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Authors: Brooke Davis

Lost & Found (22 page)

BOOK: Lost & Found
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Agatha sits at the table in the service station and looks at her Age Book. People I’ve Loved. That question mark. That look from Millie’s mum through her window so many months ago appears in her thoughts.
How do you get old without letting sadness become everything?
She thinks of the moments after Ron died, how she walked down the street and up her pathway and into her house, and the pressure she felt, the feeling as though her body were imploding. She thinks of the spare room in her house. What if, when she walked in that door after
seeing her husband dead, a child, their child, was sitting in the spare room, in their room, and Agatha had to sit down on the bed, their bed—her bed? Would it have been a her? She had sometimes allowed herself to imagine it would be. And she’d had to say—what? What would she have said?
Your father is dead
. How do you tell a child, your child, that this is how life works? That you live just to die? That as long as you’re alive, people you know, people you love, will die? That, really, the best thing to do is to never, ever care about anyone?

Agatha
, Karen’s calling to her from the line-up to pay for petrol. She looks harried.
Sorry, love, do you drive? Would you mind just scooching the car away from the gas pumps? God knows where Simon’s got to. The keys should be in there. Sorry to be a pain.

Agatha stands to look outside. There’s about six or seven cars lined up, waiting their turn. One of them beeps their horn every now and then. The man behind the counter is having trouble with the computer system. Agatha looks back at Karen. If Agatha narrows her eyes into slits, Karen looks a little bit like Millie’s mum.
How do you tell your child that this is how life works?

You have to find a way
, Agatha says, slinging her handbag over her shoulder.

Sorry?
Karen says as Agatha walks toward the automatic doors.

I said, I can drive
, Agatha says.

Oh, thanks, love
. Karen smiles.
Sime’s probably found something else to pee on
.

Probably
, Agatha says. She stops when she reaches the doors and turns to Karen.
Look
. The door opens behind her and Agatha can feel the heat on her back.
I’m really very sorry.

Karen waves her apology away.
No harm done, love. The pie hardly cost a thing.

No
, Agatha says to herself as she walks out to the car.
Not for that.

Agatha opens the door and slides in. The keys are in the ignition. She cups them in her palm. They make a twinkling sound. She starts the car. She suddenly sees her face on a poster like Karl’s.
Wanted
. And presses down on the accelerator.

The thing is, she doesn’t stop. She thinks of that hand-drawn car following the black arrow toward The Great Australian Pub and she doesn’t stop.

Well
, she says to nobody.
This is most definitely a ten.

12:17: And then she’s driving on the highway. She, Agatha Pantha, is driving a car on the highway in the middle of the desert. She doesn’t go faster than sixty kilometers an hour, but she’s driving.
I’m driving
, she says out the window.
I’m driving!
she yells to a council worker smoking by the side of the road.
No shit, lady!
he calls back.
I’m driving!
she yells to a woman whose car appears to have broken down.
Fuck you!
the woman shouts.
I’m driving!
she yells to the sky, to the birds, and
nothing yells back, it’s just wind in her face and the sound of that, the sound of rushing, rushing wind.

Good job, birds!
she yells out the window.
This road is particularly smooth!
She’s holding on to the steering wheel with both hands and grinning at everything.
Boisterous letter box! Perfect signage! Nice spots, cows! Good-looking trees! That cloud is smiling at me! Nice blue, sky!

Agatha goes to adjust her glasses and they’re not there. She sees them, in her mind’s eye, on the sink in the service-station bathroom. She tries not to blink, and opens her eyes wider and wider, letting the cool air onto her eyeballs.

She sees a sign by the side of the road.
Oh!
she says, and screeches the car to a halt in front of it.
The Great Australian Pub
, it says, and points down a long straight dirt road that looks unending. She consults the map.

Agatha gulps. Finds the blinker. Puts it on.
Nice sound, blinker
, she whispers. And turns left.

karl the touch typist

W
ell, we’re going to die, Millie
, Karl says. They’ve been heading south through the desert for most of the day. The sun is still strong and hot overhead and their water is running low.

I’ve been trying to tell you
, Millie says.

No, I mean sooner rather than later. Is that what you wanted, Agatha Pantha?
he says up to the sky.
Murderer.
His voice doesn’t echo, just disappears into the flatness of the surrounds.
I’m so. Thirsty.

