Sally Payson Hays
Hazards of the Trade
When Edie wakes up, the first thing that runs through her head is, Time to go. The thought persists, like a glossy sheen of oil slathered on a camera lens, as she gets dressed, brushes her teeth looking at the view of the Bay Bridge through the bedroom window, and as she bends to kiss her sleeping husband Dominic’s cheek, the gray in his hair tousled on the pillow outnumbering the glossy black. When did that happen? She asks, balancing her coffee, her lunch, and her purse as she rolls the bulging test kit from her downstairs office through the garage and heaves it in the trunk of her grey sedan. When did it happen that her hair too had become more white than black along her temples? With barely a sigh, Edie snaps the mirror on the driver's side shade back into place and brusquely backs out of the garage. She would have preferred to walk and take public transportation to work, but the IEP she has to attend that day is in a location where streetcars run erratically if at all. Edie tries not to think about how much this and the added work of the extra assessment case increases her irritation: students are like mood barometers, and she needs to find that distanced equilibrium before engaging in any kind of evaluation in order to not risk skewing outcomes.
Mentally, she ticks off the items on her schedule: assess this boy for emotional disturbance, then after grabbing her own early lunch, heading back to the elementary school for the lunch time IEP, then if possible a quick review of records at the high school for the two new students that landed on her case load before finishing with therapy with a girl who had been assigned twenty court ordered sessions—the only activity this particular day that she actually looks forward to. This assessment case, a contentious one already with lawyers involved, she agreed to take on due to the not so subtle pressure from her supervisor.
"Everyone is taking on extra cases," Justine had said, "I'm doing four." From her boss's weary expression Edie knew this was true: everyone else but she had so far shouldered the weight of Harvey Toobin's last minute firing by taking on added work. Still, had Justine taken her advice at the interview panel, Toobin would never have been hired in the first place. She sensed his incompetence through the self-satisfied bluster but had acceded of course to Justine: the pressure to fill the position even then too great.
"But this is bullshit," Edie says to herself again as she pulls into a parking spot right in front of the high school. Her rare parking luck softens the acidity if her internal dialogue—it is one of a handful of spots where she can stay for more than two hours. She must have arrived just as someone else was leaving. Edie thinks wryly, as she gathers her things from her car, how small victories like this only help to inure her to the larger problems of working in this overwhelmed urban district—as a regular drain on her salary, she pays at least a few hundred dollars a year in parking fines. But Edie is a professional, and as she walks across the threshold of the school, the mask of competence descends, shielding her both from thoughts of how bad this job has become over the years, as well as more personal concerns like her sickly father, the upcoming IEP and potential lawsuit on behalf of her niece in Massachusetts, her own overdue mammogram.
One of the things that makes Edie so good at her job is ability to turn her entire attention onto a child to gauge not only cognitive and processing abilities but social emotional weaknesses as well. Edie is one of the best in the district at picking out and discriminating the etiology of problems that are based mostly in emotional disturbance. Her assessments have almost always resulted in accurate clinical diagnoses and legally defensible appropriate placements. This is why so often she is pulled into some of the more difficult cases. Earlier on in her career, this natural talent had been a particular point of professional pride. But lately Edie experiences it as a double-edged sword because it causes her to have a heavier caseload of truly challenging students to evaluate. And she wonders too, given the lack of resources for treatment and prevention, if it isn't a waste; after all, she has this skill because she is also a talented clinician, something she is rarely given time to practice. Shrugging off the thought, Edie lets herself into her small office and rolls the test kit to the table. As she prepares the protocols and the various test kits on the desk in the order she plans to use them, Edie reminds herself what she knows already of Raymond, the ninth-grade boy she is to evaluate.
According to records and her own observation, while he can be explosive and disrespectful in class, he seems for the most part sweet and cooperative; his primary eligibility is under the category of Specific Learning Disability in visual processing; he has a long-standing diagnosis of ADHD but inconsistent treatment (meaning no medication); he has a disciplinary record for skipping classes, being rude to teachers and staff, and last spring in middle school had been caught in the boys locker room allegedly smoking weed. So for this triennial assessment, Edie does not need to reconfirm his cognition or processing—that had been firmly established in the two prior assessments. Her job today is to discriminate between Conduct Disorder, Emotional Disturbance, and/or Other Health Impaired as a result of untreated ADHD. So far, she has documented that Raymond is significantly off-task compared to his peers in class: when she observed him in Social Studies, his attention strayed after more than a minute or two.
