NaNoWriMo - Day 12 - Bernadine


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.

NaNoWriMo - Day 10 - Bernadine


Bernadine did not have long to cry.  It felt like just a few minutes had gone by from when she put her head down on her desk in the silent, empty classroom until she heard the loud voices of room 3b coming back up the hall, followed swiftly by a lot of “shhhhhhhh’ing” from an exasperated sounding Ms Crabbe.  Bernadine thought that Red Rover might not have been as much fun as the substitute teacher had remembered it being when she was a little girl.

Ms Crabbe came into the classroom first as the rest of the kids changed back into their indoor sneakers and hung up their jackets in the hall.  Bernadine hoped that maybe somebody had told Ms Crabbe what a jerk Charlotte was being outside and maybe she would come over and pat her on the head and say “There, there, everything will be ok.  Just ignore that Charlotte kid, oh, and she is going to get detention in the basement for a year for being so mean to you” but...that’s not what Ms Crabbe said at all. Bernadine still had her head on her arms but was peeking out just a little bit, enough to see Ms Crabbe come and stand right in front of her desk with her arms crossed tight across her chest.  Arms crossed tight across your chest was never a good sign. Arms crossed tight like that meant mad. And maybe yelling. And maybe going to the principal. And definitely not patting-you-on-the-head-to-make-you-feel-better. Bernadine sighed.

“Well?  What do you have to say for yourself?”  Ms Crabbe barked.

Bernadine was quiet.  What could she say? The other kids were starting to file back into the class now.  That stupid Charlotte was even pretending to limp. No one was saying anything, everyone was watching the teacher standing tall and cranky-looking over Bernadine’s desk like a dragon who ate sad little girls for breakfast.  Bernadine’s belly hurt and she just wanted to go home. She closed her eyes really tight and tried to picture home. Her bed. Her blankets. Her dolls. Her mom. Her belly hurt even more now.

“Are you even listening to me?  Little girl, look at me!” the substitute teacher’s voice was shrill now, like a broken siren.

Bernadine sat up and looked at the teacher.  She wished more than ever that Miss Edwards was here, Miss Edwards with her soft sweaters and sweet voice.  She would have understood what happened. She would never screech at Bernadine, she would have taken Bernadine aside and asked her for her side of the story.  And she would have listened.

But she was not here.  And this shrieking screeching vulture of a woman was.  But Ms Crabbe was now pointing one bony arm at the door, telling Bernadine to go to see the principal, he would deal with the likes of little girls like her.  Bernadine stood up and walked slowly towards the door staring at her feet the whole time. If she had looked around, she would have seen that only Charlotte looked smug and happy that Bernadine was in trouble.  She would have seen that most of the other kids looked worried for her...especially Sally. Sally felt tears burn her eyelids a little and had to blink a whole bunch of times to keep them from spilling down her cheeks.  Not because she didn’t want Charlotte to see her cry, but because she didn’t want Bernadine to see because that might make her feel even more scared. But Bernadine didn’t look up. She just shuffled out of the door slowly and sadly and then Ms Crabbe clapped her hands sharp and said “Now.  Let’s start silent journalling.”

NaNoWriMo 2018 - Day 9 - Bernadine

“Ewwwww.  What’s that smell?” Charlotte sniffed the air.  “I smell pee. Bernadine, I bet there is boy’s PEE on your shoe!  Gross!”

Some of the other kids started laughing.  Ms Crabbe was up at the front of the group talking loudly about the importance of fresh air and brisk walks.  She was not paying attention to the little group of kids who were now around Bernadine whispering “Ewwwwww….Bernadine has pee on her shoe...that’s there are germs crawling all over her feet.”

Bernadine’s face was bright red now and she really, really just wanted to be back at home in her warm, safe house with her dolls and her books and...her mom.  She was tired of all of this and just wanted to go home. Ms Crabbe was now telling everyone to split into two groups and line up across from each other. “We are going to play a fun game that I remember playing as a child called Red Rover!”  It involved each team lining up across from each other holding hands tight. One team would call out “Red Rover, Red Rover we call somebody over” but they would actually say somebody’s name and then that kid would have to run as fast and as hard as they could at the other team to try to break through their line.  Bernadine did not like the sound of this game. It sounded rough and mean and maybe a little scary. And to make matters worse, Bernadine and Charlotte were on the same team. Charlotte immediately started acting like she was captain of the team even though nobody said anything about a captain. Yet she started ordering everyone around telling this person to hold hands with that person, and which person should stand where.  Naturally, she was going to hold hands with Sally and Jessica. But when Bernadine tried to fit into the line, Charlotte said “No, Bernadine. Nobody wants to hold hands with someone that’s got pee on them, that’s not fair. Go stand at the end of the line by Billy.”

