You Know What You Can Do With Your Blog About Male Feminists

The other day on Twitter I saw a guy’s article about calling himself a feminist instead of saying he was a “male feminist.” The guy had a special-person blue check by his name. The gist of what he’d written was that men should just join the fight instead of making themselves seem special because they were “male.”

Or something.

Anyway, I commented in agreement and mentioned the SNL skit with the men talking about how hard women have it and when their women friends try to say something about their experiences, the men cut them off. It is so on target.

The guy “liked” my comment. He also thanked people who had commented “Great article” and such. But then some other men came on and told me that I was not a feminist because my page had nothing about women protesting in Iran and that mansplaining is not a thing and that it’s a sexist word to use. In short, obnoxious trolling.

So here’s what the saintly feminist (not male feminist mind you, because he’s better than guys who call themselves male feminists) did when I was getting harassed.


So guys, I don’t care if you are going to call yourselves feminists, or male feminists, or fighters for equality, or whatever, how about actually standing up for women who are taking all kinds of shit for being women. Otherwise I don’t care what the fuck you call yourself, you’re just like the rest of them.


2017: My Year of Confidence

One of my favorite people to follow on Twitter is @annedorko. Why? She asks her followers about themselves, and I like to talk about myself. This is also one reason that New Year’s is my favorite holiday. No shopping, people staying up late with me, AND the acceptability of blathering on about your resolutions? Count me in!

Last year, I saw Anne’s tweet about having a theme for the year instead of resolutions, and although I’ve always loved resolutions (and mostly kept them although they were never too ambitious) I decided to give it a try. I quickly chose the theme “The Year of Confidence.” I don’t even remember why. The idea seemed to fall from above. Having confidence as my focus was more powerful than I imagined it would be! I mean who knew what a crazy year it would be, what with evacuating for the Northern California fires, my dog dying, the Me Too movement, and freaking Donald Trump as president. Okay, it wasn’t too hard to predict that he’d bring some craziness. Here are just some of the ways I used and increased my confidence.

I Made My Own Choices

I realized this year that I have a history of believing people when they say they know what’s best for me. Really I could have called this section Setting Boundaries. I am more confident about deciding what to do with my time and my self. Things as small as reminding myself that I don’t care what someone thinks of my daily choices and things as extreme as deciding to go back to a dentist who insisted I get a crown instead of having a tooth pulled five years ago and telling him that not being able to bite for five years is unacceptable and please pull the tooth now. It. Is. My. Body. (I haven’t done that one yet. See 2018 theme below.)

I Stopped the Negative Self-Talk

I caught myself saying “I’m lazy” OUT LOUD at least three times this year. Here’s the thing. I’m not lazy. I sleep in because I usually stay up until two or three. I have been on mom duty 24/7 for sixteen years, and as one of my genius sisters pointed out, “That’s a full-length career’s worth of hours. You can retire now!” I’m not lazy. I’m freaking exhausted. I work 8 hours a week at a music store (and have worked more hours in previous years) and drive my kid all over creation and play gigs a couple times a month and clean the bathrooms and write articles and blogs and books. I’m. Not. Lazy.

I Realized That Sometimes I AM the Expert in the Room

In 44 years, I have learned a lot, and especially about jazz, trombone, and writing. In fact, I’d venture to say that I know more about those things than 99% of the general population. It’s okay if I speak confidently about them! I used to worry about being overconfident or bragging to the point that I would assume the person speaking to me knew more than I did. Youngest kid syndrome? I don’t know, but I changed my perspective this year, at least with regard to those subjects.

I Continued to Work on my Confidence in God

All Christians struggle to fully trust God. Here’s just one example for me this year. Early in the year I got invited to play in a very cool band. This gave me the opportunity to work on confidence in myself in a big way. I didn’t feel cool enough or good enough, but I kept saying yes, and I kept showing up. But no matter how much I practiced, there was no guarantee that I’d continue to get to play in the group or even that the group would keep existing. No amount of personal confidence could assure that. So this is one of the things about which I have to say to God, “I trust you with this. I trust that you’ll either make it last or help me with the loss and/or rejection if it ends.” It might sound like a silly thing to care so much about, but after so many years of focusing on parenting and after last year’s realization that most of my unpleasant feelings about the jazz world had to do solely with the fact that I’m a woman in a 95% male world, this felt like a big comeback. There were more issues that I needed to work on having confidence in God with, of course. Some are too personal to share.