He holds Manny in front of him and looks deep into his eyes.
Right, Manny? You understand. I hate this place! Australia—what kind of name is that? It’s so dry. It’s all the same. And it never ends, Manny.
He kicks at the dirt.
I hate this dirt. It’s dirt. Who likes dirt? No one. That’s who. I hate this sky. I hate this scrub. How are you supposed to live out here?
He kneels down on the ground, using Manny for support.
THERE’S NOTHING OUT HERE
, he yells, and buries his head into Manny’s chest.

Hurry up
, Millie says.

Karl stands and continues to walk.
We’re not going to get to Melbourne by tomorrow, Millie.

Yes we are.

We’ll never make it.

We’re going to make it.

It’s impossible.

You don’t know everything
, Millie says, stopping suddenly.
Is that the pub over there?
she says, pointing.

He squints in the direction of Millie’s gesture.
Don’t toy with me, Millie. I’m very thirsty. I think I’m getting dehydrated. You know what that means? It’s one of the first stages of death.

There’s a pub right there
, she says, holding out the map.
The one that Captain Everything told us about.

Well, I can’t see anything.
Karl puts a hand on Millie’s forehead, checking her temperature.
Oh God
, he says.
The heat’s getting to you. It’s okay, Millie. We’ll be okay.
He tries to lift her up to carry her, but she struggles against him.

I’m fine.
Millie pushes away from him.

Save your energy, Millie
, Karl says.

Millie walks on ahead of him.
I said, I’m fine.

Wait
, Karl says. There’s a rumbling sound in the distance.
What’s that?
A white car roars along a dirt road half a mile away, dust spraying behind it as though it’s waterskiing in a red lake.
A car
, Karl says.
It’s a car, Millie. People.

The car starts to slow and then stops. Dust settles over the
landscape, is drawn back into it, as though it’s breathing out and breathing in. It’s then that Karl realizes he’s looking at a building.
Is that . . .
Karl closes his eyes and then opens them again. It’s still there.
Millie, it’s a pub
, he calls after her. Karl holds Manny up and kisses him on the lips.
We’re saved.

Karl has never been happier to see a building. It’s brown, wooden, and has a chunky gaudiness that makes it look like a plaything, as if some giant kid has gathered together some old bits and bobs and superglued them together. The large rounded lettering on the sign attached to the roof reads,
The Great Australian Pub
.

This is the place
, Millie says, and disappears inside, though not before writing
IN HERE MUM
in the dirt with her fingers.

Karl has heard about the men who frequent these types of places. All leathery and quick to fight; thick hands and eyes permanently squinted from the sun. Their sentences a few nouns and verbs bookended by swearwords.

He expects this to be a saloon moment. He’ll walk in and everyone will turn around to look, the music will stop, a glass will break somewhere, inexplicably (who will play him in a movie? He’s just remembered that Paul Newman is dead. Is anyone he knows still alive?), and, with a new burst of confidence, he will walk in with Man Shoulders, you know, pushed back, a proud chest, A Man Stride; these kinds of men can
sniff out an imposter, but he is A Man, he has Faced Death and defeated it! He has cheated death! He is A Man! Everybody! A Man! See this Man! He will walk over to the bar in two or three steps, pull out a barstool, and sit his Man Bum down, slam his Man Fist on the bar, and order—no, not order,
demand
—a double something-or-other (what would Paul Newman drink?) and the entire pub would be looking at him, and he would lean in to the bartender and say—in a low, rumbly kind of voice, because someone who has power does not need to speak in a loud voice—
Make that a triple.
Would there be a collective gasp? Maybe. But he wouldn’t hear it, because he would be too busy Being A Man. And then the other Men would rejoice in his presence, shake his hand or high-five him or whatever it is they do, and they would talk about Man Things, like Tools and Agriculture and Centerfolds.

But when he opens the door he realizes he will not make the bar in three steps.

Karl, why are you taking such big steps?
Millie whispers.

What?
Karl whispers back.
Does it look stupid?

Yes
, she says.

