It was an unwelcoming.
The town was small and nasty with bitter rivalries. Newcomers were sniffed at suspiciously. Anything that appeared to be money was tallied up.
Anything appearing strange was gathered up to talk about at cafe tables and meeting circles. A patch of civilization that had very little culture, unless tractors and moonshine and churches and trucks were the cornerstones of the world you wanted to be a part.
Why here mom? Mille’s prepubescents needed to know.
Affordable. I found a job. And nobody knows us or wants to know us.
She was wrong on that second part. Everyone wanted to know, and amusing rumors had it that Mille was the love child of a state politician or that her mom was a drug mule.
Drugs were moving through the town. It had been in the paper. There were pictures.
Everyone was disappointed when Mille’s mom turned out to be a tolerably plain waitress with no bad habits, but Mille was too good at school.
Try not to stick out, Mille’s mom suggested.
They want me to stick out.
They were bored with themselves and dissatisfied. There were no dreams or delusions of doing better or having a better future. Sons and daughters were moving back home from the city. Mille was making them look bad.
They don’t want me to smile.
Then don’t smile.
Mille liked her hair in two crazy long braids. The other children wanted ink wells.They didn’t even know what ink wells were.
Bob your hair.
I tried, but it grew back last night.
I break a few plates and let the dishwasher pinch me so the other waitresses don’t get jealous.
Mille broke her pencil. She misspelled words. She used slang instead of talking like she knew how to talk.
You think you’re better than us.
Yes, I do, she thought, horrified. She smelled of superiority’s stink. She didn’t know how it got there.
It wasn’t hers. It was theirs.
She was too lonely to understand.
Why don’t you go back home.
So she left school, crossed an abandoned school playground, walked to the middle of town, and went upstairs above the drugstore where she lived until she was 18.
When 18, she loaded a car.
She drove back to the city.
Her hair was bobbed. She couldn’t say all her words correctly. Everyone used a different slang.
Eh, why doncha go back home.
No question marks.
She turned 24. She lived in a room she rented in a town home in the city close to a place where she could work in a stockroom. She had lost her dreams when she was 10. She had no delusions left of being or doing better than anyone.
Go back home, then.
Mille got out her pencil, eraser, and pencil sharpener. She had crumpled craft paper from the stockroom. She drew a house and trees. She drew buildings with lofts and iron balconies. She drew birds, rabbits, and deers. She drew a fox. She drew a cat and a dog. She drew beaches in the light of streetlamps. She drew mountains and sunrises. She drew bridges. She drew people kissing and holding hands and flowers blooming. She drew interwoven blooming vines and tree canopies.
She drew windows.
Her braids grew back.