So what about 2018?

The first theme that popped into my mind when I asked myself this was “bravery.” I have no idea why. Maybe someone else mentioned it, but if they did I didn’t appropriate the idea consciously. It just sprang to mind. I decided to brainstorm for a while and came up with “fun” and “rest,” but I decided to stick with my first inclination, “The Year of Bravery.” I still have that dentist to confront, after all, and I have three books just waiting for me to hit “publish,” and God only knows what will happen to our beloved America in the next 12 months. Bravery will be required. I wish you all a year of confidence and bravery and whatever else you desire.



Dear Time Magazine, About That 2017 Person of the Year Short List

Dear Time Magazine,

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the group who decides your Person of the Year short list doesn’t have as many women as men. Does it have any women at all, I wonder?

I wonder because your list of 10 includes 7 men, 2 movements, and 1 woman. You might argue that the #metoo movement is about women, but I would beg to differ. Yes it started with Tarana Burke’s group for underprivileged girls, but when the movement went viral this year, men who had been assaulted said “Can we be a part of this?” Women said, “Of course. We want every victim to speak out!” So the #metoo movement, like the Dreamer movement, is multi-gendered.

By the way, if you wanted to get another woman on your list, Tarana Burke would have been a great choice, since you didn’t have a single woman of color. Colin Kaepernick got to represent #TakeAKnee, after all.

Another easy choice would have been the Women’s March or its organizers. I don’t know about anyone else, but that march affected me a lot more than Kim Jong Un spouting his ridiculous threats again this year.

The woman you did include, Patty Jenkins, was a great choice. Wonder Woman got the female director it deserved, and women got more representation on screen and behind the camera. How ironic that this is what Patty Jenkins did for us and you, Time, wrote about it but didn’t learn anything from it. Representation matters. When a kid sees your list of who mattered this year, they will see that men mattered. It would only have taken a minute to look at your list, notice that it’s mostly men, and make a change. Mueller may be the person who changes everything soon, but this year it was Sally Yates.

Check yourselves.

M.L. Millard


Update: At LEAST Me Too and the “Silence Breakers” did end up the “Person” of the Year and Tarana Burke was pictured and given credit in the article. It was a powerful article, and I’d like to add my thanks to the women who came forward with their stories of abuse by Bill Cosby. While that was mostly before 2017, it was definitely the beginning of a culture of women coming forward about the likes of Harvey Weinstein.

I Kissed a Guy Without Consent

Lately I’ve been talking about consent a lot on social media. I shared that brilliant video about not forcing people to drink tea. When Angela Lansbury said attractive women have to bear some of the blame for assault sometimes, I responded with a meme of Donald Trump saying “Wrong.” When a friend of a friend said that nonverbal communication is tricky and some women get dressed up with one intention and some women with another, I said, “That’s why you use verbal communication before making a move. It’s not difficult.” My husband asked me if he could kiss me before our first kiss. At the time I thought it unnecessary for him to ask, but how was he to know that?

When the topic first blew up, part of me was thinking, “You know you did it once.”

I was a sixteen-year-old girl, and I’d never been kissed. I was at my first party without parents (and boy did I get in trouble for that later) and my super cute friend was on a couch all by himself. A couple years before, a group of us had been looking at each other’s tongues (don’t ask, it was a high school band bus ride before cell phone entertainment was available) and he’d said something about wanting to kiss me. But did that mean he wanted to kiss me a couple years later or even that he was serious at the time? No. Obviously.

I knew he’d be seeing all my social media posts, and I felt like a hypocrite. So I sent him a message apologizing. Was it terrifying? Yes. Did I put it off for a while telling myself that I knew I wasn’t a predator and was pretty sure he didn’t see me that way either and it would probably be okay if I never messaged him? Yes. But finally I made myself do it.

And he was totally nice.

