Congratulations to M. M. Pryor of Seattle, Washington, the Penn Cove Literary Arts Award recipient for December 2014.
Barbara finds the teeth in a box of toddler beauty pageant paraphernalia. As part of her countdown to her twenty-nine-year-old daughter moving back home, Barbara has steadily been cleaning house. Today it is the attic’s turn, since it is the future site of her adult daughter’s bedroom. Barbara crouches on her knees amid the dust of the attic and examines the plastic teeth. The false teeth are tiny and yellowed from age.
Barbara ordered the flipper for Glinda’s first glitz pageant. She’d hid the credit card bill and made the minimum payments using her paycheck from her part-time secretary job. After the teeth, though, came the spray-tans, the make-up, and the gowns tailored to fit Glinda’s slender four-year-old waist.
Setting down the teeth, Barbara opens the next three boxes. Artifacts from Glinda’s beauty queen days glitter beneath the skylight. For a moment, Barbara feels transported back to the stage: those hotel conference rooms, the rows of metal folding chairs, the tension as big as the hair on the girls’ heads.
Dust has not dampened the sparkle of the tiaras. Barbara lifts her favorite out of the box and places it on her head: a silver heart-shaped one with pink jewels. It teeters before steadying, the ends flattening her already limp and graying hair. The crown is from the South Carolina Mother’s Day Pageant. Glinda was five. She didn’t place, but they gave every girl a consolation tiara under the category, ‘Mommy’s Favorite.’
Still wearing the crown, Barbara spots the trophy. During Glinda’s best year, when she was six, she won second place at the Little Miss Lace and Grace Pageant in Little Rock, Arkansas. They drove all day and night to get there in time, sipping coke through straws shaped like bows as they chased taillights.
Barbara picks up the trophy. Glinda had fumbled her talent during the second half of the show. Her pink-and-white hula-hoop had caught on the microphone stand and come shuddering down her stick-straight frame. Boom! Glinda didn’t miss a beat. Just looked straight at the judges and smiled wide. She hadn’t cried or run off stage. Barbara had hoped, nervously, that Glinda might at least scrape third place. Composure was weighed the heaviest, and might save Glinda from slipping out of the ranking altogether. When Glinda’s name was called for second place, Barbara clutched her fists so tight the bones in her wrists popped.
She handles the trophy carefully. It is the pinnacle of her daughter’s success. She ought to place it somewhere visible. To inspire Glinda when she comes home. To remind her of how things used to be, when the two of them would buy cupcake dresses and white shoes. When Glinda would float out on stage and Barbara would think maybe this time.
Barbara remembers when Glinda told her about the breakup, how wet her voice had sounded, as if the tears had drenched her vocal chords. After six years of waiting for her boyfriend to propose, they had gotten in a fight. Glinda had related the news to her mom on the phone in Glinda’s old room, which Barbara had converted into an office. The delivery was factual, but strained. The spat had combusted, turned acidic. Glinda related, between small gulps of air, how her boyfriend didn’t even want kids, even though he knew full well that she did. She had wasted seventy-two eggs on nothing.
Barbara insisted that she come home, even though they didn’t really have the room. She promised to clean out the attic, set up a space for Glinda up there. She could put the boxes in the garage. Sure, her husband liked to work on his motorcycles, but he wouldn’t mind if she stacked a few boxes downstairs.
Of course, now that she thinks about it, he’ll probably look inside them, and Barbara knows he is still mad. They have paid the flipper off, but the interest keeps climbing every month, and she is still waiting for her home business to turn a profit. If he sees any of the dresses or the crowns, they’ll get in a fight themselves. He will insist on trashing it all, but Barbara can’t bring herself to do that. She knows it is just stuff, but she’d had so much fun. All Barbara had ever wanted was for her daughter to be happy; to have the type of life Barbara wished she could have had.
Barbara stands up. She wipes the dust from her knees. She pushes an old bookcase against the wall and sets the trophy on the top shelf. She takes the trophy off the shelf and polishes it with her sleeve. When she sets the trophy back on the shelf, it looks duller than before.
It is too dark in the attic for the trophy. Too dark for her daughter. She will move her office up here instead. Glinda will be much happier in her old room.
Barbara smiles, just in case anyone was watching.