BEST FRIENDS • by Jennifer Dickinson

When I heard Mom in the hall, I scrambled away from the window, knocking over my model of the solar system. Mars’s tin foil body shot across the room, and I ran after it. But I froze when Mom rushed in.  

“This is a betrayal,” she said, and shut the blinds. She tore off her half of the “Best Friends” necklace we shared and threw it on the floor.  

I sucked in my breath. Mom’s temper felt like a monster lived in our house, and I never knew when it needed a meal.  

“What did I tell you about your aunt? She’s dangerous. I’m doing you a favor by keeping her away from us. I had a story from work, but now it’ll have to wait for when you’re not disobeying me.”  

Mom shut the door. I tiptoed back to the window and peered through the blinds. The light had been switched on in my grandmother’s kitchen and Aunt Amy and Giggy sat across from each other. I studied Aunt Amy’s face. We shared the same red hair, but my aunt’s was pulled into a bun.  

A few days before, I’d asked Giggy, “Do you think Mama will let me see Aunt Amy when she visits?”  

“All we can do is pray, honey,” Giggy said. So we’d bowed our heads.  

“Please bless my daughters. Let Amy’s trip be a good one. And let Ellen finally forgive her sister.”

There were many bad stories about Aunt Amy. Once when Aunt Amy and Mom were kids, Aunt Amy cut off Mom’s eyelashes, and every one of her long curls.  

“She hated me because I was more beautiful,” Mom said. “And my hair never curled again.”

Another time when they were little Aunt Amy pretended to be possessed by a ghost named Petunia Jones who said Mom had to eat a snail if she wanted to live. Mom did it.

But according to my mom, the worst thing Aunt Amy ever did happened the last time she was in town.

The first night of that visit, Aunt Amy pulled me aside and whispered: “I’m going to try and make things right with your mother, so I can have more contact with you.” The next morning, she asked Mom if the three of us could go to an estate sale together. She didn’t know Mom had been up all night cutting rose petals, crying and gluing them to her walls because her latest boyfriend had dumped her. And she’d been drinking Red Bull like water. So I couldn’t believe it when she said yes. At the sale, Mom and Aunt Amy cracked up over a pink ceramic elephant’s smiling face, and took turns trying on colorful, oversized dresses. They were like real sisters. Aunt Amy’s plan was working.  

But then Aunt Amy slammed her seatbelt in the door of Mom’s new Honda. My heart stopped. Mom loved that car. She bought it with her own money from working all those late nights at the hospital. We all jumped out and Mom knelt next to the car and pointed at the white metal. Her eyes narrowed into slits.  

“You did that on purpose. See that mark?”

I bent closer toward the car, my eyes searching for the mark. There was nothing there. I wished I could defend my aunt, who was chewing on her lip, deflated.  

“I’m so sorry,” Aunt Amy said. “I’ll pay for the damage.”  

But Mom said no. Because Amy had done it on purpose, now the car would wear the dent, a permanent reminder of her sister’s disregard for her. My hope dried up in that instant and I followed Mom back into our house. She ordered me to sit down.  

“Your aunt has a mental illness. She isn’t safe for you to be around anymore. I can’t believe I agreed for us to go to that sale with her.”  

“How do you know she has a mental illness?”  

“Years of on-the-job experience in a hospital. I’ve talked to families. I know the signs of psychotic people. Amy’s got so much anger in her. It’s always lurking. She isn’t safe.”  

I thought of how once when I was tiny and Mom was busy with one of her boyfriends, Aunt Amy took me to the beach. She rescued me from beneath an undertow, and then her boob popped out of her swimsuit and I nicknamed it, “Lucy Goosey.” Now that’s how Aunt Amy signed all of her cards. She was so different from Mom. Never raised her voice. Never locked me out in the rain. Never got rid of my kitten because the sound of its mewing made her brain bleed.

I knew not to say anything kind about Aunt Amy. I knew the best thing I could do, what would guarantee Mom and me would always be best friends, was to agree with everything she said.  

But now Aunt Amy was so close, sitting across the table with Giggy instead of thousands of miles away. I longed to be with them, eating soup and laughing. Aunt Amy looked up and we locked eyes. Her smile took up her whole face. She waved.

I backed away from the window, squeezing my eyes shut so I wouldn’t cry. I felt so alone, like Mars under my bed. I opened the door and went across the hall to Mom’s room. She lay on her bed reading a book.  

“I’m sorry,” I said, and Mom just stared at me. What I’d said wasn’t good enough.  

“I hate them.”  

Mom smiled. “Well, I have quite a story for you. An accident with a chainsaw!”  

I climbed into her bed, settled against her, and listened.

Jennifer Dickinson is a graduate of Hollins University. Since 2015, she has worked as a book coach and writing teacher for women in Los Angeles. Her fiction has appeared in The Florida Review, JMWW, Maudlin House, Isele Magazine, Blackbird, and elsewhere. Her nonfiction has appeared in The Linden Review and Poets & Writers magazine. She is the recipient of a Hedgebrook residency and a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund.

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