by Noah Milligan

It was a typical Thursday morning when Sara passed it: the Von Maur’s display window, replete with mannequins enjoying a holiday scene, and at first she simply discarded it—a retail store advertisement, nothing else—but when Huxley pointed up at the window and said, “Daddy,” she had to look. The mannequin itself, of course, looked nothing like Daddy. The plastic was lifeless and its hue chalky. Its rigid joints bent at awkward angles. But there was, if Sara squinted her eyes and let them get all blurry, something about it that reminded her of her husband of twelve years. Perhaps it was the snowflake-covered sweater it sported, one her husband would have worn ironically to a winter company party, or perhaps it was the sly upturned grin of its lifeless lips, but it just seemed so oddly familiar. And this feeling, uncanny that it was, unnerved Sara—there was something just inarticulately off about the whole damn thing.

For instance, the child in the scene—young, gleeful, rosy-cheeked—did also resemble, in the slightest way, of course, if Sara looked in just the right angle out her peripheral, Hux. There were differences, obviously. Sara had recently chopped off Hux’s bangs despite her embarrassing temper tantrum thrown right in the middle of the salon, and the mannequin in the display still had hers, lining her eyes in that off-putting, grown-up sort of way that had irked Sara to no end. But, beyond that, Sara could’ve sworn Hux had that same exact pair of pajamas: pink with puppy dog prints. Hux had outgrown them a few months prior, and they remained pushed up in a ball in the back of her dresser drawer, a constant and nagging reminder that Sara needed to organize and de-clutter her life, just one more thing that needed to be done.

And then there was the mother in the scene, nursing a white coffee mug. She was off to the side, leaning against a white, non-descript sofa. She wore white leggings and a white t-shirt. She was the only thing in the scene that wasn’t splashed with color so that she stood out as this bright, glaring eyesore. And, if she was absolutely honest with herself, and more and more lately Sara had been, this was how she often felt in her own life: she stood out as someone who did not fit. She was like a child’s game played in pre-school, melodically taught to toddlers to discard the thing that was different, and despite willing herself not to, the little tune got stuck in her head: “One of these things is not like the others / One of these things just doesn’t belong.”

“Can we go in, Mommy?” Hux pulled on Sara’s pant leg. “Please please please!”

Later, Sara would like to think it was Hux’s insistence that took her into the store, that she had nagged and begged and Sara had relented just to keep her from throwing her umpteenth tantrum of the day, but that was a lie. She was drawn to the store, too, the display acting as some sort of tractor beam, pulling her inside. The store itself was bright and huge and filled with holiday cheer, the soft hum of Jingle Bell jazz, the thrush of shoppers’ laughter. As soon as Sara walked through the doors, it was like she was a child again, enthralled by the rapture of the holiday season. She wandered down the aisles in awe, mentally checking off her wish list: a pair of heels here, some diamond earrings there. The necklaces caught her attention, so sparkly and enticing, and so did the hats, the floppier the better. She knew, however, that Daryl would not buy her anything like that for Christmas. Since having Hux, their gift giving had turned practical instead of romantic, a set of radial tires or air filters, cutlery or new smoke detectors. Things that were needed, not necessarily wanted. And Sara had been fine with that. She had! She didn’t expect life to be some sort of never-ending rom-com, but she did hope that every once in a while, not even that often, just like once or twice a year, really, Daryl would surprise her with something, a nice little clutch or even just a CD or a Starbucks gift card. Just a small little knick-knack that said he still gave a damn. But he didn’t, and that was okay, she supposed, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t, rarely of course, spoil herself, and that was when she saw it: a purse. It was a Kate Spade, this cute little thing with the strap and the leather and that feeling only a new bag can bring, and she decided she shouldn’t feel bad if she bought something just this once. It was, after all, just one little thing.

* * *

Sara carried her purse everywhere she went after that: to the DMV to renew her driver’s license; to Aldi to grab a bag of avocados and pre-made, individually wrapped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; to Hux’s dance recitals, and everywhere she went, other mothers would stop her and ask, “Where did you get that bag? Where? Where can I get one of my own?” and the entire time Sara couldn’t help but feel like she was floating. It was enchanting in a way, like how she’d felt the first time boys had noticed her, when she had been sixteen and her older cousin’s friend had handed her a room-temperature Coors Light and said, “Here, cutie. Take a load off.” She felt empowered. She felt, and she was embarrassed to admit this, unstoppable.

