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Sparkle Head
By Michelle Hamill

While other mothers are home baking cookies, my mother's head is rolling to shore on a nightly basis. I learn this at the start of the second act of the Off Broadway show she's performing in. By the end of the first act I am happy. Her clothes are still on. And she is not the love interest. Usually several men would be fighting to their deaths over her by now. But in this production my mother is the one to die.

After intermission, the lights come down for the second act. In the pitch black room we hear the voices of two fishermen boom throughout the theater. They've just found something floating in the water. It's my mother's severed head.

This is not what I had hoped for. I am eight years old. When I go to the theatre to see my mother, I wish for different things. Like a long flowered dress will be her costume. She'll work in a candy store and no one will ever kiss her. The End.

Instead I am left to imagine my mother without a head. Her head without a body. Imagine it 'til the curtain call when she finally runs out from the sidelines. Intact. Her hair not wet or laced with seaweed. Smiling as she looks up at the balcony, to the back of the orchestra, and bows. She does not scan the audience. Tug on her ear like Carol Burnett does, a symbol of love to her children. She does not look around for me.

I try to forget the show. Until the next day at the Woolworth's. I've spotted a bottle of purple glitter nail polish. Grape Disco. And I want it. I want the polish with the tiny little go-go girls dancing all around it. I have no money. But I tell myself I can take it. I can take it because my mother's head is rolling to shore on a nightly basis. Because other mothers are washing clothes and showing up at school in pastel sweater sets. Picking up their children on time. Not late. Or bounding up the school stairs in an endless variety of audition wigs.

I put my hand around the shiny orb of polish. Walk the just-mopped aisles still damp with Top Job. My scrambled reflection in the floor's glow. Past the rows of colored candy. Eyes straight ahead. If the cherry flavored Milk Duds have finally arrived, I'd never know it. All my attention on breaking out of this five-and-dime.

Turns out my exit is easy. Because no one's really watching. Except for the birds and lizards trapped in tiny cages in the kitchen section. For some reason not worthy of their own department. Locked up next to the spatulas and the no-stick pans. Their eyes full circles. Wet like they've been crying. One yellow feathered tilts his head, nods in my direction. I think to cheer me on.

My escape is complete. I've stepped outside the building. But then I hear it. Hear it as the door closes. Hear it in the swish. That taking nail polish makes me very independent. Makes me an eight-year-old thief. And thieves don't need their mothers. Thieves are on their own. Or I'm afraid that's what she'll tell me if she finds out.

I pull the city noise around me. Let it wrap me up in its loud blanket. Hold me tight so I won't fly apart on this busy street corner, waiting for the light to change from red to green. So I can hurry home to her. Even though she's not there. Is probably at the theatre. As I realize this the light turns from green to red and in the thump, thump, thump of the traffic light, I feel her starting to forget me.

Forget me like the time she wore her high shoes. Tripped on the pavement. Grabbed my arm on the way down, as if I might break her fall. But instead just took me down with her. Something I didn't mind. I wanted to go. I wanted to go where she went.

Like go to her singing lessons with her. Wait in the back room. Watching The Price Is Right on a tiny portable TV. Learning the prices on plastic wrap and cheese.

Or go with her on auditions. The getting there the best part. We fly across the street hand in hand. Bouncy hair and purses blown up and out by the wind. So That Girl! and her little That Sister! So Mary Tyler Moore when she spent the day with Phyllis's daughter, Bess, laughing at the mall. Eating ice cream and walking up a bridge as the sun set right behind them.

Several months later my mother is in a new play at The Public Theatre. Very experimental, the role of the grandmother will be played by a man. As for my mother, half way in she's still alive and dressed. Though there's a man on stage that really wants her. Reaches behind her back and slips her coat off. I'm sorry to see it go. Even sorrier when he sits her on his lap. And slowly starts to kiss her. I look away. Down at my purple polish. One small dot near the end of every finger.

When I saw the purple polish glimmering at the Woolworth's I imagined that if I sat close enough, it might sparkle in the run-off of the stage lights. Flicker and catch my mother's eye. Make her look beyond the fourth wall. Find me in the darkness. A fist full of Junior Mints melting in my hand.


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