“…Okay, but after that…” Her voice was soft and clear, filtered through the speaker of the phone pressed between Noemi’s shoulder and ear.
“I have work…” Dark curtains shrouded the room’s small window. A table lamp sat on the floor beside a mattress heaped with blankets. In the dim light, Noemi sat cross legged, a tray of medical supplies balanced on the pillow beside her. She had her t-shirt pulled half-off. Her body was covered in tattoos, band-aids scattered across a few bare patches on her stomach and thighs. “…Eleven, probably…” She unscrewed the top of a glass vial with an alcohol wipe. Setting the lid on an empty part of the tray, she shifted the phone against her ear and picked up a syringe. “…Yeah, I’ll come by, but I can’t stay up forever…” Dipping the syringe, she measured out a dose and drew the medicine from the bottle. Setting the vial on the tray, she used another alcohol wipe to screw the lid back on. “Yeah…Me too…Look, I’m sorry…I’ve got to run…” She folded it over and swabbed a patch of skin on her stomach. “You too,” she made a kissing noise, then laughed, “Bye…”
She waited for the chime of the call to go dead before shifting the phone back off her shoulder. It landed among the blankets, its display casting a glow across the folds behind her. Pinching an inch of skin between her fingers, she inserted the needle carefully, injecting the contents of the syringe into the layer of fat under her skin. There was a light knock on the door. “Mom…”
“Yes?” She withdrew the needle. Pulling a band aid from an open package on the tray, she peeled off the paper and stuck it down over the site, blotting out a small drop of blood.
“Gramma wants to know if you want breakfast.”
“I would love breakfast, but tell Gramma I’ll be a minute, and I have to run out right after, okay?”
“Yeah, okay, I’ll tell her…”
The apartment was small, kitchen, dining, and living rooms packed together, with a counter and a change of flooring in between. The couch was folded down into a bed. Mismatched shelving lined the walls, stacked with boxes and bins, canning jars, and aging medical texts. The windows were covered by blackout curtains.
Noemi’s mother stood at the stove in a kitchen full of lab equipment. A centrifuge spun on the table, plugged into a large portable battery. Three plates were lined up on the counter beside her, ready with slices of dense, whole wheat bread and cut fruit. She doled out eggs from a frying pan and put it back on the burner, switching off the heat.
Noemi reached for a plate. Her hand was blocked with a swish of her mother’s spatula. “You took your insulin?”
“Ten minutes ago.”
Withdrawing the spatula, she let Noemi take a plate. “You should look at your daughter’s homework before you leave.”
“I looked at it last night. It’s fine.”
“Is it? It looked all wrong to me.”
“That’s how they’re supposed to do it now. The teacher can see their calculator history, so they don’t need to copy it down anymore.”
“Well, she’s your daughter…”
Noemi kissed her cheek. “Thank you for making breakfast. This looks great.”
Outside the apartment complex, it was a shadowy dawn. The area had once been prime real estate, less than a block from the waterfront. Rows of stately townhouses lined the street, their interiors subdivided into cheap rentals. At the end of the road, the seawall loomed, three towering stories of reinforced concrete. Raised sidewalks and roadbeds ran over a vast system of concrete pillars and steel supports, stretching to meet the wall at its upper edge. Faint sunlight slanted down through the rain grates far overhead.
Noemi walked along the road, backpack slung over her shoulder. Traffic passed at a crawl. Taking a turn past a row of commercial storefronts, she entered the small ground floor office of a bank, and stepped into the elevator. On the other side, the doors opened into a sunlight flooded lobby. Pulling up a car service on her phone as she walked, she requested a ride and stopped at the corner to wait.
The sidewalks were packed with people. Cars streamed past each other, weaving in and out with computerized efficiency. Across the street, a group of tourists posed for a photo in front of a large, glass art installation designed to look like a miniature version of the city skyline.
