Here is the second part of my series.
Molly woke up to the blaring of car horns outside of her second story window. New York City was never a quiet place, but it seemed to be especially loud in the early hours of the day, as if everyone knew that Molly were trying to sleep. Of course now that she was wide awake, there was little chance of going back to bed. She had only been able to get to sleep in the first place due to exhaustion, yesterday spent in dragging lethargy that never seemed to end. But the snores and sounds coming from the three siblings she shared her tiny room with would surely keep her awake, and so Molly tiptoed out into the hall, making sure not to step on anyone’s hair like she did two nights ago. That had created quite the fiasco.
The apartment was deserted and hushed at this time of day, the only sounds coming from the cars outside and the creaking of the old wood floorboards as Molly walked across them. Her mother had been gone for hours already, working her third job at a cardboard factory, and Molly’s six siblings were still in their rooms, squeezing every last ounce out of their precious slumber. Molly dragged her socks across the floor and felt a splinter pierce her skin through a hole in the fabric.
“Shit!” she cried, hopping on one foot and holding the injured one in her hand. Molly was the oldest of all of the children, and so she knew that no one would provide comfort or nurse her wound back to health. She had to do it herself. Quickly, like the peeling of a Band-Aid, Molly pinched the end of the splinter between her index finger and thumb and yanked the thing free of her foot. It hurt, but the relief she felt afterwards was worth the pain.
Continuing on her trek through the small and dark apartment, Molly shuffled into the kitchen, hoping that she hadn’t accidentally woken up one of her brothers or sisters. Of course, those were just titles in Molly’s apartment. While two of her sisters were genuine, the other children were strays that Molly’s mother had somehow acquired. One from a family friend, one from a cousin, and two from her mother’s eldest child, Sarah, who had her own kids when she was in her teens and then ran off with her drug dealer. Molly would be a teenager soon, and she couldn’t imagine popping out kids of her own and then abandoning them in the care of their grandmother. She would never be so inconsiderate.
A lone fly buzzed around the kitchen as Molly poured herself a glass of water from the tap. At least we have running water again, she thought as she leaned against the counter, eyeing the fly. The days were getting hotter and she knew that she would have to crack the windows come afternoon. But she hated the prospect of all of that extra noise, plus the bugs that would undoubtedly swarm the place. Whoever said that there were no bugs in the city had clearly never been to Molly’s neck of the woods. In a desperate bid for food, something, anything to quiet the growl in her belly, the girl began to rummage through the cabinets, though she knew that most of them were empty. There were a few old packets of Ramen noodles left on the shelf, and the last of the donated cans of soup placed in a pyramid on the cracked and dirty countertop. Molly sighed as she looked at her options, wishing that her mother weren’t too proud to go back to the food bank.
“Molly?” a small voice came from behind. It was Molly’s sister, one of her real sisters, Sadie, standing in the doorway in nothing but an oversize t-shirt. She was rubbing the sleep out of her eyes as she studied her older sibling. “I’m hungry.”
“I know,” Molly answered, her shoulders slumped in defeat. None of the children had eaten anything since yesterday at school, and that seemed like a long time ago to Molly. She pictured her uncle’s farm in upstate New York, the one where he had a vegetable garden as big as Molly’s apartment. Her mouth began to water.
“When can we eat again?” Sadie asked, breaking Molly’s trance. The older girl smiled at her little sister and walked over to her, placing one arm around her shoulder.
“The sooner you get ready for school, the sooner we can eat.” At this promise, the little girl beamed and ran back into her bedroom to wake up her other siblings. Molly watched her go with a sad and distant expression. She envied her younger siblings, for they didn’t have to shoulder the burden of responsibility like Molly did. With her mother constantly gone working dead-end jobs, Molly was the real parent, and she at times felt as lost and helpless as her brothers and sisters looked.
As she walked into the cramped bathroom and shut the door behind her, Molly caught sight of herself in the cracked mirror that hung above the sink. She had once been tanned and vibrant, full and fresh with the belly of youth. Now she seemed pale, empty, shrunken, detached from anything outside of the realm of her duty. Sighing once more, Molly licked her palm and smoothed down the bits of her dark hair that had begun to stick up in the back of her head. With one more quick look, she nodded at her reflection and continued on about her daily routine. There was a hot meal waiting for the kids at school.