Karen was the first to reach Unit 38, where all the screaming was coming from, even though she’d almost tripped over some homeless guy on the steps. But the cop in Marie’s sweater and even elderly Amelia were right behind her, helping her push Unit 38’s door all the way up so they could all see inside.
The pregnant teenager inside wouldn’t stop screaming.
The cop was the first to wriggle into the storage unit to her. After a while she called back over her shoulder, “I can’t find anything wrong with her physically.”
Amelia crawled in next, taking the teenager into her arms. Karen couldn’t hear over the screaming, but guessed Amelia was singing a lullaby as she rocked her.
Karen sensed new arrivals behind her and half-turned to see the homeless guy from the stairs and the middle-aged woman Amelia had given the key to Unit 3 to, promising not to tell anyone. The middle-aged woman, maybe because she’d obviously been beat up as badly as the teenager had, looked so stricken Karen wasn’t sure she could even breath, let alone speak.
Silence. At last. Then Amelia’s beautiful voice singing a lullaby.
But there was something new wrong with the teenager. It took Karen a minute to realize what it was: she wasn’t breathing.
Suddenly the teenager took a huge, shuddering gasp of breath, and Karen was afraid she’d scream again. Instead the impossible combination of violent crying and a long, horribly eloquent wail was even worse. Then she grabbed a carved elephant and threw it violently against the wall before collapsing into Amelia’s arms, wracked with sobs.
The cop rubbed her back. “Tell us. You’re among friends and it’ll make you feel better.”
The teenager shook her head.
Karen wrinkled her brow. Something about the cop’s voice, which wasn’t as low as it had been before, almost like the low voice was an affectation she’d forgotten.
The cop continued. “How about if I tell you about something really dreadful from my life first, something that’s probably more dreadful than anything that happened to you because I’m the one who did it. I’m the one who’s responsible.”
That voice, thought Karen, but then chastised herself for thinking about anything but that poor, miserable pregnant teenager at such a time.
Finally the teenager looked up, though still sniffling violently. But, perhaps drawn to the light in the hall, she looked directly at Karen, then the homeless guy and the middle-aged woman with her. When she saw the middle-aged woman, her eyes widened. “Mom?”