by Ashley Danielle Moore
"I don' understand why she cut haself," Freya said. "She's picked up a nasty habit."
Carmen, hunched over with her elbows pierced into thighs, kept her back turned slightly away from her mother.
"It's dem girls at her school. They teach her these idle things." Freya kissed her teeth into her daughter's ear.
Carmen hated when her mother kissed her teeth. She imagined her mother with a mouthful of wasps. Mangled together until, with the sharp spank of Freya's tongue, a petrified fly would hurtle out of Freya's mouth and land on Carmen's eardrum - a steady whir until it died.
Carmen realized she was thirsty. She had been chewing her gum too long and it left her mouth a drought. She searched the washed out fluorescent corridor for a water fountain until her eyes rested on one near a stairwell. However, Carmen's weariness superseded thirst and she decided to stay put.
Carmen and Freya had been waiting a long time, though her mother made it seem longer. The fluorescent lights threw off Carmen's sense of time, but she sensed it was at least two in the morning. She wondered if they kept hospitals that bright so that doctors could fool themselves out of wanting sleep, as she herself drowned in the room's stasis. Then she thought that was silly and excused herself for being tired. She did not even notice her mother had been speaking.
"...what does she have to be depressed about? I'm the one depressed...no one care of the stress I'm unda...I do everythinÓ.should a' lease have respec' for meÓthese damn kid dem make a pauper out of me," Freya muttered with an agitated leg. "I baugh her da cameraÓwha a' selfish bitch dis girl."
Carmen knew it was a bad idea to interject, but she felt the need to do so anyway. "Is that your means of hush money?"
Freya kissed her teeth again. "She g'on mope for that camera fa' da' longess time. She wha in some nahsty mood. Stomp up ha room like dat."
"Clearly buying a camera didn't work. She still cut her wrists." Carmen's blood rose because she knew that whatever she said to mother would be a waste.
"So wha cuttin ya wriss does?" Freya snapped brusquely.
"I'm not trying to defend it," Carmen spoke softly. She was trying to level their conversation. She thought of saying more to her mother, to let her know that she did not win, but the combination of being parched, tired, and furious made her wilt.
"I feed her. I clothe her. I send ha to ah good school. I cahn even send you ah good school an she g'on waste it."
Emily's sucking up the family funds was a sore topic for Carmen, whose high school didn't have an in to the best internships in the city or a pool with a free instructor. Emily was the family investment. But that came tacked with an extra set of eyes and lips on every decision made by Emily and for Emily. Carmen was jealous of the attention Emily received, and especially hurt that Emily often shied away or flat out rejected it.
Emily was capricious; Carmen could not deny that. But for the first time, Carmen understood that being the sole appointee to rear the family out of the hood was not a job she would want herself.
"She ungrateful. I had to walk school, barefoot, two miles ev'ry day, and share one lunch between me and me thr'ee cousins. I shoul' be da one depress an sleepin in. I uh have me ass beat by da teacha dem before any of dat."
Carmen hated that her mother thought of every situation as a personal attack. "You can't compare our childhoods. It may not be as rough as yours-"
Freya kissed her teeth again. "Don't gi me none of that. You children rotten. I almost starve and still went ta school. I came here when I was eighteen, by myself, an' redid all my schoolin' while I raise you two. I neva had a privilege a' sleepin in. On my feet, twelve hour shift every night. I shoulda cut my wrist an' left you wit ya fatha." Freya charged.
"You hear yourself?"
"You think your problem dem so evolved. No, man! Rotten! People ina dis country never satisfied."
Carmen had enough. Deciding not to respond, she hoped her mother would be content with winning, but Freya continued.
"I send ha to a nice school, good reputation, an' good teacher dem have. But it wit dem white people Emily g'on pick up dis nasty habit."
"How is that a white thing?" Carmen asked. Her mother had a tendency for blaming what was unfamiliar to her as the root of her problems. v "Black people don' try an' kill demself. Where you think she learn dis?"
Carmen was taken aback by her mother's acrimony. She yelped, -what?- and scanned the waiting room, hoping no one was listening. "That makes no sense. Black people commit suicide."
"Who do you know black an' kill demself?"
Carmen couldn't think of anyone, but she knew, of course, it had to have happened. "So black people don't get depressed?"
"Not depress enough to kill demself."
Carmen stammered, but thought. of the aimless men and women who stood around self-medicating on street corners. Some of them had started that way because they had felt hopeless, not having the means to support their families and had thought it best to just stay out of the way. She no longer kept tabs of where her father stayed, but somewhere in the city, he was one of those guys on the block.
"They can't kill demself. They have people who depen' on dem an' people who sacrifice for dem. Show more respect than dat."
"That's too much pressure. Maybe she was overwhelmed and thought we would be better off without her."
"That's inconsiderate. She had de privilege of goin' to nice school an' now she tink she have dah privilege to just drop everything and go'on kill haself."
Freya was a jitterbug. Her restless foot tapped and tapped and tapped on Carmen's spine.
"She's spoiled. I doan know where she tink she ha' diss authority to do diss to me after everything I do fa her," Freya clamored on.
"It's not your wrist she cut," Carmen said and stopped there. She realized there was no point in dragging it out.
Freya could not see past her own lack. And although she saved face in front of neighbors and colleagues, she was always forward with her daughters. They were reared to keep up in ways Freya could not herself. Freya had not realized she was black until she raised children in America. She had seen the way her husband Danny was treated, believed it was his own defect, and begun treating him that way herself.
"This is your fault," Carmen started up.
"How is this my fault? Why I'm always da one ta blame?¨"
"You're so fucking heartless."
"You ungrateful bitch. You an' ya sistah. Don' talk to me," Freya turned her back to `Carmen. v "Now you don't want to talk." Carmen kissed her teeth. She felt the saliva drawl up and the charge in it.
"Didn' I tell you ta' leave me alone?" Freya shot back. "An' who tol' you a' swear at me like dat. You ha' a' filthy mouth. Le' me alone," Freya shouted. Freya stood up and moved down the row of the chairs.
"What if Emily is dead?"
The nurse at the front desk glared at them. The clock above her head read two forty-three. Carmen was right.
"You bitches are gonna make a pauper out of me," Freya muttered in a diminishing, swollen voice. She slumped off her seat. Freya tried to suffocate her wails.
Carmen turned her back not wanting to hear or see her mother cry. As soon as the argument ended it had seemed like a dream. She had never seen her mother cry or even close to tears.
Carmen hugged her knees and thought of how she could console her mother without embarrassing her. She contemplated for hours, but no time actually passed. She soon found respite in the hum of the room, tucked in by a bodily static until she drowned in a deep sleep.