Authors: Brooke Davis
She skates past the racks of bras, so many of them hanging there. Lined up like soldiers waiting to be called into action. Millie’s head detaches itself and sees her mum after the shower, her hair dripping and limp around her head, steam rising off her skin. Her boobs hang off her body like water balloons, and they
try to hit each other when she walks from the shower to the wardrobe. She catches Millie watching her as she slides the bra loops over her shoulders.
You’ll have them one day
, her mum says.
Millie does not want them. Not ever. She found some magazines once in her dad’s bedside table. The boobs jutted out of the women’s bodies as if you could unscrew the back like a brooch. They looked unpredictable. Demanding. And then there was The Naked Woman Who Wasn’t Her Mum who hid in their bathroom one afternoon.
You didn’t see me, kid
, she said. Millie’s eyes were drawn to her nipples like they were magnets. And Millie thought,
Yes, I did.
She skates to the games section and, one by one, pulls board games off the shelf and lines them up in front of the mannequin. There’s Twister and Monopoly and Guess Who? and Mouse Trap and checkers and backgammon and Battleship and Operation and Scrabble and Hungry Hungry Hippos and Connect Four. She doesn’t really know how to play any of them, so she just rolls the dice once for the mannequin and once for her, and moves all the pieces around, and the battleships are trying to sink Park Lane, the Guess Who? people are an audience for Mouse Trap, and the hippos are eating the checkers.
After you hit the man with the flashlight on the head, I followed him
, she says to the mannequin, putting a bra cup over her mouth and tying the loops behind her head.
, she explains, a bit muffled now, thinking of the hospital shows her mum watches.
He went in there
, she says, pointing to an
office toward the back of the store. She puts Scrabble letters into the Operation man.
He got a pack of peas for his head.
She delicately removes the letter
from the Operation man’s stomach.
And he fell asleep. He left the key in the door.
She holds up the key and grins.
I locked it.
Pats the mannequin on the head.
I owe you
, she whispers into his ear.
For dinner, Millie invites the Guess Who? people, the mannequin, a hobby horse—the Guess Who? people might be less self-conscious if there is someone else there with just a face—and a toy dog who looks exactly like Rambo. She seats them at the biggest dining table in the furniture section. It is at least double the size of their dining table at home and doesn’t have any coffee-mug rings or candle wax or Millie’s name written on one of the legs. The napkins and place mats and plates and bowls are all white and the same as each other.
She hoists the mannequin onto the chair at the head of the table and sits Rambo on a placemat. The Guess Who? people and the hobby horse stare at her from across the table. She likes how they look at her as if they expect her to do something.
, she says, and skates away, returning with an armful of streamers. She throws them across the table and wraps them around the chairs and ties bows around the forks.
She sets a place for her mum next to the mannequin.
She pulls up a chair for herself between the mannequin and
Rambo, pats down her dress, and adjusts her hat. She feels the mannequin’s eyes on her.
She’s just caught up.
She clears her throat.
, she says, her hands in prayer, squinting at the mannequin through half-closed eyes.
Tonight we will be serving Fanta soup for entrée, snakes and dinosaurs for main, a side salad of mint leaves, and banana sundae for dessert. I hope this is okay with you.
She fills her glass with grape juice.
But first, some toast.
She stands and clinks glasses with all her guests. She does it again, because there’s music to it, she does it faster and faster, and skates around the table,
, and then skates around the other way,
She sits on top of the table instead of in her chair, because she’s The Boss, and they all eat, and talk about how the dog from next door keeps making big poops on their lawn and how Mrs. Pucker always gets fancy makeup in the mail but it doesn’t help her and how Ablett must be very sorry that he switched clubs because his new team plays like a bunch of girls. And the whole time, the mannequin watches her, without blinking, without saying a thing.
he doesn’t know where her dad’s body is.
When they visited her dad in the cemetery he was in a tiny box in the wall.
Dad’s too big for that
, she said.
It’s a magic box
, Millie’s mum replied.
What kind of magic?
Just magic. Okay?
Can I see inside it?