A dinged up beige conversion pulled up. Noemi squeezed in with the two already in the back seat. Leaning against the window with her bag in her lap, she checked her predicted ride time. Ten minutes. She began to scroll down through the itinerary. The time ticked down for a few seconds, then, as the car took a turn, it flipped to thirty without adding another passenger. They turned again and it flipped back. Noemi tilted her screen toward the man sitting beside her, “Is this your stop moving up and down the list?”
She leaned forward, showing it to the couple in the front seats. They squinted at the screen. “Oh god, this happened last time, too…” The woman said, already looking at her phone, “It wants someone to pay for priority.”
“I don’t think that’s legal.”
“Probably not, right?” She had the service open on her phone. “I bet it stops in a year or two. You know, once they get sued, again. It was them that got sued a while back, right?” She looked at the man beside her, who shrugged. “I think it was them. They paid a fine. Something to do with inaccurate ride times…” She tapped an option, angling the phone’s camera toward her face to give authorization. “There! Should clear up once it refreshes.”
“Oh, it’s no problem. Small price to pay to actually get where you’re going, if you ask me…”
The ride time flipped to thirty minutes. Shifting her bag off her knees, she put her phone in a side pocket and pulled out a heavy pharmaceutical textbook and a pen. Squeezing the backpack down between her legs and the front seat, she flipped the textbook open to a bookmark. The margins were full of tiny, handwritten notes, pieces of text underlined once or twice for emphasis. The car meandered through the city, picking up and dropping off passengers. It changed its route as it went, and by the time it pulled up in front of the university, an hour had passed.
Carrying the textbook and pen, backpack slung over her shoulder, Noemi jogged up the steps, took the stairs up a couple floors, and ducked into a classroom. Taking a seat near the back, she started to unpack her things. The professor paused mid-lecture, “Miss Davis…come see me after class. I’ll give you a copy of the notes you missed. You’re going to want them before starting your paper next week.” She nodded, flipping open her laptop, and he turned back to the class. “Now, who remembers what we were discussing?” He pointed to a young man in the front. “You.”
“Drug safety and the role of ethics and law in prescription practice.”
“Correct. And what does that mean to you?”
“I think they’re all the same thing.”
“Okay, interesting perspective there. Anyone have thoughts on that?” A few hands went up. “You…blue shirt in the third row…”
Noemi stuffed her bag into a locker in a long concrete hallway lit with harsh fluorescent lights. She had changed into a blue work uniform, an employee ID card clipped to her shirt on a retractable lanyard. She leaned into the locker door to close it. After a moment’s silence, it locked with an automated whir. Stopping at a large touchscreen mounted by a set of steamy glass doors, she passed her card across the sensor and pulled up her shift information. She tapped the sign in button and a timer started in the top corner, counting up payable hours from zero. The doors slid open with a squeak.
The air inside was full of mist. Tinted light streamed from thousands of precisely angled lamps. The room stretched off into the distance, a perfect grid of grow racks and concrete pillars. It smelled of minerals and fertilizer. Noemi picked up a tablet by the door. It was coated in a thin layer of plastic to keep out the damp. The screen blinked a copyright and disclosure warning as she signed in. She okayed it without really looking. Flipping through several menus of diagnostic information, she pulled up a log of the day’s error reports.
“…I just wanted to check if you still wanted me to come…” Leaning against the non-descript brick façade of the farm’s surface entrance, Noemi held her phone to her ear with her shoulder, taking bites of a vending machine sandwich between sentences. The street was dark. A group of men hung around outside the door to a bar on the opposite corner. “No, you don’t have to send a car, I’ll grab one…” She stopped to chew. “…Yeah, of course. I thought you might be asleep by now…” Finishing off the sandwich, she crumpled up the paper package and tossed it into an overflowing trash can. “…Yeah. I’m on my way. Thirty minutes, maybe…See you then.” Shifting the phone off her shoulder, she hung up the call.