There are a lot of people saying that consent is complicated or that women “asked for it” out there. I would imagine that most of those people feel guilty about a moment from their past just like I did, and that’s why they’re defending that behavior. It’s time for a change. Send the message! Admit that you’re learning! This is what it’s going to take. It’s NOT EASY. What’s easy is getting defensive. You’re seeing a lot of anger and deep down you know it’s also directed at you. Send the message. The person you kissed without permission or buttslapped has not forgotten. You’re not going to be admitting to something they’re not already thinking about as #metoo trends. Send the message and then join the fight. For your kids. For all our kids. It’s working.

Not All Women

As we women begin to wonder whether every man with a little political power has sexually assaulted someone, as we begin to wonder whether maybe men in congress should be replaced with women “until we get this thing figured out,” I am sure that many of you are thinking “not all men.”

I KNOW not all men are molesters. I know that. But the phrase “not all men” got me thinking about all the things I want to say “not all women” about.

Not all women fold under pressure.

Not all women are teases.

Not all women are frivolous spenders.

Not all women will stop having sex with you after marriage.

Not all women gossip.

Not all women are worried about their clock ticking.

Not all women are cranky before their periods. (I get forgetful, not cranky.)

Not all women are worse than you at math.

Not all women are on diets.

But ALL women DO know that not all men are molesters. The problem is that we never know which ones are, because sometimes it’s pretty surprising who turns out to be the one. I challenge you, before you say “NOT ALL MEN,” to ask yourself if there’s anything you’ve generalized about women before and ask yourself if, after some of the surprising perpetrators we’ve found out about recently, you can blame women for thinking “I know not all men, but I just don’t know which men, and so it feels like all men.”

It doesn’t feel good to be generalized down to a caricature of your gender, does it. So don’t do it to us.

Evacuation, a Timeline

10/10, shortly after midnight

I go to bed and see on the news that there are fires one town east and one town north of me. I decide to stay up and keep an eye on it.

About 2 A.M. I see a picture on Facebook of my friends John and Lauren evacuating their north Santa Rosa home because of the Tubbs fire. I’m one town down in northeast Rohnert Park. We pack a suitcase, get our cat carrier out, and find the emergency bottled water, although it seems very unlikely the fire will travel far enough south to get to us. It is moving south though. There’s also a fire to the east.

My boss runs out of her Calistoga hotel retreat in her pajamas after she gets a knock on the door. She doesn’t grab her laptop or musical instrument. The hotel burns down ten minutes later.

About 5 A.M. Sean gets in the shower for work. I’m watching the Twitter feed for hashtag RohnertPark and someone posts a picture of a big orange glow that says it’s from my street. I run outside. There’s the orange glow to the east. A new fire. The Pressley fire. Two neighbors are running to their cars.

I tell Sean to get out of the shower. I get my daughter up. She wonders if she needs to bring her backpack. “No! Just get in the car!” She does. I knock on both neighbors’ doors. They’re extremely grateful. Thankfully we both filled up with gas the day before. (Gas stations run out of gas over the next few hours.) We take both cars to Sean’s brother’s house. John and Lauren message Sean that they were sure their house wasn’t going to survive. They are right.

We get a Nixle alert. Mandatory evacuation of our house. I imagine the single exit to our complex is now frighteningly congested.

I stay in my brother-in-law Jerry’s recliner for 24 hours straight, glued to the news, only getting up for a few trips to the bathroom and one trip to the store, where ash is falling like snow and I accidentally get in the quick check aisle with too many items. No one gets mad at me. The woman behind me is from Glen Ellen, which she’s heard is pretty much gone. Back in the recliner I wonder if Petaluma will be evacuated, too. There’s another fire to the east, right down Highway 37 from Jerry’s house.


Sean goes to his high school, which is now an evacuation site. Our church is one, too. Almost all the schools and churches are. Thousands have been evacuated from Santa Rosa. Some ran out without so much as shoes or wallets. Every one of my local friends knows more than one person who’s lost their house.

Our evacuation is lifted. Volunteer tractor drivers have plowed a fire break around Rohnert Park. My daughter and I go home, but I don’t like our lack of visibility. We are surrounded by redwood trees. An area less than a mile away still has mandatory evac orders. We go to my parents’ two miles west.

