The Sprained Ankle

Mother of three children and grandmother of two, BELLE F. WINESTINE began writing fifty years ago. After her graduation from the Unirersity of Wiscansin, she was a reporter on a daily Montana newspaper and then manager and editor of a weekly newspaper. I hare two un produced plays, she writes us, “an unpublished book, half a dozen unpublished children s books (written for my grandchildren), and scores of unpublished stories.”But here is one story the Atlantic is proud to publish.



MADAME had gone down in the lift only an hour ago, looking like a full-in-bloom flower on a short stem. She was a trifle wrinkled, but still looked ready to meet the world’s demands. She was a very small woman, very small; but she pushed her gray head up high, and she walked like a very large person, with steps that told you her feet were firmly on the ground. Assured and challenging to look at, even though she must be a very, very old woman — perhaps fifty or sixty years.

She had smiled and said “Shalom ” to me, to let me know she could speak a little Ivrit, if only that one word; and she was pleased as an Arab who has just been given a present of five camels when she learned I could speak and understand the English of the United States. In that ride of thirty seconds down in the lift, we became true friends, and she felt, I could see, that she could depend on me, come hamsin or frostbitten orange groves.

Me, I am Moishe. I was not born in Israel: I am not one of (hose sabras who feel indestructibly that they made Israel with their own entrails and their own wits and a few small weapons (though I did carry messages of importance twice during the War of Independence, and performed several risky services, just to have a toe under the structure of the new country). I am only one who came six years ago with many other children who also no longer had parents, and who out of a bad dream and weeks of floating in a leaky, crowd-pushing ship, one day stretched out a foot and found under it earth in which to take root and bloom into prophets. The City of the Children became my home and my school; and in my play and my study I sometimes remembered my old pink-cheeked Bubba affirming her belief that I was born to be a great man.

Now I am sixteen, and I am called in occasionally as an extra in this fine hotel in Jerusalem, paging the guests who have no telephone in their rooms, and sometimes running the lift for Avram, who is also an extra. Avram is almost twenty, a big fellow; he has business with a man at the gas station down below Julians Way and must be absent at odd times for half an hour or so. I do not yet wear the white wool coal of the older employees of the hotel, but I do have a fine short blue coat with a little point in the center of the back and gold braid on the collar and twenty-three brass buttons down the front. I do not look like a prime minister or a prophet, but I am attending the University during the season, and I am on the way.

It was already night when Madame strode out of the hotel, and now, an hour later, I beheld her entering by the great revolving door at the entrance of the lobby, leaning completely on the arm of her taxi driver and looking yellow as a little faded apricot and full of pain. One foot she held in the air and the challenge was no longer on her face. She was shaking badly. Avram, who had just returned from his conference down the street, and had removed his coat which he always threw over his uniform when he went out on unofficial business, rushed to Madame’s other side and, sharing her small weight, tried to help her to the lift.

“Nest-ce pas!” Madame said to Avram through teeth locked with pain. “Nicht! Please call Moishe. He will understand English.”

“I, too, understand English,” Avram said in Ins most to-an-ambassador manner.

Madame was not listening. “Call Moishe,”she panted. “He will understand.”

Hut already I had rushed to her side, while Avram looked at me in a not friendly way and Madame, with her arms still linked in the driver’s and Avram’s arms, held out to me the big leather bag she carried, and said, “ Moishe, ask the man how much is the taxi, and pay him. The money is in the litlle red purse inside.”

I felt suddenly swollen, liken Minister of Finance handling other people’s money, giving out from uncountable millions coins for this, coins tor t hat, with neither personal regret nor enthusiasm. I opened the bag. In my feeling of sudden largeness I could see only a quantity of many, many small things, packed tightly together like the wrinkled black Greek olives squeezed against each other and against the walls of the keg that contains them. Even through her pain Madame could see my confusion. “ Fool around, she said, her teeth knocking together, while a small crowd gathered around us. “ Feel around and you will find it.

“Feelaround” was something I had not learned in the English language, and I felt I was betraying the responsibility Madame placed in me, especially as Avram seemed to be having difficulty in not taking the bag from my hands.

“What is the fare?” I said to the driver. Somehow in moments of great crisis wisdom suddenly wraps itself around you and you understand that the world is created with reasonableness.

