Bernadine was starting to feel a little better. Her dad always played the radio in the car and she liked the song that was playing. The car was warm and the sun was shining on her face. Her dad had his window open just a bit and the wind was blowing Bernadine's hair around in a funny way. Her mom used to always drive with the windows down and the music turned up loud. They would all go for car rides together and dance around in their seatbelts, singing pop songs at the top of their lungs, even her dad! Usually he would get the words wrong but in a silly way just to make Bernadine’s mom laugh and shake her head at him. Bernadine smiled as she remembered that.
But then they pulled into the driveway of their little house on Griffin Street and Bernadine’s smile faded into a frown. Parked in front of her house was a little white mini-van with the side door open. Bernadine could see boxes and big garbage bags crammed in the back of the van. She thought that was odd. She knew that the van belonged to her Aunt Sylvie who was her mother’s sister although Bernadine was sure that Aunt Sylvie must have been adopted because she was nothing like Bernadine’s mom. Where Bernadine’s mom was sweet and patient and full of fun, Aunt Sylvie was firm and practical and full of rules that ruined any chances of having fun.
Aunt Sylvie was very neat and tidy. There was never any clutter in her house or garbage in her car. As soon as you put something down in Aunt Sylvie’s house, she would swoop in and say “Are you done with that? If you are done with that, put it back where it goes. That is not where it goes.” Even if it was a book you were reading and you had to go to the bathroom, you couldn’t leave your book on the coffee table and get it when you came back. Oh no. You had to put your bookmark in it, take it to the bookshelf, put in back on the bookshelf (in alphabetical order, of course) and then you could go to the bathroom. It kind of made you want to not bother doing anything at all when you were at Aunt Sylvie’s house but then, she would find you something else to do, like clean the toilet or re-organize her sock drawer.
So, that’s why Bernadine was surprised by the clutter and mess in Aunt Sylvie’s mini-van. It seemed very unlike her. For a split second, Bernadine thought, what if Aunt Sylvie was moving in with them and this is how she is taking her stuff over to move into their house! That would be horrible and would definitely be the topper to this rotten no-good day she was having. Ugh. Bernadine hoped that was not what was happening.
Bernadine’s dad had already gotten out of the car and had opened her door, waiting for her to climb out. She grabbed her backpack and her jacket and slid out of the car. Her dad was quiet now, looking at the house sadly. He looked a little sadder than usual. “Dad…” Bernadine started to say but then he looked down at her and ruffled her hair. “Listen, kiddo. Before we go in, I should tell you…”
Before he could tell her anything, Aunt Sylvie interrupted from the doorway of the house. “Well, well, well...who do have here? Is that our little Bernadine? She doesn’t look that sick, Nathan, does she look sick to you? Did you take her temperature? Did you ask the school what her symptoms are? I think the best thing for her would be some cod liver oil, does the body a world of good. And I guarantee you are not feeding that child enough turnips. I’ll fix that tonight. I’ll make my special turnip and mackerel fish cakes. That’ll fix her right up.”
Bernadine gagged a little at the thought of cod liver oil, mackerel AND turnips. There was no way she could choke that down by drinking an extra mouthful of juice. She’d have to drink the whole pitcher. Plus, Aunt Sylvie didn’t believe in kids drinking juice. Rot your teeth out of your head and give you the hyperactivity to boot, she’d say. Nope, the only drink Aunt Sylvie approved of was, you guessed it...milk. Double yuck.
Bernadine wondered how long Aunt Sylvie was planning to stay.
All Bernadine wanted right now was to go to her mom’s room, climb into her closet and snuggle into her mom’s clothes. That was the safest place she knew. Nothing could hurt her there. And with any luck, nobody would be able to find her there and they would eat supper without her. Maybe she would just stay in her mom’s closet all night. She could take down her mom’s winter coat and make a bed out of that on the floor and just curl up in that snuggly small darkness and breath in her mom’s smell all night long which would be sure to make her mom come visit her in her dreams. Maybe this time, Bernadine would actually win the dream-game and when she woke up and opened the closet door, there her mom would be, sleeping in her big bed. Her mom would be so surprised to find out that Bernadine slept in her closet all night. “You are a silly bear, Bernie-bear” she would say and then she would tickle her until she laughed out loud.
“Nathan! Will you come and look at this? I can’t understand how your broom closet is organized. Does it go alphabetically and if so, why on earth is the broom next to the shovel when the rake is all the way over here! Or do you have it organized by season. Now, that might make sense if you….” Aunt Sylvie’s voice faded away as she went deeper into the broom closet. Now was Bernadine’s chance to disappear. She dropped her jacket and her backpack in the kitchen and quickly headed for her mom’s room. She could still hear Aunt Sylvie’s muffled voice talking about dustpans and garbage bags from the broom closet. Bernadine opened the door to her mom and dad’s room. She had made it.
But, something was different. The curtains were down and the room was full of bright sunlight that stunned Bernadine for a moment. The bedding was gone from her parent’s bed. Her mom’s books were gone from the bookshelf and all of her make up, her perfume and her little angel ornaments were missing from her make-up table. The room was so bright and white and empty. Bernadine spun around. The closet door was open. She ran over to it and then hesitated. She wasn’t sure she wanted to look inside but she had to. She stepped into her mom’s closet and it was completely empty. Even the fancy coat hangers her mom had for her good sweaters were gone. Her coats were gone. Her dresses were gone. And worst of all, her smell was gone. Bernadine took a giant sniff as hard as she could just in case there was even a tiny little bit of mom’s sweet scent left but all she could smell was lemon and something sharp like bleach that burned her eyes and make her throat hurt like she had swallowed a mouthful of razor blades.