Taking a side street, she headed for an old fire escape running up the side of a building a block down. It was locked up at the bottom, a scuffed painter’s ladder leaning up against the wall beside it. She climbed up and over the barrier and jogged up several flights to street level. Putting in a request for a shared car, she walked until the confirmation came through.
A blue SUV pulled up to the corner a few minutes later, empty, for once, of other passengers. She kicked off her shoes in the backseat, snapped a photo of the empty car. “Might even be less than thirty minutes,” she wrote, sending the picture along after it.
No other requests came in for the car. Noemi let herself doze in the back. She woke with a start to the car’s exasperated beeping and an overstay charge ticking up on her phone. It had overshot the front doors of the apartment tower by a block and a half. Getting out, she took another picture and sent it with the message, “Never mind.”
A frowning face came back.
“I’ll be five. Just walking.”
“Door’s open. 3651.”
At the entrance, she typed in the code. The door clicked open, letting her through into a lobby decorated with smooth white tile and soft grey wallpaper. She took an empty elevator up. The apartment door was propped open with a shoe, the upbeat sound of pop music drifting out into the hall.
Noemi kicked the shoe inside. “Mila?”
“Yeah, I’m in the kitchen…Have you eaten already? I have leftovers!”
Noemi put her bag down by the door and walked into the kitchen. “I’d have to take another shot.”
Mila was sitting on one end of the kitchen island, a takeout container in her lap, her curly, bottle-blonde hair pulled into twin ponytail puffs. “So? If you’re hungry…” She offered the container. “It’s great, but they always send too much.”
“I’m good,” Noemi said, “But that smells delicious.”
“Take it for breakfast! I can grab something at work.” Hopping down from the counter, she looked around for the container’s lid. She found it under a napkin, snapped it on, and put the container in the fridge.
“How was your day?”
“Better now that you’re here,” Mila said, wrapping her arms around Noemi’s neck and pulling her into a kiss. “God! I’m so tired. I drank two cups of coffee just so I could stay up.” She laughed. “You look great, by the way. I like your work uniform. It’s real repair-man chic.”
“I can change. I’m pretty sure it’s dirty, anyway.”
“Don’t, I like it…”
The bedroom was dark and quiet. Lying awake, Mila held Noemi close against her chest, long hair tickling her face. It was late, and through the thin veil of airy curtains, she could see the lights of a sleepy skyline. “Emmy…”
“Are you still awake?”
Mila settled back in, her mouth and nose resting against the back of Noemi’s head. “Don’t you sometimes feel, like…I don’t know…Like maybe we should know each other better?”
“I don’t even know where you live…”
“Your place is nicer…” Noemi mumbled.
“Is it important?” she said.
“I don’t know…sometimes I just feel like…like we’ve been dating a long time you know…and I know hardly anything about you…like, I haven’t met your parents, or your friends…”
“Can we talk about it when it isn’t the middle of the night?” Rolling over, she put her arms around Mila and pressed a soft, sleepy kiss to her cheek. “I don’t have a lot of time…I just want to be with you…Is that okay?”
“Yeah…I’m sorry, I was just…”
“Shh…” Noemi whispered, “It’s late…”
Mila woke to the sing-song tones of her alarm. The side of the bed where Noemi had slept the night before had been neatly turned down, the pillow fluffed and squared off. “Off,” she mumbled. The alarm kept singing along, growing in volume as it went. Picking her head up off the pillow, Mila squinted at it. “Off.” It quieted, the screen winking off, as if drifting back to sleep. A moment later it lit back up with a cheery, “Good morning!” It displayed the weather and the traffic times along her usual routes, recent headlines and notifications. The coffeemaker gurgled from the other room. Mila rolled out of bed, grabbed the phone without looking at it and turned the screen off.
Padding out to the kitchen in bare feet, she found a note tucked under a mug on the counter beside the coffeemaker.