“One pound, twenty,” the driver said, still supporting his half of Madame and eager to be off to nnolher fare.

I put my hand in my trouser pocket. One pound, twenty, is no small amount. How would I be carrying so much? In this hotel of ours, there is a service charge on the guest s bill instead of tips, but occasionally a guest will give you a piece of chocolate or even a money tip if you have performed the paging with perfection; and as wisdom comes to pull you out of a dark situation, so the reasonableness of creation sees to it also that you leave the entire week’s tips in your pocket (if you are not Avram), and I drew from my pocket 132 piastres.

“It can be charged on Madame ‘s bill, said the Information Clerk; but I handed the driver a pound and twenty, and after a swift debate in my mind should I tip him or should I not, I decided it is not for a Minister of Finance to give tips. “We can set lie it another time,”I said to Madame, and dosed her bag. In this moment of intoxication, I did not care if we settled it or not. The taxi driver turned his half of Madame over to me and left.

“Is there a doctor in the hotel?" Madame asked at large.

“We will call one instantly , Madame,”the Information Clerk said, separating himself and his white wool coat, from the group around us. “He will be at your room in a few minutes.”

“Or a few hours,” Avram said under his breath.

The little crowd parted, and with Madame hopping on one fool and bearing down on Avram and me in tiny jerks across the lobby, we went to the lift and up to Madame’s floor.

When we got Madame out of the lift, Avram said to me in Ivrit, “Her room is way down at the other end of the corridor. It is long walk. I think I will pick her up and carry her.”Avram is u very lag man, and it would he no more to him than carrying a sack of corn. I, I am on the short side and the muscles of my arms and back do not yel cover my bones like Av ram’s, lint a resistance took hold of me, that Avram should take over the entire situation, and I said swiftly, also in Ivrit, “No. ‘hat she would not like. We will clasp hands like a chair, and together we will carry her down the corridor.”

I explained to Madame how we would manage, and she sat on our hands and put her arms about our necks, and with Avram bending almost double to equalize her position, we proceeded flown the hall to her room. Madame drew her key out of her upper clothing, Avram unlocked the door with one hand, and we carried her in and set her on her bed. She looked so like an injured small hen we could not think of leaving her, though at the other end of the corridor the lift button was buzzing.

“There is aspirin on the shelf over the washbowl.” Madame said with weariness. “Please bring it wil h a glass of water.”

“Pardon, Madame,”Avram said, “you shall not take aspirin before the doctor arrives. You shall ve able to tell him where the pain is when he pushes the foot,” I had not credited Avram with so much medical wisdom. I think he is wasting his time on the lift.


WE STOOD there, Avram and I, and wailed for the doctor. Madame sal on the lied, her costly hat at a slope over her left face, her small brown-spotted hands clutching the edge of the mattress, her injured foot stuck out in front of her, bulging like a stuffed pillow over her shoe. I had a profound impulse to straighten Madame’s hat, but at the other end of the hall the lift button was still buzzing.

“Go,” Avram said to me, “and hang the sign on all the floors.”

I did not like to leave, but we could not let the buzzing continue, lest the manager come to see what was keeping two of us off the lift at one time. I ran back up the hall and took all the cards from behind the door of the lift and hung “Out of Order” on all the floors where the lift makes its ups and downs. Then I hurried again to Madame’s room. As I passed the wide marble stairway a small worried man with spectacles and a square little canvas ha" was climbing with heavy breathing up the thick pink carpet of the steps.

“’ou are the doelor:" J asked him.

“I am the doctor,”he sighed. His gray hair stood out in moist little spears around his brown, wrinkled face.

W hen he achieved the last step, I led him down the corridor and into Madame’s room. Madame w as st ill shaking, and tears of relief came to her eyes when she saw I was bringing the doctor.

The doctor stood in front of her for a small moment saving nothing. There was not very much of him, except folds of brown skin around his drooping eyes, and folds also hanging down his cheeks like a small worn-out rhinoceros. Mis coat also hung in folds and was of no particular color.

“Now tell me quietly, if you can,”he said like a father talking to a very young child, “what has happened to you,”

“This!” Madame stuck out her foot still farther toward the doctor, her teeth clicking together like castanets. “I called on a friend,”she said finally, in careful, slow words as though she felt he could not possibly understand the Knglish, And then she turned to me. “Tell him,”she said to me, “I called on my friend who lives maybe ten blocks away. I finished our conversation, I called a taxi.