She scolded herself for this feeling. It was so, well, superficial. She hated it. She had, in her younger days, even chided her mother and sisters and other girls at school for overvaluing material things, their socioeconomic status, but here she stood, right in the middle of T-ball signups, hoping beyond hope someone would stop her and tell her just how beautiful her new bag was.

But nobody did.

They didn’t say a word.

And so Sara wondered why. She stood there in line, dozens of other mothers standing around, carrying on about Betsy and how everyone thought she was perhaps letting herself go and how jealous they were of Ann for finding herself on that mission trip to Haiti, and wondered why no one even gave her bag a second glance! It still looked good. The leather still had that new sheen and that just-brought-home-from-the-department-store smell. It was still in fashion, this year’s design in fact, and it went perfectly well with her teal green flats and her pants. Well, not so much with the pants. They were a little worn and faded, having been bought…well, she couldn’t exactly remember when she’d bought them. And they did have a string curling away from the pocket, and so Sara tried to grab it without the other mothers noticing and rip it off, the whole time nodding, yes, yes, of course Ann looks ten years younger, more in fact, and tried not to rip a hole down the seam. And she was able to. It was easy enough. But then she had to hold on to the string, keep it in her hand, rubbing it between her coarse fingertips, and she knew, deep down in her bones she knew, she had to replace her pants before the day’s end.

By the time she and Hux got back to Von Maur, the display window had changed. It was still a family scene, still a mother and husband and daughter, but instead of the parents watching the little girl opening Christmas presents, they huddled together around a dining room table. The father and the daughter sat there, the husband’s hands clasped together as if in prayer, and the daughter spooning an invisible dinner into her open, waiting mouth, and the entire time Sara couldn’t help but think that this was them, this was Daryl and Hux and she at last year’s Christmas dinner. And maybe she was going crazy—she certainly felt a little crazy—but it was like she remembered this exact moment. Sara had been standing over the turkey, trying to carve it, while Daryl criticized her technique, telling her how to hold the knife and the double-tined prongs, explaining that her angle was all wrong and that she would tear the meat and hit bone and dull the knife, and she’d argued with him. She told him to keep his mouth shut, that she’d been feeding this family for years, thank you very much, without much input from him, and no, game-day burgers on the grill did not count, and that she didn’t need his advice now, the whole time Hux staring down at her plate as if she wished she could disappear. Sara felt bad about this later, and still did, in fact, and it didn’t help that Daryl had been right—she had hit bone, and the meat was shredded into jagged, little cuts—but when Sara entered the store, all this regret and shame and anger she had felt for so long about that day, for fighting in front of Hux and the way she resented Daryl’s smugness, all of it seemed to just melt away. She felt whole again. She felt—and this time she wasn’t embarrassed to admit it—at home.

* * *

The purse turned into pants, and the pants turned into some heels, the heels into a dress. Soon, she’d bought a necklace, and then a day or two later, matching earrings. She bought a blazer and sunglasses and rings and a watch, sneakers and leggings and three or four blouses. When her wardrobe was finished, she decided she needed to redo the house. She bought a new sectional, a couple chaise lounges, even a few bookcases to display her brand new, ceramic knick knacks: little Hindu elephants and dream catchers and Congolese Tribal Masks, worldly things, things that made her feel more sophisticated, more interesting somehow, as if by just owning them, she could experience a thousand experiences all at once. She knew this to be crazy, of course. She hadn’t experienced these things, and she didn’t go around telling everyone she had travelled the world or had joined the Peace Corps out of college or had gone on safari with Daryl for their eighth wedding anniversary. She did, however, often daydream about what that would be like to be a world traveler, to be a woman of the world, and this, these little fantasies, didn’t harm anyone. They made her happy, in fact.

Beyond her happiness, Sara had noticed other changes, too. When she stood in line to buy stamps or picked up her dry cleaning or just about anywhere, in fact, people started doing stuff for her. It wasn’t all that noticeable at first—she would drop her purse on accident, spilling a tube of ruby red lipstick or a hairclip, and some teenage girl would pop out of nowhere to help her out. She’d be a few cents short while getting her morning Frappuccino, and a middle-aged, rotund man would slide up next to her with a dollar bill. Everywhere she went, people smiled at her and opened doors for her and complimented her on her boots or her nails or her smile, and Sara couldn’t help but bask in the attention. She felt like a movie star, if maybe just a B-reel character actress, but still, the people were so nice, just so, so nice, and, even though she felt a little silly about all this, she half-expected the paparazzi to be waiting for her out in the parking lot, snapping photographs of little old her, to be published the next morning in US Weekly, or, dare she hope, even People.

