Search

Leona Storey


Maple

PROLOGUE

The first sound Missy Miller could remember was the gunshot.

You’d think that a ten-year-old would remember other

sounds before this: a mother’s laugh, or perhaps a mother’s

scolding. A school-bell ringing, a child in the playground

taunting them. But for Missy, the tangled mess of memories

that happened before her father’s suicide on a hot July day in

sleepy, suburban Illinois were just that: a tangled mess.

Childhood for Missy was never easy, but her father had

been the happiest part of her life. Despite his frequent absence

when working back-to-back shifts at the bar-restaurant in the

heart of their small town, he always seemed to be there. She

often joined him in the same garage he would later take his

life in, swaying from one bare foot to the other as she watched

him slide back and forth under various cars.

The cars would change with the seasons, his back sweaty

from lying on a skateboard for easy manoeuvrability. By the

side of him, a beat-up leather radio would be playing WEBN,

belting out rock songs, full of words a child shouldn’t be

learning. It wasn’t reckless, or negligent, but naive. Missy was

Mike’s first and only child. It was the kind of humorous

mistake new parents make.

There was so much innocence in both father and child.

Afternoons in the garage were spent fixing up old cars and

196

SUVs, selling them to make a little extra money to afford the

brand coffee and the cable bill, listening to age-inappropriate

songs. He let Missy hold the spanner, or the changer fluid, or

the crocodile-bites for the battery. Nothing too dangerous.

Mike kept his lonely daughter company. He sympathised

with her inability to meet children her own age. His wife,

Meredith, had fought hard to home-school their child. She

told him she didn’t trust teachers to give the best education

possible. That she could do a better job. That it was their best

option.

But in the end, it was guilt that took Mike’s life rather than

sadness. A guilt that followed him for years. But Missy never

knew this. She never knew why her father killed himself.

Mike Miller had put the handgun into his mouth, the cool

metal sliding between his dehydrated lips. When he pushed

off the safety and pulled the trigger, sending a small bullet

through the back of his throat, he hit his brain stem at just the

right angle. He’d researched it, refusing to become a vegetable

that Meredith would have to water to keep alive. He was

considerate even in the depths of his despair, placing a brown

tarp behind him before shooting himself. It became splattered

with chunks of flesh, something you would buy in bulk at

outlet supermarkets. You’d chop it up, sizzle it in a pan until

the fat melts out and eat it.

Missy was the first to find him motionless, his right hand

resting on his slightly protruding beer-belly, gun hanging

loosely from his left. The sound, stapled to her memory, reappeared in her mind whenever she heard a car backfire or

kids playing with firecrackers. Or maybe, sometimes, it was

an actual gunshot. Somewhere off in the streets that Missy

lived close to.

After Mike’s death, Meredith decided to move across the

state border and into Illinois. She was unable to stay in the

197

Maple

happy family home surrounded by memories of him. She

would’ve had to bleach the house from the roof to the

basement to be free of every part of him. The dusted skin

flakes, fallen hairs on pillows, wire-like pubes in the shower

drain. The only option was to leave. Meredith didn’t even

take any of the furniture. She let it rot.

The sale of the house kept them afloat, though they felt as

though they were drowning, swimming through the grief of

losing a father, a husband. Meredith knew money wouldn’t

last forever, but she couldn’t work the same way Mike did.

Who would home-school Missy if not her? It wasn’t as

though she could send her to public school. Looking after a

child and not working seemed impossible: she’d simply have

to be frugal with their finances.

They moved into a rickety apartment complex that used

to be owned by the government before a pair of investors

bought it out and hiked up the rent. It was still within a less

than desirable neighbourhood, so it could only fetch so much.

So much was the only price Meredith could afford for a twobed with used furniture thrown in.

Missy didn’t like her bedroom in their new apartment. She

was too young to understand how her mother could have felt

in the aftermath of Mike’s death and resented her for

changing their life so much. She couldn’t resent her father or

even think about him. His voice was fading so quickly in her

memory. Whenever she recalled her pleasant memories of late

July evenings spent fixing cars, her father would become

dead in every single one. Underneath bonnets, or sliding out

from skateboards, still and lifeless. Darker than black blood

dripping from what used to be a mouth.

