Authors: Brooke Davis
Millie ran her fingers over the line in between the question mark and Spider’s death-year. Back and forth, back and forth. It was strange, she thought, that this line—this long, straight line—was all there was to show of his whole life.
arl had never talked to Evie about her funeral. Why would he? It was too hard to get the words out. They were like a weight in his mouth. He just wanted her to live while he was living and that’s all he knew.
So his son organized it for him, while Karl was busy remembering how to get up, brush his teeth, part his hair, chew. The funeral itself had been long, slow, repetitive. Before the service began, he was hugged, endlessly, by people he barely knew. He made sure their cheeks didn’t touch. It didn’t feel right to rest his palms on the back of someone who wasn’t his wife.
Karl sat in the front pew, eyeing the coffin, scarcely breathing. It felt strange to breathe when she couldn’t. Flowers exploded from the coffin lid. He willed the coffin to open, Evie to jump out:
She would have to high-jump the flowers.
If this is a practical joke
, he whispered,
I won’t be mad.
He remembers standing during one of the eulogies. It was by the only friend from Evie’s old work still alive. They kept dying, all their friends, as though they were on a battlefield: dropping dead in supermarkets, on bowling greens; fading out in nursing homes and hospitals. But this woman was still alive, standing at the lectern like God’s gift, and Karl thought,
I wish you were dead
He walked toward the coffin.
, he whispered, circling it and running his fingers along the edges. People were murmuring around him, but they sounded miles away. He pushed his face into the pine lid. Closed his eyes. Breathed in.
, he whispered again, his lips against the pine. He had to know. He grabbed at the lid. And flung the coffin open.
She was dead in there, that was for sure, stone-faced in a way he had never seen, but he couldn’t take his hands away from the edge of her coffin. Not when the priest tugged at his elbow; not when a gust of wind blew in through the doorway; not when the coffin lid slammed shut with such drama and force that it squashed his fingers. He didn’t feel the pain because there was pain everywhere already.
And he wanted to type it but they wouldn’t let him because they were holding his hands to stop the blood so he just yelled it, he yelled it as loud as he could.
I AM HERE, EVIE. I WILL ALWAYS BE HERE.
he tops of some of your fingers are missing
, Millie says, grabbing Karl’s hand as they walk out of the café.
, he replies, tapping on her hand.
His mouth makes that line that adults make when they are most absolutely not going to talk about this one thing right now, and maybe not ever. So she keeps her questions inside herself and puts them in the part that remembers things for later. She rubs the stubs of his fingers as she holds his hand. Did he bite his nails so much that he bit his fingers right off? Did a family of mice eat them in his sleep? Or did someone chop them off because he didn’t do what he was told? Millie’s mum threatened her with that once, Millie remembers, when she was tapping her fingers on her dinner plate during
Dancing with the Stars
I’ll rip those things right off
, her mum said, without turning around to face her.
Don’t try me.
And Millie didn’t try her—she hadn’t meant to try
her—and sat on her fingers so they wouldn’t try anyone without her knowing.
Millie leads Karl to the Ginormous Women’s Underwear, shakes off his hand, and crawls underneath. She slides the undies down the rack so Karl can see in.
What are you up to down there, Just Millie?
I told you
, she says, unscrewing the lid of the glass jar. Millie unzips her backpack and pulls out her Funeral Pencil Case. She removes a tealight candle and some matches and places them on the floor. She stares at them. After a moment, she holds them up to Karl.
Could you? Please?
He glances around him.
Should we be lighting fires?
, she says.
Karl seems to consider this answer, then nods. Millie watches the wick catch fire and holds her stomach. She clenches her teeth and tries not to remember The Night Before The First Day Of Waiting. She tries to put it in the part of her head that never remembers anything. She hands Karl the jar.
In there, please
, she says.
Karl carefully lowers the candle into the jar and hands it back to Millie. She ties the jar to the rack, and the fly dangles behind a row of flesh-colored undies.
You need to say something
, she says to Karl.
Karl says, pointing to himself.
, Millie says, pointing at him pointing to himself.
