THE HOSPITAL ODORS declared themselves when the elevator door opened. Louella, who had perfect perfume pitch, nearly gagged.
"Steady now, Lou," said Mrs. Pryzbylweski. "You know how you throw up sometimes from these smells."
"Don't remind me! I might do it!" Louella adjusted her scarf to cover her nose. A passing nurse looked at her funny.
They found Aunt Ella in Room 212, where she was recovering from a stroke. Louella's namesake, her father's oldest sister, looked bright-eyed and alert, wearing a beribboned pink bed jacket over her hospital gown. She tried to greet them but could only make raspy noises. Annoyed, she grabbed a little pad of paper and wrote, "Can't talk yet!" She then drew an arrow toward the adjacent bed, occupied by a woman who was grunting as she napped. "Snores!!!" wrote Aunt Ella.
"At night too?" yelled Louella's mother. Aunt Ella. pointing to her new hearing aid, grimaced. She nodded, and wrote, "Can't sleep!"
"Mom, you don't have to talk so loud. She can hear you now that she's got the hearing aid."
"Oh," said her mother, flustered. "I thought if you couldn't talk, you couldn't hear either. I mean, it seems to make sense like that, don't it?"
Aunt Ella smirked. She had never held a high view of her sister-in-law's intelligence.
"Have you asked to be moved?" asked Louella.
Her aunt nodded and shrugged. Louella's mother began talking about how Mason and his 16-year-old girlfriend were expecting a baby in February, and how she was looking forward to being a grandmother. Louella felt protective toward Aunt Ella, who had never married and could not look forward to grandchildren, illegitimate (like Mason's) or otherwise.
A woman wearing a badge came in. "Visiting hours are over," she announced briskly. "It's time for Miss P's speech therapy."
Louella looked at her watch. It was exactly 3 p.m. "Isn't it a little late to get started?" she asked.
"Have to fit in an hour of speech therapy every day," the woman replied, edging between Louella and her mother and beginning to ease Aunt Ella out of bed. Aunt Ella looked frantic.
"Wait!" said Louella. "So we were a little late because of a traffic jam on Charles Street! Can't we have a little more time?"
"Sorry, but procedures have to be followed," said the woman. "One hour of speech therapy, one of physical, and one of occupational, every day."
"But look at her! All she needs is speech therapy! Why can't she have three hours of that and skip the rest?"
The woman looked impatient. "The health plan allows us to bill for one hour of each, every day. They won't pay for more than one hour of one single therapy. If you don't like it, take it up with her HMO."
Aunt Ella, looking ruffled and unhappy, was hustled out of the room. She gave them a little wave.
"Somebody's gonna have to answer for this," said Louella.
"Oh, Lou, don't go making any trouble!" pleaded her mother