The home-schooling faltered; Meredith was unable to

keep her mind to one subject for longer than five minutes. As

soon as the clock turned three p.m., she would drink a bottle

198

Leona Storey

of wine in front of the television, watching Jerry Springer reruns until sleep came, hugged by alcohol. Enough to stop the

memories of Mike spilling through into her dreams.

It was surprising to Missy how easily you could fall into a

new definition of normalcy. Eating ramen noodles each night

while watching her mother drink their dwindling money

away, sleeping on the threadbare couch.

Missy got through the years in a blur, watching her body

develop and her boredom increase. She decided to start

leaving the apartment and escape the dusty, stagnated air.

Being home-schooled for so long meant a strange sort of

solitude followed Missy everywhere she went. She would be

looked at by the fellow neighbourhood kids as an outsider,

unable to understand why she wasn’t at their school. But

these kids, like Missy, were saddled with lousy parents. They

were inclined to go out to the streets, breaking non-existent

curfews. It didn’t take much loitering around for a somewhat

pretty sixteen-year-old girl to slot into their dynamic.

The teenagers gave little notice to Missy’s presence, even

once they had accepted her as a new part of themselves. They

hung out in public parks and fenced-off fields until the sun

settled over Illinois. They often congregated in the abandoned

children’s playgrounds: spindly legs gripping rusting

monkey bars while the couple of the week, lying on the red

plastic slide, displayed too much affection.

Missy’s heart squeezed when she looked at them, but she

couldn’t tell if it was from her own desire, or the resurfacing

memories of her parents kissing.

‘Ignore them,’ one of the kids said to Missy, catching her

staring at them. ‘That pair once fucked in front of us. They

don’t give a shit about no-one.’

Missy stayed in the background for the most part, wishing

to be under night’s cover, feeling safety in the star-spotted

199

Maple

sky. It made her feel like she was gone, missing. Like she

could disappear into the blackness of it, and not one of these

people would notice.

A boy named Wesley took Missy’s virginity just weeks

after she started fitting in. He seduced her with platitudes of

fake care, like most teenage boys who were desperate to stick

their dick into something. Anything.

When they had sex, he told her he liked her green eyes.

But he never compared them to the colour of summer grass,

or freshly picked mint. He ran his hand through her hair, the

same ginger as her mother’s. Yet he tugged through the

tangles, pulling her scalp, causing her to wince. He opened

the trunk of his car, asked her to bend over, and fucked her,

not caring that it was her first time.

After that, Missy didn’t bother hanging out with the street

crowd or Wesley again. They didn’t notice when she

disappeared. They barely knew her name. Wesley had gotten

what he wanted. She was not permanent. She was always

replaceable.

All Missy wanted was to be an adult. She was tired of

teenagers and was becoming concerned with money. The

fridge was always so empty of late. Missy set out to learn how

to drive her mother’s old ’88 Taurus and get a job.

A shoddy diner called Horton’s, off route eighty-eight,

employed her as a part-time waitress. For half the week, she’d

drive down the deserted roads, far above the speed limit, and

wipe tables, serve food, and clean crap off the public toilet

seats. It paid a little below minimum wage, but the tips were

good, and the manager didn’t ask for anything official, like

social security numbers. Missy liked it because she didn’t

want to ask her mother to find all the right documents. She

didn’t even know if her mother had those kinds of documents

anymore.

With no real basis, Missy believed without doubt that she

would rise within her role. She arrived on time every day. She

always did what was asked of her. Her father would’ve been

proud. And her mother, too, if she ever noticed. Missy was so

good at her job that she never stole money from the tip jar,

except that one time when she really needed gas. Her boss,

Mr. Velez hadn’t even noticed, so it was like it hadn’t even

happened.

A year into working there, the head waitress left, leaving

the position to be filled. The new title didn’t mean much

besides a fifty-cent pay rise and the ability to delegate to the

other waitresses when Mr. Velez was away. To Missy, it

meant power and control. Things she had so desperately

lacked from every other aspect of her life so far. But she

didn’t get it.

