It seems like days pass before he hands the bag back. Why are all these people so slow?
"In there." He nods toward the entrance to the visitors' lounge.
Inside, people are gathered in scattered clusters, a patient with family or friends.
Allison and Cherie are playing cards at a table by the window. Junk spreads out around them, most of it looking like the same kinds of things as I brought. Damn it. I wish I'd known what Allison was bringing so my stuff wouldn't pale in comparison.
I force cheerfulness into my voice. "Hi, girls."
"Mommy, Mommy. Mommy's here," Cherie chants.
Allison stands to greet me. She looks comfortably elegant in faded jeans, boots and a cable-knit sweater. Her hair is shorter, curling gently around her face. Cherie's still sitting, grinning at me. I can tell another tooth is gone. She's fatter than ever, and sloppy, in shabby mismatched clothes.
I accept Allison's hug, then lean to press my cheek on Cherie's head.
She shrinks away, like she can tell what I've been thinking.
"Contamination!" she shrieks. "The Lord Jesus Christ our Savior will condemn you for Eternity for defiling his Chosen One!"
I sit heavily. "Cherie, honey, be nice. We haven't all been together in years. Let's try to have a good time."
"Don't take it personally, Mom," Allison says quietly, as if I had a choice. This is my child we're talking about, flesh of my flesh. Tainted.
"It is her fault," Cherie roars. "God knows. She has never treated His Servant with proper respect. For that, she'll burn in Hell!"
"What else can I do?" I ask. "I've been trying to help you."
"Repent, sinner. Let the Evil be cast out from your blackened soul."
"What's in the bag, Mom?" Allison interrupts in a bright tone. "Offerings for the chosen one?"
"Cigarettes?" Cherie wants to know. "Red licorice and M&M's?"
"All your favorite stuff." I clear a space to empty the contents onto the table, glad to be in familiar territory.
"Oooh, lipstick, eye shadow, Marlboros, nail polish, Oreos! Jesus'll cut you some slack for that."
Why does she have to do this Jesus routine? She's Jewish, for God's sake. Is she crazy because I sent them to Vacation Bible school at the Presbyterian church around the corner when they were little? Was it too much to ask to have a few minutes to myself once a day for two weeks?
Cherie swivels the lipstick out of the tube and touches up her already scarlet lips, scraping unnoticed bits onto her front teeth.
I pull a mirror and tissue from my pocketbook. "Here, let me help you clean that up."
"Be gone, heathen! Away!" She jumps up, knocking over her chair.
Allison studies her, then turns to me. "Sometimes I think she's speaking metaphorically."
Cherie stops mid-tantrum, looks interested.
"You know, like poetry," Allison says. "You say you want to help but she doesn't appreciate you. Maybe, through the filter of her delusions about sin and evil, she's saying she doesn't want what you're trying to give."
"You're talking as though your sister isn't in the same room. Is this some new psychological theory?"
"Just an experiment. What do you think, Cherie?"
Cherie giggles maniacally. "I think, um..." She makes a deep buzzing sound.
"I guess she doesn't want to talk about it," Allison says. "But you could try not nagging her for a while and see if she relates to you any better."
I refuse to answer the little snot. Thinks she's so smart because she has degrees in psychology and I had to drop out of college after one year.
Copyright Suzanne Gold, 2001. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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