Authors: Brooke Davis
Published by the Penguin Group
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Copyright © 2015 by Brooke Davis
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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PU
Lost & found / Brooke Davis.
1. Girls—Fiction. 2. Abandoned children—Fiction. 3. Australia—Fiction. I. Title. II. Title: Lost and found.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Mum and Dad.
I don’t know how else to thank you for making me.
illie’s dog, Rambo, was her Very First Dead Thing. She found him by the side of the road on a morning when the sky seemed to be falling, fog circling his broken shape like a ghost. His jaw and eyes were wide open, as if mid-bark. His left hind leg pointed in a direction it normally didn’t. The fog lifted around them, the clouds gathered in the sky, and she wondered if he was turning into rain.
It was only when she dragged Rambo up to the house in her schoolbag that her mother thought to tell her how the world worked.
He’s gone to a better place
, her mother shouted at her while vacuuming the lounge room.
A better place?
What? Yes, heaven, love, haven’t you heard of it? Don’t they teach you anything in that bloody school? Lift your legs! It’s doggy heaven, where there’s eternal dog biscuits and they can poop
wherever they please. Okay, legs down. I said, legs down! And they poop, I don’t know, dog biscuits, so all they
do is poop and eat dog biscuits, and run around and eat the other dogs’ poop. Which are actually dog biscuits.
Millie took a moment.
Why would they waste time here, then?
What? Well, they, um, have to earn it. They have to stay here until they get voted over to a better place. Like doggy
So, is Rambo on another planet?
Well, yes. Sort of. I mean—you really haven’t heard of heaven? How God sits up in the clouds and Satan’s all underground and everything?
Can I get to Rambo’s new planet?
Her mother switched off the vacuum cleaner and looked squarely at Millie.
Only if you have a spaceship. Do you have a spaceship?
Millie looked at her feet.
Well, you can’t get to Rambo’s new planet then.
Days later, Millie discovered that Rambo was most definitely not on a new planet and was, in fact, in their backyard, buried halfheartedly under the
. Millie carefully lifted the newspaper and saw Rambo but not-Rambo; a Rambo shrunken and eaten and wasting away. She snuck out every night from then on, to be with him while his body went from something into nothing.
The old man crossing the road had been her Second Dead
Thing. After the car hit him, she watched him fly through the air and thought she saw him smile. His hat landed on top of the yield sign and his walking stick danced around the lamppost. And then it had been his body, cracking against the curb. She pushed her way through all the legs and exclamation marks to kneel beside his face. She looked deeply into his eyes. He looked back at her like he was only a drawing. She ran her fingers over his wrinkles and wondered what he’d used each one for.
She was then lifted away from him and told to cover her eyes, because she was
just a child.
And as she wandered home the long way, she thought it might be time to ask her dad about people heaven.
You see, Squirt, there’s heaven, and then there’s hell. Hell is where they send all the bad people, like criminals and con artists and parking inspectors. And heaven is where they send all the good people, like you and me and that nice blonde from
What happens when you get there?
In heaven, you hang out with God and Jimi Hendrix, and you get to eat doughnuts whenever you want. In hell, you have to, uh . . . do the Macarena. Forever. To that “Grease Megamix.”
Where do you go if you’re good and bad?
What? I don’t know. IKEA?
Will you help me make a spaceship?
Hang on, Squirt. Can we finish this next ad break?
She soon noticed that everything was dying around her. Bugs and oranges and Christmas trees and houses and mailboxes and train rides and markers and candles and old people and young people and people in between. She wasn’t to know that after she had recorded twenty-seven assorted creatures in her Book Of Dead Things—Spider, The Bird, Grandma, next door’s cat Gertrude, among others—her dad would be a Dead Thing too. That she’d write it next to the number twenty-eight in letters so big they took up two pages:
. That, for a while, it was hard to know what to do other than stare at the letters until she couldn’t remember what they meant. That she would do this, by flashlight, sitting in the hallway outside her parents’ bedroom, listening to her mum pretending she was asleep.
hen playing connect the dots, Millie was always Dot One, her mum Dot Two, and her dad Dot Three. The line came from deep inside Dot One’s belly, wrapped itself around Dot Two and Dot Three—usually watching the telly—and back again, to make a triangle. Millie would run around the house, her red hair bouncing about her head, the triangle between them spiraling around the furniture. When her mum said,
Would you stop that, Millicent?
, the triangle roared into an enormous dinosaur. When her dad said,
Come sit beside me,
, the triangle curled into a big, beating heart.
, she whispered, skipping awkwardly to its rhythm. She nestled in between Dots Two and Three on the couch. Dot Three grabbed Dot One’s hand and winked. The flashing pictures from the telly lit up his face in the dark.
Ba-boom. Ba-boom. Ba-boom.
On The First Day Of Waiting, Millie stands exactly where her mum points to. Right near the Ginormous Women’s Underwear and across from the mannequin wearing the Hawaiian shirt.
I’ll be right back
, her mum says, and Millie believes her. Dot Two wears her gold shoes, the ones that make her footsteps like explosions. She walks toward the perfumes—
past the menswear—
and out of sight:
The line between Dot One and Dot Two tugs and pulls, and Millie watches it getting thinner and thinner, until it is just a tiny scratch on the air.
Ba-boom. Ba-boom. Ba-boom.
Millie will carry this around with her from now on, this picture of her mum getting smaller and smaller and smaller. It will reappear behind her eyes at different times throughout the course of her life. When movie characters say,
I’ll be right back.