Today, in his special education Math class, she watches as more than once, Raymond smacks himself on the side of the head as he visibly pulls his attention back to the worksheet packet he is tasked with completing. The teacher, noticing this, places a gentle hand on the boy’s back in encouragement, complicating Edie’s reaction: clearly the teacher cares about Raymond, and from the almost beseeching look the boy casts to his teacher in response it is clear to Edie that he likes this teacher in turn. Still, worksheets!?! Almost nothing is more difficult for an attentionally challenged student. Not for the first time does Edie question how much the emotional problems she witnesses stem from entirely inappropriate curriculum. In this day and age, so much is available to make some subjects—math, particularly—totally game-based and engaging; there is almost no excuse for putting this kid into a position where so much of his effort has to be strained to maintain attention to complete one-size fits all worksheets. The result, Edie grimly notes, as she ticks off the amount of times Raymond is off task, is that teachers either have to rely on personal connection (as this current young teacher with the kind smile is managing to do with Raymond), or in the worst-case scenarios: punishment. Edie watches Raymond almost twitch as he struggles to maintain focus. With a loud sigh, he taps the desk and flips to the next page of the packet. The teacher, noticing that he has accomplished a small part of the task before him, places a marble in a cup that sits at the edge of Raymond’s desk. Meanwhile, the last of his peers complete their packet and put it into a wire mesh basket on the teacher’s desk. Noting this, Raymond grimaces, picks up the cup, and swirls it so the marbles orbit inside. So clearly behind, he moves in an unconsciously agitated way. Almost predictably, two of the marbles escape, trajectories sending one flying towards the corner, and the other hitting the girl in front of Raymond in the back of the head.
“What the—!” she squeals. Whipping around, she smacks Raymond’s hand “Idiot!”
Turning a reddish color beneath his dark skin, Raymond’s lips tighten. The teacher, forestalling a confrontation, steps quickly between the two before he can react.
“It was an accident Darneesha.” To Raymond she says, “Please find the marbles, Okay?”
With an exaggerated sigh, the boy stoops and noisily gropes around for the marble on the floor beneath his desk. After dropping it with an elaborate flourish back into the cup the teacher holds and maintaining eye contact with Darneesha who continues to glare, Raymond saunters over to the corner and fishes around for the marble on the floor. Making elaborate noises that now have the whole class distracted, Raymond finally grasps the marble.
“Got it!” He leaps to his feet in triumph—but not without consequence: his large, somewhat ungainly frame upends the white board, on which the day’s lessons are written. The ensuing noise and tumult prompt the other kids in the class to hoot and howl. The teacher’s face, prior to now patient and kind, flushes; her expression turns brittle. Seeing an opportunity, Edie jumps in.
“Okay if I take him now?” she asks, and the teacher visibly sighs.
“Here Raymond,” the teacher says, putting an arm on his should to stop him from picking up the white board and making the situation worse, she holds out the cup for the second marble, “Don’t worry about it. Just leave your things here. You can come back for them later. Dr. Diaz is going to work with you for the rest of the period.”
Edie gathers her things indicating with her head for the boy to follow her from the room. He seems guardedly interested now, not realizing before that the few times she’d been in class she was probably there to watch him.
“What’s this for?” he asks as they walked through the shadowed pea-green of the darkened hallways. Edie has the sense if she answers in a way that doesn’t please him, he will, in errant orbit, veer off down one of the many hallways branching off in intervals.
“You aren’t in trouble,” Edie replies. “I just need to ask you some questions.”
“Is it gonna take long?” Raymond’s expression is hooded, barely concealing mistrust. “I got basketball practice at lunch.”
Edie smiles, “Don’t worry, we’ll be done by then.”