Now Billy got all mad looking and said “What!  Why? I am not holding hands with her!” Charlotte said “Just pretend to hold her hand...hold her sleeve...and don’t breathe through your nose, then you won’t smell her yucky shoes.”

That was it.  Bernadine had had enough.  There was no stupid pee on her shoe.  It’s not the like the boy’s bathroom floor was covered in pee.  It’s not like her shoe was in the toilet. It wasn’t even wet! Bernadine was mad, like, really, really mad..she felt like she couldn’t catch her breath.  Ms Crabbe had finished talking to the other team and was now calling out for Bernadine’s team to get into line. “Bernadine, go to the end of the line!” Charlotte snapped quickly.  


“What?  What did you just say”  Charlotte looked surprised.  Everyone in the line looked surprised.  It suddenly got very quiet.

“I said no.  I don’t have to listen to you.  You are not the boss of me, you are not the boss of anybody.”  Bernadine started walking towards Charlotte. Her voice was quiet at first but getting louder as she got closer to Charlotte.  Charlotte let go of the other girls and put her hands on her hips and started to say “Bernadine, nobody wants pee on their….”

That was it.  Before Bernadine even thought about what she was doing or the trouble she would get into for doing it, she had taken her shoe off and whipped it at Charlotte.  It hit Charlotte in the leg, but just barely, Bernadine was never very good at baseball but Charlotte looked stunned. “There, now there’s pee on YOUR leg” Bernadine said and some of the other kids laughed.

Charlotte was dead quiet for a second then suddenly dropped to ground, crying without tears and screaming “owwww, owww, owwwwww, Bernadine just hit meeeee”  Ms Crabbe was yelling, Sally and Jessica were trying to help the injured and hysterical Charlotte to her feet and the other kids were now running around and playing “tag, you’ve got pee germs!”  It was complete and utter chaos.

Bernadine picked up her shoe, put it back on and walked back to room 3b.  She could hear Ms Crabbe yelling at her to come back, but she didn’t really want to.  She was going to go back to her class, sit at her desk with her favorite journal and favorite pencil, put her head down on her arms and have a little cry.

NaNoWriMo - Day 8 - Bernadine


The bus finally chugged into the parking lot of the school.  Bernadine had decided that the bus was not nearly as much fun when you were sitting by yourself but it wasn’t totally horrible. She never really looked out the window on the drive to school before because usually she was too busy being goofy with Ollie to notice anything.  But today, she saw a little old lady walking her cat on a leash just like it was a dog. The cat had a pink collar and was walking very prim and proper which looked funny.  She saw a big transfer truck that honked its horn really loud three times. She even thought she saw two black ravens sitting in a big tree in the woods right across from her house.  It looked an awful lot like they were talking to each other and one of them looked right at her with its beady black eyes and Bernadine was sure it smiled at her. Her mom used to read her fairy tales about glossy black ravens that turned into handsome princes that kissed dead princesses with shiny yellow hair and pale skin to bring them back to life.  But Bernadine loved the stories about the little girls with blue-black hair and ruby red lips that got lost in the woods and were able to talk to the animals who would help them find their way back out of the forest the best. But anyway, it couldn’t have been a raven, she thought, as they picked up speed and pulled away from the bus stop…there are no ravens around here, only crows.  And there are definitely no ravens that smile at you, except maybe in fairy tales, of course.

The mornings at school were always very busy.  Everyone was pushing and shoving and running into each other up the stairs and down the hall even though the teachers would tell them to slow down! and don’t run! and hurry up, you are going to be late!  Bernadine put her backpack on her hook and changed into her indoor sneakers as quick as she could and hurried into room 3b. She slid into her seat just as the first bell rang. Some kids didn’t care if they were in their seats when the first bell rang like you were supposed to be but Bernadine cared. She didn’t like to not follow the rules. She didn’t like to hear Miss Edwards say her name crossly. And she definitely did not ever want her name written up on the board under the big chalk sad face because not only did that mean she would miss recess but also, the other kids always teased you after and said “oooooooh, you’re in tr-ou-ble!” and she knew that Charlotte, especially, would love to see her get in trouble.  Charlotte did lots of stuff that should have gotten her into trouble but Charlotte would always find a way to get out of it. Mostly, she just blamed someone else. And everyone was too scared of her to tattle. Sally and Jessica would always back her up. “Yes, Miss Edwards, we saw Billy mark on that desk” even though they all knew that Billy did not have a pretty pink marker and, if he did, he would not draw a heart on Charlie Peterson’s desk.  But, somehow, Charlotte never, ever got in trouble.

