On the fifth day Mother came to see me while the lady from the state stood in the doorway and the cop stood by my hospital bed, arms folded, feet apart, glaring at everyone; especially Mother. She looked elegant and cool, her hair in a smooth bun, small diamonds in her ears, nails perfect. She was always perfect.
Why was I shaking? Why did I feel frozen, inside and out?
Shut up, traitor brain. Breathe. Just breathe. Pay attention, I told myself. Always wool-gathering, she would tell me. Too stupid to know my whole life was about to fall off a cliff.
I teetered on the edge of the bed. Mother stopped two feet away when the cop held his hand out. She ignored him. I could smell her perfume, White Shoulders, an awful sickening smell. She wore it like armor. I stared at the scuffed linoleum beyond her left elbow.
“So,” she said.
My shoulders hunched up. I knew I would say something I’d soon regret. “Don’t you want me?” My stomach clutched.
She crossed her arms. “Hmm. Tough question.”
I looked up. Her face, cold and hard, close but so distant. “Mother?”
She shook her head. “No, my dear. No more. I’ll leave you alone if you’ll leave me alone.”
“You’ll be fine.”
She turned, left. Her polished, confident walk took her away from me, like she wouldn’t be leaving anything behind. I listened to her heels clicking against the floor until there was nothing but me. Alone. I heard a rushing, watery sound in my ears.
The state lady cleared her throat, shuffled her feet. She smelled of nicotine, hair a frizzled brass. She touched my arm but I pulled away. She hesitated, mumbled something I couldn’t understand before leaving. The cop glanced at me. I didn’t let him catch my gaze. Then he left, too.
I sat there, homeless. I’d always been afraid, but now it felt like a full body burn, first degree. Even my skin wasn’t safe.