Be the Girl

Be the Girl by K.A. Tucker

To Lia,

All of my greatest hopes for you.

And many of my worst fears.

Don’t let anyone take away your smile.


August 25, 2018

Dear Julia,

I’m writing this because I promised Mom I’d start keeping a journal. A diary, I guess I should call it. Dr. C. said it would be a good way to channel my deepest thoughts and feelings, so I don’t bottle things up again. Between you and me, I think Dr. C. smokes a lot of weed. I’d rather keep my deepest thoughts safely locked inside my head where they belong. But I’ve put Mom through hell these past months. I’ve seen her cry way too much. So … here we are. I have no idea where we are, actually. Somewhere near Brandon, Manitoba, I think the sign back there said. I knew a Brandon once. In second grade, someone dared him to drink a bottle of red paint during art class. It was nontoxic, but he had to be closely monitored in art class after that.

What do people write about in diaries, anyway? Dr. C. said to start with the basics—how I feel about our big move across the country and beginning at a new high school, where I don’t know a soul. You know, easy things. As long as I’m being honest, she said, because the only person I’ll be lying to in here is myself. I’d prefer to call it denial.

She also said that if “journaling” feels weird or pointless, pretend I’m writing a letter to someone. Even an imaginary someone. So … hey, Julia. I’ll try not to bore you. Mom promised that my diary would be off-limits to her snooping, but I don’t believe that for a hot second, so expect a lot of mind-numbing entries about grade eleven English and my mother, until I can find a good hiding place for this at Uncle Merv’s.

Until next time,

Aria Jones

P.S. I’ve written my new last name at least a thousand times on this drive so far. If I still screw it up, I’m a lost cause.

Mom casts a nervous smile at me as we wait for the front door to open.

“Do you think he fell asleep?” Light flashes through the gauzy curtains of the small, white house’s bay window, and a buzz of voices carries. A TV is on somewhere inside.

“I hope not. But it is late.” Her forehead wrinkles, checking her watch. “He’s usually in bed by seven.”

It’s after eleven now. And Uncle Merv is eighty years old.

“Maybe he can’t hear over the TV?” I roll my shoulders to loosen them. Three twelve-hour days in the CR-V and motel sleeping has left me stiff and aching for my bed.

Too bad Mom sold it.

It would’ve been too big for my new bedroom at Uncle Merv’s, she promised, as I watched two men march out the door with the plush queen-sized mattress in their hands and triumphant grins on their faces. They scored a great deal. Everyone who came through our house during the rushed “everything must go” contents sale Mom threw together scored big, leaving us with just enough to fill our car and a small U-Haul cargo trailer. It was a hasty departure—a decision she made only a month ago, solidified after a phone call to an uncle I’ve never met and an I-quit-my-lawyer-job-today-let’s-start-over-somewhere-new dinner conversation over cold Hawaiian pizza.

The hinges on the metal storm door screech as she pulls it open to knock on the wooden door again, this time harder.

Still no answer.

“What do we do now?” I take in our surroundings. The remnants of a plant sit by my feet, brown and shriveled within its forest-green ceramic pot. Next to it is a worn wooden bench on a porch that has lost half its white paint to peeling. To my left, a hedge of leggy bushes runs along the property line, hiding whatever’s beyond. The gardens are overgrown, the bushes threaded with long grass.

Even in the dark of night, it’s clear that Uncle Merv’s modest two-story home is the most neglected of the four houses in this cul-du-sac, surrounded by farmers’ fields, on the outskirts of Eastmonte, Ontario.

Mom tests the door handle and finds it unlocked. “I guess we go in. This is our home now, too.” She shrugs and pushes the door open. “Hello?”

My nose crinkles with disgust.

The air inside the house smells rotten, though I can’t be more specific. Mom smells it, too; I can tell by the way her nostrils flare. That’s the first thing I notice when I trail her through the cramped doorway. The second thing I notice is that we’ve stepped back in time. To which decade, I can’t be sure, but it involves tacky rose-patterned wallpaper, lace curtains, and wood everything.

“Hello? Uncle Merv?” Mom calls out again.

“Debra? Is that you?” A gruff voice calls from our left. A hefty, white-haired man struggles to haul himself out of the salmon-pink wingback chair that faces a TV, no more than four feet from the screen. “I’m sorry, my hearing isn’t the greatest anymore.”

Mom’s tired face splits with a wide smile as she traipses across the living room of mismatched furniture and floral wallpaper to embrace him. “You had us worried for a minute.”

“Worried about what? That I finally kicked the bucket?” He chuckles, returning her hug, his rotund belly making her slight frame seem all the more slender. “Likely soon, but not yet. How was the drive?”

“Oh, fine.” She waves it off, as if a thirty-six-hour road trip through flat lands and remote forest with everything you own is nothing. “I’m so sorry we’re late. There was a terrible accident near Elliot Lake this morning and the road was closed for hours. A car … a moose …” She grimaces. “Anyway, we’re glad to finally be here. Uncle Merv, this is my daughter, Aria.” She gestures toward me and I step forward, feeling my uncle’s clouded eyes settle on me.

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