Of course, Daryl started to notice all the new stuff now. Each time she came through the front door carrying a couple shopping bags, he would pucker his lips and shake his head disapprovingly, like a father berating a misbehaving child. Well, Sara thought, she wasn’t his child. She was his wife, and she was, both by vow and by law, entitled to these things. What was his was hers and vice versa, and it had been twelve good goddamn years, so why shouldn’t she spoil herself? She deserved it. When the credit card bill came, however, and Daryl clucked that stupid, little, annoying cluck that he does with his tongue, Sara did, for an instant, feel bad—there were one or two more zeros than she’d anticipated—but the moment soon passed when he opened his idiotic, mushy, little mouth.

“I just think maybe it would be wise if we tempered our spending a little bit,” he said. “You know, for Hux’s sake.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I’m just thinking, you know. She’s probably due for a growth spurt. She’ll need new shoes and dresses and a jacket and stuff. You know, stuff that fits.”

The nerve of him!

The absolute, motherfucking—yes, she swore—nerve of him!

For years she had been trying to get him interested in Hux. She’d plead with him to attend parent teacher conferences, her ballet recitals, to just spend a few minutes after work playing tea party. “But, babe,” he’d say, “the big game,” or “the big meeting,” or “the big whatever.” And now, now that she dared do something for herself for a change, he had the gall to open his mouth and invoke their daughter? The one she had just about single-handedly raised since birth?

The motherfucking, hair-splitting, homicidal-raging nerve of that guy!

And so she kept spending. She bought new curtains and new rollerblades and new China and new silverware and new stemware and new wood floors and new showerheads. Everything had to be replaced. She hired contractors to remodel her kitchen and to add a new family room to the back of the house. She bought new beds for Hux’s room and the master and even the guest room, despite it only having been used maybe a dozen or so times. She bought workout equipment, a treadmill and Bowflex Machine and free weights, and called the contractors back out to add another room to the house, an in-home gymnasium, and soon, and this came as a surprise even to Sara, more people started to notice. Neighbors dropped by to take pictures and the homeowner’s association wanted to feature her home in the annual neighborhood garden show and an editor at Edmond Living called her and wanted to do a profile of her and her beautiful home. “Just how do you do it?” she asked, and it seemed like everyone came to know her by name. She’d walk down the street, and strangers would call out, “Sara! Sara Jones! Can we take your picture?”

And the craziest thing happened every time she would pass by the Von Maur display window—the mother in the scene just looked happier. She smiled and she beamed and she dominated the scene, the puny little husband now dismissed into the dark, dank little corner, and the woman wore the prettiest red dress, this strapless little thing with a pencil skirt, her head cocked to the side, declaring to the world that she was ready. Whatever life threw at her, she was ready. She was so much happier, in fact, that Sara couldn’t help but buy that red dress and wear it home just to see Daryl’s stupid face when she walked in through the door.

* * *

Soon, stuff filled every single room of the house—new, shiny, smile-inducing stuff—and for the first time in a long time, Sara felt happy. Truly, undeniably, cheek-hurting happy. It wasn’t long, however, until the phone calls began. The first happened one day after dinner. The family was sitting on the new sectional—this classy, creamy, modern thing Sara had picked up on sale, actually—and watching a movie, the cartoon one where the characters are actually a group of superheroes in hiding, and Sara couldn’t help but think that she related with the mother in that movie, to be a superhero all these years and to suffer through life an ordinary, plaid-wearing soccer mom. Well, by God, not anymore.

That was when the phone rang. It was the home phone and not one of their cell phones, so Sara knew it was something important. It wasn’t Kathy with the latest extra-marital gossip going around the PTA or Chase calling Daryl about tickets to see Rush. Rather, it was probably the school, calling about Hux pooping in another kid’s backpack or maybe even one of their doctors, asking he or she to come into the office first thing in the morning, “…as soon as you possibly can, actually.” So Daryl and Sara had a stare-off over Hux’s head. He gave her the I’ve-worked-all-fucking-day look, brows arched, mouth puckered like he was eating something sour, and she gave him her best I-always-have-to deal-with-this-type-of-shit grimace, eyes wide and nostrils flared, like she was on her very last straw, and all the while the phone rang, and rang, and rang.