He walks to the bar in normal-sized steps. License plates from all over Australia line one wall, like some kind of graveyard for dead registrations. There are five big-screen tellys scattered around the pub, and they all play the same AFL game on them. It’s carpeted and dark. The ceiling is low. The air is dense. Dust swirls in the small patches of sunlight.

There are two men sitting at the bar, chatting, and they barely notice him. The bartender is polishing glasses and nods in his direction. Karl nods back.
He knows
, he thinks.
He knows I’m A Man
. He pulls out a barstool. It scrapes loudly across the floor. He looks up at the barman.
Sorry
, he apologizes, doing something with his face that he doesn’t normally do. Something very feminine, he can feel that much.

He hates himself already.

Karl leans Manny against the bar.

The barman raises his eyebrows. Karl goes to sit down on the barstool, but he’s flustered with all the attention, with this pressure to Be A Man, and he misses the stool completely and falls backward onto his bum, and Manny comes crashing down on top of him, the noise from it all combining and echoing throughout the pub.

The worst thing is not this, however. The worst thing is the noise that Karl makes, which involuntarily escapes his mouth like a volcano releasing toxic gas that’s been building up for hundreds of years. A noise only Very Old Men make when pushed to the end of their physical tether:
Uggggggghhhh
. It’s the worst noise he’s ever made, he’s not even sure he could do it again, and he hears it as if he’s standing outside of his own body.

He lies on the ground for a few moments, reflecting on that small but satisfying moment in his life when these men thought he was One Of Them. He lets Manny’s nose rest on his, closes his eyes, and takes a deep breath.

You ’right, mate?
a voice says from above.

Yeah, need a hand, mate?
another voice says.

And suddenly, he’s sitting at a bar with two men (Men!) and they’re slapping him on the back and laughing and ordering him a drink and asking,
What’s your story?
And Karl cannot wipe the smile from his face.

millie bird

M
illie sits with her back against Karl’s stool. She fiddles with the hem on Manny’s pants, who has been positioned so that his back leans on the bar. The men say things about the footy and Karl tries to join in.
Yes
, she hears Karl say.
That young man should not have been replaced by that other young man.

Millie reaches into her backpack for some food, but her hands fall on a folded piece of paper, nestled in there among the muesli bars.
Captain Funeral
, it says. She opens it.

Dear Captain Funeral,

On the day you left the train, we had a missed call from your mum’s phone. Someone left a message. It wasn’t your mum though. I listened to it sixteen times to make
sure I wrote it down right. I’ve put it in a speech bubble so that you know it’s not me talking.

Mills love it’s Aunty Judy. Where are you love? We’re looking for you. Your mum she’s well she’s not right love. She’s taken off. I sent Uncle Leith out west to get you but you weren’t there. He went all that way. Where are you love? Just tell a policeman and stay where you are we’ll come get you. Okay love? Okay?

Sorry for not telling you. I was afraid of making you sad. You can borrow my mum, sometimes, if you like.

Yours sincerely,

Captain Everything

Superhero

Indian Pacific

Millie folds the letter and puts it back in the bag. She holds on to her stomach.

And then,
Hi
, she hears.

Millie leans forward and looks around Manny’s leg. There’s a girl sitting cross-legged against one of the other stools. She’s about Millie’s age, with straight black hair tied back in a ponytail. She has a box of matches in front of her. She lights one and watches it burn.

Hi
, Millie says back, eyeing the flame.

Who’s that?
the girl asks, after the flame dies.

That’s Karl
, Millie says.

No
, the girl says,
not him.
She points at Manny with the burned match.
Him.

Oh
, Millie says. She clears her throat.
Manny. He’s dead.

The girl raises an eyebrow.
He’s plastic.

Yes
, Millie says.
Dead bodies turn into plastic. And they use them in shops to sell clothes.
She looks at her fingers.
Is what I think.

The girl looks at her for a long time.
You’re weird
, she says finally.

YOU’RE weird
, Millie says.

When my uncle died, my dad burned him.
The girl lights another match.
Then we threw him into the ocean.

I’m sorry for your loss
, Millie says quietly.

Dead bodies stink, so then you have to burn them
, the girl says, and looks at Millie.
Is what I know.

Depends on how you think about things
, Millie says uncertainly.

