The Good Little Girl


By Michelle Berry

She hates the way this night has turned out. Crouched now behind the car in the driveway of a house she doesn’t recognize, Missy feels the ache in her knees. Skinned, when she ran away from him. Both knees are bleeding, she’s sure of it, and her mother will ask her what happened and then kill her. It’s dark, even with the streetlights scattered here and there down the neighbourhood. She can’t see anything but the fender of the car, the licence plate, the night around her. She can hear him, though, as he walks down the street, the clip-clop of his hard shoes on the empty pavement. All noise swells—crickets chirping, his shoes, a car turning the corner two blocks away, his shoes, a dog barking in the house behind her, his shoes, her breath. She swears she can hear the click of the street- light on the corner as it turns from red to green. Green means go. Should she go? His shoes, she hears his shoes pounding in her head. He’s walking slower now.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

His voice.

His shoes.

Her breath and blood and heartbeat. Everything is so loud she wants to scream. The dog won’t stop barking in the house behind her. Whose house? Missy doesn’t know. She ran as fast as she could, left Emily and Susan behind, and bolted in the direction of Emily’s house. She thought she would get away from him, that he would chase the other girls, but instead he came after her.

“It’s supposed to be fun,” Missy says to her mother earlier in the day before the sleepover party. “Emily says we’re going to sleep in her parents’ trailer.”


“It’s in their carport. Parked right there. It won’t move.”

“What if it rolls?” Missy’s mother isn’t interested. She is smoking, holding a glass of wine, and watching TV. All at the same time. “It won’t roll.”

“Don’t jump up and down or it might,” her mother says. She butts out her cigarette and looks straight at Missy. “And be good. You’re too young to be bad.”

“I’m not bad.”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“What are you saying?”

“Oh, Miss,” her mother sighs. “You know what I’m saying.”

It’s the old don’t-be-like-me talk. Missy’s heard it a thousand times. Don’t smoke or drink or do drugs. Don’t have sex with older boys. And especially—don’t get pregnant. You don’t want a little girl named Missy asking you if she can go to a sleepover in her friend’s parents’ trailer, do you? When you are only twenty-nine years old and your daughter is twelve. My God. Who wants that? And then you’d end up working at Walmart for nine dollars an hour, and hanging out at the bars after because no one at Walmart is worth dating. No one at the bars is either, according to Missy’s mom, who only brings them home for the night and never sees them again.

Missy thinks this is a typical story. A boring story. She’s heard it over and over again all her life. Yes, I’m sorry I was born, Missy thinks. I’m sorry I wrecked your life. It had such potential. You were going to be so much more. What? Missy never finds out. Her mother never gets that far.

But she loves her mom, even when she gives her that don’t wreck your life speech. Because being twenty-nine years old, her mom is certainly better-looking and more fun than most of her friends’ moms. Sometimes it’s like having a big sister. Soon Missy will fit into her mom’s clothes and then she’ll have two whole wardrobes.

Emily’s mom—now she’s old, with her hair in rollers half the day. And when it’s out of rollers and she has her face on, Emily’s mom looks worse. All her makeup sticks into the wrinkle-lines on her face. Powder-creases there. Her false eyelashes come unstuck and, half the time, are pasted onto her eyelids in precisely the wrong place. Like spider legs, Missy thinks, although she’d never say that to Emily. Emily thinks her mother looks fine and she spends most of her time rolling her eyes at Missy’s mom when she hangs out at Missy’s house.

“God, your mom’s so weird,” Emily says.

Susan’s mother is pretty, in a bland way, but she’s always at school, and so doesn’t seem to have time to wash her hair or iron clothes or speak to anyone. She rushes through the house, holding books and smoking, pushing her glasses up on her nose. Everything in Susan’s house is a disaster, sort of like Missy’s house. Emily’s house, however, is pristine. Missy’s mother has said, “You could eat off the garage floor over there.”

“Did you hear me?”