“Good morning, room 3b” Bernadine looked up.  That was not the familiar voice of Miss Edwards.  Oh great, Bernadine thought, a substitute. Bernadine hated days when Miss Edwards was not there and they had to have a substitute teacher.  For one thing, she didn’t really like change very much, especially change that was also a surprise. She liked everything to be as she expected.  She liked things to happen at the same time on the same days in the same order with the same people. This day was not going at all as she had expected.  First no Ollie and now, no Miss Edwards. But, her mom would say, “Well, it can’t get worse so it’s gotta get better” so Bernadine took a deep breath, took out her pencil case and notebook and waited to start her silent writing which was how class started every morning.

The substitute teacher was a skinny looking woman with a sharp, pointed nose that looked a little like a beak.  She wore gym pants with a bright pink stripe on the side and a zip up jacket which Bernadine thought made her look like a gym teacher not a teacher-teacher.  Miss Edwards always wore dresses with tiny flowers and little buttons at the neck that she paired with soft sweaters in pale pink or yellow. She always smelled like the purple lilacs that Bernadine’s mom loved to cut from the neighbor’s lilac bushes since Bernadine’s house didn’t have any lilac bushes of their own.  This substitute teacher looked like she would smell like gym socks and that stuff you put under your arms to stop the sweat from coming out. “Quiet now! Quiet! My name is Ms. Crabbe and I will be…” There was a sudden burst of giggles from around the room. Did she really say her name was Ms. Crab, Bernadine thought?  Crab like a crab, like in the water, bites at your ankles, cranky as a crab kind of crab? That’s weird.

The other kids must have thought so too because there were whispers of “crabbypatty crabapple crabby pants” and giggles and snorts of laughter going around the room like a little wave.  This was part of the reason why Bernadine hated substitute teacher days because everyone, even the good kids, acted up a little. It was always a little noisier and a little more hectic and definitely more confusing.  The new teacher would not know their names or where they were really supposed to sit or that right now, the class should be already writing in their journals silently. But this teacher didn’t seem to know that and was trying to talk and make everyone else quiet at the same time.

“Ms. C-r-a-b-b-e”, she wrote it out on the board as she said it out loud slowly.  Billy Peters’ hand shot up into the air.

“Yes, you there?  Boy in the yellow shirt…what do you need?”

“Um…don’t that spell Crabby.  Cause, it’s like, crab – BE. Crabby.  Right?” He looked around very proud of himself.  Some of the other boys giggled.

“Doesn’t that” the teacher corrected him.

“Doesn’t that what?”  Billy was confused.

“Doesn’t that spell Crabby?” the teacher said.

“Well…that’s what I’m asking ya?  Don’t it spell crabby?”

At this point the teacher sighed very loudly and told them that her name was Ms. Crabbe that sounds like crabs that live in the sea and now can we just move on because we are wasting time.

Finally, thought Bernadine.  Now maybe we can get back to normal and start doing our silent journaling.  She took out her favorite pencil with the heart eraser and sat up straight, ready to work.

But the teacher, Ms Crabbe, had a different plan.  A stupid plan, if you asked Bernadine. But she didn’t ask Bernadine.  Instead, she said that everyone should go put their shoes and jackets on because they were going outside.  Outside! In the morning! And it’s not even recess! AND they were supposed to be doing journaling…silent journaling…quiet silent all by yourself journaling…with your favorite pencil.  And now instead, Bernadine was in a crowded hallway trying to find her other sneaker which was there just a little while ago but now seemed to have gone missing. She looked under backpacks and lunchboxes.  The other kids were all pretty much ready to go but Bernadine was still hopping around on one foot trying to find her missing sneaker when Ms. Crabbe suddenly said “You! With the red hair! Stop playing around and wasting time.  The whole class is waiting for you!”

