Gina's daughter answered the door while a baby wailed in the background. She looked like your typical new mother: tired and slightly depressed. Her clothes were the low-rent version of house-wear, a pair of cartoon pajama bottoms and an over-sized t-shirt. No bras. No socks.
The woman barely looked at me as I stood out on the porch, next to a smashed alarm clock and a couple of empty boxes leftover from the move. The boxes had been scrounged from her boyfriend's place of business. The company logo was printed on the side. The clock looked like it had been stomped to death.
"Mom, your ride is here," she yelled then disappeared back into the shallow gloom behind the door.
Gina crept out, still moving gingerly like her heels were made of glass.
"I was just getting ready to call you," she said and smiled. "We thought you might have gotten lost."
It would have been easy enough. The new place was in the labyrinthine bowels of the West Side, where roads lead nowhere and traffic signs are scattered along the grid much like dandelion seeds, but I told her I had it covered.
"And we've got plenty of time," I said.
We didn't talk much. Not a lot had happened since our last visit. They'd settled into the little house, which was an improvement from the hellish backyard apartment they'd been in before, but Carla talked about getting out. She wanted a space of her own.
"It's got a pretty big living room and the one bedroom is all right," she told me. "The rest is just too small. My daughter has all her stuff in storage. So, do I."
The place looked like it might be two bedrooms. If her daughter and boyfriend had a bedroom and the kids had a bedroom, where did that put her?
I didn't ask.
"Now, this is just a doctor's visit, right?" I asked. "It's just an office visit."
She nodded and told me she had a chemo treatment in a couple of days. This was just a visit to talk to the doctor, but she offered to check with the receptionist to see how long it would be. Neither of us wanted me to miss too much work, but I could hang out for a little while, if they were going to see her in the next hour or so.
The reception area was full with only a couple of seats available. On the television, Fox News was giving their fair and balanced interpretation of the news while a woman in a dark brown wig talked about how her treatment was interfering with her sleep.
"I'll get two or three good nights and then I can't sleep for days."
Her husband sat beside her, holding her hand, staring at the floor numbly. He looked shell-shocked and defeated.
Carla asked about the wait and the guy at the window frowned unhappily.
"It's going to be a long wait," he said.
Carla wanted me to go on and to be honest, I had to go, but I handed over one my business cards, the one with my name attached to the newspaper and told him to call the moment she was done.
Most of the time the card is useless, but every once in a great while, it helps... a little bit.
"I'll be back," I told Carla then went to work and wrote about bagpipe players, daredevils and guys who play guitar.
Hours ticked by. I stayed at my desk and watched the phone. When I went to the bathroom or refilled my coffee pot, I asked for someone to watch my phone. I didn't dare go more than a few paces.
It was after five when I finally heard back from the doctor's office. After just over four hours, she was ready to go.
Carla was waiting for me in a room full of sad, scared people who looked like they were at their own wakes. I took her home. I told her I couldn't believe how long they had kept her. She explained that the receptionist had said the doctor had needed to go over a surgery with a new patient.
It was a bullshit excuse.
I was baffled. It was after five p.m. and the waiting area was still full. Carla told me they'd run out of chairs and people had been sitting in their cars. The doctor was overbooked. He was double, maybe triple booked. The man's schedule would have to be obscene.
Four hours. Why would you do that to anyone?
With weary resignation Carla explained the doctor had surgeries and he taught. He was a busy man.
She'd ended up meeting with him for just a few minutes to go over her treatment and to let her ask questions.
"I only asked how much longer do I have to keep doing this?"
The doctor wouldn't say.