Good morning beautiful,
I hope the coffee is fresh. I set the timer from your alarm, but I’m not sure I did it right. It’s the thought that counts, right?
I took those leftovers for breakfast. Hoping you weren’t secretly wishing I’d leave them.
We should try to make time for a proper evening out next week. I’ve been missing you.
Mila pulled up her messages on her phone and tapped on Noemi’s name. “You got the timer perfect,” she wrote, then, “Sorry for being weird last night.” Putting her phone down on the counter, she opened the fridge and glanced inside. She closed it again with a sigh. Pulling up a delivery service on her phone, she ordered a breakfast wrap to her office. She put the mug back in the cupboard. Filling a thermos, she took it with her back to the bedroom to get dressed.
She called herself a solo-car and sat in the back, answering emails and drinking coffee. There were protesters out front, not for her company but for one a few floors down. They were cordoned off to a small corner of the square, behind a barricade of ropes and police. Snapping a picture, she sent it off to a coworker upstairs, “What did they do this time?”
“There was a story in the Times yesterday. Some shit about child labor or something. Didn’t read it.”
“I thought they dealt with that?”
The elevators were packed. She looked up a knockoff of the story to avoid the paywall and skimmed it on her way up to the twentieth floor. It had nothing to do with child labor. It was about otters. She sent a link to the coworker along with a gif of a sad otter, authorized the office doors from her phone and walked down a long hallway to her glass walled office, one little cube among many, at the far end near the windows.
It was sparsely decorated, a single painting hanging on the one solid wall. A wilted little plant sat on the corner of the desk next to a framed picture of her parents’ dog. Flopping into her chair, she looked up the day’s schedule on her phone. Her first meeting had been pushed back an hour, so she pulled up her message thread with Noemi.
Scrolling back through their conversations, she selected a picture Noemi had sent a few weeks earlier and expanded it to fill the screen. There was a wall behind her head in the shot, a shelf with a few blurry objects on it, a box and some books. She swiped back through more pictures, sent over months: Noemi with her head resting on a patterned pillowcase, in a shared car with two sleeping strangers, at the zoo with the fluffy hair of a child in the background behind her shoulder. She swiped out of the gallery. “Do you see this ever being serious?” she wrote. She hit send and it went through, joining her other, unread, messages from earlier that morning.
There was a knock on the door.
A lanky young man in faded jeans stood in the hall, holding a paper bag and a payment tablet. Getting up from her desk, she opened the door and took the bag. He offered the tablet. “I have a card on file,” she said.
“You need to reconfirm every ten orders.”
“Fine, let me see that, then…” She signed on the touch screen with her finger, confirmed her account’s tipping policy, and handed it back. “Here– Thank you…Sorry, I’m just having a bit of a day.”
“Yeah, sure. Don’t worry about it,” he said, already looking down at the tablet. “Look, if you’re going to rate me, can you make it good? I had a bad customer last week and it’s affecting my rating.”
“Uh…Sure,” Mila said, “I can do that.”
“Do you see this ever being serious?”
Noemi’s phone rested on her knee. She sat in a stall in the university washrooms, a small, insulated case open in her lap. She had a needle in her hand, a vial of insulin propped open in the case. “I don’t know if I have time for something serious right now,” she wrote. “I don’t want to get your hopes up just to let you down.”
Turning her phone off, she dropped it into her bag so she couldn’t see the screen light up. She dipped the needle, then stopped to fish her phone back out of her bag. Turning the screen on, she found the note with her calculations written in it. She administered her shot. Then, she flipped back to her messages and checked to see if they had been read. They had. “I want to keep seeing you,” she wrote. An error popped up. Not delivered. “I really like you.” Not delivered. “Please text me back.” Not delivered.
Noemi stared at her phone. The error messages sat, unchanging, on the screen. After a while, the screen turned off. She tapped to turn it back on. Scrolling through her options, she selected the dating service they’d met on and found Mila’s profile at the top of her history. It had been deactivated.