I said ‘Good night.’ I went alone down the outside stairway to the garden gate. And when the handrail stopped, I thought it was the end of the stairs. It was black dark. And I stepped off toward a gate at the side. But it was not the hot tom of the stairs. It was only a landing. And I dropped two or three feel down in the darkness, standing on my ankle instead of on my sole. It was terrible pain. I think I spoiled her roses.

All this time Madame was talking to me and the doctor listened with great patience and no resentment like Avram’s at Madame’s assumption that he could not speak Knglish.

“And how long ha ve you been shaking like this?" the doctor asked, carefully removing Madame’s shoe, of which the fine leather had become very scratched in her falling. And the nylons! The nvlons were worthless to give even to the Persian chambermaid.

“Well—” Madame thought a long time as though to he very accurate, like just so much folding of eggs into a cholla that should not spoil. “It began maybe three, four minutes after I fell. Then the taxi came.”

“You tried walking on it?" The doctor was feeling the ankle with lenderness all around. “How did you get to the taxi:”

“He carried me, the driver,”Madame said, as though there could be no other way. “I cannot seem to slop shaking. It goes on by itself.”

The doctor was pushing the puffy foot has way and that. ‘Yes,” he said. “ The tendons have been torn from the bone. It causes a shock, a sudden drop in the blood sugar. You will eat a little sugar or a little candy, and the shaking will stop in a few minutes. The blood picks up t lie sugar quickly.”I could see Avram taking in all this and almost completing his medical education with it.

Madame was looking up at the doctor with eyes like a camel thal waits to he told what next to do.

“You have some sugar: Or some candy ?" the doctor asked.

Heady in the emergency, Avram readied in his pocket and drew out two small squares of sugar neatly wrapped in a worn piece of yellow paper. The squares of sugar he had doubt less borrowed from the bar absent-mindedly. He unwrapped the sugar and offered one to Madame.

“You are a very good boy,”Madame said to him carefully, as if to penetrate ihe thick wall between his language and hers.

“Take! Take!" Avram said.

Madame looked at the paper on which (he two cubes lay, noting that the paper had become demoralized in Avram’s pocket, also a little of the sugar. “Take!" Avram said again, and with his long, bony finger and thumb, his little finger curled with elegance, lie picked up a piece of sugar from the paper in lib hand and placed it to Madame’s mouth. She opened her pinched lips and the thing was accomplished.

“ You have aspirin?" the doctor asked Avram.

“Ken,”Avram said, his frrit conquering his Knglish in the swift plans going on in his head. “We have aspirin.”He stepped to the running hot-and-cold in the corner of ihe room and swept half a dozen small bottles into his very large palmhand, with his big thumb curling out like an acanthus leaf, He offered them to Madame. Madame, without study, picked out the correct bottle, shook out a pellet, and Avram restored the bottles TO the hot-and-cold shelf, He turned on the cold and brought to Madame a glass of water.

“It has not been boiled,”Madame said, protesting with weakness againsi what she knew was soon to be another accomplished fact. She swallowed the pellet.

“Now.”said the doctor, himself going over to the hot-and-cold, “we will put on a compress.” He took Madame’s two towels from the rack and held the small one under the running hot. “You will remove the slocking,”he said ov er his shoulder.

Av ram made a move to assist, but Madame with skill and delicacy made three little pinches through her clothing and released the supports and pushed down the now extinct nylon. The whole foot was puffed out plenty and was turning purple. Avram watched with the eyes of a medical student searching for a short cut to somebody elsc’s health, His eyes were frowning and his lips were drawn back from his teeth, ready to wince for Madame if the doctor caused her pain.

“ This will feel good,”the doctor said, approaching with the wet towel. “Not hot. Not cold. Simply moist. It removes the swelling and the pain. A few drops of alcohol we must sprinkle on it. You have—?”

Automatically Avram’s hand went to his hip pocket, then slowed reluctantly. Madame watched him, with hope in her eyes. He slowly drew from his pocket the small individual bottle of brandy he had also borrowed from the bar and poured its contents into Madame’s empty water glass. Madame was about to raise it to her lips.