You did it. You made a Dead Thing. Aren’t you sorry?
detaches itself and she’s watching her dad squish the spider with his shoe. Was he sorry?
, Karl says, putting his hands on his hips.
, he repeats.
, he says, taking a big breath,
it’s a fly.
. Millie nods.
You’re right. It is a fly.
Karl looks down at Millie. Millie looks up at Karl.
What should I say?
What would you like someone to say at your funeral?
Karl stares at his feet.
I doubt anyone will say anything.
, Millie says, crossing her arms,
you need to say something.
Why do you know so much about these things?
Why don’t you?
veryone knows everything about being born, and no one knows anything about being dead.
This has always surprised Millie. There are books at school with pictures of mums with see-through stomachs, and she has always wanted to lift up the shirt of a pregnant lady, just to see if it really is true that your stomach goes see-through when you are pregnant. This makes sense, she thinks, to give the baby a chance to get used to the world before it is in it, like a glass-bottomed boat; otherwise, what a shock! How scary the world would be if you didn’t know it was coming. Millie has also seen
the books with the cartoon people who love each other so much that the man gives the lady a fish and the fish gets inside the lady and lays eggs, and those eggs turn into a human baby. She knows the baby comes out from the place you pee, but she has not seen pictures of this. After Millie goes swimming in the ocean, she always watches her pee carefully for babies. Just. In. Case.
Adults want her to know these things, otherwise they wouldn’t have given her these books. But no one has ever, ever given her a book about Dead Things. What is the big secret?
, Karl says.
The Fly, loved by many, forgotten by none.
He clears his throat.
God save our gracious queen
, he sings, so softly that Millie can barely hear him.
, Millie says, and he does:
Long live our noble queen, God save the queen.
Millie watches the feet walk past through the gap in the undies as he sings. Some of them speed up as they get closer, some of them slow down. One pair of shoes stops completely.
Send her victorious—
he’s really belting it out now, and his dimples are waking up again—
happy and glorious, long to reign over us.
Karl raises his arms with a flourish, his fingers typing in the air.
God save the queen.
He takes a bow. The shoes—wide, black, clumpy—are still there in the aisle, and one foot is tapping. Millie brings her knees to her chest.
Are you quite done, sir?
a woman’s voice says.
Karl looks in the general direction of the shoes. His eyes widen.
Yes, thank you, sir. I mean, ma’am.
Arms grab at Karl, push him down the aisle, and the woman says,
, and Karl says,
I’m terribly sorry, I really didn’t mean to say that. I’m not intimating that you in any way resemble a man!
Millie leans her body into the pole in the center of the rack. Karl says,
You’re very ladylike, honestly.
, over and over again until she can’t hear him anymore.
A lady nearby says,
What’s all the hoopla about?
, as she packs up her Funeral Equipment. She pulls her backpack in close and makes her body as small as it can be, like the babies do when they’re stuck in their mums’ tummies. She presses her face against the metal pole. It’s cold on her cheek. The fly’s jar swings in some imaginary breeze, the candlelight making trails that disappear and reappear. She runs her fingers through the air, and it feels like nothing, but it’s keeping everyone alive.
How can that feel like nothing?
Through the gap in the undies, the mannequin’s still looking at her, and she looks back. She likes the way he is always looking at her. It makes her feel like he won’t let the clumpy shoes take Millie away too.
Millie sits in this position until it’s night in the department store again. Her feet sweat in her gumboots. Her knees stick together. The light in the jar is still burning, but only just, and the flickering shadows make the undies look like they’re joining
together at the edges, becoming one super-enormous-ginormous-pair-of-women’s-undies, and The Super Pair Of Undies circles around her head, getting closer and closer, and Millie is sure it is going to wrap itself around her and suffocate her, and then the light in the jar goes out, and Millie is breathing in too much air, and her cheeks are wet with tears. She buries her face in her knees and squeezes her eyes shut.