Mila kicked her shoes off just inside the door to her apartment. She tossed her purse onto the kitchen counter and checked the fridge. It was empty except for a few cans of sparkling water and a handful of ketchup packets. She fished her phone out of her bag, wandered into the living room, and flopped down onto the couch. It was off. She powered it on. The screen lit up a moment later, network information popping back into the top corner. Notifications pinged in.
She selected the conversation with Noemi. “Sorry,” she wrote, “My phone was off. I shouldn’t have pushed you. I understand you’re busy.” Then, “We can keep things casual, if that’s what you want.”
A response came back right away. “We should talk,” Noemi said. “In person, I mean.” Then, “115A Lower W 47th St. 11:05pm. I’ll wait outside for you. I have to turn my phone off in five. I’m at work.”
Mila looked up the address. It was below street level. Some kind of warehouse. “Perfect place for a murder,” she wrote back.
“You said you wanted to know where I work. There’s a decent bar across the street. I thought we could grab a drink.”
“Oh. Yeah. Sorry.”
“See you then,” Mila wrote. The message went unread, so she swiped out of the conversation and selected a delivery service, putting in an order for pizza and a bottle of wine. She flicked over to the car service while she waited for it to go through and checked the drive times for the address Noemi had given her. It was off route. She switched to premium and the base rate doubled. A liability warning filled the screen. She okayed it and began scrolling through her options.
The car dropped Mila off on a dark street lined with industrial shop fronts. Underneath the roadway, the air was stale and dead. Fumes lingered. Cars rumbled overhead. Noemi leaned against a lamppost, one foot kicked up, backpack hanging off her shoulder. Her work shirt was unbuttoned, still tucked in, a pale tank top showing underneath. She had her phone out, her face highlighted in the glow. Mila pushed her hands down in her pockets.
Spotting her, Noemi straightened up, offering a wave and a half-smile. She walked over. When she got close, she gestured to the building behind her. “I’m working here for the next ten months, until my contract runs out.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a farm. They grow greens. Cabbage, kale, that kind of thing…”
“I didn’t know they did farming around here.”
“It’s convenient for the restaurants.”
“I hope you at least get hazard pay…”
Noemi laughed. “I live down here.” She pointed off down the street. “Couple blocks that way.”
“Oh…Sorry, I shouldn’t have said…”
“It’s fine,” Noemi said, “How was work?”
“Oh my god, it was nothing but meetings.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“No, you don’t get it. None of them mattered at all! I don’t even know why I had to be there. How am I supposed to get anything done if I’m never at my desk? I think they want me to take it home with me. As if, right?” They walked across the street to the bar, Mila following Noemi as she pushed through the crowd outside the front door.
It was up a flight of stairs and down a hallway, in the back of a building that seemed to be mostly maintenance shops and transportation company offices. The bar looked as if it hadn’t changed in about fifty years. Taking a table near the back, Noemi picked up a cracked tablet off its stand and wiped it with a paper napkin before looking at the menu. “I need food,” she said, jamming her thumb against the screen to get the presses to register. “Sorry, I’m just going to order this. You can take your time.” It went through, and she passed the tablet across.
Mila glanced at the menu. There wasn’t much, a few items of deep-fried pub food and some cheap domestic beers, most of which were sold out. “I already ate. You want a beer?”
She tried to enter her order, but it didn’t respond.
“You have to really jab it,” Noemi said, taking it back, “They just got these a couple years ago, believe it or not. I think they’re knockoffs.”
The lights of passing cars strobed through the drainage grates. It was raining, water streaming down through the gaps to pool in the street below. The air was warm. Mila leaned on Noemi, one arm slung over her shoulders, wobbly on her feet as they walked down the sidewalk toward the corner. “You should come home with me!” she said, “You have, what? School tomorrow? You have time…”
“Uh…No…I have work. It’s Saturday.”