“Not for drinking,” the doctor said. “For the compress.” He dipped his fingers into the liquid and sprinkled a few drops on the moist compress. “It helps with the pain,” he said, and wrapped the compress around Madame’s foot. Avram ‘s hand went involuntarily toward the glass with the remaining liquor, and then fell defeated to his side. A look of not letting yourself do what you most want to do nested in his eyes.

The doctor covered the moist towel with the dry one. “Now you will get to bed quickly, he said with tenderness, “and you will sleep good. You have something to sleep?

“Nembutal?” Madame asked the doctor. She was still shaking like an Arab caught stealing three Israeli cows.

“Good. Nembutal is excellent, the doctor said. Madame took the proper bottle from Avram and shook out one pellet, and Avram brought again unboiled water from the cold, and she drank without question.

The doctor picked up his case and turned to Madame. “Vou will rest tomorrow. If there is still too much pain I will make an appointment for you to go to the X-ray specialist.

Madame turned to me. “ Tell him Thank you. He is very kind,” and before I could tell him, she turned to the doctor. “ What do I owe you, Doctor?” she asked, pulled into action by necessity.

“Five pounds,” he answered her promptly. I could see Avram making up his mind to be a doctor.

“In my bag, Madame said to me. Hut Avram had already picked up the bag from the bed and, opening it, entirely brave by what it included, turned it upside down on the bed. He picked out the small red leather pocket book and, with considerable restraint for him, handed it to Madame. Madame snapped it open, looked at its many rolled-up contents, and handed it back to Avram. “Give the doctor five pounds,” she said with great tiredness.

Avram took out paper notes rolled around like many layers of strudel, and separated from them five pounds which he handed to the doctor with a gesture of paying off the National Debt, which in Israel is no small thing. Then he gathered up the belongings of the bag, which lay on Madame’s crimson feather-bed, and stuffed them back into the bag. I do not know if Avram will cut a great melon in the world; he is already twenty and has not yet attained the white wool coat of the lobby staff. Hut this I can say: when il comes to giving out to the helpless, he will not be the last one in the queue.

The doctor placed the five pounds in his wallet, pretending there had been no money transaction to decrease his scientific knowledge, placed his card with his address and telephone number on ihe little table beside the bed, and, bowing to Madame, left the room.


MADAME was shaking almost not at all by this time, and I was about to ring for the maid to put her to bed, when Avram prevented by saying in Ivrit, “The maid speaks only French, German, Arabic, and Rumanian. No English. We can manage t his by ourselves.”

“Madame speaks German and French. She told me herself.”

“Yes, German and French when she is healthy to summon words. But injured, she speaks only English.” He went to the wardrobe and, opening the door, selected a small garment which he judged to be a bathrobe, and tossed it on the bed. Then he lifted the pillow from Madame’s bed and took from under it the folded-up pale lacy night clothing of Madame, possibly nylon. Avram’s long fingers clutched it a swift moment before he tossed it on the bed beside the robe. You could see his eyes picking up the pounds he could get for such a priceless tidbit in Israel, and then denying himself the numerical amusement of such a deliberation.

In Madame’s state of weariness perhaps the aspirin and the Nembutal were already encroaching upon her, for she stared into ihe air as though she could go no farther.

“Pardon, Madame,” Avram said gently, “we will assist you somewhat.” He searched delicately around and released a zipper here and there. One suspected Avram has had experience in these ihings. Then throwing the small robe about Madame’s shoulders like a cape, he somehow disrobed the top half of Madame without seeming to look at her.

“The other stocking, Madame, if you will release, please,” he said, taking off Madame’s other fine-made shoe. Madame twisted a bit and gave little pinches through her lower elolhing, and the scrntched-up nylon slid down along the good limb, and Avram drew it off.

“Place the arm on my shoulder,” Avram told Madame, “and try to stand a moment on the good foot, and we will draw off the dress.” He said it with such quiet, fatherly reason that Madame did as she was told. Avram held the robe aboul Madame’s stature and, nodding at her skirt, said to me, “Pull!”