The magic won’t work if you do that.
Yes. Exactly like Santa.
She gave a box of raisins to Perry Lake, one of the big kids at school who knew everything about everything.
What happens to dead bodies after they die?
He shoved a fistful of raisins into his mouth and chewed.
, he said.
On how many boxes of these you got.
The next day, Millie upended her schoolbag at his feet. A pile of raisin boxes poured out. He opened one and emptied the contents into his mouth.
They go hard.
Yeah. And cold.
Do they shrink?
He threw a raisin up in the air and caught it in his mouth.
Dead bodies do not shrink.
Millie’s smothering a heaped bowl of banana lollies with chocolate topping when the thought occurs to her. She puts a hand on the mannequin’s.
Don’t take this the wrong way
, she says, his hand cold and hard underneath hers.
She leans into his face. His eyes look back at her like he is only a drawing.
Are you a Dead Thing?
illie sits in the office in the back of the department store. It looks different in the daylight. There is a desk with pens and paper and paper clips positioned neatly side by side, and an in tray and an out tray that don’t have anything in or out of them. Millie picks up a paper clip and a pen, and puts one in the in tray and one in the out tray. The yellow dress she wore last night is folded in the center of the desk. There’s a big television screen attached to the side wall. She flicks at the Matchbox-car wheels on the bottom of her gumboots.
She opens her Book Of Dead Things, laying it flat on the table and smoothing down the pages. She stares at the picture she drew of her dad’s magic box. The dash pulses at her. Like it
has a heartbeat. She knows about dashes now. That you can carry lots of them around in your pocket.
, the picture says.
She says the word out loud.
Millie had said to her mum. They were standing hand in hand, looking at her dad’s magic box like it was a painting.
, her mum replied.
Her mum cleared her throat.
Millie watched her twist her wedding ring around and around her finger. She had started wearing it again that week.
And everyone else?
Why doesn’t the sign say that then?
She shook Millie’s hand loose, kneeled on the ground, and put her head in her hands.
Millie didn’t move.
Because nothing’s free, Millie
, her mum said.
Not even this shit.
Her mum didn’t look at her as she stood and walked off toward the car.
, she said. Millie took one last look at her dad’s magic box before following.
When The Ladies From Tennis dropped by their house that night, one of them hugged Millie and said,
His body is gone, but his soul is still with us
Is that what’s in the magic box?
It’s in you
, the lady said, placing a flat palm on Millie’s chest.
Millie looked down at the lady’s hand.
How did it get there?
It’s always been there.
Proper girls don’t say, “What.”
Proper girls say, “Pardon me.”
The Lady From Tennis stood to hug Millie’s mother.
Millie said again, but the women didn’t hear her.
The next day Millie went to the milk bar. While the girl who worked there giggled with a boy who didn’t work there, she filled up her schoolbag with raisins and walked out.
What’s a soul?
she said to Perry Lake, after showing him the raisins.
It’s like a heart, but it’s in your stomach
, he replied.
What’s it look like?
Like a really big raisin.
He eyed her schoolbag.
She zipped up her bag and held it behind her back.
What happens to it when you die?
It falls out?
Yeah, like a placebo.
What’s a placebo?
They fall out of women. After they have a baby or whatever.
What do they do with it?
They put it in the freezer and eat it.
No, the placebo. They keep your soul.
Some other freezer.
The school bell rang in the distance. Kids ran past them, yelling and laughing in packs.
, Perry said, rolling his eyes.
I don’t know. I don’t know EVERYTHING.
Could I have it without knowing?
Perry put out a hand. It was long and thin and bony.
Just gimme the raisins
, he said.
The door to the office bursts open. Millie feels the draft from the movement of the door, and it sucks at her clothes like a vacuum. Millie sits up straight in the chair, snaps her book shut and slides it behind her back. A lady stands in the doorway, mid-conversation with someone out of sight.
What about dinner at mine tonight?
the lady says quietly.
It’s a man’s voice.
No? I’m making Mexican?
You’ll just get back to me, then.
Helen, I’m busy for the rest of my life.