“What?” Missy looks at the floor. You couldn’t eat off this one. She balances her knapsack on one shoulder. It is full of everything she will need for the sleepover in the trailer. An extra blanket in case it gets cold. A jar of cold cream because they have decided to give each other facials. Some nail polish for the manicures and pedicures (stolen from Shoppers Drug Mart last Wednesday). And two Archie comics and a Teen Beat magazine. Emily is supplying the candy and pop and chips. Susan said she’d bring sleeping bags and she promised not to bring the one her little brother threw up in last year when her family went camping. Besides all that, Missy has a change of clothes, her nightgown, and some underwear. She has also packed an extra athletic bra, even though she doesn’t need more than one. She isn’t sure if she’ll fall asleep with her bra on, and in the morning they are supposedly going shopping at the mall so she’ll want to have something clean. Although Emily and Susan don’t wear bras yet so it might be awkward for Missy to take hers off in their presence. Or so she thinks. Missy isn’t really sure. This is the first sleepover she’s gone to since she’s had breasts. Of course she has a toothbrush and hairbrush as well. And some other things that were in the bottom of the knapsack, things that she decided not to take out: a pink rock, a fake diamond ring, some hard candy, and lint. There’s always lint. How it gets there is a mystery.

“I said I want you back by three o’clock tomorrow.”


“Three. No later.”

Missy’s mother turns back to the TV.

“We’re having Sunday dinner with your grandparents.” Missy starts to leave the house. She turns and heads towards the door.

“Hey, wait a minute.” Missy’s mother gets up from the couch.

She walks unsteadily towards Missy and then takes Missy’s face in her hands. She kisses her on both cheeks.

“Be good.”

“I will, Mom.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.” Missy turns again to leave.

“And whatever you do, Missy,” her mom says behind her, “don’t sneak out of that trailer.”

At Shoppers Drug Mart Missy is stealing nail polish. It is the Wednesday before the sleepover. Her mother is in the next aisle, buying tampons. Missy doesn’t want to be anywhere near her. She puts a blue polish in her pocket and then looks around. She puts a pink one in the other pocket. No one is watching.

Missy’s mother got caught shoplifting when she was fourteen. Missy is twelve. She thinks it’s in her blood. Unavoidable. At least that’s her excuse.

Missy’s mother comes around the corner brandishing her tampons in one hand and two Archie comics in the other.

“You want these, hon?”

“Sure, Mom.”

Missy can feel the weight of her pockets all the way up to the checkout. They are heavy and loaded down, as if she’s carrying refrigerators in them. It’s as if she’s walking stooped. This is bad, Missy thinks.

But no one says anything. Standing in front of the store, Missy wipes the sweat from her forehead while her mother stops to light up a cigarette. At home Missy puts the blue and pink nail polishes in her dresser drawer under the old undershirts she used to wear before she got athletic bras. On Saturday she decides to take only the pink nail polish to Emily’s as Susan will think blue is too weird.

It was Emily who shouted Hey you to the guy in front of Lee’s All-Night Variety Store. He was walking in the dark on the other side of the road, walking slowly past them, they couldn’t see his face. Just a beard, and a toque pulled down low. He was ageless. Hands in his pockets. He was sauntering. Even then Missy remembers his hard shoes clip-clopped. Even then she remembers that he wasn’t wearing running shoes like a normal guy. His shoes clopped slowly. He didn’t look as if he could move fast at all.

“Hey you.”

That’s all it took.

Susan was carrying the licorice in a brown paper bag. She had

one dangling from her mouth.

Emily had Freezies. She had three of them. Again, in a paper bag. Missy had nothing. Her mom didn’t give her any money before she left. She was going to steal something but the Chinese guy behind the counter in Lee’s All-Night Variety Store kept looking at her like he knew what she was thinking. She assumed he did. She assumed he was Lee.

It was midnight. Or around there. Certainly late. And dark. And the roads were deserted. Except for that guy walking slowly in the other direction.

Where was he going?

Where had he come from?

“Hey you.”

“Shhh,” Susan giggled. The licorice, red, dangled from her mouth like an obscene thin tongue. A snake’s flicker. She gobbled it up, passed one to Missy. But just as Missy went to grab the offered candy, the man turned towards them, crossed the street in one huge clip-clopping run, and came straight for them, his hands out of his pockets now, his toque down over his eyebrows.

He was scary.

That’s all that Missy could think. Scary and fast. And why was he wearing a toque in the summer? And a coat? And he ran with his legs stiff and his arms pumping. He wanted to get somewhere fast.

They scattered. All three girls scattered instead of sticking to- gether. How many times had they been told to stay together and yet they took off in completely opposite directions, Missy towards Emily’s parents’ house, Emily up through the old apartment park- ing lot, and Susan down the hill in the direction of the school.