10-12 through 10-14

We hardly know what day or time it is. Sean and I are in my parents’ bed, our kid is on the couch, my mom’s in a guest bed, my cat has an entire guest room to herself so my parents’ dog doesn’t get her, and the bed in her room is wasted while my dad sleeps on an air mattress in the shed.

People (and I use that term loosely) on Twitter tell me I deserve the fire because California is liberal. Never mind that I’m a Christian, not that I would deserve it if I weren’t, just assuming they probably claim to be Christian for certain purposes. So I put up a Tweet about God and being evacuated and a woman tells me “kind of like evacuees of American wars.” I say “I’m against those wars, too. I’m a pacifist Christian,” and she says something about big bank fraud. I say “I’m not for bank fraud, obvi,” but then I block her. How can “people” troll when 20 are dead and hundreds more missing? Some of my actual Twitter friends wish me well, though.

My mom goes to Costco for air purifiers. They are sold out. She goes back the next day, and the two she buys show a red light for half hour or so. They turn amber and finally blue. Every time someone goes in or out, the lights turn red again.

The music store where I work is still open. My student tells me about seeing the fire as she evacuated. “I was scared, I mean I’m only 12, I’ve never seen anything like that.” I tell her “Honey I’m 43 and I’ve never seen anything like that. It WAS scary.”

Lauren finds a rental house for her family because she was smart enough to realize that the market was about to be flooded and started asking around for leads before I would have been able to type my own name in the same situation.

Sonoma County comes to the aid of evacuees in a big way. Local businesses donate food they probably can’t afford to donate. Firefighters and other emergency personnel come from other counties, then other states, then other countries. People are starting to say “worst in California history.” Pets are found. Pets are not found. People are found and not found.


We decide to go home. There’s been no imminent danger to our home since the second day, but temperatures are still high, humidity still low. I watch online news all night instead of sleeping. I wait for the rain that’s expected on 10-19.


I pack my kid an n95 mask because school starts back tomorrow. I wonder how well they really work and half regret that she’s old enough to be a big part of making her own decisions now. I’d like to keep her home, but she’s almost an adult, so all I can do is hope she wears the mask.


Tomorrow is 10-17. I’ve never been the type to think I know what a day will hold, and I think a whole county full of people feel the same way now if they didn’t before. Blessings on you today and every day.



The Trade (Sneak Peek!)

Here are the first ten pages of The Trade. This version, which is very similar to the final edit, took first place in the 2014 Redwood Writers Young Adult contest. The Trade is coming soon to Amazon!



I was bred for slavery.  Some woman with no food had me so that she could trade me to the factory. At least that’s how they say it usually happens. I wonder if she ever thinks of me.    They don’t keep records on the slaves – there’s no way I could track her down. But if I could, I would ask her if she felt guilty about giving her own flesh to be raised with the beatings and the day in, day out work. Night work too, when one of the bosses feels like sneaking into my room. Maybe she doesn’t know what goes on in here. Maybe no one on the outside does.

I don’t know much about the Outside. Only what I overhear when the bosses talk to each other. Outsiders, other than the women who trade their babies, seem to have plenty of food. It’s what makes the bosses fat. My best friend Caris, who works in the shoe room with me, once had one of the bosses tell her he was going to hide her in a crate and help her escape. He promised her sweet food that she’s never dreamed of, and warm baths every day,  and animals for petting and playing with, not for eating. Then he stopped coming to see her. I don’t know if the Outside has all those things or not, but I know that the women wear beautiful shoes.

I’m stringing tiny beads, clear blue as Caris’s eyes, and stitching them onto a shoe, when a boss crashes through the door.

“To the baths,” he yells.

We just stare at him. We each have our day of the week for a bath, and none of us has ever been ordered to bathe during worktime.

“Now!” He lifts his club.

Still, we don’t move.

Except Caris raises her hand a little, then a little more. “There’s only one bath, Boss.”

I don’t know why Caris always has to be the one to open her mouth. When she gets hit, they usually hit whoever’s nearest her, too, for good measure, and half the time it’s me. Caris is still bruised from last time.

But the boss just says, “Well, take turns then, but make ’em fast, and put on your best clothes after.”

