Mona held open the creaky wooden door as Emma stepped into the building. The walls were either painted a light green, which the lights picked up and reflected throughout the hall, or the florescent light cast the minty color over off-white walls. Either way, the space made Emma think of straightjackets and padded cells. The cold linoleum floor, however, resembled icepacks, soothing her road-beaten bare feet. The smooth surface felt like a pillow compared to the gravel and pebble-strewn street. A few framed posters, like the signs she saw on the houses, hung on the walls, depicting staged scenes of people shaking hands in an office, moving into apartments, and cleaning up ...view middle of the document...
“She was pushed.”
“Thank you, Mona,” Shelly said, apparently not sharing the teenager’s sunny mood. “You can leave us now.”
Mona stopped bouncing, her smile dropped. Then she popped up and looked at Emma. “I’ll find you some shoes and socks. What size are you?”
“Great. Be back.”
When Mona disappeared into the hallway, Shelly asked, “Grace is it?”
“Yes.” She paused. “Well, actually, it’s Emma, but I often go by my middle name,” she lied.
“I see,” she replied, her drawn-on eyebrow arched. “Emma what?”
“Do you have any items to declare?”
“Pardon?” The stark obviousness that Emma had only the clothing she wore, made Shelly’s question feel like an insult to injury.
Shelly looked up from her paper and waited.
Emma found it not only absurd, but painful, considering everything she owned is now gone. She blurted, “I must have forgotten to grab those oranges on my way over.”
Shelly sat up straight, finally looking awake. She leaned forward, and placed her elbows on the desk, her fingers laced together. “Miss, I’m trying to help you. I’ve got plenty of folks here who would be thrilled to perform a cavity search on such a sweet, young thing like yourself, so I suggest answering my questions without attitude.”
Emma nodded and looked away. Next to the desk, a sign with a tally board hung from a nail. “2 days since last intake.”
“So, any items to declare?” she repeated.
“Good. Next question. Do you need medical attention?”
Remembering the burn to her hand, she glanced down at her palm. Even though it shone red, the stinging had subsided. “I don’t think so.”
Shelly looked at her with indifference. Using her pen, she pointed at Emma’s face. “Did you escape a fire?”
Emma wiped her nose with the back of her hand, transferring a black smudge to it. “Yes, someone set fire to my house.”
“You sure you don’t need any medical attention?”
“My throat is a little sore, but I’m fine.” The thought of being examined by strangers—in what felt like a foreign country—made Emma’s stomach churn with dread.
“Are you having any suicidal thoughts or have suicidal tendencies?”
“To both questions?”
“Yes.” Emma fidgeted in her chair. Her thin pajama pants offered little padding to offset the hard, wooden chair.
“You’re not sure?”
Again, the answer seemed abundantly clear. Emma’s pale skin and light red hair could speak for themselves, but she didn’t want to earn another reprimand from the sleep-deprived intake specialist. “I’m sure.”
“Please describe the nature and circumstances surrounding your displacement.”
Emma began to hate that word. She felt dehumanized; a displaced set of keys, a displaced toy; a displaced shirt behind the washing machine.
Mona bounded in carrying a pair of white socks and worn sneakers. She had a sweatshirt draped over her arm. “Here you go.” She held the shoes and socks out. “I know they’re not that great, but I think they’ll feel better than nothing.”
Emma took them and smiled. ...