My mother-in-law Ms. Larda tells me she got a social disease. After I pick up my jaw off the floor, she says, “Modine! Get your mind out the gutter. It ain’t one of them transmission diseases you get from sex. Nothing like that.”
Turns out what she got is “trigger finger.” This is an actual medical condition. It’s on Google and everything. It means one of your fingers is temporarily paralyzed. In her case, it’s her middle finger. It won’t bend.
Now Ms. Larda sews a lot, and her hands get achy. She says rubbing them with Blue Plate mayonnaise usually helps, but that ain’t worked this time. She needs me to drive her to the doctor’s, because she can’t bend all her fingers around the wheel. “And suppose I get stopped by a cop, Modine. He ain’t going to understand about no trigger finger,” she says.
The doctor tells us this condition is often caused by doing repetitive movements with the affected finger. Ms. Larda informs him that she is not that kind of person. Not even when somebody cuts her off in traffic. “I just clench my hands on the wheel and pray for their souls, real loud. I learnt from the nuns,” she says. (Me too. I graduated from the same girls’ high school 20 years after her – Celibacy Academy, home of the world’s dullest confessions.)
The doctor says surgery might fix it, a shot in the hand with a really big needle might fix it, or she can take aspirin and wait until it gets better on its own. Ms. Larda chooses option three. “Just keep your hand in your pocket when you go out,” is the doctor’s advice.
“And for that, I put down a $20 co-pay,” she tells me on the way home. “Stop by the bank, Modine. I need some cash.”
We park and go to the ATM machine in front of the bank. Maybe because she is self-conscious about her finger, she keeps hitting the buttons wrong and the ATM decides she is a bank robber and sucks down her debit card.
So she puts her hand in her pocket, like the doctor said, and goes inside, and I follow her inside because it’s air-conditioned. The pocket ain’t much help, I think, because you can see the shape of that finger pointing out. The bank guard, who looks like Barney Fife, must notice it too, because he leaps up from his stool by the door and says, “Ma’m? You need something?”
Ms. Larda is already aggravated, and sort of snarls, “I need cash.” He backs up a little and says, “Everybody just keep calm.” She says, “Calm, schmalm, your ATM ate my debit card!” When she yanks her hand out her pocket to wave in the direction of the ATM, he flinches.
But she is through with him, and stomps over to the teller to get her money and card. On the way out, she stops to advise the guard that maybe he needs to lay off the coffee. “You don’t want to be jumpy when you’re guarding a bank,” she says.
We walk out, and who do we see across the street but old Sister Gargantua from Celibacy Academy. I yell “Hi, Sister,” and we both wave. But when this nun turns around, it’s not Sister Gargantua after all. So we both do that thing you do when you wave at someone by mistake, and you curl down your fingers and pretend to scratch your ear or something. Only Ms. Larda’s middle finger don’t curl. The nun stares at her with steely eyes.
We don’t know this nun, but we know “The Look.” Ms. Larda panics and makes the Sign of the Cross. With That Finger. The nun stomps off, but Ms. Larda is now hysterical.
“God’s going to strike me dead, Modine. There’s a bolt of lightning with my name on it coming right now,” she says.
We stare at the sky, and at her hand. And then she closes her fingers. All of them. She’s cured. Afterwards we talk about it. Did the mysterious nun cure her? The Sign of the Cross? Or did it just suddenly clear up on its own? If we knew, we’d be rich. Meanwhile, we got Blue Plate.