In the small office, Raymond sits, and Edie notes his legs are too long to fit beneath the round table. She can see why, if he were angry, Raymond might intimidate his teachers. Still, he comes across as quiet, laconic even. She gives him the BASC-2 open to the page where he needs to simply put a mark in the circles delineating his agreement with the statements about himself as true or false. She describes the process and what the assessment is for—how every three years in order to make sure he’s getting the right services, he needs to be reassessed.
“Go ahead and read the first couple of sentences,” Edie directs. Once she is sure he can read and comprehend the words, she tells Raymond to continue on his own silently. She notes his lips move as he reads. She takes out a blank sheet of typing paper, and while Raymond is focused on the task, sketches him, trying to catch the darkened circles under his eyes, the way his arched sculpted upper lip darts down to a point over his full lower one. It isn’t easy to catch the boy’s expression: Raymond moves and twitches, and Edie moves the sheet of paper onto a large book on her lap because his jiggling causes the whole table to vibrate. After the measure is half-done, Raymond stands up suddenly and shakes out his arms, rolling his head as if to work out kinks in his neck.
“Damn this is boring!” he blurts. “That a photo from the space station?” he points to a poster high on the wall of a view of the blue earth rising or setting behind the moon.
“I don’t know,” Edie says, honestly. She hadn’t thought to question it before. “What do you think?”
“Well,” he says, considering. “It’s not from the moon’s surface. You can tell by the curvature.” Raymond’s attention then darts to her framed diploma, “You from England or something?”
“I studied for a post-graduate degree in Oxford.” Edie smiles as his attention veers again. He picks up a semi-soft ball from a bowl on her desk and squeezes it almost compulsively. This seems to calm him down, and he sits, unbidden, picks up the pencil and plows through again until completing his responses on the BASC-2 protocol. With a grunt, he pushes it towards her, noticing for the first time that she has been drawing him. Raymond stands, comes to look over her shoulder.
“Damn!” he says. “You an artist for a living?”
Edie smiles and hands the sketch to him. “No. Just for fun.”
As Raymond looks at the portrait, holding it up beside his own face to inspect it in the mirror that hangs on the back of the office door, she quickly scans Raymond’s responses on the protocol: no signs of self-harm, statements endorsed regarding poor attention and difficulty in schools: pretty much what she expected.
“Damn!” Raymond says again at the picture. Then, after scanning more of the various things hanging on the wall, he sits down again, his hand continuing to squeeze the ball rhythmically. The boy looks at Edie directly. “You got talent.” he says, “What you doing wasting your time here?”
She chuckles in response and points to the assessment, “Tell me about some of your answers on this: seems like paying attention is really hard.”
The boy shrugs and winces, the speed of his hand squeezing the ball increasing. “Yup.”
“Is there anything you find easier to pay attention to?”
“Not at school,” he replies. “’Cept maybe basketball. And sometimes… you know… those things we do in Biology. Labs. But not the writing part. Just the experiments.”
Edie nods. “Have you always had a hard time paying attention?”
Raymond considers, and stopping the squeezing, he looks intently at the ball. Then, looking at Edie, he nods. “School sucks.” As if driven by a motor, Raymond shoots up, tosses the ball back into the bowl on Edie’s desk, and walks in a tight circle. “We done?” he asks. “I gotta get out of here. This room is too tight.”
Even though they are not done, Edie concedes. “I do have some more things I want to complete with you. Okay if I come back later this week and we try some more?”
