Authors: Brooke Davis
Okay then, Stan
, she says brightly, louder now.
I’ll bring over that bruise-dispersing cream for you. We can rub that thing right out.
Millie sees the back of the man as he walks off.
You’re not touching my face, Helen
, he says.
, she says to his retreating back.
You just let me know, won’t you, Stan?
She turns to face Millie.
Helen’s small for a grown-up, but wide, as if all her height has gone outward. The buttons cling to her blouse, like people hanging from a cliff. Millie looks down at the lady’s shoes. Small, black, clumpy.
the lady says, as if she can’t believe how exciting the word is to say. She plonks herself into the chair on the other side of the desk. Her cheeks are pink and round.
Haven’t you got yourself into a pickle?
She picks up a remote from the desk and points it at the wall. The television comes alive.
Millie appears on the screen. It’s hard to make out and it’s in black and white with no sound, but it’s definitely Millie. TV Millie is outside of this office. She walks up to the window, peers through it. Pokes her tongue out. Grabs the keys out of the door handle, and walks away.
Helen presses Pause on the remote. Real-Life Millie looks at TV Millie. It’s so strange to look at herself doing something she’s already done, and that she can’t undo.
Real-Life Millie looks defiantly at Helen. Helen raises both eyebrows. Real-Life Millie raises both eyebrows back.
illie knew the way home but believed her mum was making sure Millie knew how to Do What She Was Told, that she knew how to be Good. So, after a talk with the mannequin at dinner, Millie decided to make things easier for her mum to find her. Using paints from the hardware section, she painted
IN HERE MUM
as tall as she could on the glass of the automatic doors. Backward, of course, so her mum could read it from the outside. She arranged the Connect Four pieces so they formed a right-turning arrow and placed the stand near the entrance. All the mannequins lining the aisles had their arms positioned so they were pointing in the direction Millie’s mum should follow. Some of them held signs.
Stop here for a snack!
said the next mannequin, and Millie placed one of her Roll-Ups in its upturned hand. The Guess Who? people were arranged in an arrow, the houses from Monopoly indicated a left turn, the Twister spinner gestured forward. The nine mannequins closest to the undies each held a letter on a piece of paper to spell
IN HERE MUM
. The mannequin with the Hawaiian shirt held the final
. She hooked some bras together and strung them
from the mannequin’s hand across the aisle, tying them to the top of the Ginormous Women’s Underwear rack like a finish line. Millie decorated the trail with Christmas lights she found in a bargain bin, and then—letting her red boots poke out just a little bit—lay under the giant undies to wait.
But when the shoes came they weren’t gold.
Are you with that man?
Helen is saying.
The singing one?
She opens the desk drawer and begins lining up its contents in a neat row on the desk. A Toblerone wrapper.
He seemed lovely.
An empty juice box.
But is he a little bit.
Fly’s glass jar.
A little bit.
Two hands full of lolly wrappers. She sprinkles them all over the desk, dropping them from high above her head as if she’s showing Millie how rain works.
Soft? In the head? No? Of course not. I’m sorry.
But is he. Slow? A bit?
She leans across the desk and whispers,
She clasps a hand over her mouth.
Oh. Of course not. I’m sorry. I can’t believe I just said that. I didn’t want to remove him from the shop, it’s just that. Stan has very high standards for this place.
Helen runs her fingers thoughtfully over the Roll-Up. She leans toward the doorway.
He’s very particular
, she says loudly. She sits back in her chair.
Does that man, the singing one. Does he. Have a dungeon or anything?
She disappears under the desk, emerges with a pile of board games and places them on the desk in a teetering pile. Connect Four, Battleship, Twister,
Monopoly. She rests an elbow on the top of the pile.
Whips and things? Chains? He doesn’t chain anyone up, does he?
We’re friends since yesterday
, Millie says.
He’s just an old man
, she continues.
You can be an old, lonely man, hanging around girl-children, and be completely normal. Right?
She ducks under the desk again and comes to stand, holding Millie’s backpack in one hand and an open bucket of paint in the other.
The paint slops over the side and drips onto the floor.
It’s society, you know?
Helen pauses, puts the backpack and paint on the table, moves the pile of board games aside, and sits on the desk.
Is all this
, she wiggles her index finger at Millie’s face,
for him? The makeup?
Millie wipes a hand across her lips. There’s a smudge of bright red on the top of her hand, like war paint.
, she says.
Oh, darling, I’m sorry. I had cookies. But Stan
, she says loudly out the doorway again,
Stan ate them. He’ll eat my cookies. When it suits him.
She waits, her ear cocked toward the door.
Stan appears in the doorway and Helen jumps. Millie sucks in a breath. It’s the security guard from last night. He has a black eye. He’s on his mobile phone but he stares at Millie, unblinking, pushing the pads of his fingers into the swelling on his cheekbone.
Well, I’d finished
The Cosby Show
on DVD and wanted to get something else, didn’t I
, he says to the phone.
Didn’t know I was gonna get attacked.
He’s still staring at Millie.
Helen let me out this morning
. Millie’s whole body feels like it’s clenching.
Listen, Ma, can you hang on a tick?
He puts his hand over the mouthpiece.
You better get her something to eat, Helen
, Stan says.
Before they come.
Helen jumps off the desk.
, she says, and opens another drawer. She’s flushed red in the face.
