by Kristen Abate
(Originally published in Typehouse Magazine issue 3)
Millie missed the last month of second grade because her mother had convinced herself she could get rich by selling t-shirts. She told Millie she had no time to drive her to the elementary school in town, help her with arithmetic, or make her dinner. Instead, her mother spent her time buying a thousand packs of Hanes 100% cotton shirts, three to a pack, and screen-printing old airplane paintings and Bible versus on them. When the school called, Millie heard her mother tell them she had tuberculosis.
On the last day of June, her mother packed all the t-shirts into the trunk of the 1997 Toyota Corolla with chipped maroon paint and no taillights. Millie crawled into the back seat without instruction. When they got to Maryland’s annual Ocean City Airshow two hours later, her mother cursed as she maneuvered the heavy t-shirt boxes through grass pathways. Her graying blond bangs became laced with sweat and her cheap mascara began to bleed. Their booth stood out in the maze of white cabanas for the simple fact that nothing about it was eye-catching—no shiny sign, no fancy shelves, no name brands, no music, no staff, no cash register—just a long wooden collapsible table covered by two white table cloths from the dollar store, folded t-shirts, Millie, and her mother, whose eyes were wide with mania.
Millie sat on the dusty grass inside the confines of the tent, wondering when she would get to go home, where her mother’s craziness wasn’t so obvious. She ached for the time when her mother would once again comb her hair after her bath, read her Little House on the Prairie and make her chicken casserole for dinner—those few days of happiness before she would crawl into the dark cave of her room and cry for weeks.