Bernadine’s face felt like it had just caught on fire, it was so hot.  The teacher had yelled at her. Out loud. In front of everyone. For something that wasn’t even her fault!  She couldn’t help it that she couldn’t find her shoe. And now, her eyes were getting all full of tears and her nose was burning and she knew she was going to cry but she was trying really, really hard not to cry but she knew she was going to cry.

“Yes, Bernadine.  Please hurry. You are making us all wait.”  Charlotte’s know-it-all voice came from across the hall.  That made Bernadine mad. She looked over at Charlotte and saw her sneaker on the floor right next to where Charlotte was standing.   Charlotte smiled sweetly and then quietly kicked Bernadine’s shoe across the hall and right into the boy’s bathroom.

Bernadine did not know what to do.  She obviously could not go in the boys bathroom!  If only Ollie was here, he would have gone in and gotten her shoe for her.  The crabby teacher was busy growling at another kid and didn’t see what Charlotte had done and Bernadine knew that she should just tell the teacher where her shoe was but she had already been yelled at once and felt like her voice was stuck somewhere down in her belly and wouldn’t come out.

Sally was standing next to Drew, the quietest boy in the class who liked to draw robots and dragons on all of his books.  She whispered something to him...she wasn’t worried the teacher would hear, but she was scared that Charlotte would hear. Drew didn’t answer her but after a moment or two, he quietly walked into the boys bathroom and handed Bernadine her shoe when he came out.  He didn’t say a word but went back to his spot in the line.

Charlotte looked like she had just swallowed fire.  Her face got red and her eyes were all squinted-up mad like.  She stared at Bernadine from across the hall but Bernadine would not look at her, concentrating very hard instead on putting her shoe on.  

“All right then, everyone is finally ready, let’s go outside!”  Ms Crabbe’s shrill voice called out and room 3b trooped outside.  Bernadine breathed a sigh of relief now that the attention was not focused on her anymore.  But Charlotte was not done with Bernadine yet.

NaNoWriMo - Day 6 - Bernadine


The day that Bernadine ventured into the woods across the street was the same day that she said no to Charlotte.  The morning had started off the same as any other for Bernadine. She had been dreaming about her mom. That happened a lot ever since that day her mom went away forever and ever.  Bernadine didn’t mind though. It was kind of like Mom was visiting. Most nights, Bernadine could not wait to get into bed and fall asleep and hope that Mom would be there, waiting for her.  Sometimes they did funny things, like make snowmen out of whipped cream and sometimes they just walked in the park or rode bikes (which was kind of funny, because Bernadine didn’t even know if her mom could ride a bike) but the dreams always ended the same way.  Bernadine was always a little panicky at the end of the dream, like she sensed morning was coming and that Mom would float away again. The end of the dream was always like a game, a scary game because there was always something she had to find to give to Mom so she could stay but Bernadine could never find it in time.  One night it was a red balloon but all the balloons kept floating away as soon as she went to reach for them. Another night it was a smooth pebble on a beach full of sand. Every time she would see the pebble, the sand would shift silently and take the pebble further away from her. This time, it was a leaf…a golden leaf but it was high up on a maple tree.  At first, Bernadine was happy because if there was something Bernadine was good at, it was climbing trees. Good Golly Miss Molly you must be part monkey girl her mom would say. Bernadine looked up in the tree and saw the gold leaf glittering at the top, standing out amongst the reds and yellows of the fall leaves. It didn’t even look that high. Bernadine had felt a thrill of excitement in her belly.  She could do this one. She could get that leaf. Then Mom could stay here forever and ever.

Excitedly, Bernadine had wrapped her skinny arms and legs around the trunk of that maple tree and started to scurry up it.  Hold on tight, scooch up a bit, hold on tight again. She was going fast. She looked down, she was so high…she could feel the rustle of leaves all around her, she would be at the top any second now…she looked up…but suddenly the top was so much higher than it was before.  It was like the stupid tree was growing as fast as she was climbing. In fact, it was growing faster than she could climb it. BUT THAT’S NOT FAIR she said. You are not playing fair. The bark was scratching her bare arms and the branches were getting tangled in her hair, slowing her down.  She was trying her best not to cry and trying so hard to climb fast, she was running out of time…and then she woke up in her own bed, tangled in her sheets and her pillow was wet from crying.

And her mom was gone.