The garment came off in one piece, which was a pleasant knowledge to place on my list: and without further instruction, Avram picked Madame up in his arms, I lifted the covers from the bed, and Avram placed Madame between the sheets. We covered her up and placed her bag on the little table next to the block of call-buttons; and with a look of speculation and regret at the lacy nylon nightdress still lying at the foot of the bed (there is no nylon in Israel, actually no nylon at all; and when it can be introduced in the country by an American tourist, it brings a fabulous price on the black market, which tenses Avram like a fiery desire), Avram averted his eyes and turned out the light. Then, murmuring from habit “Lailah tor!” (which is “Good night”), we left Madame and walked up the long, long corridor. Avram removed the Out-of-Order and set the lift in motion again.

“There will be a juicy tip for us when that one is ready to leave,” he said. “There is the sugar, and the brandy, which is worth —”

“ You bovght it ?”

“That is not the question,” he said. “I gave it up. She will give us plenty. Yo’ll see.”


WHEN I came on shift next morning at eight o’clock (it was not my shift, but I wanted to see what was developing with Madame) the porter at the information desk motioned to me. The maid from Madame’s floor had left a message, I shall come directly to Madame’s room.

When I arrived at her room, Madame was sitting on a chair, clothed, and her hair was in a skeleton of arrangement. She was staring without words at. the maid, and the maid was staring without words at. her. It presented a stalemate, if you are a chess player.

“Moishe!” exclaimed Madame almost rising. It could have been thought I was the Messiah and she was the first to behold me. “Wet a corner of the towel and bring it to me, please.”She wiped her hands and face. “And now my hat.”I lifted the small piece we had taken from her the previous night, and placed it on her head. “My bag.” I gave her the bag. “Now,” she said, “we will go to the doctor. His address is on the card. Wc will call a taxi. You had better call somebody to help you get me to the elevator.”

1 opened the door of the room to call the Sweeper, but there already stood Avram, wailing. He, too, had come to see what would give with Madame.

“We take her to the lobby,”I said, Madame looked so relieved to see him that he picked her up in his arms and carried her the long walk to the lift. The lift buzzer started buzzing when we were halfway up the corridor, and Avram started running with Madame.

Down in the lobby, Madame sat in a chair while I ran out and hailed a taxi.

“I must have someone help me to the doctor,” Madame said to the Clerk. “I will pay for the service.”

The Clerk looked at Avram and then at me, and I could see his eyes deciding he could spare me more easily. “This one will go with you, Madame. He can manage for you, I am sure. Avram, the lift is buzzing!" Avram was not pleased with the compliment.

The taxi driver carried Madame into the taxi, and we traveled down and up a few short streets of hills and arrived at the doctor’s garden gate. The driver lifted her out and set her carefully on the ground.

“Tell him to wait,”Madame said to me, taking my arm.

The driver turned off his engine, look Madame’s other arm, and together we hopped her to the office where the doctor, looking even more worried in the daylight than he did at night, ushered us in to where Madame could sit on a chair among some low sheet-covered couches and shelves of shiny insi ruments.

“I will phone the X-ray specialist,”he said, “and then we will know if bones are broken.”He picked up the telephone and talked in Ivrit for some moments. Then he turned to the driver and me. “You will take her to the X-ray specialist,” he said, ignoring Madame. “It is on the street, just around the corner, the first door.”

After the X rays were finished, the doctor who had arranged the appointment for us, and who had somehow arrived inv isibly in the X-ray office, came to us to relate that no bones were broken and we must now go to the orthopedist on another street several blocks away to have the ankle bandaged. There would be a charge of three pounds for the doctor who had made the appointment for the X-ray, and seven pounds for the X-ray specialist. My blood began racing. This I knew I could not pay from my pocket; but Madame, sitting in a chair now, opened her bag and with remarkable directness took out the red purse and produced the required notes. Madame arose, able to touch her toe to the floor now that she knew nothing was broken, and the driver and I boosted her into the taxi once more and were off.

The orthopedist’s office was two flights of stairs up, and Madame, leaning heavier on my arm than I would have supposed possible by her smallness, set herself to the climb; and while the driver searched a place to park his taxi, Madame and I arrived at the top and were invited into the office. The doctor, a big man, greatly at ease in the English language, asked Madame to remove her stocking, took from a drawer a large reel of adhering tape, and proceeded to strap Madame’s ankle from her sole to her knee with layers and layers up and down. While he taped, he talked pleasantly to Madame.