Caris and I look at each other. This boss has lost his mind, we say silently. Best clothes? We have two sets of dirt-colored clothes each. All the same.

Girls start filing past the boss and out the door. I’m in front of Caris when we get into the hall.

“Jeba,” she hisses. I hang back and let her get next to me.

She whispers, “What do you think’s going on?”

“I don’t know. But if he’s crazy, we’re going to pay for leaving the workroom, and it’s going to be bad.”

But we get to the bath room and there are girls from jewelry and clothing there, too. They don’t know any more than we do. There aren’t enough washcloths for us all to bathe on one day, so when it’s our turn, the girl before us hands hers to Caris. Caris adds some water to the tub, strips, and grits her teeth as she puts a toe in the cold water.

“Hurry up,” a boss barks from the doorway.

Caris doesn’t even bother to cover up, she’s so used to the presence of men in her bedroom. She’s too pretty for her own good. Of course, being pretty is probably what saves her from getting beaten to death when she opens her impertinent mouth.

Before the boss leaves, he says, “And when you’re dressed, come out to the yard.”

We bathe and dress quickly, Caris’s long, wavy yellow hair and my shoulder-length dark curly hair dripping wet as we make our way to the yard. We always pretend we’re sisters, or half-sisters, but we look so different it’s unlikely. Kind of a joke. Sometimes I look around the shoe room and wonder, though. Luta has medium-tone skin and large brown eyes like me, and who knows who I’d find in the other buildings. Who knows how many babies my mother had, or who my father is.

In the yard, Caris and I find a bench, and I try not to let too much dirt get onto my damp feet. The bosses mill around, chat, and don’t bother us as we try to draw a week’s worth of sun out of the sky in however few minutes we might have. The good lighting highlights the varied colors in Caris’s bruised cheek. I also notice, when I look around the small, fenced enclosure, the strange absence of the small children from the clothing workroom, but I tip my head back and close my eyes, enjoying the warm light too much to talk.

Soon, though, Caris nudges me. I open my eyes to look at her and follow her gaze to the door. My stomach cramps. An all too familiar stout, white-haired man is addressing the bosses, most of whom walk, quickly for once, back into the building. One boss, a writing tablet in his hand, follows the stout man toward us. I feel Caris hunch over and lean back slightly. The man is our Owner.

The Owner stops in front of us, looks us over with his eyes the color of “mountain ice” beads, and says to the boss, “No, yes,” without ever meeting our eyes The boss writes on his tablet, and they move on to some other girls. A whimper of relief escapes from Caris, but my stomach still hurts, because he’s not gone yet, and even when he goes, whatever new rules he might leave behind will still have to be implemented. I’m especially worried that I was a “yes,” and Caris was a “no.” I don’t know what it’s all about, but I worry that it could mean we’ll be separated.

When he has stopped at all the girls, The Owner goes back into our building, and a boss tells us to line up at the door, which we do without speaking. Each girl receives an order when she enters.

“To your room. To your workplace. To your workplace. To your room.”

Caris receives a, “To your room,” and I a “Workplace,” and she squeezes my hand as we part ways.

When I get to my work stool, I pick up the shoe I’d been beading when the boss sent us to bathe. Gradually the room fills up most of the way with other slaves, and the same boss that divided us comes in and says, “Look happy, or you’ll regret it until the day you’re dead,” and then leaves us unsupervised. We look at each other, completely perplexed, and then settle back to work.

The thing is, I don’t know how to look happy. I try to remember how Caris looked when she thought that boss was going to sneak her to the outside. I raise my eyebrows and smile with my teeth showing and mouth slightly open, but it just doesn’t seem like a person would make shoes with that expression all day, even if she were happy.

Have I ever been happy? Sometimes I’m less scared than other times, but happy? Once, a half wild dog found its way into our yard and Caris and I petted its wiry coat and played tug of war with it. The way it looked at me made me happy, but at the same time I knew the dog would probably be in our next stew, which made me feel worse than if the dog had never come.

I decide my happiest moment was the time Caris got chocolates from the boss who said he’d help her sneak out. After he left her room, she came and got me and shared them with me. Sitting on her bed, we ate them all, one right after the other. For one night, we were happy.

