Milk Money From Mom, by Jeffrey Miller

In the pale light of dawn, the boy rubbed his eyes, and from the sofa bed in the living room, gazed at his mother in silhouette at the kitchen table as she smoked a cigarette and drank a Coke. Outside, a horn honked twice; her ride to work to the factory where she bent metal tubes into chair and table legs. She grabbed her dented, black lunch box and slipped out the door.

Later, after the boy and his younger brother got up, dressed, and had their Cheerios, they found their milk money left on the counter next to their lunch sacks of bologna sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, a Twinkie, an apple and a baggie filled with Frito Lay corn chips. Next to the sacks with their names neatly written on the side, the boys found the note with the same elegant and neat handwriting listing their chores for the day: “take out the garbage, vacuum the living room, do the laundry. Don’t wait up for me; I’m working a double shift.” She always signed the notes, “Loves Ya, Mom.”

In the evening, after they had heated up leftover sloppy Joes, finished their homework and household chores, the boys grabbed the two grocery bags stuffed with their clothes and their mother’s dirty work clothes and headed up Walnut four blocks to Sparkle Cleaners. A portly woman in a frumpy polyester dress and two college kids paid no attention to the boys who sipped hot chicken broth and drank hot chocolate while they waited for the clothes to wash.

At the end of the day, their mother was the shadowy figure that knelt down over them, kissed them on the forehead and whispered goodnight. Beneath the stale cigarette smoke and cheap drugstore perfume she used, he could still smell the grease on her clothes that no matter how many times his brother and him washed, he couldn’t get that smell out of his mind.

JEFFREY MILLER is originally from LaSalle, Illinois & has been living and teaching in Asia since 1989. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Artful Dodge, Bartleby Snopes, Grey Sparrow Journal, Magnolia’s Press, Negative Suck, Orion headless, and The Stirfry Literary Magazine.

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