The buttons of her coat are tangled up in her hair. The light glares down on her, like some sort of great god telling them of their wrongdoing. Maya sits hunched and frightened under it.
It’s been over three hours, and they still don’t have any information. She could be healthy again in weeks, months, even days. They didn’t have any way to know.
She’ll get better, Maya thinks fiercely. She has to. She promised she’d come to Patrick’s game.
It’s a silly hope, but her wife would in fact push through this just to see her son play. She’d come to the field in a wheelchair with doctors operating on her if she had to, cheering his team on. Afterward, she’d get up to hug him, even if it meant she was taking away a precious second of her life-saving surgery.
That was just what Evangeline did.
She turned. Maya was Mom. Evangeline was Mommy.
It was Ella, staring at her with huge, Bambi eyes.
“Is Mommy going to get better real soon?”
Maya took a deep, shuddering breath and rubbed her chilly hands together. “I don’t know, sweetie. I think so.”
“She has to!” Ella’s voice rose into a wail. “She promised she’d come to my tea party!”
Ella was nine, but she sometimes liked to play the role of the youngest. It usually drove her brothers crazy, but right now Maya wished she could still be Evangeline’s little girl, carrying her home in the car while her older brother poked at her chubby face.
When they decided to have children they wanted it to be fair. Both of them would take turns getting pregnant, which sounded ridiculous but worked. Therefore Ella was Evangeline’s daughter, as was Patrick. Quinn was Maya’s son.
Ella was getting louder. May wrapped an arm around her back and tried to pull her into her. Ella hid in Maya’s coat, sniffling.
Maya glanced around the waiting room, checking on the other two. Patrick sat with his head between his knees. Beside him, Quinn read solemnly from his book.
Maya and Evangeline had always joked that Quinn was going to be the world’s first six-year-old librarian. The boy devoured books like water. He didn’t have any toys or legos. He didn’t like to watch TV or have any friends over. He just sat on the couch, always in the same place, and quietly read. Maya would watch him for ages until he stood up, put his finished novel back on the couch, and say politely, “May I get another one?”
It worried her sometimes, his lack of social abilities. She tried not to let Evangeline know, but she knew. She always knew.
Evangeline would tell her that it was okay, that he was smart and he’d get friends eventually. “Then they’ll all sit on the couch and read,” she adds with a laugh. “We’d bring them peanut butter crackers all day, and spend a fortune on books.”
Maya smiled at the memory, but her smile quickly dropped, remembering where Evangeline was right now.
Patrick lifted his head slowly and took a deep breath. He looked over to Maya. “May I get something from the vending machine?”
His voice was dull and heavy, and he sounded world-weary and old. His eyebrows contracted in the middle of his face.
“Of course.” Maya dug around in her purse, trying not to let him see that her hands were shaking. “Why don’t you bring back something for all of us?”
Quinn spoke up quietly. “I’d like a… what are those called? Skittles? I’d like some of those.”
Patrick just looked at him dully. “Sure, Quinn. I’ll get you your “Skittles”.”
He disappeared down the hall. Quinn blinked after him, hurt. He looked at Maya. “Was I rude?”
“No, honey,” said Maya wearily.
Patrick and Ella were beautiful. Patrick had thick black hair, gray eyes, and a long nose.
Ella was almost frail, slender and built like Evangeline. Her hair was a beautiful orange color, like a peach, and her eyes were the same clear, bright blue as her mother’s. Even though Quinn was handsome, with sandy-blonde hair, dark eyes, and a freckled, round face, it wasn’t hard for Maya to feel that she had produced the funny one of the family. They all loved him, but Maya felt like his oddness was her fault somehow. She loved him and liked that he was different, but someone shouldn’t be so different that they upset their brother by asking for a bag of Skittles.
Maya took another deep breath and slowly let it out. She could cry later. Right now, her children needed her.
Ella sighed next to her, and Maya realized she was asleep. That was a good idea. They all needed to sleep right now.
She cleared her throat softly, and Quinn looked up. “Why don’t you take a nap, honey?” Maya said. “It’ll be good to relax a little. There’s no sense in waiting up all night.”
Quinn looked at her a moment. “All right.” he agreed. The boy obediently marked his page and lay down across the bench.
Patrick was back a few minutes later and accepted the idea of sleep gratefully. Maya had a feeling he felt the need to wait up all night for Evangeline.
Evangeline. Her laugh. Her smile. Her sweet, beautiful face and her delicate frame. She couldn’t leave. She just couldn’t. Maya wouldn't be able to take it. Patrick wouldn’t be able to take it, or Ella. Even Quinn.
Maya felt the tears welling up, but she waited until they were all asleep to finally cry, to break down the wall and let the memories flow.
Once, Evangeline tried to take up gardening, so Maya went out and bought her all sorts of exotic plants and soil. Evangeline worked hard at plotting where they would go, laying the soil and digging holes deep into the ground. She angled them so they would get enough sun and watered them every day.
They were dead within two weeks. Evangeline did not have a green thumb. Maya didn’t understand people who did.
After they died weeds sprouted up and grew, dandelions and stringy green stems that crushed underfoot. Many of them had blossomed in shades of red and pink. Evangeline continued to water them.
Maya used to harp on her about that. “What’s the point of watering weeds?” she asked. “They’re just weeds.”
