The street lights wake her up before her alarm does.
Light streams through the blinds of her window as if they weren’t there at all. For a moment, the street lights somehow manages to blind her, even though her eyes are still closed.
It’s all very rude, she thinks.
Niecey doesn’t even understand why they’re suddenly so damn bright. They’ve been on for 8 hours: whoever said they needed to suddenly get bright before dawn?
She groans, rolls over and gropes around for her phone. It’s supposed to be on her bedside table, but of course it’s on the floor. What’s the point of even having a bedside table? Her phone always manages to dance its way to the ground. You’d think that Niecey would be used to these daily shenanigans, but she’s not.
By the time she decides to actually open her eyes and look for her phone, it’s too late: the alarm is blaring, grating on Niecey’s last good nerve.
“Fuck,” she grumbles, tossing her covers back and clambering out of bed.
She curses herself for the alarm she has on: a high-pitched, robotic-sounding imitation of wind chimes.
Niecey turns her alarm off and stares at the time: 4:30 a.m. It’s not the earliest she’s ever been up and at it, so she really shouldn’t have that much of an attitude.
Niecey thinks that reason she’s up is the problem.
She turns her phone’s screen off and puts it on the charger. Niecey’s always felt the need to have her phone on 100% at all times. She doesn’t know why: it probably signals some compulsion she’s developed, some manifestation of her generalized anxiety.
Today is no different: she feels like she needs to have her phone on 100%, or it’ll die and she’ll have no way to charge it.
But that’s ridiculous. The train has outlets.
Niecey hears a creaking sound above her head and sighs heavily. Her mother’s up. She hears the floorboards creak as her mother stumbles into her bathroom.
The sound makes Niecey realize she’s been wasting precious time: she should’ve already been in the shower by now.
Her mother didn’t talk to her all weekend. It’s their last weekend together for who knows when and her mother hasn’t talked to her all weekend.
It shouldn’t have hurt or surprised Niecey. Constance is the queen of holding a grudge. She once bragged to Niecey about still being mad at her bully from 40 years ago. And then got mad at Niecey for pointing out how unhealthy was.
Of course she didn’t want to talk to Niecey this weekend. She’s mad at Niecey for actually leaving.
Niecey had been saying for months that she was going to move out and move away. She’d given her mother fair warning. But Constance had just waved her off and told her to get her another drink out of the fridge.
Constance should’ve gotten it together when Niecey came home and told her she’d finally quit that job.
She’d been telling her that for months, too.
Niecey hated her pay, her co-workers, the managers that made her skin crawl. And she hated getting screeched at during work only to come home and get screeched at some more.
But again--Constance could care less. Girl, you ain’t going nowhere . You just doing a bunch of talking.
Niecey steps out of her shower and onto the towel she’s laid on the floor. She’s gotta remember to dump it in the washing machine before she leaves. She wonders how long her mother will leave it there before she finally gets around to washing clothes.
Niecey dries off, lotions up, and slips into her clothes. She brushes her teeth and briefly contemplates putting on makeup before remembering that she’ll be on a train for nine hours.
Above her, Constance stumbles from the bathroom and back into bed. The bedsprings creak underneath her weight and the sound almost makes Niecey want to go upstairs and apologize and cancel the tickets and just stay .
But no. She can’t do that. She has no job, her mother won’t talk to her, and she’s gotten too big for her bed. She has nothing to stay for.
It must have been when Niecey was seven. No, eight. Niecey was eight when Constance lost her first job.
Constance had been at that job since she was 18 years-old. Twenty years later, they laid her off. Constance was suddenly an unemployed single mother. An unemployed, single, angry mother.
After that, keeping a job seemed impossible. If she didn’t quit, she was fired. If she wasn’t fired, she was laid off. And, somehow, it always ended up being Niecey’s problem.
“I wouldn’t even have to have these shitty ass jobs if I wasn’t paying for you ,” became Constance’s mantra.
Niecey has no idea how many times she’s heard it during her life. And you know, it’s one of those things that you start to believe once you’ve heard it enough. Niecey wholeheartedly believed she was the reason her mother could never quite get back on her feet.
That is, until last year, in the middle of her sophomore year in college.
Niecey . . . never really liked college, anyway. She didn’t like high school, if she was being completely honest. And Constance was always gripping about having to pay a portion of the tuition.
So when Niecey come to her about potentially not being in college anymore, she thought her mother would be down with it.
“So you just gonna drop out and be a bum? And think you can live in my house without a job?”
“No, no, it’s not like that! I, I’m just--I hate school. I’m not trying to be a bum!”
“ Yes, you are! What the fuck are you even talking about? You either go to school or you get a damn job!”
There wasn’t any arguing with that. Niecey got a damn job.
A damn job that she hated because all she did was shuffle papers, and answer phones, and fetch coffee and get yelled at by high-strung supervisors who didn’t realize that a secretary’s job isn’t to be a handmaid.
And she did that, only to come home and be reminded of how much of a disappointment she is.
Niecey got enough checks to pay for rent for a cheap shot-gun house. 6 months. That’s all she needed.
Niecey quietly walks out of what is now her old room and nearly trips on the bag she’d left outside.
“Shit,” she mutters under her breath.
Niecey bends down and carefully inspects the already raggedy bag. She wishes she’d thought to buy new luggage.
Then again, it’s not like too much thought went into this. Niecey had quit her job one week, gotten her last check the next, and realized that she’d saved enough money to not live here anymore.
Then she booked a sublet in New Orleans. And then she bought a train ticket.
It all happened fast. Too fast for either of them, really.
Niecey should go upstairs. Say goodbye. It’s not like she’d been waking her up. This is the time Constance usually wakes up before falling back to sleep again. She could just pop her head in.
But “goodbye” wouldn’t just be goodbye.
It’d be “how could you?” Why didn’t you listen to me? Why were you so mean? What did I ever do to make you so unhappy? Why’d you even have me?
Constance is still: the bed makes no noise, nor do the floorboards.
Niecey stands at the edge of the stairs. The silence makes her bones shake. Her face burns and she looks up, examining the worn wood and the half-painted walls. There used to be pictures: of her, of Constance, of their cousins and Niecey’s grandmother. But one day, Constance took them all down. Now, it’s just a wall.
Niecey wipes at the tears she didn’t realize were falling. Then she picks up her bag and walks out of the front door, locking it behind her.
9:35 a.m. Battery at 96% thanks to the outlet right next to her arm.
Niecey’s not sure what wakes her up first: the phone’s loud pinging or the jolt of the Amtrak riding over rickety train tracks.
Niecey opens her eyes groggily and stretches, grateful for the extra space provided by the empty seat beside. She looks down at her phone to see texts and emails.
Her aunt CeCe wants pictures of the house. Ebony picked up her car from the train station for her. And Google is asking her to review the service she received from Memphis Central Station.
And then one last text, sent at 9:31 a.m.
Call me when you get settled. Keep an eye on your stuff. Weird people ride the train. Be safe.
Niecey’s eyes start to water. She feels ridiculous. But then again, there are probably countless people who have cried while reading texts from their mother. Especially when they’re leaving home.
Call you tonight. I love you, too .
Niecey hits “send” and shuts her phone’s screen off. Then she slides into her seat and closes her eyes.
The train speeds forward.