Remembering that night, I take a pair of shoes to the ‘finished’ pile and start beading another. Why we’d need to look happy when we’re all alone I cannot imagine.

I work steadily, but I can’t help but stop my needle for a moment when our Owner walks in with another man. An Outsider? Our first visitor ever, at least in my workroom. I smile bigger and whip my needle through the leather before my hesitation is noticeable.

“And this is one of our shoemaking rooms,” says our owner importantly. “Say hello, girls.”

He has never addressed us directly before. It takes us a moment to register that we’re supposed to respond.

“Hello,” we say to the Outsider, smiling like someone is standing behind us pulling our cheeks back.

“Hello. Nice to meet you,” he says, and I see something I never thought I would see. An Outsider who looks as sad as one of us. I have never seen a true Outsider before, but the bosses get to live part time on the Outside, and I’ve never once seen that expression on one of them.

The Sad Man has very nice clothes, flowing and embroidered with a swirling black and purple design. I wonder if our girls made it. His erect posture tells me that he is in charge of his own life, and maybe others’ lives too. He smiles kindly, nods, and turns to leave.

Our Owner gestures to the doorway. “And this way to our fine jewelry artists.”

And then we are working alone again. I think we are done having to look happy, but I keep a small, closed smile on my face just in case. I finish pair after pair of shoes. We’ve never worked for such a long period of time without a boss at least wandering through the workroom. Usually one is there the whole day. My fingers are tired, but we know we can’t stop until someone tells us to.

I let myself get lost in the colors of the beads. Everything else is dirt brown here. The tables, the floors, the walls, the stools, our clothes, our bedding. The girls from clothing and jewelry tell me that they use beautiful colors, too. I imagine an Outside with nothing brown. Every single thing lagoon blue or ruby red or grass green, like my beads.

Finally, a boss comes in. I’m careful not to stop because he hasn’t told us to, but I want so badly to stretch my hands and lay my head down on the table. I’m still beading when, out of the corner of my eye, I see the boss’s club raised.

“Luta,” I scream.

But there’s nothing Luta can do. The club is on her back before she can move. The boss is not giving out disciplinary bruises; he’s going crazy. He moves from Luta to Vondeen, and the rest of us scramble up and race to the door. I push at the others to get them through the doorway, but the boss is coming for me next. His club comes down over my head. I throw my left hand up in time. I’m through the door before I realize that my whole hand is on fire with pain. Instead of running to my room, I keep going and barge in on Caris.

“What’s wrong?” she gasps.

I’ve woken her. “My hand.” Holding my left hand in my right, I carry it to her. I’m crying hard now that I realize the pain is not going to go away any time soon.

“What happened?”

“A boss went crazy. I think my fingers are broken.”

“But why?” Caris asks, not as concerned about my fingers as I think she should be. “They usually don’t hurt you so bad that you can’t work. Tell me everything that happened. Something is going on.”

“He just went crazy. Luta and Vondeen are still on the floor. They’re still on the floor!” I’m starting to shake.

“I’m sorry, Sweet, I’m sorry.” She finally looks at my hand. “Can you move it?”

I try. “No,” I sob.

“Jeba, you have to try. You have to be able to work.”

“I know,” I squeal. “It won’t move.”

I don’t want to look into her eyes. When girls can’t work, they disappear.



Caris gets me quieted down, and we agree that I might be able to get some work done with one hand, and the bosses might not notice that I’m working at a pace of about a bead an hour if Caris lets me take her shoes to the ‘finished’ pile once in a while.

“But we need to keep our eyes and ears open,” she says. “Can you tell me anything more about what happened today? Why they separated us?”

I tell her everything that happened, even though I don’t know how keeping our eyes and ears open will help us if something big’s going to happen.

“So you were supposed to look happy,” she summarizes, “a stranger came in, and then the boss went berserkers. Maybe you weren’t happy enough. But why would you need to look happy?” Without waiting for an answer she asks, “What did the stranger look like?”

“Not quite as old as the Owner. Not quite as fat. Sadder than I’d expect from an Outsider. Maybe we were supposed to cheer him up, and we didn’t.”

