WHEN ANNIE FELL OFF THE MOUNTAIN
A woman in a pink housecoat looking down from a window decided to light a cigarette.
We found Annie in an overheated office that looked like a check-cashing place. The room was packed with silent women. Cheryl asked for a bathroom and was told, through bulletproof glass, it was "out of order." We couldn't get to Annie, who was sitting in a corner with her coat still on. The only man in the place, and the only other white person besides us, strutted from behind the glass in a lab coat with an asterisk of blood on one lapel. He went directly to Annie. He was furious. He barked a question, and she pointed at me. I watched her shoulders go up and down. I could tell he had been nasty. Annie was very sensitive to people speaking meanly to her.
He stormed over. "You understand we're not in the charity business?" he said.
Cheryl was still at the door, shaking her head like a disturbed person. Annie worked her way over and began to stroke Cheryl's hair.
None of the women looked up. They were too exhausted.
I told the man I needed a minute, which made him more furious. I went over to Annie. I couldn't make a decision. I couldn't even think.
Annie let go of Cheryl long enough to squeeze my arm. She shrugged, that way she had.
"We are out of here," she said. "Cheryl's freaking out, you're overwhelmed, that guy in the dirty white coat, whoever he is, is a maniac. And they jacked up the price. I can't trust this place. Let's split."
"Just like that?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. "Just like that."
"We won't do it?"
"First of all it suddenly became seven hundred. Plus another fifty for 'medication.' Gimme a break!"
On the way to the car I counted our money. I had either handed over a hundred to someone or dropped it. I didn't know and didn't care.
Annie sat in the back with Cheryl, so she could take care of her. She had kept stroking Cheryl as we walked to the car. As I threaded through Washington traffic the three of us had a brief spat, as unexpectedly tense and vicious as the fights between Annie and me, about what was written on the storefront. None of us had thought to look.