It was a relatively long walk from her home to the hospital, but it had been years since Mercedes had ridden the city bus, and she feared that the fare had risen and she wouldn't have enough change to get there and back. So, she walked in the bitter November cold with mittens and tupperware in tote. She kept her eyes downward, as if to indicate to passersby that she wasn't a vagrant left alone on a holiday, and she didn't need them to roll down their windows and ask if she was fine. And, on the other hand (the worse one), she didn't want to accidentally make eye contact with someone she knew from school— it would, ultimately, be hard to explain. Why was she alone on Thanksgiving trekking through the wintry weather in the middle of the city? Best to look down at her shoes the entire journey— she knew the beaten path well.
She didn't have any of the fancy gadgets used to listen to music, but even if she did, Mercedes knew it wasn't safe to be by herself with songs blasting away through headphones. She was young and alone and people were vicious, or so she had been told, or so she had seen on the nightly news. Not that she had ever been a victim to any crime more heinous than that of the local school bully, but she knew there was always the possibility that something, effectively, important could happen to her (whether good or bad). And how tragic would that be? If she was struck down at such a nascent age while delivering Thanksgiving dinner to her single mother working the night shift at the local hospital? How unfortunate. Mercedes rolled her eyes to herself and cleared her mind. She had these thoughts of grandiosity occasionally, and sometimes they manifested in fame that wasn't the product of talent or individuality, but perhaps, if so sought, a therapist would one day explain that it was the reflection of neglect or maybe even a common characteristic of children who grew up in single parent households— not that she would ever blame her mother for her absent father or describe the woman as anything less than hardworking and God-fearing, but she could separate her mother's love from her mother's inadequacies, the largest one being her absence. Nanette had given birth to Mercedes in her mid-twenties and was well on her way to being a career woman; Mercedes didn't know much about her father, other than the fact that he had married some woman and lived on the west coast with his wife and new children. She always imagined him somewhere laid out on a lounge chair, drinking something fruity from a glass while his children, whom he loved, played around him. He'd look at his wife, whom he also loved, and laugh about his past flame and child stuck in cold and gray Ohio while he lavished in his blue and sandy new life.
Mercedes had never given much thought to who he actually was or what he was actually doing, and the picture of him in her mind had never faded or garnered much critical response. For all intents and purposes, he was somewhere on a beach, and she wasn't. That's all she needed to know.
The wind brushed against her runny nose intensely and her feet grew numb, but Mercedes continued forward without any complaints. Soon, the hospital was in her sights and her fingers burned as they froze, but she soon missed the smell of fresh air when the smell of chemicals and hesitant death hit her upon entering the front door. Mercedes found a receptionist that dialed into the floor Nanette was working on before instructing Mercedes to find a seat. The girl sat and pulled out the tupperware, a glass container with macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, collard greens and a piece of cornbread wrapped in tissue. She had baked a pound cake but decided to leave it at home to surprise her mother when she got off of work in the early hours. Placing her hands into her pockets, she counted to ten over and over again in her head while waiting for her mother to cross into the room and greet her with a smile.
"What's wrong,' she heard suddenly from behind. Nanette was standing over Mercedes with a worried look.
The girl smiled and handed the container over to her mother. "Happy Thanksgiving,' she said wryly but with love.
The anguish washed off of Nanette's face as she pulled the food from Mercedes's hand and bent down to hug her daughter. She gave her a kiss on the cheek and took a few steps back. "Thank you, baby,' she said, sincerely, and didn't mention that she hadn't had Thanksgiving dinner (on Thanksgiving) in almost twenty years (not counting the donated food from the local food banks).
"It might be cold by now. I started cooking as soon as I woke up."
Nanette beat away tears as an alarm went off somewhere deeper in the hospital. "That's fine, we got so many microwaves in this building, it don't make sense… you walked here or your little friend drove you?"
Mercedes lied. "I rode the bus."
Nanette nodded, opening the lid of the food and smiling. "Good, good. Do you need money to get back?"
Mercedes shook her head, but wondered if her mother had the change to give even if she had answered affirmatively. "No, I have it,' she lied again.
"Okay, Mercedes, be safe… Call me when you get back home."
Mercedes hadn't expected her mother to have to return to work so quickly, but she nodded and promised to call. They hugged again, Nanette kissing her on the forehead before jogging away to go attend to someone that had swallowed a turkey leg the wrong way. The receptionist smiled as she trekked back towards the cold, sinking sun. The entire exchange had lasted no more than ten minutes and most of that time was spent waiting for her mother to arrive on the first floor. She wasn't upset, but she had expected some more sentimentality revolved around the event. She couldn't have known that the plate had retained its heat or that some of the food she had cooked was meant to last until next paycheck, but, all the same, she didn't know how much it had meant to Nanette to eat something cooked by someone she loved on such a special day or how happy she was to have the option of seasoned seasonal food for the first time in years.