“You been in there long enough! People is waitin‘!” Sissy banged on the metal door. No response. She stomped to the desk where Colleen was doodling on the crossword.
“That old woman been in there over a hour!”
“Sissy, she’s younger than you.” Colleen tried not to tease her, but when she acted this way she couldn’t resist.
“Everyone got to follow the rules!”
“She hasn’t been in there that long.” Colleen paused. “Sissy, if it seems like a long time then it’s because she really needs that hot shower.”
“So do I!”
“You have your new place don’t you?” The city had finally opened the doors on that project. “You can shower anytime you want.”
“But I like it here.”
“And we like having you.” Colleen smiled. “It also means that Ingrid has priority at this facility.”
“You know, Ingrid is new around here.” Colleen pointed to the cafeteria menu, remembering Sissy’s favorite. “Maybe she likes fried rice too.”
A thud echoed from the shower stall. Colleen pounded on the door then used her master key. “Call an ambulance!” She yelled at a security guard. “Now!”
“Why would she do this?” Sissy wailed. The blood from Ingrid’s wrists turned the water crimson. Colleen turned off the water and knelt between them.
“I don’t know. At the right moment it could be any of us, couldn’t it?”
“Aw hell no, not me!”
“Sissy, remember your compassion. Ingrid’s troubles were too big for her to bear tonight.”
“I’m sorry!” Sissy cried. What if it was her fault? “I shoulda been nicer.” She went over to her duffle bag and returned with a red and yellow package.
“For you, for when you come back.” She closed Ingrid’s hand around the cellophane wrapping.
She turned to Colleen. “It’s some kinda fancy soap. Lily of the Valley they said.”
The EMTs were loading Ingrid into the ambulance when Sissy started yelling. “You sayin’ cause she homeless that she got to die alone!”
“Ma’am, she’s not going to die and you can’t ride in the ambulance with her.”
“Cause I’m homeless? You discriminatin’ me cause I’m homeless!”
“Just get in.” Stan rolled his eyes at Micah. “Try to be quiet, ok?” He didn’t want this to get written up.
Ingrid’s eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light. The sheets smelled faintly of bleach. Then she saw the tubes taped to her skin. She groaned as she remembered. What had gone wrong?
“Hey, welcome back.” Sissy leaned forward. Ingrid stared at her blankly.
“I’m from the shelter. I was the one who wasn’t so nice to you. Sorry ’bout that.”
Ingrid closed her eyes and her jumbled thoughts came out a hoarse whisper. Then her fingers grazed the cellophane. “You gave me this. What is it?”
“It’s for your next shower. You can stay in there until that soap’s all gone if you want.”
Ingrid started to say something, then laughed as tears streamed down her cheeks and her whole body ached.