The hospital waiting room was deserted, except for me. I sat, alone, in one of those painfully uncomfortable plastic chairs, staring blankly at a television that was bolted to the wall in the corner. On the screen an infomercial for gym equipment was playing, subtitles flickering on the bottom frantically. Two vending machines hummed by the door to the smoking area; a bunch of old, water stained magazines sat in messy piles on small tables dispersed among the chairs.
I pulled my hood over my head, eyes closing sleepily. I'd been here for hours. It felt like days. People had been everyone when I'd first arrived; now the place was barren, absolutely deserted.
Sighing, I leaned back in the chair and rested my head against the wall. Fear didn't enter my mind as I thought of the events that had unfurled in the past few hours. I wasn't scared, worried, anxious, anything. I just felt a peaceful calm, the way people who are stranded in the mountains feel when they lay down in the snow, drifting off into sleep. I knew that things were going to get bad. Real bad. But I didn't seem to care.
Seven hours ago, I came home to a silent apartment. Seven hours ago, I opened the door to the bathroom and found my mother passed out on the floor with a fifth of vodka and an empty pill bottle lying beside her. Seven hours ago, I frantically drove to this hospital, hoisted my unconscious mother out of the backseat and carried her in. Seven hours ago, they took her into the sterile land of white and left me out in this waiting room to rot.
The double doors to the right of me opened. I sat bolt upright, pushing my hood back and blinking gritty sleep from my exhausted eyes. A flustered nurse in sky blue scrubs was jogging towards me. Her eyes looked concerned, in a fake, superfluous doctor way.
"Eve Cantos?" the nurse asked quietly.
"That's me." I said, standing up.
"I… I have some bad news," she said. "Your mother," she looked me in the eyes. Her irises were a dull gray. "she's passed on."
You know how they say that when you hear bad news, it's like a blow to your face, or your stomach drops to the floor? None of that happened here. I didn't move in slow-motion to hug someone, tears did not pour from my eyes; I didn't have to sit down and bury my face in my hands. I just stood there while the nurse anticipated my reaction that would not come.
"Did you hear me? Your mother is dead."
"I heard you," I said venomously. "I'm not deaf."
She stared at me, taken aback. No one had been this rude to her on the job, I bet. She sighed, squaring her shoulders, choosing not to snap back at me. "Do you want to… view the body?"
I stared her in the eye, debating. Did I really want to see my Mom, all dead and pale? I pretty much already had, every night that I came home and she was on the couch crashing or flying around the apartment in a meth-induced manic state. I'd looked death straight in the face since I was born.
"No," I said, looking down at the scuffed tips of my ancient thrift-store combat boots with the fraying laces. "I need to go to the bathroom."
"Okay," the nurse said. She placed a consoling hand on my shoulder, her voice soft and kind. "I'll be waiting at the front desk."
My Mother was dead. No big surprise there. Ever since I was a little girl, I knew that she'd die sooner or later. But it was still odd. For the first time in my life, I realized just how alone I really was in this world. With my Mother now gone, I was the only person I could ever rely on for anything, ever again.
The last thing I wanted to do was talk to that nurse at the front desk. I wasn't eighteen, though she was under the impression that I was. In fact, I'd just turned sixteen a month ago. If she found that out, I'd be straight to a children's hall. And I wasn't going to let that happen.
Anxiously, I looked around the bathroom, searching for an escape. I found exit in a small window, just big enough for me to fit all one hundred and fifteen pounds of body through. The screws came off with enough prying from my broken nails. I easily slid myself through the window and fell to the grassy ground outside.
The stars were twinkling dimly. It was so hard to see them in the city. In front of me was the gazebo where people went to go smoke. To the left, a brick wall. To the right was the parking lot, where our car was parked. I pulled my hood up, stuffed my aching hands into my jacket pockets and, feigning nonchalance, crossed the small street to reach the parking lot. The lot was deserted; few cars were there. I slid into the old, rust red Ford, pulling the keys out of jacket pocket and sticking them swiftly into the ignition. It revved for a moment, then went dead. Sighing, I cranked it once more. Failure. Third time's the charm, I thought, twisting the keys. It had the same outcome as the other two attempts.
"Fuck," I swore beneath my breath. Perfect timing for this thing to shit out on me. I cranked it again, helplessly, to no avail. Again. Again. "Fuck!" I pounded my fist against the steering wheel. Just my luck. I took the keys out, slid them back in my pocket, and got out of the car. My only option was to walk back to the apartments. Then what? I didn't know.
I locked the doors quickly and started down the sidewalk, heading towards the train platform a few blocks away. The walk gave me thinking time, which I did not desire, so I spent the minutes counting the sound of my footsteps on the pavement.
The platform was mostly deserted. I paid for my ticket and stepped onto the dingy concrete. A few people, heading out early for their jobs, sat on the benches waiting for their trains. I sat down on an empty bench, staring straight ahead at the train tracks, willing myself not to think, willing myself to do nothing but take even breaths and clear my mind.
But of course it didn't work. I thought about it. I thought about how alone I was, how alone I would be from now on. My mother and I had never been close. But she was the only person I had in my life. My father was nowhere to be found. My mother's family had disowned her when she was a teenager. We had each other, and that was really it. Even though she'd had tons of druggie boyfriends to sleep in her bed, dirty up the apartment, and eat all of the food that I had to buy.
My train rumbled into the platform. Gold Line straight to East LA. I stood and boarded it. It was completely empty. Sitting down on a row of benches, I searched my pockets for nothing in particular, finding a stale cigarette and a scuffed lighter. I tucked it beneath my fat, chapped lip and lit it up, inhaling the nicotine greedily. Catching a glimpse of my reflection in the window above the row of seats across from me, I contemplated it dully.
I'd never been anything too pretty. My mother was the one with the looks. What I lacked, she made up for. I was olive skinned, yet pale, with lank black hair that parted down the middle, flowing down my back in one long sheet, no bangs. My eyes were a dull brown-black, like the shell of a beetle.
I'd lived in her shadow my entire life. The bounce that my hair did not have, she possessed. The fire that my eyes lacked, she had. The rosy tint that was vacant on my skin was clearly on hers. She was the beautiful one, the one who mesmerized men and captivated their souls. I was the one who had dutifully taken my spot in the shadows, leaving her to receive the attention and praise.
For sixteen years I had strayed on the sidelines, letting her have her fun and get trashed while I played my role as the parental figure to my thirty six year old mother. And now that she was… gone, I didn't quite know what I would do to occupy myself. The idea of having a life without her, frankly, scared the living hell out of me.