When the opportunity came up again a couple of years

later, when Missy was twenty, Mr. Velez hadn’t even

considered her as a prospect. After the previous failure to

secure the promotion, Missy had really believed she would

be the only candidate. Valentina Vacchiano, a woman in her

late thirties with more kids than she had fingers, got the

promotion over Missy.

How could Mr. Velez not consider her, when she was so

clearly better than her colleagues? Especially Valentina

Vacchiano! Missy’d put three years into this job. Her youth

that had turned into labour. Poured down the drain and into

the plumbing of Mr. Velez’s pockets.

‘What the fuck, Mr. Velez?’ She stormed through his

always closed office door, not bothering to close it behind her.

He sat behind his desk, his hands on his laptop keyboard.

‘Missy,’ he started. ‘Please calm down. You are just twenty.

Valentina needs this promotion. She has kids to feed. You’re

still living with your mother.’

‘That’s not fair. Valentina steals all the uneaten cakes at the

end of her shifts. She gives them to her fat-ass children.’

‘I know and I don’t care, they’re only going in the

dumpster anyway.’ Mr. Velez took his black-wire rimmed

glasses off. He rubbed his forehead with his thumb and two

forefingers. ‘I don’t want to be dealing with you, Missy.

You’re a good worker but you are replaceable.’

It was an affront that Missy had never been given before,

a slap directly to the ego. Her brain worked quickly, trying to

worm its way out of understanding what he was saying. It

wasn’t that she wasn’t good enough for the job, or too young,

or simply less in dire need of the position. No: it was that Mr.

Velez himself could not see her for what she was worth. He,

a man of little intelligence and no real skills, couldn’t be

expected to understand her brilliance.

In time, she’d be appreciated. She decided to just keep

waiting.

But three years after Valentina got the promotion over

Missy, little had changed. Missy kept wiping tables, serving

food, cleaning toilets. Occasionally, she’d even be in charge

of making the smash patties on the griddle. If that wasn’t

improvement, what was?

Every fortnight on a Friday was the tip-shelling-out day.

It was an eagerly awaited day for the staff at Horton’s Diner.

On a cool evening at the end of spring, Missy was on one of

the Friday night shifts, and she was eagerly awaiting her

share of the week’s tips.

‘It’s $300 for Val, and $200 for the rest of us,’ one of Missy’s

co-workers, Vivienne, said after counting the cash. She

handed it out one by one until she got to Missy. ‘Here you

go.’ Vivienne said, holding out the money, chewing gum

between her teeth loudly.

Missy took it, trying and failing to hide her disgust at the

smacking sounds the gum was making. ‘You took too long to

count. My shift ended five minutes ago. I better get paid for

that.’

‘It’s five fuckin’ minutes-’

‘So what?’ Missy shoved the $200 into her bra. It was a big

wad of cash, looking bigger than it was because it was mostly

made up of $1s and $5s, so she put half into one cup and half

into the other. She stared Vivienne in the eye the entire time.

Vivienne stopped chewing as she watched, somewhat

bewildered. ‘Gum is disgusting, by the way.’

Missy turned on her heel and left the diner, flitting by the

tables, past customers who didn’t notice her. The door rang

out, striking the bell, as she left.

It was pitch black outside of Horton’s aside from the

floodlights at the carpark entrance that signalled to all drivers

on I-88 that there was a place to eat and piss. She couldn’t see

much other than one man sitting in his car, looking like he

was texting. Missy took no care and walked away from the

lights and into the carpark.

She tugged the knot at the nape of her neck and again at

her hips, undoing the apron as she walked. Seeing her car, she

reached into her right pocket and pulled out the ring that only

held two keys: the one for the apartment, and the one for the

car.

Missy opened the trunk of her car. The light didn’t come

on. She was unsurprised: she couldn’t remember when it

stopped working.

Somewhere across the carpark, a car door slammed shut.

Missy flinched, loud noises always reminding her of her

father, as used to the grief as she was. She balled up the apron,

ignoring her better instincts, and threw in with her other

spare work clothing. She reached up, grabbing onto the trunk

door and slammed it shut.

It echoed against the silence of the parking lot. She could

hear someone walking, the unmistakable crunch of the car

park’s gravel. Just as she was about to pull the keys out of the

trunk lock, Missy felt a slam on her head, heavy and metal.

She blacked out.


2 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All