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Authors: Brooke Davis

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BOOK: Lost & Found
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Millie finds her backpack underneath the Ginormous Women’s Underwear. She takes out her Just In Case glass jar, puts it between her knees, unscrews the lid, and lowers the fly into the jar. She screws the lid back on and pulls out her Book Of Dead Things, as well as her markers.
Number 29
, she writes.
Fly in department store
. She can see
DAD
backward in big letters through the paper. She taps the marker on her gumboots. Picks up the jar and holds it to her face. In the crack between the undies the mannequin looks down at her from across the aisle. His shirt is bright blue and has yellow palm trees on it. His eyes seem huge through the glass, like they’re centimeters from her face. She moves a pair of underwear so she can see only his knees.

Millie grips the jar while she watches for gold shoes all afternoon. And when afternoon becomes night, and the last door is clicked shut, and everything goes black—the air, the sound, the earth—it feels like the whole world is closing. She presses her face against the window, cups her hands around her eyes,
and watches people walk back to their cars with other people, with husbands and wives and girlfriends and boyfriends and children and grandmothers and daughters and fathers and mothers. And they all drive off, every single one of them, until the parking lot is so empty it makes her eyes hurt.

She crawls back under the Ginormous Women’s Underwear and takes a sandwich out of her backpack. As she eats it, she watches the mannequin through the gap in the undies. He watches back.
Hello
, she whispers. The only other sound, a humming from the lights in the display cabinets.

the second day of waiting

M
illie once thought that no matter where you fell asleep, you would always wake up in your own bed. She fell asleep at the table, on the neighbor’s floor, on a ride at the show, and when she woke she was under her own covers, looking up at the ceiling of her own bedroom. But one night she woke when she was being carried from the car into the house. She looked at her dad through half-closed eyes.
It’s been you all this time
, she whispered into his shoulder.

On The Second Day Of Waiting, Millie wakes to the sound of high heels clacking toward her. She has spread herself out
during the night, and her feet poke from underneath the clothing rack. She pulls her knees into her chest, hugs them, holds her breath, and watches the high heels clack past.
Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack
. They’re black and shiny, and red-painted toes stick out at the ends like ladybugs trying to crawl in.

Why would her mum leave her under the undies all night? Millie holds on to her stomach and peers through the gap in the undies. She knows why her mum might leave her there but she doesn’t want to think about it, so she doesn’t. The mannequin is still looking at her. She waves at him. It’s a careful wave, her fingers folding down one after the other until she holds them all in a fist. She’s not sure if she wants to be his friend yet. She pulls on her gumboots, crawls out from under the undies, and looks up at the sign she stuck on the rack last night.

In Here Mum.

She tears it down, folds it up, and slides it into her backpack. The man with the tree-bark face walks toward her. He shuffles down the aisle, straight past, and toward the café. Millie follows, and watches him from behind the potted plants. He sits down like it hurts, and stares at his coffee. Millie walks over to him and puts her hand on his.

Have you seen chicken come in a bucket?
she asks.

The man looks at her hand and then up at her.
Yes
, he replies, pulling his hand away from hers and tapping his fingers on the table.

Well?
Millie says, sitting down in the chair opposite him.
What’s it like?

Exactly how it sounds
, he says.

Millie bites her bottom lip.
Do you know many people who are dead?
she asks.

Everyone
, he says, looking into his coffee.

Everyone?

Yes. Do you?
he asks, still tapping his fingers on the table.

Yes. Twenty-nine Dead Things
, she says.

That’s a lot
.

Yep
.

He leans forward in his chair.
How old are you?
he asks.

Millie crosses her arms.
How old are you?

I asked first.

Let’s say it at the same time.

Eighty-seven.

Seven.

He sits back in his chair.
Seven?

Millie nods.
And a half. Almost eight, really.

You’re young.

You’re old.

The dimples on his cheeks are waking up.
Your boots match my suspenders
, he says, tapping his fingers on his suspenders.

Your suspenders match my boots.
Millie looks at his hands.
Why do you tap your fingers when you talk?

I’m not tapping
, he says, tapping.
I’m typing.

Typing what?

Everything I say.

Everything you say?

Everything I say.

What about what I say?

I don’t do that.

Are you gonna eat that?
she says, pointing to a muffin. He pushes the plate toward her.

Millie shoves the muffin into her mouth.
Why won’t you drink your coffee?
she says, mouth full, pushing his coffee toward him.

I don’t want it.
He pushes it back.

Millie wraps her hands around it and leans over it, feeling the steam rising beneath her chin.
Why did you get it?

It’s nice to have somewhere to put my hands.

Millie smiles.
Oh.
She pulls her feet up onto the chair and rests her chin on her knees. Spread out on the table is a long line of small plastic squares, each one about the size of her fingertip.
What are those?

He shrugs.

You don’t know?

