As Tom and Millie packed their home into boxes to move into her grandparent’s rental unit, they struggled with the furniture. Not much would fit into the smallest U-haul trailer which Tom had rightly said was not big enough, but he also eventually admitted the smallest was the only one they could afford. They promised each other they would come back for the rest of their things.
Millie had heard the gossip around town for weeks. “They’re moving the plant to Mexico. All the jobs. Everyone will be let go.” For a couple weeks, she pretended she hadn’t heard a word. When the whispers reached the Sunday school class, she decided to ask Tom. On the way to his mother’s for Sunday dinner, she squared her thoughts to ask about it after the meal. “You’re quiet, darlin’,” he said.
She smiled, “Oh, well I’m just thinking about the week ahead. The kids have so many things going on I’m hoping I can keep up with it all.” She hoped her face did not betray her white lie, and she willed herself to smile at him.
Millie and Tom had been an on-again, off-again couple since they started dating her sophomore year of high school. Tom had already graduated and was working at the factory in town. They had met at a football game when her brother Rob punched Tom’s friend Dan over the discovery Rob and Dan were dating the same girl.
Tom’s job at the factory was pretty good. At least it was steady money. He made enough for the two of them, but by the time she dropped out of school, it was no longer enough since the family had grown to five. She had a son during the summer between her sophomore and junior years. When she started her senior year, she learned she was pregnant with twins, and that was most of the reason she dropped out.
They lived in a rental house in an older part of town; they did the best they could to make a home for the kids. They had five children now, and Tom worked odd jobs with his brother on the weekends when he could. There was a time when Millie had watched a few children besides her own, but that was before she had the fourth.
During dinner at his mother’s house, Tom’s dad pulled out the topic Millie was holding back. “So, Tom. What will you do when the plant closes?”
“Well, we don’t need to worry ourselves with talk about things that aren’t going to happen,” Tom insisted. Tom’s mother signaled her opinion by clearing plates and asking for Millie’s help in the kitchen. Millie walked away carrying a bowl containing the leftover green beans and heard his father insisting, “Tom, that plant is closing. You will not have a job come…”
“Now, Millie, honey. I know you are taking good care of those kids. But you need to prepare yourself for this,” his mother pushed. Millie stood amidst the partially filled dishes feeling as if she had better eat something more. Then again, she felt fiercely defiant. If Tom felt concern, he would have said something. As if this issue were not enough, Millie felt the rising tide of doubt; she recognized it as the same nagging uncertainty that had visited her since they started dating all those years ago.
Millie tried to keep a brave face but wasn’t sure what brave faces really looked like. Smiling felt wrong. She also tried to keep listening to her mother-in-law whose tone was no longer one of conspiratorial planning or maternal concern, but instead one of insistence for acting resolute, and Millie did not have resolve in her wheelhouse.
“Now, Millie. You and Tom must think about how you will care for these children when he is out of work. Unemployment will be coming in, but it won’t start immediately, and it certainly won’t be enough for all of you. How will you keep up with the rent and the grocery bills, and heaven forbid what if one of you gets sick?” Tom came into the kitchen as his mother made this final point. He took Millie’s arm as he glared at his mother, “Come on. Get the kids and get to the car. We are not staying. Let’s go.”
Fortunately, the children chattered the entire way home across town. Millie believed she could keep her tears at bay until she could be alone. Tom’s jaw fluttered from the gnashing of his teeth, and she knew by now to leave well enough alone.
When the children were hungry, Millie made them bologna sandwiches on leftover hamburger and hot dog buns. The children ate while Millie folded laundry and Tom watched television. Bath time happened despite Millie’s detachment, and the children found their beds without incident.
Instead of going to bed to lie in the darkness beside Tom’s frustration, Millie sat on the tattered sofa to wallow. In the event the plant closed, she imagined it would be some time from the announcement of the closing until Tom would be pacing the floor. Six months came to her, and she grabbed at the certainty it promised. Six months would give her time to save up some extra. Maybe she could start keeping kids again. They’d have to move. Her grandparents had a house they could rent. She knew they would be cramped, but she also knew her grandparents would be reasonable. She could work with her grandmother and earn a little extra money. She could start now, and in six months, they’d be ready. Just as she felt she had a sense of how this could work, the sun rose and the day began.
She heard Tom’s alarm clock, so she headed to the kitchen to make the coffee and his lunch. She heard the shower, so she changed her clothes in the bedroom. She found her courage in the children’s tousled awakenings and met Tom in the kitchen to wish him a good day. He left without speaking, but he did manage to kiss her forehead.
After the four oldest children caught the bus to school, she turned on the television expecting to hear a recipe on the local morning news. It was then she heard, “Plant officials wrapping up production and closure details. All jobs moving to Mexico. Employees receiving details. Plant to close in eight weeks.”
Written by: Elizabeth Savage
Photograph by: Garrett Carroll