The woman fell down on the bed as soon as the front door closed. The last client had been rough; he had hit her a little too hard, and now she had a small bruise on her cheek. She lit a cigarette and spat into the mold-ridden sink that occupied her bathroom. She looked at her face in the mirror. It was an old face, a face ridden with guilt and broken promises, with abuse and regret. She picked a scab on her forehead and the dead skin fell into the sink, followed by a small drop of blood. She picked up the towel resting on the toilet, examining to make sure there were no suspicious substances on it as she wet it and pressed it to her face. A flick of her finger landed a clump of ash onto the old carpet, and with that she strutted over to the kitchen with a sigh.
The woman’s refrigerator was fairly sparse in the way of nutritious food. A mostly empty bottle of dijon mustard sat on the top shelf, right next to a jar of fish and a loaf of bread. She gently closed the door, wondering if she would ever see a pantry full of food in her life.
She opened the cabinet under the sink and found a small bottle of vodka. A vast, indescribable weight lifted off her back as she twisted off the cap and took a slug. The burn of the alcohol in her throat, the smell of liquor stinging her sinuses had always been a somewhat romantic thing to her. Even after all this time, she couldn’t escape how wonderful her ritual was; she would have intercourse with a local man, usually a shipyard worker or one of the vors from another one of the nearby provincial towns and after the man left, she would take the money from her kitchen table and hold it in her hands, thanking God for sustaining her as she clutched the crucifix hanging from her neck and drowned in the warm blanket the the alcohol provided her.
Her eyelids grew quite heavy quite quickly. She polished off the bottle, and just as she was about to drift off she heard a stomach-turning cry echoing out of the next room. She got up, although not without a small struggle. She attempted to orient herself, but was having a difficult time doing so. She began to gain a firm footing on the ground as she walked over to the room from which the screaming had originated. It was her baby; the baby, that out of nowhere had appeared to her just months earlier. She had not even known she was pregnant at the time. Her menstruation cycles had always been irregular as a result of the malnutrition she had endured as an adolescent, so it was of no concern to her when her periods came to a halt. Only when her stomach began to swell did she suspect something, anything was out of the ordinary.
She picked up the baby, still screaming, in her arms and gently moved him back and fourth through the air.
“Shh, Mihai. Shhh… calmează-te pentru copii… calm down baby…”
The woman had no idea who the baby’s father was. This was the only thing about her current situation that truly troubled her to the core, the only thing that kept her up at night. She had always dreamed of having a family like her mother’s; a small country cottage with a wonderful young husband, a strong, smart man for a son and a curious young woman for a daughter. Nothing had gone as planned. The Romanian economy collapsed in her teenage years. The act of enduring time became a very difficult one. She had always seen a certain kind of otherworldly light, as a child, at the very least a sign of future security when she pictured her God. Now all she saw was a figure to beg to, to plead to for her tribulation to end and for the strange baby to find its way some day.
She put the baby down gently in its cradle and lit another cigarette, looking out the window at the busy streets beneath her. She watched the smoke waft out the window, small pieces of it sinking into the walls on its way. She slept.
She awoke to the ring of the telephone, blaring harshly directly next to her ear. She groaned, feeling her body reel at the thought of being awake another day. After a brief moment of contemplation, she picked up the phone.
“Da,” she said. “Who is it?”
“Lucia, my baby. It’s your mother.”
Silence filled her lungs, her throat, her head, her very being. Pure shock ran through her veins.
“Mama,” she uttered with a struggle, dreading the conversation that was to come. “Mama, is it really you?”
“Yes, baby. It’s me, it’s me. How are you? It has been so long. I miss you so dearly, Lucia.”
“I miss you too mama. Not a day goes by where I don’t think of you.” This was a lie. She hated her mother.
“Have you found a husband yet?” her mother asked.
“Ah, no. I am so busy. I work everyday still,” she answered, rolling her eyes.
“Ugh Lucia, no. You must find a man. You can’t work all your life. This is 2000, my dear. It is a new era. The time for work has ended. You must find a man, and you must have a baby.”
“Yes mama, I know. It is difficult. I try, believe me.”
“Do you? Do you really?” her mother asked.
“Yes! Of course. But it is hard - every man I like, is either married or a homosexual,” answered Lucia.
“Unbelievable. There are no homosexuals in Bucharest.”
“Mama, you are silly. There are many homosexuals,” said Lucia, rolling her eyes as she lit a cigarette.
“Psh. None that I remember. Here, in America, homosexuals are everywhere. It is disgusting, the way they walk. They act like they own this country.”
“Mama, they do own the country. America is run by homosexuals.”
“Nonsense. The president is a good man. He has a wife.”
The small talk continued for what seemed like all day. Lucia couldn’t stand speaking to her mother. She was so cruel, so ruthless. Shame and guilt pulsed through her when she remembered the feeling she felt when she spoke to her mother, and because of those emotions, she grew livid at the thought of such an interaction.
She hung up the phone after saying goodbye and sighed a breath of relief. Finally, she thought. The stress was over.
She put her robe on and walked to the kitchen. The refrigerator was empty yet again, not that she minded. The thought of food at this hour repulsed her. Her head hurt far too much.
The baby hadn’t woke yet. She clutched her crucifix and thanked God for this.