He shrugs again.

Millie leans over the table.
They’re computer keys
, she says.
Like the ones on the keyboards from school.
She folds her arms.
But they’re not on a keyboard.

Yes
, he says.

So you do know
, she says.

They’re all dashes
.
From different keyboards.
He leans forward in his chair.
Do you know what a dash is?

Maybe.

You put them between two words to make one word.

Like what?

Like . . .
He thinks for a moment.

Happy-sad?
Millie says.

Not really
.

Hungry-sleepy?

No
, he says.
Like, action-packed. Or blue-eyed.

But not happy-sad.

No.

Or hungry-sleepy?

No.

Why have you got so many?
There’s lots of them lined up against each other in a long, straight line.

I collect them.

Why?

Got to collect something.

Millie thinks about her Book Of Dead Things.
I collect Dead Things
, she says.

He nods.

She holds his gaze as she nudges an index finger forward, moving one of the keys out of line. It hangs above the rest of them on an angle like it’s mid-backflip. Tree-Bark-Face doesn’t
move.
They go between numbers, too
, she says.
Not just words.
She flicks another key and it skids along the table, stopping at the edge. He sucks in a breath and watches as it teeters and then falls into his lap.

Don’t do that
, he says, picking it up and putting it back in line.

Where did you get them all from?

Borrowed them.

From who?
Millie spots a screwdriver sticking out of his jacket pocket.

He puts a hand over the screwdriver, shielding it from Millie’s gaze.
No one ever suspects an old person
, he says, smiling a half smile.
We’re kind of invisible.

What’s your name?

Karl the Touch Typist. What’s yours?

Just Millie.

Where’s your mum, Just Millie?

She’s coming. She has gold shoes.
It is when she says
gold shoes
that Millie feels Dot Two pulling and she holds her stomach. She shifts in her seat and puts the fly’s glass jar on the table.
You made a Dead Thing yesterday.

Karl picks up the glass jar and studies it.
I did?
he says, tapping the glass.

Millie nods.
I’m giving her a funeral.

The first funeral Millie ever held was for a spider her dad squished with his shoe. Her mum had jumped from one foot to the other and said,
If you don’t squash that spider, Harry, I’ll squash you
. Her dad stood up from his chair, wrenched off his shoe, and slammed it against the wall.

One.

Two.

Three.

Four.

The spider slid down the wall and landed on the floor. Her dad picked it up by a leg, threw it out the front door, sat down, and continued watching television. He winked at Millie from across the room. Millie couldn’t bring herself to wink back.

She watched her dad watch three whole shows before she said anything.

Can we give the spider a funeral?
she said as the credits rolled.
Like we did for Nan.

Funerals are for people, Mills
, he said, flicking through the channels.
And maybe dogs.

What about horses?

Horses, too
, he said as a cricketer tried to sell him some vitamins.

Cats?

Yes.

Snakes?

No.

Why?

Because.
On the screen a car wound its way along a beautiful mountainside. The whole family smiled at each other. They all had shiny teeth.

Trees?

No.

Why?

Because.

Centipedes? Planets? Fridges?

Millie!
he said.
People. Maybe big animals. That’s it.

Why?

You’d be having funerals all day, every day. And we can’t do that.

Why?

There’s other stuff to do
, he said as a man on the screen looked her in the eye and yelled at her about mobile phones.

That night, she packed a backpack with everything she needed, grabbed her flashlight from under the bed, and snuck out the front door. She found the spider on the grass near the driveway and picked it up with both hands. It looked different now, smaller and lighter and dried up by the sun. The night breeze circled around her hands and made the spider tickle her palms.

A huge
whoosh
of wind lifted the spider right out of her hands. Millie ran after it, watching it high above her head. It flew through the air against the stars, over her front yard, out
into the street, across the road, down the street, and into an empty lot. The moonlight illuminated its edges. The whole night seemed to be covered with moonlit spiders far, far away, pinned to the black sky.

Then, just as quickly as it began, the wind stopped, and the spider dropped to the ground like a falling star.

A tree rose out of the center of the empty lot. It was the biggest tree she had ever seen, much bigger than even her dad. She put the spider into her backpack and climbed to the very top. The moon felt so close she could almost spin it around in circles. She straddled the branch, leaned her back into the trunk and, from her backpack, pulled out the spider, an old Vegemite jar, a ball of string, a tealight candle, matches, and a piece of cardboard.

Millie gave the spider one last look before placing him in the Vegemite jar on top of some tissues. She lit the tealight candle and put it in there with him, then wrapped a piece of string around the top of the jar, tied a knot at one end, and threaded the other end through the hole in the cardboard sign. She tied the string around the branch of the tree. The jar hung from the branch like a lantern, swinging a little as the tree moved. The small cardboard sign said
Spider ?–2011
in her best writing.

BOOK: Lost & Found
5.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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