There was no feeling worse than sitting in wet shoes when sitting in wet shoes. Perhaps wet underwear was worse than sitting in wet shoes when not sitting in wet shoes. At the very moment, Danya thought that there was no worse feeling than sitting in wet shoes.
The government center was a rushed crowd of single mothers and unemployed humbled head-of-households standing in place.
“I’m gonna try to call again.”
“Doesn’t make any fucking sense,” Danya mumbled.
“Look, someone just stepped away. They’re gonna pick up.”
“Well, you call. Let’s head to the library so I could print my paystubs out.”
“Just hold on,” Dina said. “Shit. Disconnected again.”
Danya stood under the door pane as her sister stepped out into the rain.
“It’s not gonna stop,” Dina said.
She flipped her thin sweatshirt hood over her hair. The both of them looked like stray dogs.
“Can you check on Alex for me?” Danya asked.
“I have like three minutes left after sitting on hold all that time.”
“Well you shouldn’t have been sitting on hold.”
“You’re welcome, you ingrate.”
They took Washington Boulevard to Broad Street both contemplating buying a muffin from Starbucks but not saying anything. Dina’s phone rang. Their mother was dropping Alex to the McDonald’s across the street and someone had better be there to cross the street with him.
The three entered the library as the sun came out. Danya wanted to undress right there.
“I returned the book! You’re saying I owe one-fifty-seven?”
“Ma’am, you’re gonna have to pay the bill. I don’t know what to tell you.”
“I come here with my kids because it’s free. The library card is free. The books are free. I don’t have no income, lady. Where you gonna get your money from?”
“Maybe we can set up a payment plan?”
“One-fifty-seven and no income. You’re asking for a payment plan? You serious?”
“Wow, a one hundred fifty seven dollar debt? That’s like ten dollars a month. How are you eating?” Dina murmured. Danya giggled.
They felt like adolescents again crossing the children’s center, taking the same steps they took down into the internet computer room– preteen central. The payphones in the back had since been ripped out but the memories remained.
Dina handed the librarian her library card.
“Oh, these computers are reserved for homework.”
“We’re teenage mothers,” she said. “I need to print the syllabus for my GED night class.”
“Why don’t you go upstairs? Second or third floor.”
“I’ve got a record going for not exposing my son to public indecency. He’s the oldest in town. Thanks.”
“What do you just need to print something out?”
“I need to print my paystubs,” Dina explained.
“Make it quick. No installing.”
“Ugh.. he’s saying ‘installing’ wrong. ‘In-stalling.’ It’s ‘installing.’ ‘Installing,'” Dina said.
Danya folded the paperwork and stuck it under her sweatshirt and they started home. Stale pasta was on the stove.
“Forgot to leave the heat on warm,” their mother said. “Anyway, see you later. I left the paper on my bed in case you bums wanna look for jobs. Lunch is over for me.”
“People post jobs in the paper?”
Danya made Alex a plate, drizzled tap water over the chalky spaghetti sauce with three fingers, and stuck it into the microwave.
“Ew! She didn’t even wash her hands!” Dina grimaced.
Alex and Danya smiled.
After dinner, Dina got on the keyboard twirling around some notes that made everyone relax. Alex fell asleep under Danya’s armpit. She smelled the acid on his breath. The stench outweighed his comfort. She grabbed him by under his knees and hooked the floor with her heels, hauling her hips into the air, gaining her balance with him in her arms for a moment. She was exhausted. They slept in their mother’s bed until well-over the afternoon. The three of them awoke together.
When they got to the government center, they waited in line for only an hour before being greeted by a representative’s rolling eyes.
She drew in a breath. “Can I help you?”
“I’m applying for unemployment,” Danya said.
“We don’t accept the paperwork like that all crumpled up. Plus, you gotta fill out a application. Fill out a application first and bring it back to me. I’ll take care of you.”
Danya looked over her shoulder. “I could come right back up to the front?” she asked.
“No, you’re gonna get right back in line. Go get the application. We need to keep the line moving. Next?”
The three stepped out into the sun and back onto Washington.