But Raymond is already out the door, his words hanging in the space between them. “Yeah, okay.” She hears him say, and then jarringly the bell signaling the end of the period drowns out the sound of his footsteps disappearing down the hallway. Edie opens her briefcase and pulls out the BASC-2 protocols completed by Raymond’s teachers and his mother. In less than twenty minutes she enters the data and scores them. They reflect what she already suspects: significant hyperactivity, and attention difficulties but no internalizing problems like anxiety or depression from school staff. The teachers don’t even see Raymond as demonstrating significant oppositional defiance—and this is a change from what previous school records indicated. Raymond himself endorses nothing significant except for attention problems and poor relationships with teachers and his parents. In contrast, his mother rates him in the clinically significant range for everything, and the parent form filled out states concerns about his fragile sense of self-esteem and possible suicidality. But problems at home don’t necessarily translate to problems at school—and to Edie, Raymond seems far from suicidal, if perhaps somewhat uneasy and aware of his struggles. Still, she writes a note to herself to do a risk assessment the next time they meet. Edie pulls out the file with the completed report for the student whose IEP meeting is scheduled at the elementary school where she also works. This one should be easy—a straight visual processing deficit in a delightful little girl who tries very hard, and whose parent is active in the PTA. Edie steps out of her office and walks down the hall to make a copy of the report. She is technically not supposed to make copies at one school for IEP’s held at another, but in the long run it comes out even. As she looks out the window, she can hear from an adjacent office the vice-principal in a contentious conversation with a parent. From the tone of voice, and a few snatches of words here and there, Edie can tell it is about some teacher or other, and the parent is upset. Hearing the placating tones of the vice-principal Edie tries to quell her own knee-jerk reaction to side with the parent: she herself has come into conflict with this administrator. He is so often condescending and glib in his global judgment of students, and Edie has witnessed him engage in a not-so-subtle form of public shaming. Still, telling herself she doesn’t know the circumstances, when the copying is complete, she walks quickly back to her office. This is what it has come to, she thinks: avoidance. She no longer tries to consult and work with staff members who she knows only make things worse. Just as with the teacher relying on worksheets, but who maintains a positive relationship with kids like Raymond, Edie has to acknowledge that when efforts are “good enough,” it enables her to move on and ignore opportunities when she could step in and make a difference with consultation. She simply hasn’t the time, something she resents deeply about her job: it isn’t what she went into being a school psychologist for. As one of the younger psychs in the department had recently groused, she hadn’t planned on being just a “test monkey.”
In her car, Edie pulls up to a small park that overlooks the City. She gets out, and walks to the empty swing sets and sits, opening the brown-bag that contains her lunch. This is one of the perks about the days she drives to work. In between sites, she can stop and take in the City view, and for a moment forget about how much work she has to accomplish by all of the deadlines, and how dispiriting it is after almost twenty years in the field to feel as if nothing significantly improves. This is not to say that Edie has not had individual triumphs: twice she has prevented students from committing suicide, has had countless interactions with teachers and parents that she knows has helped other individual students. But the numbers every year increase and the circumstances every year seem worse—maybe due to the economy, decreasing school budgets, even more intractable problems like incarcerated parents, children born after in utero exposure to drugs. Whatever. All Edie knows is that in the aggregate, her job feels more and more like running on a hamster wheel spinning in place—never able to get on top of things, never able to see larger goals or improvements. Because every year there is a new round of students, families, even teachers and other staff, every year it is like starting at the same place all over again. And lately, Edie has begun to feel the effort without any true sense of accomplishment is aging her. For the first time this fall she sat down and calculated how much longer it would take to be vested so she could retire. It surprised her to see that she had only six more years before she could retire with full benefits, and if she were willing to take a cut on her pension, she could leave even earlier. Tomorrow, if she decides she has had enough.
Knowing this makes it harder, in a way, to put her usual effort into things. It reminds her of the way she felt at the end of her degree in Oxford, how close she was—despite the possibility of onerous student loans with nothing to show for them—to dropping out. But that was before Dominic came up with the plan of returning to San Francisco. It was he who convinced her to follow him back here, to the City where he had grown up and where they had met at the end of her twenties and him ten years older. With his salary as a technical writer at Google, they had been able to buy a small turn of the century bungalow before the housing prices in their neighborhood skyrocketed. It was he who had mapped out the plan for the both of them—she would work in the school district, he would work in Silicon Valley, and then when they both had completed 20 years, or if he made a lot of money (whichever came first), they could retire and travel, trading their house in a fashionable part of the City for places to stay all around the world. But he had had more luck than she—landing a job at Google within two years of their return, while it took her another two to land a regular job in the local district. Edie admits this is part of the current problem: every day when she heads off to work it is hard not to send small shafts of envy at Dominic’ sleeping head where he can lie in bed for another hour or two after she has gone. With a sigh, Edie looks at the curve of the hills in the distance where they dip down in a blue green line to the Bay. Beyond those hills she can just see the tops of the Bridge, and she knows that her husband only a few hills in between is probably now at that moment, sitting on the small deck and reading the paper as he drinks his coffee. With effort, she pushes the thought away regarding the unfairness of it all. She reminds herself that she could choose to quit tomorrow if need be. And with that small comfort, she crumples up the paper bag, tosses it into the trashcan, and returns to her car.
