It must feel as if I am torturing her. I sit cross-legged on her bed, buried in blankets and pillows, and I wait for her to speak. The words come in waves, rising out of her throat and then retreating. When she speaks it is nothing extraordinary; her stories are nothing I haven’t heard before, and I won’t leave her room feeling as if the wall between us has disintegrated. It is the act of conversing itself that is extraordinary. Her lips do some of the talking, but the bruise the shape of a pacifier imprinted on her thigh, and the subtle stench of alcohol radiating from her skin, and the purple swells beneath her eyes – they pulse like the neon sign of the liquor store that reads, ‘Sorry, we’re closed.’ An attempt is made at a joke. It isn’t funny, and I don’t laugh. She tries to sit cross-legged with me, but she can’t seem to fold her crooked knees without a foot dangling off the bed. Put your shoulders back, I want to say, but I am not her mother, and even if I were, it would hardly make a difference. And as she bends down to grab something of no importance at all, she looks at me and she is a sunken ship. When she was ten years old, she told me she was running away. I watched in silence as she packed her bag, the one the color of raspberries. I woke up extra early, long before my Saturday morning cartoons, to say goodbye. The raspberry bag was exactly where she had left it, but she was gone. It felt like hours before I found her, sitting cross-legged in front of the television, a finger twirling her curls. ‘I changed my mind,’ she said to me. Just like that.
Now, a tear in her dress reveals the new tattoo that laces the cavity of her shoulder blade. ‘It means promise,’ she says. I chuckle to myself, but it is a sweater one size too small.