“The ligaments have been torn and a blood vessel is broken,” he said cheerily, as though telling her what a beautiful day it is. “You will keep the bandage on for four weeks. Most of the swelling will be down by that time, but il w ill fontinue somewhat for three months, maybe four, five months. Hut do not worry. Give it exercise. Walk on it. But on a high heel. Do not let the heel drag on the ground. Walk carefully today; tomorrow not so carefully; and after a few days, forget it. In six months you will not know it has happened.” lie smiled as though he had just swallowed a juicy beefsteak from U.S.A.

“Six months!” Madame exclaimed. “Hut I am leaving tomorrow. Tomorrow I go to Haifa,”

“That is good,” the doctor said, happy. “Have no worry. The bandage will go with you.” He smiled.

At that moment a rap came on the door and the taxi driver came in. “I thought you might need me,” he said, and watched with concern while the doctor wound gauze bandage round and round Madame’s leg over the up-and-down tape.

When the leg was finished, Madame became practical. “What do I owe you, Doctor?”

“Seven pounds,” he said with negligence, as though it was something neither of them heard. Madame took out the red purse from her bag once more and counted out notes. Then she rose from her chair. “All right,” she said to. the taxi driver. “ We will go.”

I opened the door, the driver picked Madame up and carried her down the stairs. It was already noon.

Hack at the hotel Avram and I got Madame to her room. I called the maid to help Madame pack.

Early the next morning I was out of my regular shift again at. the hotel to see Madame off. She was going to Haifa by taxi. I had thought over the matter of tips and had almost persuaded myself that I would refuse. It was too much like taking a tip from your old Bubba, after all our friendship. A’et I weighed this with the thought of buying the fancy shirt in the Yemenite shop to dazzle the maid on Madame’s floor. Avram was in the lobby ahead of me, Shlomo was on the lift, and Avram and I talked of going to Madamc’s room to help her down to the lobby.

“She will give us plenty for what we have done,” Avram said. “ I got use for it.”

“I will accept nothing,” I said, feeling suddenly like a sparkling early morning with drops shining in the grass. “It was experience.”

“Don’t be a fool!” Avram said.

Hut as we talked, Madame herself walked out of the lift, leaning on her umbrella. Her injured foot was enclosed in a red sandal that had been split down the side. A small bit of the challenge had come back into her eyes. Her hair you could sec was combed by the maid, with fancy bits sticking out. Her hat sat at a questioning angle on top of it, Shlomo carried her four bags and waited by her side while she checked out at the Clerk’s desk. She looked with confusion at the long paper which the Clerk handed her, with the many items marked on it: the cost of the room, the cost of the meals, the cost of the heat on the Monday when it rained, the double cost for the Sabbath, the tax for the government, the per cent for the servants, the per cent for the hotel — a long list. Madame, looking as though il must all be in a foreign language, took out the little purse and laid the proper notes on the counter.

“It would be more if the sugar and the brandy were on it,” Avram said to me under his breath. But Madame was coming toward us, her purse still opened.

“You boys have been very kind,” she said, taking out several notes and holding them toward me. Avram was pushing me with his eyes to take them.

“The taxi fare Friday night was one pound, twenty,” I said,

Madame handed me three pounds. It was something to make the head spin. The Yemenite shirt was as good as bought. I could see the leaping flames in the maid’s eyes.

“Just one pound, twenty, Madame,” I said, praising myself for heroism as I heard the words coming from my lips.

“You have earned it,” Madame said, offering once more the three pounds.

I felt my face smiling, and heard myself saying once more, “Thank you, Madame. But it was nothing. Just the taxi fare.”

Madame looked proud of me. She put the money back in her purse and took out one pound, twenty, and shook hands with me. Drops stood in her eyes. “Have a good trip,” I said in a fatherly way, “and take care of your foot.”

Madame turned now to Avram and offered him the three pounds. His knuckles were white from clenching his fists. I could feel Ins angry eyes spitting at. me.

“Thank you, Madame, no. It was a pleasure. Toda raboli.”

Madame put the money back in her bag. I could sec she felt Israel was a very fine country. She started to say something, but her mouth was trembling a little.

“Without you two boys . . .” she said finally, and then turned and hobbled out, leaning on her umbrella. Shlomo, carrying her bags, followed her through the revolving door. We watched him help her into the taxi, while the driver stowed her bags in the trunk.

“Dog!” Avram snarled at me. And he walked off toward the bar where the sugar was kept.