The IEP runs longer than expected due to an anxious mother needing the time and space to air complaints that her daughter had not been provided with help before it became a problem. And because this woman has been on the School Site Council and raised a substantial amount of money for the school, the principal is more conciliatory than usual. Edie, who does not escape the mother’s criticism (she should have been involved earlier; she should have taken less time to evaluate and calculate results) feels unexpectedly defensive and frustrated. She finds herself unable to not state things with an ironic tone of voice, and of course this backfires: the mother, her dark intelligent eyes reading Edie accurately, states a general threat that she knows her educational rights and has a lawyer. Of course you do, Edie thinks. I would have a lawyer if I were in your shoes. But still, she feels antipathy towards the woman because the IEP extending an hour longer than planned means now she won’t be able to look over the cumulative academic folders for those two new cases. As is it she will barely have enough time to make it back to the high school for the afternoon therapy session with Shari, a diminutive street-punk Asian girl who is working with Edie as a requirement of parole. Because she feels crunched for time, because in the end she really doesn’t care either what this mother thinks or the principal for that matter (a highly competent administrator who Edie admires for her straight-forward approach), Edie swallows her words. She knows the little girl is fortunate for having a mother like this as an advocate: someone who is smart and somehow has an innate understanding of what her daughter needs—both in terms of support and pressure. It is so much more than most kids have, Edie thinks. More than Raymond, more than Shari.
So Edie says nothing when the notes reflect the parent complaint that she took too long to complete the assessment. She says nothing and ignores the almost surprised expression on the principal’s face. Instead, as soon as she can, Edie excuses herself from the meeting, explaining that she has another appointment across town, and once again drives the twenty minutes back to the high school. By extraordinary luck, when she arrives a car is pulling out of the same space in which Edie had parked that morning. She wonders if it is the same person vacating the spot, as if they were doing a complex anonymous dance, taking unconscious turns, passing the space back and forth. With this ironic thought, Edie walks quickly back to her office, this time leaving the test kits in the trunk and instead taking only her note pad.
Shari waits by the locked door. She is chewing on her fingers nervously, biting the cuticles, as Edie knows the girl has a tendency to do until they bleed. When Edie opens the door, Shari slumps in and sits heavily on the lumpy love-seat couch that Edie rescued years ago from the curb in front of some neighbor down the hill.
“I’m so totally fucked,” Shari says blankly, as Edie puts her purse beneath her desk and settles herself into the only comfortable chair in the room. She notices that she left some of the protocols from her earlier testing session on the table where, if she wanted, Shari could read them. Edie collects the protocols in a pile and puts them on her desk.
Ignoring the girl’s profanity she asks, “How so?”
“Well,” Shari sits up a bit, “I’m homeless again. And if I don’t find somewhere official to crash, I really have to move to Berkeley.” The small girl has an asymmetrical haircut streaked with purple and blue, and her speech is somewhat hampered by the lisp caused by a stud in her tongue. Edie knows that moving for Shari means repeating the first two months of the semester, but even more upsetting for the girl: being far away from her boyfriend Than. “I mean, I can stay with Than—his grandpa is totally cool with it—but with the probation, they won’t let me since the bust.” Than’s father had been sent to jail for operating a brothel from their house in the Sunset. Edie doesn’t think it was a good idea for Shari to be there anyway, despite the girl’s assurances that without the father nothing illegal still occurs there.
“What happened?” Edie asks, and Shari rolls her eyes.
“What else?” Shari scoffs, “Fucking Albert.” Albert was Shari’s “auntie’s” boyfriend. “I swear if I ever get that stupid about a loser like Albert, someone better put me out of my misery and shoot me.”
Edie smiles: she likes Shari, who for all her profanity and disrespect for most adults has a clear sense of what it means to be a strong female in the midst of an unsupportive and even threatening world. “What do you want to do?” she asks the girl.
“For real?” Shari says. “Well if I could do what I want, I’d go home with you.”