Mentos? They’re surprisingly satiating.
Before who comes?
I’m on a diet
, Helen says.
The Atkins one? Is it Atkins? Or Paleo? You get to smell all the food you want. It’s fantastic.
She looks sideways at Stan.
Not that I need to.
She rips the packet of Mentos, pops two in her mouth and two on the desk for Millie. Millie picks them up and chews them greedily.
Go on a diet, I mean. I’m not one of those women who worries about those sorts of things. It’s more about treating myself like I deserve. It’s very empowering.
Stan rolls his eyes.
, he says.
Just get her something proper, okay? They’ll be here soon. They got a ways to travel so she needs to be fed.
He gives Millie a last look, turns, and leaves.
Millie hears him say into the phone as he walks away.
No, it was a little kid. I’m not suing her, Ma. Mum! I’m not. Well, they left her here, didn’t they? They can’t have much.
He’s lovely, isn’t he? Stan?
She looks out the door and spits the Mentos into a tissue.
Millie says. She is sick in the stomach.
Mum will be here
, she adds.
She’s just. Lost.
, Helen says, throwing the tissue into the rubbish bin by her feet and wiping her hands on her pants.
I’m sure she is.
My dad died. But my mum will be here.
She walks around to Millie’s side of the desk and kneels on the ground in front of her. She grabs one of Millie’s hands and holds it with both of hers.
How did he pass? Oh, don’t answer that.
Helen talks like she is surprised by the words that come out of her own mouth, as if someone else is saying them.
Don’t. If you don’t want. But if you want. How? Was it? That he passed? Was he into. Gambling? A little bit? Did he get mixed up in something?
They gave him drugs at the hospital.
Was it. A mental hospital?
Forget I said anything.
He had cancer.
Oh, sweetheart. I had cancer once. Well, I thought I did. Terrible time. Terrible. Turns out it was just a very big boil.
My mum will be here.
Right on my neck. Right here. Terrible time. What? Of course. Sweetheart. Of course she will.
A phone rings in Helen’s pocket. Helen jumps to her feet and answers it.
Yes. Yes. She’s right here. Of course, yes.
She hangs up.
Oh, darling. They’re coming for you.
Child Services. They’re so fantastic with abandoned children.
They’ll give you another mum and dad for a little while. Until they find yours.
Through the doorway, Helen watches Stan laugh with a young female staff member.
But Mum said to wait here.
I know, darling. I know. But.
She sighs and walks to the door, putting her hand on the doorframe and watching Stan.
Some people don’t always say what they mean.
Millie grips her Book Of Dead Things tightly behind her back. Helen whips around to face Millie. Her body wobbles under her shirt. The button people claw desperately at the cliff edge.
Oh, don’t worry, darling. They’ll love you. You’re adorable. Now, darling, just wait right here. Yes? Promise? Yes?
She pauses and they stare at each other.
I’ll bring back juice. And cookies. Yes?
Without waiting for an answer, she walks out the door.
Millie watches Helen walk away and out of sight. She wants to throw up. A kid walks by the open office door with his mum and screams,
But I wanted the blue one!
Millie wants to scream in his face,
But I want my mum!
Millie rips off the Matchbox cars from the bottom of her gumboots and climbs down from the chair. She grabs her bag and puts the toy cars inside. She takes a quick look out the door. No Helen. No Stan. She takes a deep breath and runs as fast as she can in the direction of the café. Her bag slides up
and down her back. Down the aisle with the brooms and cloths and mops in bright colors. Past the photo lab, people flicking through photos on bright screens. Past the CDs and phones and electrical gadgets. Millie hides behind a cardboard cutout of a famous singer when she sees Stan coming. He flicks through the DVDs and mumbles to himself.
Got it, got it, don’t want it, got it
, he says. His phone rings.
Yeah? Yeah, yeah, I’ll be there.
He walks right past her and doesn’t see her.
At the café, Karl is in his usual spot. Millie hides behind her usual potted plant. She spies Helen at the counter.
Ba-boom. Ba-boom. Ba-boom.
Just a small bit of cake, please
, Helen’s saying to the girl behind the counter.
The carrot cake, please. Yes, just two pieces, please. Yes, please, that one. Great, thank you, just the three pieces, that’ll be fine.
, Millie whispers.
Karl sits up and turns toward the potted plant.
, he says.
She pokes her head around the fern leaves.
Just Millie? Where have you been?
From the cover of the potted plant, Millie gives him a rundown of events since she last saw him.
First the mannequin saved my life. Then I stole a key. Then the security guard was locked in. Then we had dinner. Rambo was there. And the hobby horse. And the Guess Who? people. And the mannequin. I’ll introduce you later. And then I asked the mannequin if he was a
Dead Thing. And then I tried to help Mum. And then Helen offered me juice and cookies, but I didn’t get either. And then my new mum and dad were coming. And then I escaped. And then I found you. Are you going to eat that?
Karl hands her his muffin.
, she says, her mouth full.
Escaped from who?
. Millie points and ducks as Helen, no more than twenty meters away from them, talks to a customer.
They’re not for me
, Helen says.
I’m on a diet. The North Beach one? Kate Moss uses it. You can hold all the food you like.
Karl looks the other way as Helen walks past them and back toward the office.
An escape, you say?
We’re getting you out of here. Right now
, he says loudly. The girl looks up at him from behind the coffee machine.