Missy picked the worst way to run. To get to Emily’s house she had to sprint up the hill as fast as she could, then turn right, down the street, and then through the creepy path by the reservoir. Always dark. Always full of corners. You never knew who would be hid- ing there. God, all the times Missy and Susan and Emily had run through there screaming their heads off, afraid and thrilled. Even knowing the path was there, Missy kept going, because through all of the running and panting and yelling—she could hear Susan and Emily shouting far back there—Missy could hear the clip-clop of his feet behind her.

What did he want with her?

She hadn’t screamed hey you. She didn’t have any Freezies or licorice. She had nothing but the wind in her hair and her deep breath and her aching chest.

Run, run, run.

When Missy’s mother says don’t sneak out, it leaves a bitter taste in Missy’s mouth. All the way to Emily’s house Missy can taste it. Because they had planned to sneak out. Of course. But how could her mother know that? It’s not like any of them had talked about it outside of school. Missy wonders if her mother has hid- den some sort of tape-recording device on her. Maybe she hired spies in the schoolyard. Duncan or Phil? Those two are always trying to hang around with Missy and Emily and Susan, always sneaking over and scaring them when they are huddled together talking by the benches. But school has been out for two weeks. Surely her mother can’t really know? She said it because mothers say those things.

Missy feels sick. Along with the bitter taste, there’s the feeling of butterflies in her stomach. An itchy, awkward feeling. And her hands are shaking a little bit. Not too much, but enough for it to be taken as a sign.

Is it a sign?

Don’t sneak out.

What the heck did her mother think? Of course they were going to sneak out. They were going to set up in the trailer in the carport, Emily’s mother was even going to bring out a small tv for them to watch, she was going to have an extension cord running from the plug at the side of the house to inside the trailer. They were going to have flashlights and sleeping bags and pop and chips and candy and tv and nail polish and cold cream for the facials, and they were going to sneak out. If Emily was lucky, she was going to grab a bag of Oreo cookies as well. And they were going to sneak out. Around midnight. Late, at least. When it was re- ally dark and when all the lights were off in Emily’s house. When Emily’s mother was in bed with her hair in rollers and Emily’s father had passed out in the den.

That’s what they were going to do. Of course.

Where were they going to go?

Missy doesn’t know, doesn’t want to know, doesn’t want to care. She just wants to sneak out of the trailer with her two best friends, into the night, and have an adventure. But she knows they will probably end up at Lee’s Variety. They always go there on the way home from school and Missy knows it’s open all night (or why would it be called All-Night?). And Emily says she’s going to get some money from her dad before he passes out. And Susan says she’s saved up her allowance. They’ll get candy and stuff and they’ll walk around in the cool night and just look at things, look at lit-up windows, if anyone is still awake, and talk and tell stories about what’s going on inside the houses. That’s what they’ll do.

They won’t get in trouble.

They aren’t bad girls.

Besides the shoplifting. But Missy figures that if you think about all the horrible things she could get up to in life, the shoplifting is nothing big. It’s only a few nail polishes and occasionally a candy bar. The most expensive thing she’s ever taken is costume jewellery and that was only a nine-dollar pair of cubic zirconia earrings.

Nine dollars. One hour of her mother’s work day at Walmart.

During the pedicure Missy is feeling strange. Emily has her face smeared with cold cream and her hair up in a towel turban. She wanted to get cucumbers from the house and put them on her eyes but Susan wanted to get a pedicure too and so all three girls needed to be there to do each other’s toes.

“Besides,” Emily says, “there’s no way I’m going outside with a turban on and all this guck on my face.”

Missy laughs.

“Imagine,” Susan says, “if Phil saw you like that.”

Phil? Why Phil? Missy feels like she’s missing something. Does Emily like Phil? Gross.

“God,” Emily says. “That would be crazy.”

“Let’s call him,” Susan says. “Let’s call him and tell him to come over.”

“No.” Emily puts her hands on her face in shock and then realizes that she has smeared all her cold cream. She wipes her hands on her bare legs. The girls are all wearing shorts. It’s hot and stuffy in the trailer and Emily’s mom could get only one window open. She wouldn’t let them keep the door open. Mosquitoes, she said, but Missy knows it’s more about safety. With the door shut the trailer feels very safe. Like a sauna. Like jail.

Missy sighs.

“What?” Susan says. “Don’t you like Phil?”

“No, of course not.” Missy can’t imagine liking Phil. He pushes her a lot, pokes her, steps on her toes. Occasionally he says you’re stupid, or pulls her hair. Who would like Phil?