A few beats of silence follow this comment that has taken Edie by surprise. She has been working with Shari for two months after the girl got arrested for shoplifting diapers for her Auntie’s baby. But nothing Shari has said before ever gave the impression that these sessions meant anything to her.
“Why does that appeal to you?” Edie asks choosing her words carefully.
“Oh don’t get all freaked out!” Shari says, eyes flashing at the quick assumption of rejection. “I’m not begging to be your daughter or nothing. Just… I bet you got a nice place to live. You know, with a kitchen and all, and probably a nice bed.”
Edie pictures Dominic probably sitting that moment at the kitchen table doing the crossword puzzle and planning what to make for dinner. Yes. I have a nice place.
“It sounds like you feel as if you don’t have options that provide you with that—a nice place to live.”
“Well duh! You think?” Shari responds, and despite her words, the girl speaks with humor and Edie can’t help but smile. She suddenly wishes she could bring Shari home, make up a bed for the girl on her office couch.
“What are your options?” she asks.
Shari shrugs. “I don’t really have any. The problem is, even if I do go with Mom, I don’t know how long I can stay. She won’t stop smoking, and the last time I was with her I ended up in the ER like, five times.” Shari has severe asthma. It is one of the things that infuriates Edie, hearing how some parents won’t make adjustments for their kids, even if it is a matter of significant health problems. The biggest concern now, however, is that Shari will do something self-destructive. An option for the girl, that she has fallen into using in the past, is to get arrested so that she can stay in juvenile hall. And though this sounds like a bad idea, there is some logic to it: her high school credits will count and continue since juvenile hall honors the credits from the school district. And Shari still has friends there. The other thing she could do is follow the same pattern as her old best friend Maricela, who, according to Shari is turning tricks down by the Wharf and making “like two hundred bucks a day, no lie!”
“What about Huckleberry?” Edie offers. “I could take you there myself.”
“No way!” says Shari “I don’t do no damned drug tests!” she says, referring to the required urine samples that kids in the halfway house are required to provide in order to maintain eligibility.
“Why not?” Edie asks. “You told me you quit weed two months ago.”
“It’s the principle,” Shari protests, turning around proudly and propping her Doc Martens on the arm of the couch. Again, Edie has to smile. Shari has wonderfully quirky principles that have impressed the psychologist both with their consistency despite fundamentally flawed reasoning: for example, she refuses to let her boyfriend drive her to her parole hearings, even though she steadfastly attends all of his; she refuses to let him pay for her birth control (“Ew!” she said at Edie’s suggestion); and she refuses to protest to her Auntie every time Albert is allowed to slink back into the home (“I would hate it if she ever criticized Than!”). Although this loyalty is hard to understand, it reminds Edie of Dominic and what she knows of his relationship with his mother and his own Auntie before they died unexpectedly within a week of each other. Her own connections with her father now that her mother is gone are limited to a phone call a few times a week to listen to him repeat the same stories from her girlhood in slurred and wavering tones.
“Well, I get that you have strong principles about drug testing,” Edie says to Shari now. “But are they worth hanging onto if it means you either have to suck down your mom’s second-hand smoke or deal with ‘creepy’ Albert?”
“Fucking Albert,” Shari mutters. Neither one of them mention Maricela, but that option, and the possibility of juvenile hall hang almost perceptibly in the air. “I don’t know. Like I said, I’m fucked.”
“Well you know what I am grateful for,” Edie says. “That you came here, even still, so we could talk about it.”
“Yeah?” Shari lets out sarcastically, and her mouth twists sardonically in a surprising blast of contempt. “Well if you really cared about me, you’d give me something more than just this stupid couch. Oh don’t look at me like that!” She says, noticing that Edie has stopped smiling. “It’s so fucking easy for you, dropping in like this and then leaving in your fucking fancy little gray car. If you really cared— ” Shari stops speaking then and turns her face to the couch.
Despite feeling stricken by this sudden attack, Edie has the professional awareness to know it isn’t about her.
“I do care,” she says calmly to Shari. “I would like to take you to a place where I know you will be okay.”
