The room — cold enough to pull up the hair on a pair of thin, freckled arms — fills slowly.
The television — on the wall facing an audience of side-by-side mothers — jokes loudly.
The eyes — wet with the secret of the hour and lashed with shame — open rarely.
A woman in pastel green scrubs enters. Her arms are full of white blankets, one for each.
“Joy?” she calls, painting the room with the brush of her thick brown eyes, expecting. “Joy?” she says again, but a stroke louder.
What kind of woman would come here looking for joy? Oh, it’s first names only inside this quiet.
Joy sits, one thin leg tucked behind the other, one frail arm draping her stomach in an empty hug. The loud hum of silence sways her back and forth like the gray puff of a dandelion dancing in the wind. Any minute, she could blow all to pieces.
Pulled from the deep soil of mindlessness, the small, freckled girl with her arms folded to fight the chill uproots her eyes. She nods without breaking the still of her face and whispers, “Yes?”
Cradling her fresh, white cloth, clinging to it like a chaste child, Joy leaves the room with the woman who had brought the blankets.
While Joy is gone, the rest of the women in the room hide beneath a cover of white.
Joy returns, an IV dripping water into the string of her right arm. They allowed no eating or drinking past midnight, and so the women hunger and thirst together like motherless children.
“Do you think it’ll hurt?” asks the Asian girl with the long braid, the short shorts, the high socks, and the low voice.
Joy’s eyes roll, moisten, then close. The needle in her arm means she won’t feel a thing, she might even be asleep when they clean her out.
Women come and go for the next handful of minutes. Eventually, each woman is tied to her own clear bag of water that hangs in the air on a silver pole.The cold shakes each to her core… the words caught in their chests are truly moving.
“Joy?” This time, a nurse with an accent and a rough hand barks for the girl to follow.
“Joy?” The short-haired, high-strung nurse calls.
The Asian girl stretches her free arm across to tap Joy’s shoulder and says, “Hey, wake up.”
Joy isn’t sleeping.
She just isn’t ready. Joy isn’t ready. Joy isn’t ready. Joy isn’t ready.
She wants her home. Joy cries and cries and cries and cries.
This is why they sent the strong nurse.
Holding Joy together with a strength foreign to each almost-mother since the last monthly spill, the tough old woman carries the wilting child away.
Before the close of business today, each would be spread like peanut butter across the white wonder bread of a doctor’s table, peeled open like the stuck-together pages of a child’s diary, and wiped clean like absolution in the darkness of a confessional.
Joy doesn’t come back. Women come and freeze and shatter and disappear, and the room forgets they were ever here, and … somewhere beneath the haze, somewhere beyond all of that quiet, somewhere between the pieces they left behind and didn’t scoop out, I hear God give away my seat at His table.