Caris chews her bottom lip. “Hmm. That would be a strange way to try to cheer someone up. No idea who he was?”

I shake my head, and don’t tell Caris that I’ve named him Sad Man.

In the workroom the next day, I almost cry with relief to see Luta and Vondeen across the table. It’s almost impossible for me to bead one-handed, and to make matters worse, I’m working on no sleep because the pain in my hand kept me up all night. I don’t turn in a single shoe of my own. Every once in a while when the boss isn’t facing us, Caris slides me one of hers and I make plenty of noise scooting my stool back and shuffling my feet over to the pile. I pretend to take another unbeaded shoe from the center of the table, but really it’s the same shoe I’ve had all day. We make it through the day, and I start to think we can do this until my hand heals. If it ever heals.

Three nights later, although I’m so tired I can hardly move, the pain keeps me awake again. I haven’t even closed my eyes when I hear the other women start getting up in the morning, and I will myself out of bed and grab my work shirt. A boss blocks my open doorway. It’s the one who always sounds like he’s losing his voice. He’s cruel. Even Caris watches her mouth around him. I cover myself, instinctively; bosses only come in our rooms for one thing. But never during waking hours. Something is wrong.

“Get your things and come with me,” he rasps.

My heart starts whooshing instead of beating. Girls who can’t work disappear. Someone must have finally seen Caris passing me her shoes. I hope they didn’t punish her for it.

The boss doesn’t look away while I change. I don’t have any ‘things’ to get, so I slip my sandals on and he purposely drags me out of the room by my bad hand. I hope for a glimpse of Caris in the hallway, but she’s not there. Then we walk by the workroom, and I see the back of her golden head and cough to get her attention, but she doesn’t turn around. I keep walking and finally start to cry. Because Caris is okay, and because I can’t say goodbye, and because I’m going to disappear.

My heart is still whooshing as we pass other workrooms and wind through hallways I’ve never been allowed to walk before. We end up in a big, brown, square, boss-filled room that has a door to the outside. The door is open, and a scared looking girl holding a baby is taking hesitant steps in through it. She looks around at all the bosses, chooses to go left, then right, then finally stops and waits for someone to tell her where to go.

“Over here,” an uninterested voice calls to her.

She heads for the table where a boss is waiting with a writing board. I want to see what they give her in exchange for the baby, but my boss is leading me toward the open door. I want to yell, “Don’t do it! Take your baby and run away! Find another way to survive. How much food can you carry with you – ten days’ worth?” They’re going to make me disappear anyway, I have nothing to lose, but I still can’t find my voice.

As my boss walks through the door, he nearly collides with a young man who backs up to let us pass. The young visitor is dressed much like the Sad Man, but he’s about my age. He smiles at me, and my heart stops whooshing and starts beating again. It’s like he wants to tell me with his smile that everything’s going to be okay. But he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know that I’m one of the girls who can’t work.

Careless, floppy curls the color of the chocolates that Caris and I shared cover his head and fall partway down his neck. His eyes are the color of “shady moss” beads, the deep, dark green ones with the golden flecks, and they, too, try to tell me that all is well.

Do visitors come here more than I thought? Maybe this is the room they come to when they want to order our shoes and clothes, or the furniture that men supposedly make in other buildings. Maybe he’s here to buy. Whatever he’s here for, once again I wish I could find my voice. I want to beg him to help me.

But we keep walking through a dirt courtyard to a guarded gate. The boss leads me through, and says, “Here she is.”

I take no notice of who he’s talking to, because before me is the largest animal I’ve ever seen. Ten times as big as a dog, maybe more. Shiny brown with a stringy black tail and hair down its neck to match, and enormous gentle black eyes.

A thin man gets out of a cart which is attached to the animal, takes my good hand, and carefully helps me up into the cart. I did not expect to be pulled to my final resting place behind a magnificent animal. I wonder what other creatures live on the Outside that I’ll never get to see.

When we’re both seated on a wooden bench, the man shakes some straps, and the animal pulls us away. I turn back to see the factory, and realize there are many more buildings than I’d known. Maybe some of them do have men making furniture. Brown buildings on endless brown dirt. I face forward again, and far ahead, something dark shimmers.