Finally, the stare-down ended in a stalemate, and Sara’s chirpy, recorded voice filled the living area: “Thank you for calling the Joneses. We can’t answer your call at the moment, but if you please leave your name and number, we’ll get back with you as soon as we can.”

The beep was mostly drowned out by some monsters shooting laser guns to Hux’s giggling delight. Because of this, it was difficult for Sara to make out the nasally voice on the other end of the line. It sounded like a Bob Allford or maybe a Tom Vonfeldt, and he was from some company or another, and Sara looked to Daryl for any signs of recognition, but he had none. Interest lost, he instead perused the illuminated screen of his iPhone, smirking at some other middle-aged man’s snarky comment on Facebook.

Later, when Hux and Daryl had gone to bed, Sara listened to the voice message. It was from a Gary Pewter—she made a mental note to get her hearing checked—and he was from Legacy Bank in town. She Googled the company online, and he was in their Securities Department. They bought up bad debt from department stores and credit card companies and payday lenders and other banks and then went after the debtors for collection. Gary was actually a vice president, and he had an online profile on the company’s “About Us” page. He was bald, with coke-bottle glasses and an upturned lip like he smelled something putrid. Right away, Sara didn’t like him, and it wasn’t so much that he looked like a squirrel, but it was because she knew, all the way deep down in her bones she knew, this man wasn’t here to help her.

* * *

The bank, Sara noted, smelled of mold. She couldn’t quite pinpoint the source of the smell, but it was most definitely there, like a soggy ceiling tile, soaked from a leaky roof after a spring thunderstorm. No one else, however, seemed to notice it. Employees and customers alike smiled politely when she and Daryl and Hux walked through the revolving door. A teller greeted them like a hostess might, and Sara jumped when she seemed to pop out of nowhere, eyes darty and neck strained like an ostrich.

“Welcome to Legacy Bank,” she said. “My name is Kara. How can we assist you today?”

It didn’t help that Sara carried a snub-nosed .38 in her handbag. Daryl had gotten it for her years before, when concealed carry became legal in the state. Usually, she kept it locked in her closet where Hux couldn’t get to it, but she’d grabbed it that morning, along with her license to carry, because of some loosely congealed plan that if things didn’t go her way when meeting with Gary Pewter, she would have to do something. What that something was, Sara couldn’t bring herself to concretely form in her mind, but she had the gist of it: a purse full of cash and a quick getaway. It was crazy, she knew, and downright stupid—she had a better chance of winning the lottery than pulling off a successful bank heist—but she was also desperate, and, for the first time in her life, happy. She just couldn’t dream of letting that slip away.

Kara escorted them to Mr. Pewter’s office, a quaint little thing adjacent to the teller line, where a squirmy man waited for them. He wasn’t what Sara had always pictured as a banker—slick, double-breasted, smelling of leather—but rather a dork in a polo shirt a size too big for him. And she had been right, she didn’t like him—she could tell by the smug way he smiled that all he cared about was making a quick buck, padding the company’s bottom line, whomever be damned.

“I sure do appreciate you two taking the time out of your day to come see me,” he said. He stood and shook their hands. On his desk sat a placard that read, “Gary Pewter / Serious About Service.” He knelt down to Hux’s level. “You must be Huxley,” he said. “Your father has told me you’re about to be six years old. Is that true?”

Hux shied away and grabbed ahold of Sara’s leg, resting her head against Sara’s handbag, only a thin piece of leather separating her from a loaded gun, and, for a second there, Sara couldn’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, she was failing as a mother.

“She’s shy,” Sara said, and they all had a seat to begin their meeting. Hux sat on her father’s lap, and Sara made a mental note that if things went south, she would force Hux underneath Mr. Pewter’s desk—she figured that might be the safest spot if bullets started flying.

Mr. Pewter retrieved a file from a desk drawer, one he’d obviously just perused before they’d arrived, and laid it neatly on his desk.

“I know this is a difficult thing to talk about,” he said. “And this is never easy, but I want you to know I’m not an unreasonable man, and we aren’t an unreasonable bank.”