Bernadine got out of bed and pulled out her clothes.  Her mom used to set her clothes out for her and knew what she needed for each day.  On gym day, she would lay out her gym clothes and she always remembered that the third Friday of every month was pj day so she would lay out Bernadine’s favorite pajamas with the princesses and frogs.  Her dad did not remember what day was which though. Sometimes he forgot Bernadine even had school that day. Ever since Mom went away, her dad was quiet and liked to sleep a lot. He slept on the big chair in the living room.  He never slept in his bed anymore. Bernadine thought maybe it was because their room made him think of Mom. It made her think of her mother. The clothes in the closet still smelled like her. Sometimes Bernadine would just sit on the floor of her mom’s closet, close her eyes tight and breathe her in, remembering.  But she didn’t do that a lot. She only did that when she was really sad. She was scared that maybe there was only so much of Mom’s smell left in the closet and she didn’t want to breathe it all in at once. She needed to save some of it for the really bad, really sad days.

So on this bright, sunny morning, Bernadine got dressed all by herself and headed out to the kitchen.  There were no happy smells of bacon frying or coffee percolating in the pot. Percolating was a funny word.  The whole house was quiet a lot of the time now. Her dad was up already, sitting at the kitchen table, a glass of water in front of him, his hair all messy and just woke up looking.  He smiled sadly at Bernadine and then looked back at the window like he was waiting for someone to come.

Bernadine poured herself a bowl of cereal with just a smattering of milk.  She hated milk. It made her throat sticky. Her mom would say not to put sugar on that cereal, it was already called Sugar Puffs, Good Golly Miss Molly, her teeth would rot out!   Bernadine poured a heaping tablespoon of sugar on her cereal. She glanced over at her dad but he was still looking out the window, tapping one finger on the table quietly, busy not noticing her.  She took a second big spoonful of sugar and dumped it on the cereal. The sugar crunched in her teeth and made her happy for a second or two.

The bus would be coming soon.  Her mom used to come outside and stand on the front step to watch her get on the bus.  Her dad doesn’t though. He just waves from the window…or at least, that’s what Bernadine pretends when she gets on the bus and finds a seat.  She doesn’t know if he really waves from the window. She’s not sure if he even notices that she left the house, even though the door always slams behind her.  Bernadine liked the big yellow bus with its rumbling sounds and big slippery smooth seats. She loved that she didn’t have to wear a seatbelt on the bus. Her best friend Ollie always saved her a seat because he got on the bus before her.  Bernadine would get on the bus and he would shout “Bernie! Bernie!” and then she would see him perched on the outside edge of the big bus seat, waiting to slide his legs to the side so she could sit by the window. The best part of the bus ride was when the bus went around a corner sharp and fast and Bernadine and Ollie would slip slide all across the seat, running into each other and squishing up against the window, giggling.  But the very best part of the bus ride was if the bus was going fast enough when it hit the big bump outside the Ballem’s house and everyone would fly up into the air and come down with a thump. Some of the bigger kids even hit their heads on the roof of the bus!

All of that was still fun, maybe not as much fun as before Mom went away, but…still fun.

When Bernadine got on the bus that morning, she looked for Ollie but she didn’t seem him. She listened for Ollie but she didn’t hear his squeaky excited voice. There were no skinny legs sticking out of the bus seat waiting to let Bernadine in.  The bus driver called out “C’mon Bernadine, find a seat now” and Bernadine realized she was going to have to sit all by herself. She slid into an empty seat and pushed herself over to the window.  Ollie must be home sick today. Bernadine hoped he didn’t have a ticking-clicking heart like her mom.

NaNoWriMo - Day 5 - Bernadine


The day that Bernadine ventured into the woods across the street started off the same as any other kind of day.  The sun was shining, the birds were singing and Bernadine felt lonely and sad and sort of empty. It was like there was a big hole somewhere in her but she wasn’t sure where because it felt like it moved around all the time.  Sometimes, it was in her belly, like a mouse eating away at her insides but other times, she was sure it was hiding somewhere in her head making her forget things and get the answers wrong at school. When she got the answers wrong at school, that stupid Charlotte would giggle and then Sally and Jessica would giggle too just so that they would all be the same.  If they didn’t giggle right away, Charlotte would shoot one quick glance at them and they would know she wanted them to find Bernadine’s wrong answer funny too. Sally wasn’t really sure what was funny about it. She felt kind of bad for Bernadine. When Sally thought about what it must be like to be Bernadine and to all of a sudden not have a mom anymore, well, Sally just didn’t like to think about it.  It made her feel kind of bad in her stomach, like she ate something that was going to make her throw up and she had to swallow hard a bunch of times to make herself stop thinking about it. But Charlotte didn’t seem to care about Bernadine’s mother. Sally was friends with Charlotte but sometimes, she was a little scared of her…not a lot, but, definitely a little.

