They were jostling along and hitting every bump. Nugent was too busy sucking in the air from the open window to hear Molly, so she gave up trying to tell him to pull his head in. Molly checked her purse for her house keys, never certain she didn't forget them, though she checked for them every five minutes since she left the apartment.
She needed the anti-anxiety pills that Doctors Suarez and West were monitoring, and the drugstore was right next to K-Mart where she'd get them. She pushed a letter for Esther out of the way to find the heavy bulk of keys. Each time she saw the letter she wrote to her mother, she dreaded sending it. Esther twisted her words, she knew. Esther would call her then and rehash every phrase, every thought. She wanted Esther to read that the boy, Nugent, a foster child, was staying with her daughter, and so, wrote to tell her mother. Molly finally decided the letter could prevent the phone call sure to come afterwards. The bus came to a stop, a broad woman, very pregnant, waddled down the aisle toward the door. The driver watched her as she descended the stairs.
“Buenos Dias,” he said to the woman.
Molly watched her closely. Must be in her tenth month, she thought, like me with Stella. She remembered hating the bus ride down to the clinic toward the end of the pregnancy when her car broke down yet again. Testament to the great teacher’s pay. Stella moving around inside, little thing that she was. Maybe that's what it was, she started out so small. Even when she got off the cigarettes in the second trimester, it might not have been enough. Her eyes misted over for her daughter, for the sweet milk smell of her, for the nights she nursed her and never once found it a burden. How much love she felt, she hoped, prayed that Stella knew, could feel it. They followed the pregnant woman off the bus and walked to the clinic.
* * *
Once inside, Nugent was shuffling the heels of the new sneakers to make them squeak against the highly polished clinic linoleum. “Hey guy, you want to stop that?” There was no edge to Molly’s remonstrance, just a slight impatience that said her medication was wearing off. Or maybe it was the hot day, a carryover from the buzz she felt last night from the beers. Good thing a piss test wasn’t going to show much this late in the day. She was busy picking white lint off the cheap black sweater that found its way into the wrong wash load when she heard her named called.
It was a loud bellow, “Morris!” that rankled her. She felt stripped of her privacy, on stage, in front of all these people. The others were mostly a mix of colors and cultures who long ago divested themselves from the personal aspect of the calling out of names, knowing the nurses and everyone else didn’t give a damn who was being summoned. But it mattered to Molly even as she looked around and saw no one looked up, in fact no one cared.
“Stay here,” she said to Nugent. “You all right if I leave you alone for a little while?”
Nugent nodded in a distracted way, playing with the computer game an uncle from his mother’s family gave him. Good thing someone in that family half cared about him, though none of them, his mother’s family, would take him. She was afraid he hadn’t really heard her and would get bent out of shape if he looked up and found her gone.
“Nugent, look at me.” Eye contact usually assured her he heard her.
“Yeah, I hear, I hear. Molly, hey look at this guy. He moves in and ‘crash,’ he explodes the two bad guys.”
“Will he be okay out here?” A tall and heavy black woman who processed most of Molly’s requests for her antidepressant refills and knew enough of the story told her it was okay.
Inside the treatment area Molly followed the dark blue line to the weigh-in station, the blood pressure and temperature station, and the urine and blood testing station. Each time she was greeted by a different woman, but they all seemed variations on the same theme, African American, Latina. The last one, Anita, handed her a plastic cup with a screw-on top for her urine sample. Molly hoped again that the lateness of the day and the fair amount of coffee and water consumption this morning had cleared her of any trace of the Coronas she guzzled.
“Put the cup here when you’re done and go to room five.”
* * *
An hour passed and Molly sat on the exam table, stripped to her panties in a white paper exam gown, reading a paperback. She applauded herself for bringing something to read because she usually got caught staring at a dumb white wall for over an hour waiting for the nurse to remember that someone was behind door five.
“Emma Morris.” It was a statement in a flat, disinterested tone. Nurse Practitioner Sheila Lawler continued to peruse the chart, never looking up. It was a wonder she didn’t fall on her face and good if she did.