“Work on Saturdays should not be a thing! Saturdays are for…like, watching shows in pajamas…or going to the park or whatever…That’s the point. Not work!”
“Who would cook and stuff?”
“Robots! They have those, right? Cooking robots…In China or Japan or something?” Letting go of Noemi, Mila stopped walking to pull out her phone, struggling to type into the search bar. “Oh my god! I can’t type anything…look…look…” She showed Noemi her screen. “What the hell is that? Like…That doesn’t say robot at all…” Noemi took her phone and squinted at it. “See…” Mila said, she wandered a few steps away, then stopped, staring up at the rain falling through the grates. The droplets were lit blue and red and gold. “Damn, that’s pretty…”
Noemi took her hand. “Come on…”
“Where are we going?”
“Home. We’re sneaking in…Shh…” She put a finger to her lips, then burst out laughing. “I want you to stay…” Wrapping her arms around Mila, she rested her head on her shoulder. “I really like you…”
They meandered down the street and up the stairs to the apartment. Noemi took a couple tries to open the door. A sprinkling of power lights winked away in the black shadows of the kitchen. Faint snoring came from the couch bed in the living room. Noemi pulled Mila by the hand around the furniture and clutter, into her room.
Mila woke to the blaring of an unfamiliar alarm. She blinked at the heavy curtains. The light leaking around them from the street was thin, tinted with reds and blues. There was shouting in the hallway. She groped in the dark for her shirt and pulled it on over her head. Sitting up in bed, she rubbed her eyes.
“…You said you wouldn’t bring anyone here! Do you have any idea what kind of risk this is? For me? For your daughter? Emmy! Are you listening to me?”
“I’m taking my fucking pills. Save it.”
“She needs to leave. Now!”
“Shh. You’re going to wake Gabby.”
“How long have you known her? Hmm? What if you can’t trust her? Did you even think about that?”
“We’ve been dating for a long time, Mom. I know her.”
“You should have asked me first!”
“I’m sorry. I was drunk. I won’t do it again, okay?”
Mila crept across the room. There was an old tablet sitting propped up by the mirror, a blood sugar readout blinking bright across the screen. The alarm blared out though a set of attached speakers. A box sat open on the dresser beside it, full of bottles and plastic bagged needles, packages of alcohol wipes and glucose tablets. She picked up one of the bottles. It had a home printed label on it, details written in fine-tipped permanent marker. Tucked in next to the bottles was a little notebook packed with dosage calculations. She flipped through a few pages of scribbled numbers, then put it back.
After a while, the alarm turned itself off. The conversation outside had quieted to a murmur. Mila was still a little drunk, her head swimming as she searched the floor for her pants. She dressed, found her purse on the chair by the bed, and slipped out into the apartment, closing the door carefully behind her.
A lamp was on in the living room. In the low light, she could make out details that had been invisible to her the night before. Images floated through her head from an online special her mother had sent her a few years earlier, some investigative thing, about underground medical practices and off-market pharmaceuticals. Boxes of cellulose capsules sat open on the table beside a stack of books. Herbs steeped in large jars. There was lab equipment out on the counter, next to a row of slow cookers plugged into a portable battery.
She wandered through into the living room. “I should go.”
Noemi was sitting on the edge of the folded down couch-bed in a bra and shorts, her head resting in her hand. “No,” she said, “It’s fine. You can sleep. It doesn’t make any difference at this point.” She looked up at her mother, standing next to her. “That fine?”
“No, thank you,” Mila said, “I’m so sorry for disturbing you like this. It won’t happen again.” She pulled on her shoes and stepped out into the hall. The corridors felt like a maze in the bleary dark. Making her way out through a side door, she wandered until she found a street sign and, using that for her location, called herself a priority car.
As it wound its way to the nearest ramp, she pulled up articles about off-market and homemade insulin on her phone. She copied a few links and fired them off to Noemi. “Aren’t you worried?” she wrote, “You could die.”
