Liffy sat by the window of the basement apartment, watching feet and legs swing by, ignoring the slamming and banging behind him.
His round face was untroubled and he pushed his glasses back up. He’d been expecting Auntie Darcy to lose it soon and was actually a little surprised that she hadn’t yesterday. When Mom dropped him off here two days ago he was relieved. Some of the places she left him were lots more scary. Auntie Darcy just threw things and yelled when Mom didn’t come back when she said she would. She never hit Liffy.
“I knew she was gonna do this again!”
Auntie Darcy’s dog, Bert, scooted under the couch. Not everyone was like Liffy.
“She could at least call, ferchrissakes. How many fucken times do I have to tell her that?”
Liffy appreciated that Auntie Darcy saved her most ferocious crashing for the pots and pans. It was just too bad when grownups broke stuff.
“Goddamn her. She only thinks of herself.” Crash! The old enamel sink had been through worse.
Liffy was watching shoes. On the days that he saw the same, identical pair twice, it was good luck. The crashing in the kitchen stopped and Auntie Darcy muttered and swore for awhile before coming to the doorway, blocking the light.
“You want some cereal, Lif?”
“Yes, please, Auntie Darcy.” He turned around, wiped his sleeve across his nose, and pushed his glasses back up again. Bert peered out from under the sofa and Auntie Darcy lumbered back into the kitchen.
When Magda came to this time she was handcuffed to a stretcher. Smart, like a wild animal, she didn’t open her eyes right away. Down to her right she could hear the hum, hiss and beep that meant hospital. There’d be a cop nearby and that cop would have already seen her move her arm but Magda stayed still and waited. Sometimes she’d remember stuff if she didn’t move too quick. She’d have to find out what day it was. Let’s see. Hospital. She was either hurt or someone thought she was mental. By a series of minute movements, she discovered that there was something very wrong with her left leg.
“She come around yet?”
“Yea, I seen her move her arm.”
Magda waited some more. It was always better to see what they had before letting on to anything herself.
“She’s awake; she’s just being cute.” This from the cop.
“Whatever. She won’t be getting a bed anytime soon.”
“Ask me, she don’t need a bed here. Nothing wrong with her that you guys can do anything about.”
“Yea, well, no one asked you, did they? What do you want her to do, slap a cast on her own leg?” Magda heard a pen scratching across paper. “I’ll send an orderly when something opens up. You hungry?”
A great weariness pulled Magda down. She dozed, wishing her head would stop pounding. Then her eyes flew open. Liffy. Oh fuck! Where was he this time?
Whatever else was wrong with him, Liffy wasn’t stupid. Some grownups acted like he was made of glass and would break easy, some talked extra loud to him as if his thick glasses meant he had trouble hearing. Some people, like Auntie Darcy, gave him extra food. The kids at school and his Mom were honest anyway. If they were sometimes mean at least they didn’t act like they felt sorry for him.
His Mom was nothing like the other kids’ moms and it bothered him when, once in awhile, he wished she was. Mostly though, he wanted to tell her not to worry so much. Others saw her rage. Liffy figured she was afraid. Most nights after Magda had passed out Liffy got up and went in just to sit there in the dark so someone was there. Just in case.
Auntie Darcy was on the telephone. Maybe Mom had called? He listened for a minute but she wasn’t talking to his Mom.
“Naw, I don’t know where the hell she’s at this time. I’d hoped you’d know.”
It was cold out today, but dry, so there were a lot more different kinds of shoes and boots.
“He’s fine. You know Lif, he’s a regular little Buddha, that kid. Nothing fazes him.”
Those pointy-toed shoes sure were ugly.
“Shit! It never even crossed my mind that anything could have happened to her!”
Liffy wondered why so many women wore them. They didn’t look comfortable.
“I s’pose I’ll call Bellevue, for all the good it’ll do. Those morons wouldn’t know how to pour piss from a boot with the directions written on the heel. Once I called to get some of Marlon’s blood test results and got transferred to dialysis, patient accounts and the lupus clinic before some idiot cut me off. I called twice before I just gave up and went over there.”
It didn’t count if the shoes were the same style and not the same color. The luck depended on an exact match.
“Ok, you try and I’ll try, too.”
It was easier on snowy or rainy days when just about everyone was wearing boots, but Liffy knew it meant better luck to find a match on a dry day. Like today.
Where did that stupid phrase ‘false dawn’ come from?
Magda was awake and shaking as the first fuzzy gray filled the ward. What was false about it? That wasn’t the question. Why did it fill her with sick dread? And that wasn’t really a question. It was unstoppable, this next rotten, pointless day and soon she’d have to deal with the next fucked up thing that had happened to her. Ancient rage rose and fell. What’s the use? The early morning Chinese fire drill erupted with the arrival of the nurse aides all jabbering away. As if anyone would want to try and get any sleep in a hospital.
After they finished and Magda was left in a clean, dry bed the yammering in her head resumed. Out of the chatter her main theme emerged: everything had been fine until Liffy. If only she could have had a normal kid it would all have been different. Restless, unable to lay still, Magda tossed and shifted, kicking her right leg around. Her left leg inside the cast itched. She tried to ignore her crawling skin, the cold sweat that was already sliming the inside of her hospital gown.
It was only going to get worse.
Across the room, next to the bed that held a lump too tiny to be a person, Magda saw just what she needed. Scanning the room quickly, she estimated the distance, the chance the cop outside the room might hear her and investigate. She was shaking bad. Would she drop it? The white, semi-translucent bottle mocked her and held itself perfectly still. It was not going to come to her. There was a lot of activity out in the hallway now; good cover. She made her move. Clank. Red fury edged the panic when the handcuff held. She almost howled out loud. The bottle of rubbing alcohol was serene and completely unattainable. Rolling onto her side, Magda shook and stared blindly at the bars on her hospital bed.
Another day the color of dirty laundry opened over the city.
The call came late in the day. Liffy had been expecting it ever since seeing that second pair of bright pink, pointy-toed shoes with those funny, little stub-like heels about half an hour after Auntie Darcy got off the phone. In that moment he knew Mom was all right and that they’d be hearing something before bedtime. He watched Auntie Darcy’s face as she listened to the caller and nodded to show her that it was ok that his Mom didn’t want to talk to him. Grownups could be kind of dumb.
Later on that evening Auntie Darcy made microwave popcorn and they watched Nova on PBS together. At first Auntie Darcy put cartoons on but switched to Channel 13 when Liffy drifted back over to the window. (It never hurt to see a third pair and who knew?) Liffy had seen this episode before but didn’t want to hurt Auntie Darcy’s feelings and besides he really liked stuff about how the brain works.
On his knees at bedtime, he said a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to God. Auntie Darcy tucked him in, smoothing his hair to the side and pulling the blankets up to his chin.
“The hospital people say your Mom’s made bail and’ll be released tomorrow.”
“You do, do you?” Auntie Darcy peered over her reading glasses at him.
“Yes. I could kinda tell by the way you were talking.”
“Child, you are too smart by half.” She leaned over and kissed the top of Liffy’s head.
After she’d gone, leaving the bedroom door open a little bit to let some light in, Liffy patted the bed and Bert jumped up and turned around three times before laying down. It was only then that Liffy let out one long shuddering breath. He reached for his inhaler and hoped he’d be able to get some sleep tonight.
Mom was going to need him tomorrow.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Stephanie Plichta/Released