Charlotte didn’t really like anyone that was not the same as her.  If you liked cats instead of horses or you liked to read instead of playing tag with the boys at recess…well, she just didn’t like you.  She wouldn’t tell you that but you knew. She was the girl in grade 3 that everyone wanted to be friends with because it was much better to be her friend than to be her enemy. Charlotte, Sally and Jessica had been best friends since the first day of grade one. Sally was a little scared to start school that day. She would have preferred to stay home with her mom and her 2 little brothers like she always did.  They could eat cereal when they woke up and then watch cartoons and maybe play outside. But instead, she had to come to this big building with all of its doors and long hallways and funny smells. There was so much noise and so many big kids, everyone laughing and yelling.  It was too much for Sally. She sat at the desk the teacher said was hers and tried not to cry. It was pretty much the worst day ever. Even her new backpack with Applejack from My Little Pony on the front wasn’t making her as happy as it did yesterday.

But then this little girl came over to her desk.  This little girl with blond hair and blue eyes stood in front of her desk and stared at her for a second.  Sally felt shy and unsure.

“My name is Charlotte.  What’s your name?” the little blond girl did not sound shy or unsure.


“I have a My Little Pony backpack too, you know.  Mine has Twinkle Sparkle on it. She’s a princess, you know.  You can come and sit with me and Jessica, she has Pinkie Pie on her backpack.  Pinkie Pie is kind of stupid but she’s pretty. You can be my best friend. You and Jessica.”

And that was how it started.

By the time they hit grade 3, they were thick as thieves.  They had sleepovers every weekend. Charlotte, of course, would decide whose house they would sleep at and what board game they would play and also what movie they would rent at the video store.  Sometimes being Charlotte’s best friend made Sally feel a little tired but Charlotte never took no for answer. Actually…you just never said no to Charlotte. Not if you knew what was good for you.  Nobody ever said no to Charlotte.

Except Bernadine.

NaNoWriMo - Day 4 - Bernadine


“She don’t have a name” the old lady said out loud suddenly.

Bernadine was very surprised.  “Well, of course I have a name”, she said.  “My name is Bernadine”.     The old woman sucked on her top teeth as she stared at her sister.  “Sad, ain’t it? She don’t gotta name.”

Bernadine was puzzled.  Didn’t she just say out loud that she did have a name?  Didn’t they hear her? Maybe they were deaf. Her teacher had told her class once about how some people have ears that don’t work right and so they talked with their hands instead but that was only good if everyone knew how to talk with their hands Bernadine thought and Bernadine surely did not know how to talk with her hands.  Or….maybe she did. It’s not like she ever tried before.

So Bernadine thought really, really hard inside of her head.  “My. Name. Is. Bernadine.”

She thought it very loudly and every slowly and very clearly.  While she was thinking, she just let her hands start moving around by their own willpower, maybe her hands did know how to talk.  She stared with extreme concentration at the old woman in the rocking chair who had been doing all the talking (the other old lady with the gray hair and tiny eyes talked sometimes but didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense).

“What’s the matter with you?”  The old woman was staring hard at Bernadine and Bernadine suddenly realized that maybe her hands couldn’t talk.  Or maybe, they were saying all the wrong stuff.

Bernadine tried again.  “I do have a name.  It is Bernadine.”  She said it as loud and as clear as she had ever said anything to anyone in her whole entire life.  And then she waited.

“S’all right, s’all right.  No name, no matter. We’ll make one up for ya.  We’re good at that, ain’t we, Bitsy?” At the sound of her name, Bitsy turned towards the old woman in the rocking chair.  Bitsy laughed and slapped one hand on her knee while nodding her head vigorously. The old tooth sucking woman sat back in her rocking chair and laid her hands in her lap, seemingly satisfied that the issue at hand had been resolved.

Bernadine did not know what to make of it all.

NaNoWriMo - Day 3 - Bernadine


The old woman in the rocking chair sucked on her top teeth while she spoke.  It made a wet,sloshy-sticky noise that turned Bernadine’s stomach. Why had she come here?  Why had she gone this way, why had she come into the woods at all and how did she get so lost so all sudden?