When, in her forties, she looks at her hands and doesn’t recognize them as her own. When she has a stupid question and can’t think of anyone in the world to ask. When she cries.
When she laughs. When she hopes for something. Every time she watches the sun disappear into the water she will feel a little panicked and not know why. The automatic doors of shopping centers will always make her anxious. When a boy touches her properly for the first time, she will imagine him shrinking into the horizon, far, far, far out of her reach.
But she doesn’t know any of this yet.
What she does know, right now, is that her legs ache from standing. She takes off her backpack and crawls underneath the Ginormous Women’s Underwear clothing rack. Her mum said there are women who can’t see their privates because they eat entire buckets of chicken. Maybe these undies are for them. Millie has never seen chicken come in a bucket.
But I hope to
, she says out loud, touching the undies softly.
It’s nice in there, under the giant undies. They hang low around her head, so close to her face that she breathes on them.
She unzips her backpack and pulls out one of the frozen juice boxes her mum has packed for her. She sucks at it through the straw. In the cracks between the undies, she watches feet going for walks. Some going somewhere, others going nowhere, some dancing, others skipping, shuffling, squeaking. Tiny feet, big feet, in-between feet. Sneakers, high heels, sandals. Red shoes, black shoes, green shoes. But no gold shoes. No explosion footsteps.
A pair of bright-blue gumboots plods past. She looks down at hers.
I know you’re jealous
, she says to them.
But we need to
stay here. Mum said.
She cranes her neck to watch the gumboots jump down the aisle and off into the toy section.
, she says. She pulls out her Book Of Dead Things from her backpack, rips out a sheet of paper, writes on it
To Mum, I’ll Be Right Back
, folds it in half, and props it up on the ground exactly where her mum had pointed to.
She takes her gumboots for a walk. Up and down the escalators, walking at first, then jumping, hopping, and waving like the queen. She sits at the top and watches the steps swallow themselves.
What happens if the stairs don’t flatten themselves in time?
she asks her gumboots. She imagines the stairs spilling out over the escalator and into the aisles. She tries to connect eyes with every single person who walks past her, and each time she does, the air jumps in front of her like the old movies her mum watches. She plays hide-and-seek with a boy who doesn’t know he’s playing. When Millie informs him that he is
, he responds by asking her why her hair is
, and makes spirals with his index finger.
, she says.
They jump off my head at night and do shows for me.
, he says, and smashes a Barbie headlong into a Transformer, making a spitty blowing-up sound with his mouth at the same time.
They do not.
Millie sits on the floor of the women’s change room.
I know where you can get some undies
, she says to one woman who’s turning around and around in front of a mirror like she’s trying
to drill herself into the ground.
Sorry, who are you?
the woman says. Millie shrugs. Two ladies talk behind the door of one of the cubicles. Millie can see their feet in the gap between the door and the floor. Bare feet and sparkly UGG boots.
Don’t take this the wrong way
, the UGG boots seem to say.
But do you really think coral is your color?
The toes on the bare feet curl under themselves.
I thought this was pink
, they seem to say back.
Millie waits with the waiting men, who wait in chairs outside the change rooms, waiting for women, peering from behind purses and shopping bags like frightened animals. The walls nearby are covered with huge pictures of girls laughing and hugging each other in their underwear. The waiting men sneak glances at them. It occurs to Millie that the giant undies could be for these giant girls.
She sits on a chair next to a bald man biting his fingernails.
Have you ever seen chicken come in a bucket?
He rests his hand on his knee and looks at her out of the corner of his eye.
I’m just waiting for my wife, kid
, he says.
She stands under the hand dryers in the restroom, because she likes the feeling of the wind whooshing through her hair, as though she’s leaning her head out of a car window on the highway, or like she’s Superman, circling the Earth. How does the hand dryer know to start as soon as you stick your hands out? It is amazing, this, but the women in the restroom don’t notice, and just stare, panicked, into the mirror, trying to work out what’s wrong with them before anyone else does.
Sitting behind the plants on the edge of the department-store café, she watches steam rising from coffee mugs. The man who looks like Santa and the lady with the very, very red cheeks lean over their coffees toward each other. They don’t say anything but the steam from their coffee kisses and dances around their faces and above their heads. Another man eats while not looking at his wife and has coffee steam that makes the most beautiful shapes in the air. Millie has never seen shapes like this. Are there any more shapes left to make up? The woman with the shouty kids has a coffee that breathes in and out, letting out long, tired sighs.
There’s a man in the corner with a tree-bark face. He’s wearing red suspenders and a purple suit, holding on to his coffee cup with both hands, as if he’s stopping it from flying away. A fly lands on the plant in front of her.
What if everything could fly?
she whispers to her gumboots, watching the fly bounce from leaf to leaf. Your dinner could fly into your mouth and the sky could be covered with trees and the streets might switch places, though some people would get seasick and planes wouldn’t be that special anymore.
The tree-bark-face man blows on his coffee so hard that the liquid spills over the edge and the steam splits in half. Some shoots forward and some upward. He stares deep into the cup for a few minutes, then blows on it again.
He stands up. He has to plant both of his hands on the table and push himself up with everything he has. He walks straight
past her, and Millie tries to connect eyes with him but he doesn’t look up. The fly follows him, buzzing around his body. He reaches out a hand and slaps it against his thigh. The fly falls to the ground.
Millie crawls on her hands and knees toward the fly and scoops it into her palm. She holds it up to her face, squeezes her palm shut, and stands to watch the back of the tree-bark-face man as he shuffles away from the café and out the main entrance.