Evangeline shrugged and smiled. “I think a weed is just as beautiful as a flower.”
Evangeline grinning on their wedding day. Evangeline holding back Maya’s hair when she had morning sickness. Evangeline in the hospital, her face weary but full of happiness. Evangeline screaming at the snake on the nature trail, then later begging to take it home because “I think I hurt his feelings!” (They’d had the snake for six years. Maya was pretty sure his feelings were fine.)
Evangeline cuddling a kitten at a pet store (they also had the kitten still. Her name was Feathers.)
Evangeline crying when Maya took her pregnancy test, she was so happy. Evangeline calmly defending her sexuality in front of other moms who believed that a family wasn’t whole without a man. Evangeline begging to make jewelry with the kids, then Evangeline at the sink for an hour until her hot-glue burn didn’t sting. Evangeline trying to paint. Evangeline and Patrick coming home from the movie theater after deciding to watch, “IT.” Evangeline and Patrick huddled next to Maya for the next three nights. Evangeline proposing to Maya in a gas station. Maya crying, partly from joy and partly because she had been planning to propose when they got home. Evangeline trying to cuddle with their snake, Pepper. Maya explaining to Evangeline that snakes did not cuddle.
The memories flashed by like rockets in Maya’s mind, and each brought on a fresh, almost silent, wave of tears. It was like Evangeline was coming to say goodbye.
And Maya suddenly knew that she was not going to come to Patrick’s soccer game.
The nurse finally came when they were awake. She told them they could come in to say goodbye.
Quinn looked sad.
The funeral was a beautiful one, but it passed by in a blur. Maya was in a daze, wandering from the gravesite to the reception. She might have eaten. She wasn’t sure. She didn’t really care.
Maya, Patrick, and Ella had been sleeping together for the past three weeks. Quinn had politely declined. “There isn’t enough room,” he said.
That was true, but there was something sad about hearing him say it.
Maya sat on the bed, staring at the wall. Evangeline had picked out the wallpaper. She said the flowers were happy and cheery, and now every morning they could wake up happy and cheery. Maya couldn’t decide if she loved the flowers or hated them.
Patrick had gone on a walk and taken Ella to the playground. She didn’t know where Quinn was. She didn’t really care, which felt awful, but it was true.
There was a knock at the door and a little head poked into the room. “Mom?” Quinn asked. “Are you okay?”
Maya folded her arms around herself. “Not now, Quinn.”
“Oh.” He stood there a moment, fingering the handle. “Well then, I’ll go.”
Something about the calmness of his voice, the fact that she hadn’t even seen him cry yet, infuriated Maya. She turned on him. “Did you even like her??”
Quinn froze. “Who?”
She wanted to hit him. “Evangeline, your mo- no, I can’t do this right now. Just go.”
She turned back to the wall and glared at it. She wanted to rip it down.
“I loved her very much,” said Quinn quietly. “I didn’t want her to die.”
He hesitated. “I-I know I’m different than you and Patrick and Ella… but I do miss her very much. It was her job to make people happy, and the fact that she loved it meant that she was very good at it.”
Maya looked at him. “Why haven’t you cried?” Her voice was bitter. “Why don’t you seem to care?”
Quinn stared at the ground. “Evangeline’s job was to make people happy, and before she died, she told me I had to stay happy and do my best to keep the rest of you happy. I thought if I didn’t let you see me cry, you’d think I was happy. And I thought the best way to keep you happy was to stay out of the way so you and Patrick and Ella could grieve and be sad.”
Maya felt some alarm. “Honey, no, no, no. You should never try to hide the fact that you’re sad. You should always tell Mommy about it.”
Quinn shrugged. “I suppose so, but I think Patrick and Ella need you more. Patrick is worried that you won’t be able to handle being a mom anymore and ship him off to boarding school. Ella is worried that you’re going to get another new Mommy.”
Maya felt a jolt run through her. “That’s not true,” Maya said sharply. “Why do they think that will happen?”
“They don’t know what else to think,” Quinn said simply. “Patrick wants to help, but he’s worried he’ll be a burden because you have to have drive him to soccer and help him with his homework. Ella has that friend whose father ran off with another woman, and now her mom has a new husband. She doesn’t want Mommy to be replaced.”
“Mommy can never be replaced,” growled Maya.
“I know. But I think they need to hear you say that.”
Sometimes it was easy to forget he was six.
He was halfway to the door when he paused. “Mom, did you know that “Evangeline” means angel? I think it’s fitting. I think everyone is born with a name that fits them very well.”
For a moment, Maya looked at him and he gazed back. His face was plump and he had a red stain on his chin. The words didn’t sound like they were coming from a little boy.
“I love you, sweetie,” Maya said finally. “Please tell me when you’re sad.”
He studied her. “Okay, Mom.”
Evangeline used to say there was a miracle that happened at least once in everyone’s life. Her miracle, she said, was that she met Maya and realized there was no way she could marry awful Jimmy Pickett like her parents wanted her to. Maya didn’t normally believe in stuff like that.
But that night she crept into Quinn’s room and lay down next to him after Patrick and Ella had fallen asleep. His eyes were shut, but as she lay down next to him she saw his smile.
She sent a quick prayer to Evangeline and then she hugged her odd little son closer to her.
Maybe a weed was twice as beautiful as a flower.
The flowers certainly thought so.