“All the time.”
“Then why? Surely there’s some kind of insurance you can get for it? Isn’t there a program for that?”
“I don’t qualify.” Then, a moment later. “Please, just don’t tell anyone.”
“What if something happens?”
“I don’t like to think about it.”
Mila rested her phone in her lap. The screen drifted and blurred. She wiped her eyes with the side of her hand and put her phone away, curling up on the seat.
Noemi washed her face in the bathroom sink on her five-minute break. The halls were quiet, as always, her phone out of reach in the lockers. She stared at her face in the mirror, the tiny tattooed feather on the corner of her jaw, the freckles on her forehead and cheek. She wasn’t wearing any makeup. There were bags under her eyes, lines creasing the corners. Her skin looked grey under the crappy fluorescent lights. Dabbing her face dry with a paper towel, she lingered a while longer before going back to work.
It was night when she swiped off shift. She bought a sandwich from the breakroom vending machine and took a different, longer route home, to avoid retracing her steps from the night before. The neighborhood was quiet, cop cars patrolling slowly along the streets. One stopped and waved her over. She showed the woman her work ID. “Stay safe out there tonight,” the officer said, “We’ve had a lot of calls.” Noemi thanked her for the tip and kept walking, past a glaringly lit park where a group of kids were playing basketball.
She took a turn down a darkened side street lined with apartment buildings and run-down old store fronts. A few of the streetlights were burnt out. Blue and red lights bounced off the facades at a distant intersection, streaking across the pavement. Noemi’s heart skipped in her chest. Ditching her backpack in a window well, she jogged to the corner.
The street in front of her building was full of police cars and caution tape. Her mind raced, visions of shootings and arrests and court cases. Her daughter going into care. There was an ambulance waiting outside. Neighbors stood in the street. The front door of the building next to hers was open. Paramedics and police moved in and out. A stretcher sat empty on the sidewalk. An officer approached her, one hand on the call button on his radio. The lens of a body camera stared at her from his chest. “Good evening, Miss,” he said, “Can I help you?”
“I’m just trying to walk home.”
“Well, I’d recommend taking a different route, if you can. We still have an active crime scene on our hands here. You live in the area?”
He pulled out a notebook and wrote down a number. “If you have any information you think might be relevant, give me a call during office hours. Or leave a message with the secretary. Either way, it’ll get to me.”
“Afraid I’m not at liberty to say. If you don’t already know, you’re going to have to wait and watch it on the news like everyone else.”
Noemi took the slip of paper he offered. “Sure,” she said. She pointed back the way she had come. “I’m just going to head home now, if that’s okay…”
“Have a wonderful night.”
She pocketed the piece of paper, turning her back on the scene. Her feet felt numb. Her throat was tight. The air felt hot and oppressive around her. Wandering back down the street to the building where she had abandoned her bag, she fished it out of the window well. She sat down on the steps of the building and pulled out her phone. Selecting Mila’s face in her quick access, she held it to her ear, listening as it rang, once, twice, three times.
On the fifth ring, Mila picked up. “Emmy? I thought you were at work. Oh…I guess you’re off now…Look…I’m sorry for earlier…” Noemi burst into tears, muffling them with her hand. She rocked on the steps. “Emmy? What’s wrong?”
“There were police…in front of my building…when I got home…and I thought…”
“I thought you…”
“I’m so sorry! I didn’t even think…Where are you? I’m coming, okay…I just wanted to get out of your mother’s space, because I thought…I’m so sorry! I didn’t even think about that– Where are you? Is there an intersection…or?”
“West 43rd and 10th.”
“Okay, I’m calling a car. Hang on.”
“I’m sorry. I should have known you wouldn’t, I just…I can’t go home, with all the…It would be…”
“It’s okay, Emmy, just breathe. They’re okay. We can call and make sure from the car. I’m coming to get you. I’m only ten minutes away…”