No, it doesn’t.
The girl crawls over to Millie and stares at her. She lights a match and holds it up between them. The flame makes shadows dance all over her face.
Let’s burn him
, she says, grinning.
If he’s dead anyway.

Millie feels a weight in her stomach. She watches the flame until it burns out. She looks at Karl behind her, who’s laughing and telling a story in a much deeper voice than she has ever heard from him before. She looks back at Manny.

What are you afraid of
? the girl says, cocking her head at Millie.

Nothing
, Millie says.
I’m not afraid of anything.
But it isn’t true because she is afraid of everything and she feels that deeply in her stomach.

the night before the first day of waiting

A
fter her dad died, people in the town acted like they loved her.
Yes, Millie
, they said.
You poor love
, they said.
Here’s a lolly
, they said. But she knew it was because her dad was dead and they were either:

  1. glad their dad wasn’t dead but were imagining it but couldn’t imagine it, or
  2. their dad was dead too.

So the ladies at the health-food shop gave her all the glass jars they had, and the man at the hardware shop gave her as many tealight candles as she wanted, and she asked her mum while she stared at the wall in the bedroom,
When was Dad born
? But her mum didn’t answer so Millie asked the lady at the library, who was surely the oldest person alive, and they worked it out by looking through all the old school photos in the archives, and they found one of her dad, his face leaner and
brighter and clearer, but her dad for sure, and after it went dark she crept past her mum, who was on the couch in her underwear watching telly without the lights on. It was a hot, sticky night, and the cricket was on, but her mum didn’t like the cricket, so Millie could tell her mum wasn’t watching it, but her dad liked the cricket so maybe that’s why she was watching it. The glass jars were clinking around in Millie’s backpack, but her mum didn’t move, she hadn’t moved the entire day, except when Millie brought her a bowl of grapes from the fridge and put it next to her, and she had patted Millie on the head, but when Millie walked past in the dark, all the grapes were still there.

So Millie snuck out to the tree in the vacant lot. She climbed up and down the tree, attaching a glass jar with a burning tealight to every single branch. When she had finished that, she positioned some tealights on the ground in front of the tree to spell out
DAD
. Beneath that, she lined up the remaining tealights in a long line. It was the longest dash she had ever made.

Millie lit all the candles and sat back on the grass. She lay on her front and made a pillow with her hands to rest her chin. The grass cracked beneath her, spiking her skin. It had been such a dry, hot summer. The candles in the tree gently swayed and those on the ground flickered. There were stars in the sky and now it looked like there were stars in the tree and on the ground, as if Millie had made a starry night sky out of the
whole world. She stood up and strolled around her sky, wondering if her dad was doing the same, all the way up there.

A gust of wind blew through the street, like it did those months ago when she held Spider in her hands. She heard the glass jars clink against the tree, she watched as some of the tealight candles on the ground toppled over, and she stumbled backward as she saw the grass catch fire. It started small but then it was big and then it was huge and then the whole lot was on fire. Millie stood there. She watched it all happen, she watched the night sky disappear. She backed away to the footpath. The heat hurt her skin, embers shot out, glass jars cracked and burst. So she ran, she just ran. She found a tree farther down the street and climbed it right to the top. The street woke up and people appeared and there were buckets of water and hoses and the fire engines came and Millie watched it all from the top of her secret spot and no one knew she was there. When it was light again Millie went home because you always went home, didn’t you? The police were there holding her bag and her mum looked at Millie like her mum was only a drawing and Millie’s guts hurt and she didn’t know how to say sorry about it because it was the worst thing she’d ever done.

Well?
the black-haired girl is saying. It happens so quickly, the girl lights a match, it burns so brightly, and she holds it up to
Manny’s shirt, and Millie tries to say no but it’s too late and the girl lights Manny’s shirt on fire.

Millie stands up and steps back, and the fire creeps up his shirt,
ba-boom ba-boom ba-boom
, the flames climb higher, and it’s the tree, but then she runs at him, she doesn’t know how to put out a fire, she waves at it, and blows at it, and she can feel the fire hot near her skin, and does she say,
Dad?
She doesn’t remember. But it’s her dad, IT’S HER DAD, and she watches the fire and curls up in a ball,
SORRYMUMSORRYMUMSORRYMUM
.

BOOK: Lost & Found
6.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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