Andrea’s feet didn’t touch the floor. The chair creaked beneath her as she kicked her legs in time with the song in her head. Usually, she waited in places like this with her mother who would bring books for her to read and a snack to eat.
Her mother wasn’t here, but Andrea could wait alone. She was a big girl now and had learned to entertain herself.
“Andrea Ramos,” the man who sat behind the counter called.
Andrea hopped to the floor. “That’s me.” She held up her hand like she had learned to do in school when she had something to say.
The counter was tall. She rested her chin on the cool, smooth top as the man sifted through papers. Finally, he looked down at her over his narrow glasses. “We don’t let children in alone,” he said.
“You’ll have to wait for your mother or father.”
Andrea didn’t know her father and would rather not have to wait for him. “I’ll wait for my mother.”
The man sighed and flipped through a few papers, stamping them with a big rubber stamp.
Andrea shifted her weight from one foot to the other and gripped the counter. She wondered if she could hang from it.
“You can wait here, or you can wait at home with your mother.”
She looked back at the row of chairs, nearly all full now. The choice was easy.
Her mother cried. That used to make Andrea scared, but since she’d been back, her mother cried so often that she had gotten used to it. She wished she could do something to help her mother feel better, but every time she tried it only seemed to make things worse.
Andrea always wondered what it would be like to be invisible. Now that she was it wasn’t much fun. She sat on the floor next to her mother’s desk watching her work. Everything was gray, rough gray fabric cubicle walls; short gray carpet flecked with blue. The fluorescent lights buzzed overhead. There were no windows.
People filed into her mother’s cubicle. Everyone said they were sorry. Some said nothing at all, but their eyes revealed their pity.
Andrea never thought that her mother had a life separate from her own before. It was as if in her mind her mother hadn’t existed without her. Now she knew that wasn’t true. Her mother existed in the grayest saddest place in the world most of the day. It was far worse than school ever was.
Time was like coasting downhill on her bicycle. Her mother met a man. Andrea liked his beard, but mostly she liked that he made her mother laugh more than she ever had.
The children didn’t bother her until they reached the same age as her. Her mother would sit by the girls’ bedsides, reading to them from Andrea’s favorite books. Every time she kissed them on the foreheads and told them that she loved them Andrea felt her own heart being suffocated. She never thought she would be replaced.
Andrea dropped pans, slammed doors, and knocked vases from shelves. She felt ashamed of how much joy the sound of the girls crying gave her. She didn’t mean to scare her mother.
They moved. Andrea followed. She settled into the shadows and tried her best to behave. The girls grew, older than Andrea and suddenly her mother’s love for them didn’t hurt as much. They had girls of their own.
The machines that tethered her mother beeped. Andrea walked through the people at her mother’s bedside. Melancholy hung in the air. She could feel it. She stood at the bedside watchful, waiting. When her mother finally made eye contact with her, her heart leaped. “You can see me?” she asked.
Her mother nodded. “I have always seen you.”
Lovelyn Bettison writes speculative fiction with a multicultural cast.