“We don’t have a phone in here,” Emily sighs. “And my mom would know if I brought it outside.”

The girls continue painting each other’s toes. Missy’s stomach is roiling. It could be the pizza they had for dinner, or the nacho chips, or the three cans of pop, or the Oreo cookies, or even the ice cream cake Emily’s mom had for them—like it was someone’s birthday and not just a sleepover. Emily rolled her eyes and said, Mother, but Missy liked the cake and thought it was extra-special nice of Emily’s mom to think of them. Although now she’s feeling kind of sick.

Emily’s mom came out to the trailer with this cake and her face was all shiny like she’d been crying, her eyes swollen, and she presented the cake on a tray and said, “Here you go,” in this musical, magical, too-high voice. Emily said, “Mother.” And then Emily’s mom left and the girls had to eat all the cake really fast because it was melting so quickly. Then the tray sat in the corner and started to smell.

Missy gets up with her cotton-ball-separated toes, walks on her heels over to the tray, picks it up and opens the door and tosses it out onto the front lawn.

“That thing was stinking,” she says.

Emily laughs. “Stupid cake. It’s not my birthday.”

“I guess it’s our beginning-of-summer party, though.” Susan looks dreamily up to the ceiling of the trailer. Missy can see the sweat in her hair, along her temples. She wipes her own face. “I wonder who will be in our class next year. I wonder if we’ll still be together.”

“Let’s go out now,” Missy says. “It’s too hot in here.”

“Our toes,” Emily whines.

“When they dry,” Susan says.

It is not quite midnight and the girls lie on their sleeping bags on the trailer floor and wait for their toes to dry in the hot, stuffy air. They are all a little tired. Missy can feel her bones sinking into the sleeping bag. There is a slight vomit smell coming from somewhere and she really hopes Susan brought the right sleeping bags.

But because it was Missy who said, “Let’s go out now,” it really is Missy’s fault. All of it. Everything that has happened that night is Missy’s own fault.

Serves you right, her mother would say. For being so stupid.

And then she would go on about how stupid she was when she was young and just look at what happened to her.

This is different, Missy thinks. This is the kind of trouble you couldn’t predict getting into. The kind of trouble that just happened. Who knew he would run after her?

The man has passed by the car where Missy is crouching. He is on the street. She is in the driveway. The path to the reservoir and the road back to Emily and Susan lie in the other direction.

Missy thinks, How many people, kids, sneak out all the time and nothing ever happens?

The man is whistling now. Low and strange. A song she’s never heard. Something old-fashioned. The kind of song her grandfather would know.

Her grandfather. He whistles in the work shed, fooling with his tools, and her grandmother is always in the house cursing her mother. Not good for anything. Dress like a whore. Drink too much. Smoke too much. Missy’s mother doesn’t do anything right.

No wonder she got pregnant.

Here is Missy, behind the fender of the car. The big dog in the window of the house behind her is going crazy, barking up a storm.

The man stops whistling and the dog suddenly stops barking and Missy can hear her breath coming out, shallow and ragged.

Go away, go away, go away, go away. It’s all she can think. One hey you. That was all it took. “Come out, come out, wherever you are.”

The clip-clop of his hard shoes. His toque. His beard. His hands in his pockets.

Susan and Emily are probably in the trailer now. They probably took the right path through the reservoir and not the wrong one. Missy didn’t know there was a wrong path. She thought there was only one path. But it’s so dark, so close to midnight, and she is so scared.

“Well, hello there,” he says. Right there, beside where she’s crouching. He is standing directly over her, looking down, a smile on his crooked face. She can see his teeth glint through his beard. She can smell him and he smells like a wet animal, like something wild and sweating.

Missy screams. The dog begins barking again. A loud, low bark. Missy falls back on her bum, her skinned knees in the air.

“Hush,” the man says, and his face is contorted. “Hush.”

He bends down to her and she stops screaming. Just like that her voice disappears. Her mouth is open but nothing is coming out. Missy can’t hear the dog anymore either, as if the man has put a spell on the both of them.

“You’re a good little girl, aren’t you?” he says, reaching down to help her up.

Oh God, Missy thinks. I’m good?

Excerpted with permission from the short story The Good Little Girl, from I Still Don’t Even Know You by Michelle Berry, Turnstone Press, 2010.


Michelle Berry

Michelle Berry’s latest novel is Interference (ECW Press, 2014).