Mom bought Mr. Softie three months after Dad left her for the school nurse. It was the same day I told her that the fourth grade had voted Nurse Applebee "Teacher of the Year."
"But she's not even a teacher," Mom said.
"It just has to go to a school employee. I asked."
"I'm teacher of the year," Mom shrieked. Mom's a corporate lawyer. She was never home for dinner before Dad moved out.
She asked me to put my little sister in her car seat. She drove us to Taylor Refrigeration, where Mr. Taylor helped her load the Mr. Softie machine into the trunk. It cost her seven hundred dollars.
"What do we need it for?" I asked Mom.
"You love ice cream," she said, and stepped on the gas.
When we got home, Mom plugged in Mr. Softie but she said it wouldn't work until the next morning because the mix needed to freeze.
We had vanilla softies for breakfast, mixed in with Fruit Loops. Mom said it wasn't nutritionally different from a bowl of cereal with milk. By recess time, Ms. Applebee was applying a cold compress to the back of my neck as I threw up into a little black trashcan.
"It could be salmonella," Ms. Applebee told my mother over the phone. My mother asked if Ms. Applebee would put me on the phone, and she told me to meet her in the school parking lot in ten minutes.
"She has to check you out with me," Ms. Applebee said. But she didn't stop me when I walked out of the nurse's office and took a hard left towards the lobby.
Mom peeled into the parking lot in a red convertible. She said the mini-van was in the shop. Some of the kids on the playground took pictures with their cell phones.
"Playing hooky, huh?" she said. She asked if I wanted to go jean shopping. I vomited on the door of the car.
"It's okay if you get sick a lot," Mom said. "Divorce is hardest on the children. Where's your sister?"
Mom told me then that she'd had whiskey with her ice cream after I'd left for the bus stop.
"Do you want me to drive?" I asked, because that's what Dad always said.
Mom put the seat back then, and said she could maybe just sleep it off. We were still in the school parking lot. The convertible didn't even have a top.
Mom didn't notice when Ms. Applebee came out to the car and led me by the hand back inside. Ms. Applebee called the cops from the nurse's phone. I listened to the sirens drive the three blocks from the police station to the elementary school as I lay my cheek on the cool red vinyl of the couch. Ms. Applebee had already framed her Best Teacher certificate and hung it on the wall above her desk. It had shiny gold stars all around her name.
BIO: Annie Hartnett is an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama. She has stories published or forthcoming in Indiana Review, Gargoyle, Stymie, and NANO fiction, among other places. To find out more (or to see pictures of her dog) visit: anniehartnett.tumblr.com