I find ma on the fifth floor of Metropolitan Hospital. She’s sitting in a plastic chair and thumbing at her crocheted sweater, her red hair shooting up like her head is still on fire. Ma looks at me with those horrible eyes—hollowed out pupils tunneling inward like two endless throats, and I remember a time before I understood what was going on; how powerful she used to look when she towered above me in shoulder-padded dresses, her hair pinned into a red beehive, bangs teased and fluffed like feathers on a strange crown; how her eyes either glinted or gaped lightless in a way that made me want to crouch behind my skin. I look at her now, and I want cover her, to throw my body over hers, but instead I sit across from her, smooth my hands over my slacks, and ask how she’s doing. Ma says she fine, all things considered. She asks about Boston, and I say Boston is fine too–cold and full of dirty sleet, like New York, and then I ask what happened, cut to the chase—a habit ma never liked, since she preferred unreality to reality, but we’re in a waiting room without windows, walls painted the cruel blue of sky, and there’s an orderly a few feet away from us with the tight, expressionless face of a fascist, tapping her pen against a clipboard. Our reality today is of the ‘sit-the-fuck-down-with-that-nonsense’ variety, and even ma, in her empty-eyed stupor, understands this. Ma stares past me, and for a moment, before she bows her head to mask it, I see a spark igniting in her eyes–a sign of her burned up brain sputtering out just enough energy to spin the truth. She lifts her head, eyes shining now, and tells me she’s not sure. Says she had a stomach ache and came to get some help, where else was she supposed to go? But these people, these heartless people have quotas to meet, so they took her into the psychiatric unit, and shot her up with something, though she’s not sure what, even though she protested. Anyway, it’s not so bad here, and she’s eating well for the first time in a while, and can I believe it, there’s even cable! She wouldn’t mind staying around for a few more days. Ma looks over her shoulder at the orderly and then lowers her eyes to meet mine. Also, it gets her away from the apartment, and the men breaking in at night to steal her panties, and the bruja down the hall too, ‘cause it’s that bitch’s fault ma is here in the first place, probably put a spell on her. Ma says she can finally get some rest, and I can’t disagree, so I don’t disagree, and I rise and braid ma’s hair like ceremony, weaving each wayward tuft of flame into a chain along the back of her head, pretending it’s something like dignity, and I leave her there in that plastic chair, her eyes just starting to spark again. I trudge to the bus station in sleet that seeps through my boots, soldiering on like I don’t feel anything. I board the bus to Boston, plug my ears with ear buds, and close my eyes. Sad, lulling songs pulse into me as the bus starts down the uneven road, and I rock softly to the organized crescendo of a stranger’s once-felt pain, thinking this is how they do it.