My mother's hands are trembling as she pulls out of the parking lot. I'm still marveling at the freedom of my hands and feet, and the normal shirt and jeans on my body. After twenty-one years in a hideous orange jumpsuit, after twenty-one years of being handcuffed to the seat of every van I rode in, the feeling is surreal.
We sit in silence for a long time, mother and daughter, driving home together. I watch the clock on the dashboard flip forward, five minutes, then ten, then thirty. We'll be home soon, and I have to break the silence. The tension is so raw, so suffocating.
"I thought we'd order in," She interrupts. Her face is frozen sideways, as though she wants to turn and smile, but can't quite bring herself to do it. "Chinese. You like Chinese, don't you?"
"I love Chinese," I murmur. I haven't had takeout in two decades. I don't even remember what it tastes like.
"Or pizza? Lasagna? I think there's something in the freezer, if you don't like Chinese. There's sandwiches, too. I don't know. And Brenda..."
Brenda. My Brenda. I remember those long days, in the beginning, when I used to long for her. Sometimes they'd bring her to visit. Not that often, but maybe once or twice a year. Then, when she was six, she told them she wouldn't come anymore. She didn't want to see her mother in "that place". After that I wrote her letters every single day, until my mother visited and told me to stop. Brenda didn't like it, and she didn't read them. So I stopped sending the letters, but I never stopped writing.
"She's twenty-two now," I whispered. I could barely hear myself over the rumble of the car.
"Her birthday was just a week ago." My mother is crying again. The tears stream silently down her withered cheek, and I feel them welling up in my eyes. I haven't cried in so long.
"She still doesn't want to see me?" I choke.
"I know." So nothing's changed. Tentatively I reach for my mother's hand, gripping the wheel with white knuckles. "I love you, Mom."
She nods and steers into the familiar old driveway. We're home.