It smells funny in here like Gran and Gramp’s basement. My nose tickles, but I hold in my sneeze. I’m as silent as a church mouse, just like Mom told me.
We’re playing a game. She told me to run and hide and I’m not allowed to come out until she finds me. The cupboard is the best place to hide. It’s small. Grown-ups can’t fit. They never think to look for me here. It’s pitch black. I can’t see anything, but I’ve hid here before. Most kids are scared of the dark, but not me. Mom says I’m brave.
It’s hard to stay quiet. I hug my knees to my chest and count to sixteen in my head. That’s as high as I can count in the right order. I throw out a few more numbers: twenty, thirty, ninetyone, a hundred. There’s no one in the cupboard to tell me I got it wrong.
Mom and I had a fun day. She picked me up early from school and we went to the McDonald’s in Wal-Mart for lunch. I had french fries, chicken nuggets, and apple juice. I even got a Pokémon toy. Mom let me pick out new clothes and a backpack because we’re going on a trip. I hope it’s Disneyland or Gran and Gramps’ house. Mom said it’s a surprise. We were supposed to go straight there, but mom said she forgot something important at home. I don’t know what, but they must be very important because she swore in the car. She said “shit.”
I’m not allowed to say bad words. I got in trouble at school when Suzie said, “The F-word is the worst word in the world.” And I said, “Do you mean fuck?” All the kids laughed so I said fuck over and over until Miss Libby heard me. She told us it was “In-A-Propriate” and made me sit by myself and do a puzzle on the floor. I like puzzles though and I’m used to being alone so that’s okay.
Miss Libby made me wait after school and told Mom. But Mom didn’t get mad. When we got to the car, she kissed my head and buckled my seatbelt. “There are different rules at school than at home. Do you understand, Jackie?”
I nodded. I didn’t really understand, but I knew that the rules changed all the time. It wasn’t fair.
At home, Mom’s throwing things all over the floor, making a big mess. Her phone rings, but rather than pick it up she tells me to hide. “Quick! Quick! Like a rabbit. Don’t come out until I come looking for you. If you can stay quiet, I’ll let you have candy for dinner.”
I know this game. We play it a lot. I run faster than a rabbit.
I hear a lot more stuff being thrown around. Something crashes with a bang against the cupboard door. I cry. I don’t care about the candy anymore, but I’m too scared to come out.
I must have fallen asleep because next thing I know, I’m in the car. Mom is driving. She looks back at me and smiles. Her face looks funny, one of her eyes is closed shut.
“Don’t worry baby, it’s not as bad as it looks.” She pats my leg and turns her face away.
“Do I still get candy for dinner?”
I don’t say anything. I’m used to Mom changing her mind. You can get used to a lot of things. I look out the window. We’re no longer in the city. The sky is black. I can’t see any stars. I close my eyes.
T.L. Tomljanovic is a freelance writer and Communications Consultant based in British Columbia, Canada. Her work has been published in the Globe & Mail, Blank Spaces, and Carousel Magazine. She lives with her partner, their two children, and a drooly English Mastiff dog.