But Shari is crying for real and has buried her face into the couch. Minutes pass while Edie lets the girl cry. She thinks that perhaps all the time they have spent together has been propelling them towards this moment: Shari has gone through the stages of defensiveness, of deflecting humor, even outright attack. Now she is finally letting the truth of her shitty situation and shitty life sweep over her. Edie feels the strength of the emotion in this girl sweep over her too, knowing in part that her job is to simply remain there, unwavering as much as possible either in her willingness to give way or give in. After about fifteen minutes, Shari’s crying slows, and Edie realizes that the girl has actually fallen asleep. She stands and gets her own shawl from the coat stand by the door, unfolds it, and tucks it around the girl.
Another thirty minutes pass, and then the bell for the end of the school day rings. Shari, reaching her arm above her head, stirs on the couch. Edie, who has been catching up on paperwork, smiles when the girl opens her eyes to see her there.
“You feel any better?” she asks. “You must’ve been really tired.”
Shari yawns and stretches like a sleek little kitten waking from a nap. “Wow.” She says yawning. “Actually I do feel better.”
The girl sits up, and Edie comes over to sit beside her. She takes a deep breath.
“Shari,” she says firmly, “I know you don’t want to go to Huckleberry House and I understand that. But this really is your best option, and I will go with you. I will even stay as long as you want me to until you get settled in. But, honey, it’s your best option. Really. Please, can I take you?”
Shari looks at Edie. Instead of sixteen she looks about twelve, and her mouth twists. She reaches up a hand to bite her cuticles on her thumb, but Edie reaches out and takes the girl’s hand in her own, not wavering her eye contact. “Will you let me take you please?” And Shari, slowly slowly nods, tears again forming at the edge of her beautiful dark eyes.
And Edie does exactly what she promises, driving Shari to the large Victorian building at the edge of the park that, since the sixties, has been a haven for homeless and troubled youth. She sits beside Shari as the counselor on staff fills out paperwork, and helps her settle into the bedroom with clean, if worn, white chenille bedspreads on the four empty beds.
“You won’t be alone,” says the counselor. “Two more roommates at least—it’s not even five pm.”
And it is true. Two more girls later join Shari in the large white room, but none of them speak to each other. Shari lies curled up with her back to the room on a bed in the corner. By the time Edie leaves, it is dark, the sky a brilliant dark blue along the horizon. She walks to her car and only realizes as she unlocks it that she left her shawl with Shari. Oh well she shrugs. And she shrugs again as she takes the parking ticket off her windshield and gets in. Hazards of the trade.
Back at home Edie realizes that Dominic has gone out: she had forgotten he told her earlier he was going to visit a sick friend. But he kindly left her dinner with a note in the refrigerator.
Hope it wasn’t too rough of a day,
Edie goes to the bedroom and plugs her cell phone in and sets it down on the bedside table. She thinks about how the day has transpired, her crisp white shirt now wrinkled at the elbows and armpits—the flat even light of the fluorescent bulbs in her closet once again balancing the evening shadows exactly as they had that morning. Back in her pajamas she could have been staring at herself after the passage of a minute, except for the weariness on her face due less to a restless night than to a harried and frustrating day. Edie thinks of Shari, the angry way she steeled her shoulders walking into the shelter, and feels a wave of helplessness sweep through her, and then a second wave of resentfulness that on top of everything she feels responsible now for this. Edie feels the weight of unscored protocols in her briefcase still in the trunk of her car. She feels burdened by a sense of satisfying no one, and a feeling that tomorrow everything would be the same and the day after that and on and on for days to come.
Edie turns to the softness of her bed with a kind of weird sense of self-flagellation and falls asleep. Later, when she hears Dominic come in and move around the room getting ready for bed, she buries her face into the pillow, ignoring the open warmth of her husband's limbs as they reach tentatively for her beneath the covers. He rubs her back hopefully, then as she does not respond, he resignedly turns out the light.
In the darkness, sleep again sweeps Edie like a small boat on river surrounded by the soft green trees of her youth. In her dreams Edie sees her hands, young and brown and strong dipping down and scooping into the warm water, propelling her further. Slowly, she feels herself immersed into a sense of release as if leaving her crisply suited self behind on the river’s shore. With the rhythm of the current she paddles into the dim green and gold light and repeats to herself: Time to go. Time to go. Time to go.