coat. She bounded through the snow like a miniature sheep, tugging at her leash.

Back home I brushed the snow from my cap and coat in the mud room. I dried the dog with an old towel, kicked off my boots and stepped into the warm kitchen. The soup still simmered on the back burner of the stove.

I hurried upstairs to check my e-mail. A new message from the editorial assistant informed me that the editor had suffered a stroke during cardiac catheterization. No one knew anything more at that point. I dashed off a quick reply, thanking her for the timely update.

Outside the snow continues to descend. The bare maple branches bend precariously under the weight of the wet snow. It will only be a matter of time until one of the weaker ones snaps.