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Open Features: Petronella In The Lift

...As it surged up to the eighteenth floor Petronella felt her stomach do a sudden drop and a wave of nausea swept over her. Then, suddenly, with a tremendous bump the lift came to a stop.

"Damn!” swore Willem irritably. “It looks as if the bloody thing is stuck.”...

Marianne Hall brings us another of her delicious Petronella sories.

Petronella was on the way to the specialist. Her heart had been doing funny things lately. One night she thought it would bounce right out of her chest. It was the strangest feeling just lying there with her heart going fifty to the dozen. She felt she was heading down a very steep hill and that at any moment she would tumble over and down.

The specialists’ rooms were in the centre of town. Willem could not find parking so he dropped her off at the entrance to the building.

“Wait for me at the door and please don’t go wandering off,” he instructed.

“Ja, Ja,” she replied, affronted. After all she wasn’t a child, she was his mother and later on she would remind him of that.

Next to the entrance a street vendor had set up his stall. Two rows of yellow plastic plates neatly arranged on the pavement were piled high with tomatoes and oranges. He was spraying water from a can on to rolls of spinach which were tied up in bundles and piled on a rickety wooden bench.

A buxom woman strolled by carrying a large shopping bag. She stopped and pointed to the tomatoes.

“Five rand,” said the vendor.

Five rand for five tomatoes! Petronella was enraged. This was daylight robbery. She stepped forward.

“He’s cheating you,” she said, pointing to the vendor. “Go to the supermarket. There you can get a whole packet for five rand.”

What followed was a loud screaming match between the woman and the stall keeper.

There was so much shouting and gesturing that soon a small interested crowd gathered around. Two dronkies came rolling by. One lost his balance and fell against a thickset bull of a man. He was rewarded with a sock in the eye.

Petronella stood at the doorway clutching her handbag. What a dangerous place – so much arguing and fighting.

Just then, Willem arrived. He had to force his way through the mob. I should never have left her here, he thought, as he hurried her into the lift.

As it surged up to the eighteenth floor Petronella felt her stomach do a sudden drop and a wave of nausea swept over her. Then, suddenly, with a tremendous bump the lift came to a stop.

"Damn!” swore Willem irritably. “It looks as if the bloody thing is stuck.” He had a urgent meeting in an hour and this was all he needed. Petronella clung frantically on to him. She was claustrophobic and felt as if everything was closing in on her. She started to panic and tiny wet beads appeared upon her brow and she was gripped by an icy coldness.

“Ek kan nie asem haal nie,” she gasped.

Willem was clearly worried. “Sit on the floor ma. Put your head on your knees and close your eyes.”

She did as she was told.

“Now take a slow breath.” He sat down beside her, holding her hand, his arm around her shoulders.

Gradually her fear subsided. The cold of the steel floor of the lift penetrated through her and she felt like vomiting.

“Stay calm.” Willem advised the other people in the lift. They were also starting to panic. Some were already sitting on the floor. “I’ll keep pressing the emergency button.”

At one stage the lights went out. It was a full eight minutes before the lift started up again. By the time it got to the eighteenth floor a sort of rigor mortis had set in and Willem had to carry Petronella out of the lift. He rushed to the specialist’s rooms with her in his arms and the receptionist looked up in alarm.

“Come this way,” she said, leading him to the surgery.

Petronella was deposited on a bed and covered with a blanket. It was warm in the room and slowly she felt the circulation returning to her limbs and she dozed off.

The specialist arrived and Willem shook her awake.

“Get undressed, ma,” he said, easing her off the bed. He closed the curtains and she heard him speaking to the specialist.

She removed her coat then slipped off her jersey, The dress had to be unbuttoned right down the front. She slowly pulled the petticoat up and over her head. Then she sat down on the floor to pull off her bowling shoes and roll down the black stockings. Petronella had a thing about bare feet so she put the shoes on again pulling the laces very tight. She kept on her bra and bloomers. One could catch pneumonia sitting there naked. Besides, she did not want the specialist to come on to her.

Petronella was short and battled to get back on to the bed. She grabbed the rubber draw sheet for support then found herself on the floor with the sheet now torn into two. In a thrice both Willem and the specialist hauled her back up again.

Petronella was in a daze. She hated doctors. They generally ignored her and she found that the more she tried to enlighten them the more detached they became.

“Please take off her shoes,” the specialist demanded of Willem. The knots presented a problem so he simply snapped off the laces.

“Now look what you’ve done,” wailed Petronella, as her bunioned feet came into view.

The specialist was feeling very irritated. He had been in the operating theatre all morning and had lost one of his patients. He found it most difficult to get his stethoscope in under her bra because it clung to her like a snakeskin. The woman had never been a fried egg chesty and her breasts reminded him of the prize pumpkins that his father cultivated on his plot.

“Breathe in, breathe out,” he commanded. Petronella was always confused with the “in”and “out” requests. Just as she was breathing in, he said “out”, so she had to cut the “in” short and hurriedly breathe “out”. She found herself gasping for air and had to be calmed down.

The woman is neurotic, he thought, looking at his watch and trying to control his temper. It crossed his mind to charge her a double fee.

As he moved down to her stomach, Petronella felt quite tingly. She hoped the elastic in her bloomers was tight enough. She remembered the time her friend Sannie’s bloomers had travelled down to her ankles because the elastic had snapped and she always made very sure that this would never happen to her.

Willem and the specialist conferred whilst she slowly put back the layers of clothing. Try as she did she could not make out what they were saying.

“Ma, you stay here whilst I get the car,” decided Willem. He was definitely not walking her through town and would rather risk a fine in a non-parking zone.

Twenty minutes he was back and in a hell of a hurry.

“No, no, no. Definitely not,” objected Petronella as Willem tried to manoeuvre her into the lift.

Without further ado he picked her up and started down the stairs. At the fifth landing he was so short of breath that he put her down.

“Why don’t you use the lift?” asked a passing woman incredulously. He glared at her but did not have the energy to reply. By the time he got to the ground floor he was totally pooped.

A traffic cop was hovering around his car when he made his appearance with Petronella still in his arms. The cop was about to write out a ticket.

“Sorry, officer. I had to carry the old lady down eighteen flights of steps as she refused to get into the lift after it got stuck earlier on,” explained Willem.

The cop looked at Willem with empathy.

“Jeez, man. Your old lady, heh? Got the same problem myself.”
He put the book away into the cubbyhole of his vehicle.
Then he helped Willem ease Petronella into the car and, blaring his siren, escorted them all the way out of town.


* k kan nie asem haal nie – I cannot get my breath.

© Marianne Hall


To read more of Marianne's engaging and amusing Petronella stories, along with articles on serious matters, please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=marianne+hall


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