‘What It Is To Be Empty-Handed’ by L.M. Brown

soft cartel april 2018

I didn’t sleep much because of the article. I couldn’t stop thinking of the bus station with the high ceilings and hard wooden benches and the woman sitting with her baby, only she wasn’t really a woman. She wasn’t much older than I was and that made me feel empty inside. I hated to think about what happened and how everything turned so badly for her and her baby. The woman had three other children since. The article said she lived in Ohio, but I imagined her somewhere warm, Florida or California, with sunshine streaming through the window. She was not in a grey place like Boston with snow on the ground and freezing weather that had a knack of finding you inside.

Her husband held her hand while she was being interviewed and said he didn’t blame her for what happened, though she was stupid and naïve and I couldn’t help hating her a little for it. But I wasn’t really angry until I heard Jean come in. It was starting to get bright when she opened my door.  She whispered my name and I closed my eyes and I was afraid of what I might say if she came any closer. Some nights, she liked to sit on the bed and talk about the customers from the diner. Sometimes one of them would be waiting for her in the living room. Once, I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night and I ran into one of those men. I was in my underwear and he blocked the bathroom door. Jean woke to me crying. Ever since then, she shook me awake if she had company and warned me to put on some clothes if I wanted to go to the bathroom.

I was still getting used to calling her Jean. Days after our last move, she’d decided she didn’t want to be called Mom anymore. The first I heard of it was when she said the boy’s next door introduced themselves to her. She told them her name was Jean and she lived with a roommate. She said there was no reason for them to question her since she looked young and I looked older than my years because of my height and my serious way of looking at the world. It felt as if she was getting smaller and smaller when she was saying this. If I reached out there would be nothing but air.

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