I mean really…she barely stepped in…well, hardly at all.  Maybe ten steps, maybe even only five and then suddenly, she couldn’t find her way back out again.  She had turned around and tried so hard to come back the way she came but…the way she came seemed to be gone.  There were no footsteps to follow in the spongy green mossy floor of the forest. She could barely see the blue of the sky, the trees were so tall.  She did not remember the trees looking this tall to her from the other side of the road. She did not remember the forest looking so thick and dark and mad.

“Good Golly Miss Molly, it was getting dark” she had thought.  Her mom used to say that. “Good Golly Miss Molly, you better put your mittens on!”  “Good Golly Miss Molly but it is cold out there!” Good Golly Miss Molly aren’t you gonna eat your supper?”

“Good Golly Miss Molly do I ever miss you”

Well.  Her mother didn’t say the last one for sure but Bernadine would bet all of her marbles, even the prettiest bonkers, that her mom would say that and that her mom did miss her dreadfully.

NaNoWriMo - Day 2 - Bernadine

Bernadine had red hair.  Red hair and blue eyes. Blue eyes like water, so light and translucent, you could almost see her brain.  Her mom used to say, “What are you thinking, Miss Molly, I can see the gears whirring inside that pretty little head of yours!”  And then she would laugh. Her mom’s laugh sounded like bluebells and warm summer days and chickadees.

Bernadine would stare at herself sometimes in the mirror with her eyes open wide while she thought about the hardest math problems she knew to see if she could see the gears whirring.  She thought about how to spell encyclopedia. She tried to remember all the names of the provinces in alphabetical order….backwards. But she couldn’t see anything but her own reflection in the glass and then her eyes would start to water and the Bernadine-in-the-mirror would look all fuzzy and weird until she rubbed her eyes tight.

When Bernadine was 7, her mom got a ticking heart.  A clicking, clacking, misfiring ticking heart that sometimes would get all balled up.  Her mom said that she was like a piano – a little out of tune, that’s all. She said her heart was banging when it should have been beating and clanking when it should have been thumping.  It didn’t hurt her, she said. Nothing could hurt her, she said. Good golly, Miss Molly, your mom is just fine! Her heart is just a little finicky, that’s all. Now go outside and play…but don’t go into those woods.

It was on a Sunday that her mother’s heart was the finickiest of all.  Bernadine’s mother was making supper – the kind of supper she always made on a Sunday…roast chicken with crispy crunchy skin and hot melted-buttery mashed potatoes.  There were always turnips and carrots, which Bernadine hated but had to eat.  Bernadine knew a special trick though. She put a forkful of disgusting turnip into her mouth and then quickly took a mouthful of Kool-Aid at the same time to kill the taste.  It almost always worked, but it never made them taste good.

This Sunday was different though.

This Sunday, her mom put the chicken in the oven but then said she was a little tired and thought she might go and lay down on the couch for a bit.  Dad was going to watch the chicken and if Bernadine was quiet, Mom said she could help mash the potatoes later and maybe they would try putting a little brown sugar on the turnips like Bernadine’s dad said Nana used to do for him when he was little.

Dad had made a face at Bernadine behind Mom’s back “Blech.  I hated turnip!” which made Bernadine giggle.

Bernadine’s mother never got up again.

Never, ever.

She was gone.  Forever and ever.

Bernadine was in her room building mansions for her dolls out of some old boxes her mom had let her have.  She was sticking pretty paper in the master bedroom so it could have the fancy wallpaper when she heard her dad saying her mom’s name.  “Marie…Marie…Marie? Marie! What…why…Marie!!” His voice was getting louder and he sounded worried which made Bernadine feel scared in her stomach in a way that she had never felt before.  Her tummy turned cold and jumpy and her throat felt like no air could come in or out. She started to go into the living room but then she saw that her dad was kneeling down on the floor beside the couch where her mom was sleeping and he was crying.

Her dad was crying.

And her mom wasn’t moving.  “Dad?” It came out as a whisper, a whimper, a barely there breath.  “Daddy?” She sunk down to sit on her bum with her back against the wall in the doorway to the living room and she put her head between her knees.  In her mind, she started to count backwards from 100…99…98…97 and when that was too easy, she tried to count backwards by 5’s. That was harder. Don’t think about Mom, this isn’t happening. 95.  Everything is going to be ok. 90. Dad will fix her, her heart is just throwing a tantrum. 85. Good golly, Miss Molly, don’t think anymore…just count.