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“Now Barbie can go to the mall and get in her car,” Meg said to no one in particular. She stuffed the doll into the red plastic convertible and pushed it around the floor. She watched the wheels make little tracks in the carpet by her bed. The car flew out into the hallway. Meg crawled to it and was about to pick it up when she heard voices coming from the kitchen.
“Harold, we’re in trouble here. The money’s not going to last us forever! Don’t you realize that your sitting around all day—” Meg’s mother was cut off by her father.
“I told you, we have enough! I’ll find a job eventually. Sharon said that until then—”
“Oh, again with Sharon! I found her blouse in my drawer, Harold. I know what you’ve been doing with her. I know you probably fell out of love with me a long time ago, but at least I’m trying to hold things together for Meg!”
“Oh, Barb…” Meg’s father’s voice was softer now, and she could hear him take a shuffling step on the linoleum.
“Don’t touch me, Harold.” Her mother’s reply was as cold as ice, and Meg was utterly confused by the talk of money and someone named Sharon. She crept closer and saw her father standing stiffly at the doorway. Her mother had one hand on her forehead and the other running through her hair as she leaned over the counter. Barbie’s plastic bag fell from the car and clattered to the floor, the sound causing both of her parents to jump.
“Now you’ve done it,” her mother snapped at her father, grabbing Meg by the arm and pulling her out the door. “Come on, Meg. We’re going to go out for a little bit, okay?”
Her tone had changed from the motherly voice that she usually used into one that she heard teachers at school employ: slightly exasperated, but still trying to sound cheerful. Without speaking, Meg got into the back of the silver minivan and buckled herself in. They drove in silence until her mother took a deep breath and said, “I’m sorry you had to hear that, Meg. That was just grown-up talk.” Meg didn’t reply. “You know your dad and I love you very much.”
Her mother fell silent too, and Meg watched the shapes in the clouds float by. She thought she saw a teddy bear and a dog until they turned the corner and the sun was too bright to look at the sky. Soon, the van pulled into the grocery-store parking lot. Her mother helped her out of the car, and a wrinkled old man pulled out a shopping cart for them.
“We only need a few things, so this shouldn’t take long,” her mother promised, taking the cart by the handle. They passed by the produce and went straight to the frozen foods. Meg paused by one of the doors to the rows of microwave dinners and traced paths in the frozen side of the glass. The ice left the slightest bit of white powder on her finger. She wiped it on her skirt and closed the door. Her mother was still comparing prices of two brands of frozen peas, so Meg leaned very close to the door. She could almost see her reflection, and her breath left a huge fog mark on the door. She wrote “MEG” in it before it disappeared.
“Meg,” her mother called. She looked up, and her mother was at the end of he aisle. Meg ran to catch up with her, her sneakers making little squeaks on the tile. They turned the cart and moved onto the cereal aisle.
“Mom, can I get Lucky Charms?” Meg asked, the box already in her hands.
“No Meg. Those are bad for you, and we have Corn Flakes at home.” Meg put it back on the shelf, and they finished their shopping. The two of them pushed the cart up to the checkout counter, and her mother loaded the groceries onto the conveyor belt. Meg let her fingers play out over the moving surface as she eyed the candy. The cashier told her mother how much Meg looked like her, and winked at Meg on the way out. She looked away. She and her mother walked out, and Meg saw a coin machine out of the corner of her eye.
“Mom, could I play the coin machine please?” she asked, trying to use all of her manners. Her mother sighed, looking at the receipt again. “Not today, Meg.” They pushed the cart between the automatic doors and out into the parking lot. The hot summer heat beat down on the asphalt, heat waves radiating up into the air. Meg thought that if she had money, she would play that coin machine and give the rest to her mother and father. She thought that if they just had enough money, everything would be fine, and they wouldn’t need that Sharon person. Meg wouldn’t give any money to Sharon.
Meg could see that her mother’s thoughts were far away, so she walked a little behind her to give her some privacy. She watched her mother’s feet move across the boiling blacktop, and then she saw a crumpled up dollar bill wedged in the grating of a storm drain. Meg stooped down to pick it up, thinking that this was a start to the money. She had the bill between her fingers and gave it a tug. It was stuck; she pulled a little harder. Her mother was a longer way off now, and she knelt down on the hot ground to hurry. She heard the sound of a car engine starting, and she suddenly saw that it was the SUV beside her. With a violent lurch, the car backed out of the parking lot. The bumper hit Meg’s head, and the force knocked her into the air. Across the parking lot, Meg’s mother turned around after hearing the noise of impact, a hand flying to her mouth. She sprinted across the parking lot towards her daughter. Upon hitting the ground, Meg’s spirit flew out of her body like glitter from a paper bag, and after the wind tossed it about, it seemed to shiver in the air like the heat waves. Then, like her name in fog on the glass, she ebbed away.