1. Miri MIRI
Poe’s talking black helicopters again. Never a good sign.
“One got real close. Circled right overhead,” Poe says while Miri’s waiting for the coffeepot to finish doing its thing. “Can’t believe you slept through it.”
“I sleep the sleep of the just,” Miri mumbles. Some old quote from some old book; she can’t remember exactly in her precaffeinated state. Meant mostly as a joke. But Poe is serious this morning.
“You don’t think I’m just?”
Miri keeps her eyes on the gurgling black liquid, stays silent. Poe’s her dad—and a lot of other things besides. She does a good job of ignoring those other things. Most of the time.
“Why don’t you stay home today,” Poe says—not a question. He sets a plate on the island counter between them, scoots it forward.
Eggs Benedict—her favorite. Two perfect circles with disks of ham and little cloud puffs of eggs on top of English muffins, sunny yellow sauce smothering everything—hollandaise, he taught her. Cooking used to be their thing. What they did together. In this kitchen. Not in some shack hidden way back in the woods.
“Stay home, Mir. Just for today. Just to be on the safe side.” Poe’s eyes are lasering in. One blue, one brown—a genetic trait Miri wished for when she was little, but is now glad she didn’t inherit. Freaks most people out.
“The safe side of what?” Miri makes herself ask. “What’s going on?”
Surprisingly, Poe’s the first to look away.
“You know what’s going on.” He starts arranging the other two plates of eggs—one for himself, one for his girlfriend (and business partner), Angel. “You’re not stupid,” he says, and that’s the last straw.
“I’m outta here,” Miri says, grabbing her backpack, heading for the door.
“I’ve fixed you breakfast.” Poe’s voice is extra calm, which means a storm is coming.
“I’m not hungry,” Miri tells him, a full-on lie. Her stomach’s rumbling and her brain is fuzzy from lack of coffee. (Why does the machine take so long?) But she can’t stay another second, can’t sit at the table with Poe—and Angel when she stumbles in (she always seems hungover)—and act like nothing’s weird, like they’re one big happy family.
“Get back here!” The storm—with thunder and lightning—has arrived. “I’ve made breakfast for you, young lady, and I expect you to eat it.”
“I said I’m not hungry.” Slamming out the door, pounding down the porch steps.
One by one the yard dogs lift their massive heads as she passes. Silent, all six, except for the clink of chain. They’d tear a man to shreds on Poe’s command, but never so much as bare their teeth to Miri.
Is this Poe’s form of being “just”? Pit bulls lined up across the yard, different intervals to confuse a possible intruder?
“To keep you safe,” Poe said last year when he and Angel brought them home, “set” them up. “To keep folks out of our business.”
And what business is that? Miri had wanted to ask outright, but didn’t. Maybe she is stupid, but what choice does she have?
Poe used to fix motorcycles for a living. Not a lot of money, but enough. Especially since they have a huge garden and chickens for eggs. Especially since they hunt deer and wild turkeys, store the meat for months; go fishing whenever they want. There’s always been plenty to eat. Why does Poe need more?
“Miri!” Poe’s followed her out the door; he’s standing on the porch. “Mir, come back, eat your food.” The storm has passed—for him at least, not for her. “I’m sorry, Mir,” he calls in his back-to-calm voice, but she keeps heading for the garage.
The old 1968 rebuilt Harley Sportster always takes a second kick in the morning. It balks and splutters as she dips and weaves through the deeply rutted driveway—another ploy to keep intruders out. But once she’s on the paved county road, the motor stops complaining. Miri’s able to open the bike all the way up, shoot like a bullet through the straightaways, lean tight and low into the twisting curves.
This is the best part of her day. Leaving Poe and Angel—leaving everything behind. Moving fast and feeling nothing. Except the wind in her face, the wind whipping through her hair. The thrum of the bike beneath her. (“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” more than one biker’s said over the years because Miri has a magic touch with fixing things, same as Poe.)
Only forty-five minutes, though—this time to herself. Forty-five minutes to pretend that she’ll just keep going. Past the tiny town, past the shitty school. Out of the county, out of the state.
What would Poe do if she took off for good? Would he come after her? Would he drag her back, or let her go? She’s almost seventeen but still not legal.
Poe brought Miri here when she was three years old, after her mom died. He wanted to get away from everything, start over, and he chose the hills of Kentucky, or knobs, as they’re called—a kind of mini mountain, a whole ripple of mini mountains melting down toward Tennessee. He nabbed one of the topmost spots, dubbed it Paradise, and the name stuck.
Paradise Knob. Nothing official, nothing written on any map, but that’s what locals call it. And Miri used to actually believe she lived in Paradise, but now she knows better.