They spent about two minutes in Payless, and Jemma sat on a bench
and declined to try any shoes on. When Shar suggested going for ice
cream, Jemma said she wasn’t hungry. Shar gulped down a chocolate
cone out in the cold while Jemma dozed in the car, and then they drove
Shar stored the pills in her medicine cabinet and doled them out to her
daughter each night. She liked doing it this way, and Jemma seemed to
appreciate it, too. She did it with gravity, brought her a glass of water and
the pill as she climbed into bed or, more often, fell into bed half dressed.
Jemma thanked her every time, and it made Shar think of when she was
a baby and would cease her hungry crying as soon as Shar entered the
room, as if her mother’s presence was all the sustenance she needed, as if
she had already asked for too much.
Jemma got sort of loopy for a while, but then there was an ease in
her shoulders and forehead. It seemed like maybe the pills were going to
work. She was smiling more and inviting her friends over every now and
again, and her progress report from school showed a little improvement.
Then one Monday Shar had to go to Carlyle early for her annual sexual harassment training, and when she came home at three in the afternoon, she found Jemma still asleep.
She shook her awake. “What is wrong with you?” she said. “You didn’t
get into those pills, did you?”
Jemma rubbed her eyes. “What time is it?”
“That’s it,” Shar said, throwing the covers back, the sour scent of
unwashed sheets wafting into her face. “This has to stop. From now
on, you’re using your own alarm, and you’re getting your own self out
of bed, and if you fail out of school, tough tittie. I’ve coddled you too
much. Your brother didn’t get special treatment and special pills and a
special person to talk to, and you know what? He’s doing quite well for
Jemma frowned. “He spent a year in juvie when he was my age.”
“Well, he’s doing well now. At least he doesn’t waste the day lolling
“I told you, I don’t feel good. I hurt.” She kicked at the pile of bedding,
startling Shar. “Why is this happening?”
“Where do you hurt?” Shar squeezed Jemma’s shoulder.
Jemma flinched, though Shar’s touch hadn’t been rough, then started
to cry. “Everywhere.”