She hears footsteps and thinks,
Gold shoes, gold shoes, gold shoes
, and her breath is so quivery, like the old people who breathe loudly just to let you know they still can, but it isn’t her mum at all, because the footsteps are sliding along the floor, and Mum doesn’t walk like that. The footsteps move toward her, and there’s a flashlight shining everywhere, and now the flashlight is on the fly’s jar, and the footsteps are so close to her, and the flashlight is still on the jar, and the footsteps have stopped altogether, and the flashlight is like a spotlight on the fly, like an alien spaceship trying to pull it up with a space beam, and Millie has to hold her quivery breath so that the alien beam doesn’t get her as well.
But then there’s something in the corner of her eye, a sparkle of something beyond the undies, and the mannequin looks at her, and his eyes seem wider for some reason, and there’s something in her stomach, something pulling, and it feels like Dot Three, but that can’t be right, and then the mannequin falls forward somehow, and the sliding feet yell,
, and the flashlight clatters to the ground, and the mannequin is on the
ground too, and he is still looking at her, and the flashlight lights him up, like he’s onstage, and Millie feels a smile on her face just appear there, and she touches it with her fingers. She wants to touch the mannequin’s face too, because he’s smiling at her in the flashlight.
t’s important to have your mum.
Mums bring you jackets and turn on your electric blanket before you get into bed and always know what you want better than you do. And they sometimes let you sit on their lap and play with the rings on their fingers while
Deal or No Deal
Millie’s mum is a wind through the house. She is always washing overalls or ironing undies or wiping lamps or talking on the phone or sweeping the driveway or putting sheets on things. Her hair is always sweaty and kind of crooked, her voice is like a violin, like she is trying to lift something really heavy all the time. Millie is always getting in her way no matter how much she tries not to, so she has learned to sit against the walls and in corners, to stay outside, hide in bushes and up trees.
Sometimes, before she Goes Out, Millie’s mum disappears into the bathroom for not very long at all. Millie listens at the door, and it sounds like a factory in there with all the clanging
and spraying and squirting. Her mum always reappears with colored-in skin and magazine hair. A sweet smell follows her like a smell-shadow.
One day when her mum went next door to talk to the neighbors, Millie kneeled on the bathroom floor and opened the cupboard under the sink. There were things that squeezed and things that poured. They were all so patient in there. She lined them up in a row on the cold tiles, from smallest to biggest. She looked at this audience of cosmetics for a long time.
, she said to them.
She picked up a lipstick and painted her earlobes and sprayed perfume into the air over and over again, just to watch the mist of it, and brushed mascara on her cheeks, and rubbed blush on her fingernails. Her mum suddenly appeared in the doorway, and Millie tried to sit against the wall, out of her mum’s way, but she grabbed Millie under the armpits, plonked her on the bench, and wiped her face clean with a cloth. She brushed her hair straight, put lipstick on her lips, something on her eyelashes and something on her cheeks. Her mum was so close to her, and her voice was smiling when she swiveled Millie around to look at herself in the mirror.
And Millie did see, she saw that she could be a different person if she wanted. New and Improved.
Now, on her Second Night Of Waiting, Millie decides to make herself New and Improved. She wants her mum to walk up to
her and say,
Excuse me, madam, but I’m looking for a small child. Have you seen her?
And Millie will take off her hat and wipe her lipstick on the back of her hand and say,
Mum! It’s me! Millie Bird!
And her mum will laugh and scoop her up and carry her out to the car, and Millie will wave good-bye to the department store.
Bye, café; bye, giant undies; bye, potted plants; bye, Karl; bye, mannequin
, and her mum will drive her back home and Millie will get to sit on the kitchen counter while they cut up vegetables for dinner.
So she finds the nicest dress she can—it’s yellow and feels like a cloud should—and puts it on over the top of her clothes. She goes to the wall of makeup, where small, black plastic cases hang from metal hooks like they’re bait. She picks the ones that are within reach, and carefully applies lipstick, eye shadow, and blush the way her mum showed her. She has to stand on a pile of books to see in the mirror, but she does it without once falling over.
she says to the mannequin. She finds a floppy red hat. Puts on green nail polish. Looks at the shoes, and knows her gumboots will probably give her identity away, but she’s not taking them off, not ever. She duct-tapes four Matchbox cars to the bottom of each gumboot and skates around the shop.