002 – Womb

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An unfamiliar ceiling.

My head rested on a soft pillow, but the casing was scratchy. Warm blankets wrapped up my body.  A window closed to my left, and a door closed to my right. It was dark in this room, but I could tell the ceiling, walls, and floor were all white. Also, only a special kind of room could possibly feel this claustrophobically sterile.

A hospital room.

The only thing killing the stagnant silence was a steady, high-pitched beep. Well, that, and a set of some really ugly snoring that I could instantly identify.

She was napping on the left side of my bed, resting her head on her arms. I touched her short, black hair, which was rough and unruly. She’d been here for a long time.

I let her hair fall in between my fingers, and a sense of relief overwhelmed me. It was just my left hand, why did my eyes water in seeing it? I didn’t know, I didn’t even know why I was here.

Weariness overwhelmed me, and I fell back asleep.

“…”

“No signs of any serious injury, internal or external. No alcohol in her blood, if you were concerned about that. Considering how the police found her, it’s more than a miracle that there was hardly a scratch on her.”

“Ah, thank you, mister, thank you.”

“No problem. When she wakes up, you two are free to go. I will need her back her in a week for a follow-up, though.”

“Yes, of course, thank you, mister.”

“Alright then, I’ll have to be off, now. Take care.”

Footsteps, followed by the door being shut. It prompted me to open my eyes.

I did it slowly, though, to try and get used to the light. Why was it so bright in here?

As I came to, I saw a dark figure looming over me, cutting through the brightness. For a split second, I felt a moment’s anxiety. But as my vision adjusted a bit more, I realized who this was. Then I felt really anxious.

Wholly and unequivocally screwed.

“Ma…” I said, trying to keep my voice light and breezy. “Could you turn down the lights? It’s kinda blinding me.”

Her brow was furrowed. She was not amused.

“Get up. We go. Now.

As ordered, I got up, and took clothes my mom handed to me, changing out of my hospital gown as fast as I could. I was at the mercy of whatever she picked out, so I stepped out of the room in a pink hoodie and a dark purple pair of gym shorts. They were too tight on me, when was the last time I wore these? Middle school? And they didn’t even match. And these flip-flops she gave me? But I knew if I said something, my mom would end me right then and there, in the middle of the hallway.

I kept my mouth shut.

In an attempt to be easygoing, I scratched the back of my neck, and swallowed. It was really itchy.

“Hey, Ma? Can we get something to eat first? I’m really hungry, and thirsty.”

She stayed quiet. Her way of saying, ‘Fine, but you’re not off the hook.’

Before we could head to the cafeteria, we had to go deal with the front desk. The receptionist handed us a thick stack of papers to sign. Release forms, insurance forms, whatever form it was, I just signed where I needed to without closely reading it over. I wanted to be done with it. After successfully climbing over the mountain of paperwork, we were allowed to go get some food. Not that it was a particularly coveted prize.

Like the hospital room, the cafeteria was just as bland and dreary and sterile. The walls blended in with the chairs and tables, giving everything a pale-brownish hue. It was the spacious equivalent of a manila folder. Everything was just so inoffensive to the point it felt kind of offensive.

To add insult to injury, they placed a single fern in the farthest corner. It screamed, ‘This is as much effort as we’ll put into decorating, so eat and go die.’ To me, at least. The pot matched the color of everything else so well that I thought the plant was floating at first.

There was hardly anyone in here, only another couple conversing at a table by that damn fern. Neither of them looked like they were hospitalized, probably just visiting. No one else in line, either, so I grabbed a tray where the line began and walked down the aisle of food, picking out whatever I wanted.

I noticed that my mom didn’t grab a tray after me. Instead, she waited by the register at the end of the aisle, rummaging through her purse. Having had woken up in a hospital bed, watching her pay for me made me feel that much worse about the current situation.

Physically, however, I felt like I could run a marathon.

My mom paid the cashier, a bored heavyset black lady in a hairnet, and I followed my mom to a table of her choosing. Close to the entrance of the cafeteria, which was opposite the corner with the fern. I felt like I was getting ready to fight it.

