My head turns from the muddled reflection towards a young woman standing in the doorway. With her striped blouse and flawless blond ponytail, she reminds me of the cheerleaders back in college.
“Can I let her in?” Janet asks, her eyes wide.
I nod hesitantly, just as surprised as Janet is, and a few moments later, a small girl tiptoes in. She is so pale she looks like a porcelain doll and walks as if she would shatter from one misstep. Janet shoots me a look and leaves, muttering something about managing the reception desk.
The girl's almond eyes survey the room and land upon me. I avoid her gaze, my joints complaining loudly as I shift in my wheelchair, but the girl ignores the lack of eye contact. She pushes a chair towards me and pulls herself into it, seating herself like a princess
“Where are your parents?” I blurt out, wondering what a child, of all people, is doing in a treatment center for colored folk.
“They’re dead,” she replies flatly.
“Oh,” I say, and then suddenly, I find myself blinking back tears. "Sorry," I mumble. "At such a young age, I-I can't even imagine..."
The girl's expression thaws ever-so-slightly. "Have you lost someone you loved?"
It takes me a moment to attach a person with a memory of grief. “Yes, it was my… husband.” The word tastes strange on my lips.
“Did you love him?” the girl asks.
I think back to our first meeting, each detail forever carved into my memory: the way his cheeks dimpled when he talked, how his dark eyes reflected the sunlight, the smoothness of his fingers when he shook my hand. I was unimportant, only to be known as the reckless Commander's daughter. But there was something in his smile that fluttered my heart - something that filled me with hope a mixed girl could end up with a Japanese soldier.
I look at the scratched golden band glued to my finger from years of dust and debris. "Yes."
"How did he die?" the girl asks with unusual interest.
I frown slightly, but the expression quickly wears off. “He died sacrificing his life to save someone else in the War. The body was never found, but I got his letters - dozens of them never addressed. If only I could remember where..." My voice trails off as I look hopelessly around the room.
“Who? Were they close?”
I snort. “Close? Smith was racist even for his time. He'd call Hiro, my husband...unspeakable things. Even accuse him of being a traitor to the country he was born in. " I sniff. "But I reckon he fancied me. Must’ve thought I was white.”
"What'd the others think? Did they believe him?" the girl says, worry creeping into her voice.
"Hiro knew his way around the soldiers, but the commander, or my father I guess -"
"Father?" the girl interrupted.
I rubbed my temples. "Technically, yes, but no true father leaves the mother of his children pregnant and without money out on the streets." I sighed. "I only knew about him when he knocked on my door one day, saying he had come to seek 'amends'. He knew I was struggling to find work, so he offered me a post at the AirCorps. I accepted it. It was either that or..."
“Nothing,” I amended hastily. The girl looked at me suspiciously, but she didn't press further.
“How was your father like?”
I pursed my lips into a thin grimace. “Clueless when he was sober, but when he was drunk-” I rubbed the joints in my wrinkled fingers “it made me glad he had missed so much of my life. At least he didn't tell them the truth.”
I remembered how I would cake on layers of foundation and powder every day to make my skin a little paler, a little whiter, a little bit more acceptable. I remembered crying when Hiro saw my employment papers with the 'colored' box filled in. I remembered how he had known along.
"Hello?" called the girl faintly, interrupting my train of thought. I snapped back to the present.
"Sorry, what did you say?"
“I thought Ms. Janet said you had Alzheimer’s. How do you remember all of...” she waved her hand in a circular motion "this?"
I blink slowly, like a turtle. “Sometimes when you lose the present, all you have left is in the past." I look through the window again. "This is my only connection to the outside. I don't know what the headlines are like. I don't even know the date -"
"It's August 28th," she says quietly, and I turn my head back around. "Dr. King is leading a march today.”
“To D.C. It’s streaming live on cable.” The girl looks around the mostly empty room. "Though...I guess you can't really watch it anyway."
“As long as people pay attention to him, that's what matters," I say. "You know, Ma grew up with his parents. King Sr. helped her get a job when she was homeless, and the Missus would send us food when Ma didn't have time to cook.”
The girl smiles slightly, but just then the grandfather clock clangs several times behind her, and she jumps to her feet.
"I have to go-"
I clumsily roll my wheelchair in front of her, blocking her path to the door. “Who did you say you were?” I ask, not wanting her to leave before I knew who she was. Yet puzzlingly, the girl's expression falls.
"I should've known," she mutters to herself. She hands me a piece of paper, and I look at the loopy handwriting curiously. The words Max, Anne, and Kathryn Shima were written at the bottom.
I gasp suddenly and point at the document. "Max! That's my son's name-"
"Was. My father died yesterday."
My eyes widen in shock. "Y-you're my..."
"Yes," Kathryn finishes gently. “I’m your granddaughter, Eloise Shima.”
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