His nasally voice annoyed Sara. It wasn’t just the tone—a high-pitched, whiny register—but also because he seemed so sincere, like he was just trying to help someone incapable of helping herself, and it made her want to just say screw it and reach down into her purse and take out the gun. It was a stupid impulse, she knew, much like buying a pair of sunglasses while in the cash wrap line at Von Maur, but it was there nonetheless, irresistible and strong. She wondered what Mr. Pewter’s face would look like when she brandished the weapon, that silvery, small little package of boom. He’d probably pucker up, shoulders shivering, nose scrunched as if holding in a sneeze. His face would be priceless.

“But we are looking at a very large sum, nearly $250,000, and after looking over your financial statement here, it doesn’t seem like you have any collateral in which to pledge.”

“The house,” Daryl said. “There’s got to be equity in it.”

“I’m afraid the additions to your home cost more than the value they added. You actually now owe more than the house is worth, I’m afraid.”

Sara could see it now—Mr. Pewter would fall from his chair, his petrified eyes locked on her, and cower to the floor. “Hands up,” she would tell him. “Get to your feet and grab the vault key. You’re gonna need it.” She’d jab the barrel of the gun into the small of his back, making his knees buckle from fear, and force him into the crowded lobby, and the whole time she would feel so powerful. So powerful—like a lioness protecting her cubs. Yes, that’s it, she thought, I am the Queen of the Jungle.

“Like I said, though,” Mr. Pewter said, “We aren’t unreasonable. We don’t want to own your house. We don’t want to repossess your belongings. We’re not in the business of selling your personal items, and I’m sure we can come up with some sort of payment plan that would benefit everyone involved.”

“What were you thinking?” Daryl asked, leaning forward as if he could just swoop in and save the day, and Sara decided that when she made Mr. Pewter open the vault, she’d make Daryl get inside, too. Yeah. She’d make some lowly teller tie Mr. Pewter and Daryl up in there, dirty socks stuffed into their annoying, know-it-all mouths, eyes duct-taped shut so when they were finally rescued, all their gray bushy eyebrows would be ripped out of their pores, and she would go around handing out money to all the hourly employees and the ripped-off bank customers, fifty dollars here, a hundred there, and they would thank her. They’d say, “Thank you, kind stranger. Thank you oh so very much.”

“We would, of course, need to have some sort of act in good faith. A down payment, say. something along the lines of five percent of the outstanding balance.”

“Twelve thousand dollars?” Daryl asked.

“Twelve thousand five-hundred, actually,” Mr. Pewter said.

“We don’t have that kind of money,” Daryl said. “Not just lying around.”

She would then grab Hux and take the car and she would head south. She could be in Mexico in nine hours, just hit the highway and run. She’d be like Bonnie from Bonnie and Clyde. She’d be like Patty Hearst. She’d be Robin Hood.

“Momma,” Hux said, tugging on her pant leg, eyes red from missing her afternoon nap. “I’m hungry.”

But she knew, deep down in her bones she knew, none of that would ever happen. If she did pull out the gun, she wouldn’t really know what to do with it. She’d probably be more afraid than Mr. Pewter even, and when she started waving it around, she’d probably wind up shot dead, in front of her little girl no doubt, who would forever after be scarred. It was a fantasy, much like the life she had secretly hoped for while young, this teenage girl drunk on romantic comedies and fairy tales. Real life just doesn’t end up happily ever after, and she knew that. She did. She’d just forgotten it for a little while, or at least ignored it for as long as she could, and now, she knew, it was time for the fantasy to end.

“We’ll get you the money,” Sara said to that smug-faced prick Gary Pewter. “Don’t you fucking worry.”

* * *

And so Sara acted quickly. The very next morning, she went down to City Hall and applied to have a garage sale. She felt good about it in fact. The lady who took her application, she was elderly and purple-haired and pink-lipped and just sat there with her arms folded and said the nicest things.

“I just love those sunglasses,” she said when Sara approached. “Where on Earth did you get those things?”

“Von Maur,” Sara said. “They were having a sale actually. Picked up three for the price of two.”

“That’s just a steal,” the lady said.

“I know,” Sara said. “Tell me about it.”

As Sara filled out the one page application, she and the little old lady talked. They talked about the weather and seasonal allergies and the unfortunate events that had transpired down at the post office, “Just terrible,” the little old lady said, and even though Sara hadn’t any idea what she was talking about, she nodded along as if she did. “I guess that’s why they call it ‘going postal.’”

“I bet you’re right,” Sara said. “Just tragic.”

