She can’t be late. The clinic makes appointments without consultation — they just tell her when to be there and be there she must. It’s Probation but they call it something else, something nicer to tell your families. They set up shop on Main Street, blocks up from the river, the smell of saltwater following us inside, burrowing into the brown carpet, here to stay. As long as your nose works, you will never forget where you come from.
The secretary recognizes Mindy — calls her by name. But she doesn’t like the look of me. “She’s my ride,” Mindy protests when the secretary asks if I could wait outside.
We watch a nature program while the secretary keeps watch of us. I’m wrong about her title. She’s a secretary the way in-store detectives pretend to be shoppers. The phone rings and she mumbles into it. She tells the caller, “I’ve got people here.” But I’m not people, not like Mindy at least. She’s nobody. Just a reason to get up so early today.
The ceiling creaks with toddlers pouring into the daycare center. It was wise to rent the space above this one. Maybe if these kids spot enough Mindys coming and going they’ll be smarter. They won’t end up like the drunks I’ve seen passed out on the bar, Mindy rifling through their wallets while I watch the door.
“I’ll buy you lunch! And we can share a piece of peanut butter pie like the old days at the coffeeshop. Your teeth are so white!” Mindy rubs rain from her knees.
“Thanks, I gave up coffee.”
On the nature show a lioness has adopted a baby deer sort of creature, perhaps a gazelle. I cannot make out the narration because Mindy is overcompensating with her mouth, but I hear him in a British accent say of the lioness as she nuzzles the baby, “She is not ready to return to the others.”
It’s not a rocking chair Mindy sits in but one of its legs has been filed down somehow, so she grinds it to the floor, back and forth, as the children pound into the ceiling above, tumbling across like a herd on the move.
A commercial comes on for a sports car and Mindy’s rocking stops. I carefully angle my head so that I can watch her. Mindy’s eyes are big and green, her legs small and bruised, and her entire face juts out as though someone is standing behind her pulling back her cheeks. She looks like the grandmother we share. Mindy won a Best Legs contest. She always tells people that when they compliment her from the other side of a bar. I agree that she has beautiful legs, but from that side of a bar, everyone does.
A door finally opens down the hall and a girl exits wearing too much eyeliner for this early hour. She passes us as the counselor calls to Mindy. Bubbling over like a pot left unattended, Mindy bounces into the room, almost skipping. The ejected girl signs a book that I hadn’t noticed on the table to my left. She nods at the watchdog secretary and walks out into the rain, not even covering her face.
I want to know this book. There are printed names and signatures next to them. I try to make them out but it’s just so obvious — what kind of person would look at such a book? Mindy is talking down the hall, the door to her confession hangs open as I hear her recite, “I want to go back to school, I want to forgive my mom, I want to get my license back and never drink again...” They closed the door for the other girl and it doesn’t seem fair. Mindy’s wound gapes as she oozes forth, “It’s because I was abused, I think... Escapism and all that...”
I drove her here but none of us have Mindy in our homes anymore, not unless we want to visit the three pawnshops in town on a wild goose chase afterward. She talks about my aunt — a woman I only remember once yelling at us to eat all of our fish sticks: “It’s not Mom’s fault for dying, but I’m still mad at her anyway...”
I want to pull Mindy out of that office, drive her down to the coffee shop and spin her on the stool while wrapping her like a little mummy, wrapping her mouth so that no one will know her festering. Unless it needs air. She might need air. I need water. I go to the bathroom. The sink doesn’t work. I come right out and the secretary asks, “You thirsty?”
“We turn the water off in there,” she rises and goes to a small fridge I hadn’t noticed next to the bookshelf behind her desk.
“Why do you turn it off?”
“So they can’t warm up any urine that they sneak in here.” She hands me a small bottle of water.
She nods as though she’s made up her mind about me. I pass the book and scan the carefully printed names. So many of them and it’s still so early. A child falls above me and begins to cry straight through the floorboards. With a remote control, the secretary turns up the volume on the television. I look up and see a lion eating the baby deer thing as the lioness paces behind them, frantic and confused. The narrator asks, “Will the lioness come to the baby’s defense?”
The baby screams as the lion pulls intestines from its belly. Mindy laughs down the hall. I take a sip from my water and sit in her chair, rocking, waiting.