I looked down at my plate, and then looked down at my plate. An apple, a bowl of cheerios, and a half of a bagel, hastily smeared with cream cheese. I still didn’t know what the exact time was, so I might as well start with breakfast.

I poked my cereal with my plastic spoon, preparing myself to take a bite. I scooped as much as I could, but with the utensil being so small, every spoonful was way too unsatisfying. Whatever. I was about to put it into my mouth.

“I’m not happy,” my mom said, interrupting me.

Crap.

I wanted to keep my eyes down, staring only at the cereal, but that wouldn’t have been good enough for her. I looked up.

If I told you she was at most, twenty-two, you would’ve believed me. Hell, if I told you we were sisters, you’d believe that too. That was the beauty of being a middle-aged Japanese woman, I supposed.

Of course, that made it all the more distressing to see such a young and pretty face distort itself to such discontent. Even more so when you were the reason for it.

“S-sorry,” I stuttered, scratching the back of my neck.

I didn’t know what to say. Maybe it was shock, some kind of trauma, but I literally had no recollection of how I ended up here. Okay, not entirely true, I did remember some bits. It was all too fuzzy though.

It was Friday. I went to the party. My birthday party. I had a few drinks, went a little loose, and met up with Brandon for some… idle chat. Katy made me drink some more, and I think I went outside for a walk.

And lastly, I woke up here.

My first conclusion was that I passed out from all my drinking, but I thought I heard the doctor said something about no alcohol being in my blood. Which was odd, there definitely was. I’d know. But hey, if medical professionals said so, then that was that. I shouldn’t dwell on it.

Nor did I want to.

My mother’s unreadable stare was all she had for a response to my weak apology. The longer she looked at me with those eyes, the more I wanted to melt and disappear forever. Finally, she relented, and leaned back into her chair. At long last, I could get back to my breakfast. I visibly frowned. It had already gotten too soggy, losing all of its artificial flavor.

I moved onto the bagel. My face must had shown it all. It had the consistency of cardboard. The cream cheese was just as terrible, with the stench of glue reaching down to my stomach. Was this what they fed patients?

Nevertheless, I somehow found it in me to finish a good portion of it. Mostly because I had no desire to look back to my mother again.

“You done. We go. Now.” Normally, her regular speaking voice carried very little of an accent. It only ever noticeable when she got agitated. For me, it was the same as being called by a middle name. So when her sudden command was filtered through that specific delivery, it struck me off guard. I jumped up in the middle of swallowing.

“Ack, uck!”

Coughing heavily, I got up on my feet, giving myself some time to cool down before cleaning the table. As I put away my tray, I caught the brief glances of the couple and the heavyset cashier. Despite her unassuming appearance, my mom could get loud when she wanted to. Alleviating any tension in the cafeteria was pointless, I had to take this loss and get out of here.

When I turned around, she was already gone. Probably on her way to the van. Making sure I didn’t forget anything, I went back to the table. I returned to find a cold bottle of water. Wasn’t there before. Smiling, I opened up the plastic container, letting the refreshing, clear, liquid slide down my throat.

Now that felt good.

I finished the bottle in a second, and tossed it in a trash can as I passed the hospital’s automatic doors. I saw my mom was already starting up the van. A light blue Toyota. As I crossed the parking lot, I squinted, and brought a hand to my face. It was too bright out here.

Getting into the passenger side, I clicked the seatbelt together. The van had definitely been here for a long time, it’d gotten hot.

She started the vehicle, and began getting us on the road. I checked the time on the dashboard. Twelve.

She didn’t turn on the radio, and I was sure I couldn’t turn it on myself. The tension was palpable.

“Tomorrow, you go to school,” she said. The hospital was still in the rearview mirror.

I detested asking, since it would show my ignorance of the current situation, but I had to know.

“What’s today?”

“Monday.”

“Oh.”

I already figured by now, but that confirmed that I slept through the entirety of my birthday. Most likely the entire weekend. She probably stayed by my side the whole time. As nice as that may sound, feeling the ire radiating out of this woman now did not make me feel cozy. I wished she just dropped me off at school right now. Well, maybe after a change of clothes, first.

This sucked.

“Here,” she said, searching through her purse as she took a left.

She handed me two items. The first was my watch. It was a simple but sleek design, the face was all black with no numbers or markings, and the hands of the watch were gold. It was an early birthday gift from my mom. Seeing it again gave me an unpleasant pang, an emotion I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

The next thing was a black plastic box. Toying with it, I flipped it open. The lower half had a set of tiny buttons with numbers, and some type of display screen on the upper half. It felt rather weighty, and I couldn’t figure out a comfortable way to hold it. Also, attached to the bottom was a long, thin cable that attached to another thick black box. I investigated the metal prongs sticking out of it. A charger? A charger for what?

What the hell is this thing?

“Your new phone,” my mom said, answering my silent question.

“A phone?” I inspected it again. I only ever saw these in pictures. They still made these? People still used them?

This is a phone?

“Wait, Ma, where’s my old one? What’s with this?” I waved it around.

“Not on you when they found you,” she replied. “Same number.”

Ugh,” I groaned, and slouched back into my seat. But I immediately regretted it. I shouldn’t be wearing my frustration on my sleeves like that.

But… Still though.

Pictures, contacts, music, apps, games. Wi-Fi. All gone. But I knew I couldn’t complain. If I did, my mom would arrive to the apartment by herself.

“You are sixteen now. Please grow some responsibility.”

She didn’t say anything else. That was all my mother said.

I had thought it too soon, this sucked.

The rest of the ride back home was quiet. There wasn’t much else to say. Not much I wanted to say.

When we got to the apartment, I went straight to my room. I kept the lights low as I retreated right to my bed, tossing the phone, or what I was led to believe was a phone, into a corner opposite of my door. The ‘charger’ followed soon after. Without caring to change, I plopped myself on my bed and landed facedown into the pillow. A low, muffled exhale emanated from me.

My mind went over what little I could remember of the past few days. My mom’s face when I came to. That wasn’t the most fun thing to wake up to. But, how should I put it? I wasn’t mad at her, that wasn’t it. I was just mad at the situation, and the ensuing results.

Mad at myself.

Oh, and my chemistry project was due today. Great. I breathed harder into my pillow until it warmed my cheeks.

“… Eeew…”

I really was asleep for the whole weekend. My breath was horrid.

I tossed and turned in my bed. My ‘breakfast’ from the hospital sat at the pit of my stomach like a rock. Like a weight I was carrying around. There must have been something in the milk, because I was starting to feel queasy.

Every now and then, there would a rumbling coming from the corner where I threw the phone. Texts, I guessed, from either Katy or Maria. But I could look at them later.

There wasn’t any use in just lying here, but I wasn’t in the mood to do much else. I tried to take a nap, but I couldn’t drift to sleep, I was just still for hours. The phone rumbled a few more times. I only got up when my mom knocked on my door for dinner.

Leftovers. Fried chicken, rice, and about two bowls of miso soup for the both of us. They must have been leftovers, since I couldn’t remember when we first ate them.

I had to force myself to eat. It wasn’t worth sharing out loud, all things considered, and especially because my mom was actually a pretty good cook, but the food here wasn’t good either. The chicken had the texture of rubber, the rice was dry, and the soup stale. Unlike back at the hospital, I managed not to make my displeasure obvious.

Atmospherically, dinner wasn’t any different from before. Quiet and awkward. She didn’t have to say any more, I saw it in the way she sat, the way she picked at her food as she chewed. Disappointment.

Don’t remind me.

I picked up my plate, and excused myself from the table. I did stick around to help my mom put away plates and leftover food, but the process went by without a sound.

We finished, and I went back to bed. I made sure to bring a glass of water back into my room. I fell back onto the bed. I didn’t want to do anything, anymore.

The rumbling from the corner of my room continued. More texts, probably. But I didn’t want to bother with them right now. I’d rather wallow in self-pity.

I flipped over onto my back, staring at the dark ceiling. That weight in my stomach now was like a pile of rocks. Occasionally, I sat up in an upright position to sip some water, to try and wash that feeling away. I rubbed up against the pillow, right where my neck itched.

I couldn’t sleep at all.

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