“Molly. I don’t use Emma.”
“You were here four weeks ago.”
Molly muttered a yes in a voice stale from not speaking for over an hour, and the nurse finally looked up, because she hadn’t heard her. She stared blankly at Molly for the space of a minute and Molly finally responded again.
“Four weeks ago, and I don’t use Emma. It’s Molly.” She was Molly’s least favorite substitute for a doctor, a sour woman usually capable of making Molly feel trodden on and victimized.
“How are the moods?”
“Fine.” Molly rustled in her paper gown on the paper-covered table.
“Any relapses? Sleeplessness? Suicidal thoughts?”
“Nope. Just fine.” As if she would admit to any of the above. Molly looked around the room and at a picture of mauve and pink flowers in a white frame. All attempts at making the room less institutionalized were squelched with the white frame.
“Molly.” Lawler must have caught Molly’s daydreaming. Whether she meant it or not, it came out sharp, the way she might address an errant child.
“No feelings of suicide. No problem sleeping. Seeing Dr. Suarez once a week.” She looked down at her hands as she spoke distinctly, the words pulled out of her. Each bit of information, each tiny drop of Molly’s life spilling out in the room, one less drop of self-pride she got to keep for herself.
“Are you still at 844 Magnolia?”
“Nothing’s changed. Same phone too.” She never divulged more than she had to, no email address, and least of all, no list of academic credentials because she sensed this woman resented her, felt challenged by her.
Lawler read the chart for a few minutes more, then rested it on the instrument table and adjusted her stethoscope to her ears. She listened to Molly’s chest through the flimsy material of her gown. Molly wondered what ever happened to the blue flowered cotton gowns they used in hospitals that some marketing maven sold to every hospital in the country. She smirked at the thought of some guy in the Caymans, his bottomless bank account keeping him in tequila shots and island babes. Lawler moved the stethoscope and asked Molly to breathe several different times, then pocketed the instrument in her white lab coat.
“How many packs a day?”
“Pack, maybe pack and a half,” she said, then added, “low tar, though.” And immediately felt foolish. This bitch doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether I smoke or die.
“Well, I guess it helps for all of you to do that.” The nurse’s heavy brows shot up. She spied Molly’s book and picked it up. It was an old copy of To the Lighthouse. The pages were browned from twenty years of moving from one brick and wood bookcase to another, from one side of the country to the other.
“Oh, I see you are reading poetry?”
“You’re reading this?” Lawler persisted almost in response to Molly’s recalcitrance.
“I’m reading it, but it’s not poetry.”
“I see.” The nurse put the book down and for the first time Molly felt her looking closely at her, her steely blue eyes narrowing in their deep-set pouches of flesh. She read over her notes again, and asked again when Molly would see her therapist, noting the date on the chart. “You can pick up your prescription out front. I’m making it for the rest of the month because you should be re-evaluated.”
“It’s routine to reconsider whether this drug or a new one is preferred.” Her lips tightened against any remonstrance that might come from Molly.
“I’ve only been on this medication three months. How can you tell so soon? I mean, I’m feeling good on this one.” She broke the cardinal rule of never seeming needy or dependent on anything that could be deemed addictive. The anti-anxiety pill was why she slept at all, was the reason she was not tearing this woman’s blonde hair out by its dark brown roots, was how she could be trusted to care for a foster child. She knew it all came out sounding like pleading, weak and mewling, and she hated herself and blamed Lawler for making her so weak.
“I am sure that it is, but you should be seen by the psychiatrist appointed to your case.” Lawler handed her the form that carried the magical word naming the drug, how often to take it and with a “no refill” box checked and an amount of pills that would last Molly till she saw Suarez, but not enough until she could see the psychiatrist. She felt the danger in the timing between seeing the two doctors, the danger of having her blood levels down without the pills and what that might do to her.
“Be sure to make a return appointment with Betty up front.”
“Fine.” Molly snagged the piece of paper from Lawler and slipped it into the book like a page marker.
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