The little old lady smacked her lips and smiled as she took Sara’s application. She put on her glasses and scanned the boxes to make sure everything was as it should be, and when she was done, she smiled up at Sara with the whitest teeth Sara had ever seen and said, “You know, I really do like those sunglasses.” She winked. “We could, if you were interested of course, if you had something to offer in exchange, say, bump the sale out one more day. Just in case.” She smudged out the ending date Sara had written in there and wrote in an extra day, free of charge.

“Thank you,” Sara said, taking off her sunglasses and handing them to the old lady. “Thank you oh so very much.”

The morning of the garage sale, Sara arranged all her for-sale items as best she could. She placed her new blouses and dresses and jackets on these old, ugly roll racks and chipped folding tables, and it all just looked so wrong. Most of the items weren’t but just a few weeks old, but they looked worn and beat up on these old racks and three slightly used mannequins. The mannequins were remarkably lifelike, almost off-puttingly so, like a painted portrait whose eyes follow an observer around a room. There was a mother, a father, and a young daughter, almost identical to the three in the Von Maur display window, and she placed them right in the middle of the lawn, decked out in the finest clothes she’d recently purchased for the family. On the daughter, she put on this silky red ballerina dress, covered in frills and sequins. The father she displayed in a brand new, custom-made Tom James tuxedo, single-breasted and double-buttoned, a handsome three-piecer that, Sara noted, Daryl hadn’t bitched about when she brought it home for him. For the mother, she donned a black evening gown, strapless and form fitting and, if she was honest with herself, the most gorgeous and graceful thing she had ever worn. It felt almost evil to be selling it, but, she thought, she had messed up, and now she had to do what was necessary, even if it did feel wrong.

It wasn’t long before people started showing up. The shoppers were mostly women, middle-aged housewives with oversized sunglasses and black-dyed hair. They wore dark red lipstick and touched everything—the dresses and the serving trays and appliances, the fur coats and wool scarves and velvet hats. It was as if these women felt entitled to Sara’s things, and each time they laid a finger on an item, Sara couldn’t help but flinch. These were her things. Hers. She had earned them, not these women, not the same bored housewives who had complimented her necklace and pearl earrings while in line to pay gymnastics dues at the YMCA. Not these bourgeois, pompous, child-women masquerading as prudent shoppers nitpicking at Sara’s most prized possessions. They were scavengers. Lowly, soul sucking, parasites.

But, she thought, she shouldn’t be so hard on these women. They were, if Sara thought about it, so much like herself. They desired nice things, but rarely had the means to splurge on themselves. They made do by buying last year’s styles in bargain stores or local consignment shops or estate sales. They would pick up three or four items and carry them around, perusing more, discarding one or two at a time, until finally deciding on a single solitary item, not even the one they most wanted, but a compromise, one they were used to making at this point, and that was okay. It was just the way life was—an endless barrage of minor compromises that summed up to what could be described as contentment. And that was the look these women had as they ambled up one by one to pay for their new blouse or clutch—contentment—and that Sara, decided, wasn’t all that bad. It was almost desirable, in fact.

At the end of the day, most of Sara’s new things had been picked clean, with only a few stragglers remaining. She hadn’t made as much as she’d wanted, but it was enough. They would get to keep their house, though they’d still have years of debt to pay down, but they wouldn’t be destitute, which was a win, she supposed. There were a few other pieces still left to sell, not enough to make a dent, but that was okay. There was an umbrella she’d picked up at Target of all places, this bland, wooden handled thing, and a candy dish, something she’d bought on a whim. There were also the mannequins, still donning their eveningwear, priced too expensive to sell. Standing in front of them were Hux and Daryl, playing. They seemed happy, smiling and laughing as they arranged the mannequins into poses and then mimicked them, standing lifeless in uncomfortable positions, arms outstretched like an Egyptian, knees buckled so that they half-stood, half-squatted, and they did a pretty decent job. Other than the difference in dress, they really did look alike, the mannequins and her family—plastic, frozen, scheming—and Sara had to admit that it could be worse. If she really, deep down thought about it, it could. It could be so, so much worse.

Noah Milligan’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Storyscape Literary Journal, Riding Light Review, Make Literary Magazine, Kindred Magazine, Santa Clara Review, Minnetonka Review, Line Zero, Glint, and others. He’s twice been nominated for a Pushcart, and his unpublished novel, An Elegant Theory, was named a semi-finalist in Black Balloon Publishing’s Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize.