by Mary Daurio
Jay hated sharing her room with Ellen, mainly because Ellen left her stinking riding clothes piled on the floor beside the stacks of horse books she’d read. On the top of the stack sat ‘The Black Stallion’ by Ellen’s favourite writer, Walter frigging Farley. Ellen falling off her horse and breaking her head would be poetic justice.
Jay stomped across to the heap and kicked down the tower of books and magazines. They spilled all over the floor, landing on the breeches, training-bra and shirts cluttering the smooth polished surface of the pine floorboards. Satisfied, she stomped down to the birthday dinner.
Dinner finished. The birthday cake came next. Jay sat grudgingly beside her aunt, Ellen, who blew out the candles. Ellen was eighteen years younger than her sister, Jay’s mom. It made for interesting family dynamics, and Jay enjoyed calling her ‘Aunt Ellen’ when they were out somewhere just to see people’s puzzled looks.
No big deal to turn twelve, Jay thought—she’d be there herself in two years.
Jay’s grandma, Jean, Ellen’s mom, brought a package from under her kitchen apron. “Here you go, honey.” She bent down and kissed Ellen’s cheek. Ellen smiled and opened the gift carefully so they could keep the paper for reuse.
“A diary? Thank you.” Ellen turned the soft, shiny book over in her hand and twirled the lock between long, slim fingers. “Don’t know what I’ll write in it.”
Jay’s grandpa, Peter, Ellen’s father, smiled from the head of the table, digging into a slice of chocolate cake. “You’ll think of something for sure. You shouldn’t be short of words with your nose stuck in a book every chance you get.”
Jay’s brother, Jordan, Ellen’s little nephew, sputtered through a mouth full of cake. “Ugh, hope for my birthday I don’t get a diary. It doesn’t sound like much fun, writing and everything, no colouring.”
Ellen laughed. “I think you’re safe there. You probably want a big truck.”
“It would better than a lousy old diary.”
Ellen didn’t have to help with the dishes on her birthday, but when her father went to the shed to stack the cord of wood, she went to help. Jay snapped the kitchen towel against the side of her leg. “She always gets off light.”
Grandma Jean couldn’t hear as she was giving the cats their supper on the back porch.
Ellen came in from the barn a few days later to find all her belongings piled out in the hall. “What the heck?”
“I’m not living with you anymore. You are a slob. You can room with Jordan.” Jay looked daggers at Ellen.
Jean rushed upstairs when the raised voices caused the dog to bark. “Very improper for an almost teenage girl to share a bedroom with a seven-year-old boy.” She assessed the situation. “Ellen, try to be tidier, and Jay, get out and about more and the room won’t be that important. Each stay to your side.” Jean ran a straight line of tape down the middle of the room between the beds, thereby negotiating a peace treaty. And the girls continued to share custody of their bedroom.
Vindicated, Ellen put her things back. Jay sat on her bed, sulking. She noticed the diary went in the third drawer of the small dresser they shared. Ellen’s drawer.
Jay didn’t get out more, but she did find one activity that occupied her. Ellen was hardly in the room because she had a lot of farm chores, so the diary was fair game. Jay read at her leisure.
Diary for today, September 12th
I had a good birthday. At least, the chocolate cake was good and made up for not having any friends over, as Jordan and Jay are here. I got you, my dear diary, to write in. You’re not a pair of new cowboy boots, but that’s not your fault. We got more mouths now, with Jordan and Jay staying, and there’s nothing to be done about that.
The girls at school say Billy likes me. That can’t be because he tripped me coming in from recess. My skinned knees kind of hurt, but no one here has time for that if they even noticed. Test tomorrow in spelling. Got to study. Bye for now, Diary Dame.
Jay had noticed Ellen walking a bit stiffly, but hadn’t given it much thought. She smiled at the thought of Billy and scowled about more mouths.
“Just like Ellen to blame not getting her dumb cowboy boots on Jordan and me. If she ever gets any, I’m gonna put a horse turd in ‘em.” She stuck her tongue out at the mirror above the bureau, pretending it was Ellen, and felt a bit better.
Diary for today, September 14th
Sorry I missed you yesterday. Had to help with a load of hay after school and was too tired by bedtime to write anything.
Billy does like me. He sent me a note asking if I wanted to walk around with him at recess. I said no, but he could play soccer with my friends and me if he wanted. He did, and he’s pretty good. No better than he thinks he is, for sure. I don’t think he’s my type. I don’t know what that means, but I heard some of the high school girls say it on the bus.
I’m writing this in my bed on my side of the room. Jay tried to kick me out cause I’m messy. Nothing to do all day but sit on her covers and draw pictures. Of course, she has time to keep her things in order. I help feed and water the animals and do other farm work, clean stalls, slung hay, stuff like that. My pony can’t ride himself, and he’d get lonely if I didn’t pay attention to him.
I shouldn’t be so miserable. Jay never asked to be dumped here, and the farm life is not something she enjoys. Jordan spends his time teaching the dog to do tricks, riding the tractor with gramps, having a blast. Except when he’s traipsing all over, getting into mischief. The other day I caught him in ol’man Brown’s pasture with that awful bull Ferdinand. I walked up real slow and got Jordan to turn around, and we sauntered back to the fence so not to arouse Ferdinand, no one wants that bull’s pointy horns in their back pocket. Later the same day, I heard Sparkie barking from way off and found Jordan throwing sticks at a wasp’s nest. The kid’s a poor aim, thankfully. After that, Dad curtailed Jordan’s adventures to the house, barn and the land right around them, so he shouldn’t get into much trouble there. Jordan smiled at dad and said he would obey. At least, I won’t have to hike to the back forty looking for him.
One thing Jordan always has a smile on his face, so it’s hard to get too angry. Not like Jay shooting daggers every chance she gets.
Well, I’m not kicked out, but she’s giving me the eyeball right now, probably putting a hex on me. No fooling if she could she would. I should put a frog under her pillow. Oh, I won’t diary. Don’t bust a seam. Till tomorrow or when I can write again. Bye, D. D.
Jay would have put a hex on her if she could. Instead, she snuck the diary back in the drawer when she heard footsteps on the stairs. Jay wanted to could tell Billy he’s not Ellen’s type, but she would be found out and hassled for reading Ellen’s stupid diary. She’d save telling what she found out for something big, maybe get this Diary Dame in trouble. Who knew what secrets she’d write down? Evidence!
Diary for Today, September 15th
Today was terrible at school. Mrs. Wideass, well, it should be her name. Just because she’s the principal, doesn’t mean she has to throw her weight around. And there’s lots of it. Nothing wrong with being heavy, just she is so mean. Has us all line up to use the washroom at the same time, if you want to go or not. Then later, if you need to go, you can’t. I sat with my legs crossed the last half of art class. Oh yea, she took over Miss Brown’s art class. Miss Brown lets us use paint and paper for anything we want in art. Wideass has us read our geography texts. When class ended, I tore off to the washroom. I come out. Ka-bam! There she stands and gives me detention for running and going to the restroom in a non-allotted time slot. Tomorrow and for the rest of the week, no soccer or seeing Billy for me at lunch. I’ll be in detention looking at my geography book. Should pass that class, at least. Wideass teaches it. If I were brave, I’d flunk it to show her what a crummy teacher she is.
On to better things, I have been getting up early to take Star out running. He will be the fastest pony at the fair. No doubt, he will be the prettiest, as his coat is all smooth grey and white pinto. His mane and tail bright as snow. I let him eat the long grass at the side of the road when we finish as a reward. All work l and no hay. Not for my dear boy!
I tried to sneak in quiet this morning, but with only the measly bit of light coming in through the curtains bumped into the chest of drawers. Jay’s head popped up from the pillow, and she stuck her tongue out at me before pulling the covers over her head. I was surprised my things weren’t out in the hall again.
I know it’s hard for her, a new school and living here instead of visiting. Her parents went off to faraway Somalia, leaving Jay and Jordan behind, that must hurt. Jay’s dad is a doctor who learned some new surgical techniques and is going to teach them there. Dad was plenty mad about them leaving saying family comes first. However, Jay’s parents had said that the children could come when they settled. In the last letter, though, my sister, Kate, said it wasn’t a safe place for the children right now, and would Mom and Dad keep them until the school year finished and she and Tom came home. As if they would tell them no, but I think they should have. Then, Tom and Kate would have to return right now to look after their own family instead of families a world away.
Still, Jay is a pip and could try to fit in. I asked her to ride double with Star and me, but she refused. She rode before they moved here. What’s changed now? Jordan comes with Star and me sometimes, old Sparky trailing behind.
I tried to show her where Somalia is on the atlas. The Horn of Africa. But she doesn’t want to look and only turns the pages of her Nancy Drew faster and faster. One thing about old Wideass, at least I know where Somalia is. What’s that saying, everything has a purpose under heaven. Dad says it all the time. May be true.
Goodnight, for now, Diary, God, if you are listening, look after my stupid sister and her dumb husband. Bring them home safe. If you got any time and energy after that, God, make Jay not such a big pip. Love, D. D.
Jay woke the next day to the racket of birds outside, gathering in a large flock. Two-tone blue and all noise. “You birds at least stick to your family. If it’s not Ellen waking me, it’s something else around here. The whole world is picking on me.”
Grandma called for everyone to come to breakfast.
“Porridge and hot cakes again.” Jay scowled. “Can’t wait.”
After school, Ellen was out doing chores, giving Jay her opportunity to snoop. She was reading the diary, totally absorbed, and couldn’t hear Grandma in her soft slippers approaching. Grandma knocked and walked into the room with the girls’ clean laundry. Jay tried to hide the diary behind her back but fumbled, too slow.
“Jay, that’s Ellen’s diary. Honey, it’s not a good thing to invade a person’s privacy. You best give it to me.” Grandma shook her head, then tilted it towards Jay and pursed her lips.
Caught red-handed, her face hot with shame, Jay said nothing at first but passed the book over. She found her voice and wanted to shift the blame. “She calls Mrs. Whitman, ‘Wideass.’”
“Well, let’s hope not to Mrs. Whitman’s face. I think it’s time you joined in with the chores around here. We’ve been letting you settle in, but a bit of work may help idle hands. Come down now and set the table.” Grandma smiled and bent down to give a hug. “You and I will be the kitchen crew. It’s a good place for more refined ladies.”
Jay smiled at Grandma, but the smile twitched down at the thought that Ellen was supposed to be the one in trouble.
Jay was setting the plates on the table when Grandpa’s holler startled her. Its sharp, urgent sound infiltrated from the outside into the kitchen. A plate dropped from her hand and shattered on the floor.
She and Grandma raced out and saw Grandpa cradling Ellen, limp in his arms, while Jordan ran along behind. “Get the car quick. We’ll be faster than the ambulance,” Grandpa said. “She fell from a barn beam.” Grandma started to tremble as her face turned ashen. It was a long way down from a beam.
Grandpa opened the back door of the car and motioned with his head for Grandma to get in. She scooched over while he placed a hay covered Ellen, still unconscious, across the back seat, her head on Grandma’s lap. With Jay and Jordan belted in the front, Grandpa floored it. They pulled up to the emergency department with a still unresponsive Ellen.
The family fidgeted in the waiting room while Ellen was in surgery to repair her lacerated spleen. She had suffered a head injury but awakened before surgery, alleviating the worst fears. Her skull wasn’t fractured. The straw and hay on the barn floor eased her fall.
Jordan sobbed uncontrollably. “It’s all my fault.”
He had been on the beam after a big raccoon, got scared and couldn’t get back. Ellen shimmied out to help him, but fell to the floor and hit the beam as she pushed him back to safety.
Grandpa, Peter, comforted the crying Jordan in his lap and while he was a man of few words prayed out loud. “Almighty Father help our dear Ellen, and lift the burden of guilt from young Jordan. I ask in Jesus’ name.”
Jay went to the counter and requested a pen and paper from the nurses. She folded a few sheets over to make a diary of her own.
Diary September 17th
Dear diary. I have stolen Ellen’s diary and read it behind her back. Please,God, make her well, and I will never do another terrible thing like that again. She can leave all her smelly horse clothes on the floor or on my bed if she wants. Please, dear God, if you are listening. She is a good aunt, even if she is only two years older than me. She tried to make me feel good. I just couldn’t. Sometimes I wished she fell off that pony and broke her head. I didn’t mean it. Please make her better. Let her ride Star in the fair, win a race, tell me where Somalia is, and let me ride double with her. Please, help Grandma stop crying. Her apron is soaking wet. If I went to help instead of sulking in my room, I could have kept an eye on Jordan. I’m going to help Grandma and be a refined lady, and I’m going to help Ellen with her chores and be a rough and tumble girl like her. I might still stick my tongue out behind her back now and again, but I won’t read her diary. I’ll make my own, and it’s hands off to her.
Grandma, Grandpa, Ellen and Jordan are my close family until my parents get home. Then we will all be family together. Please make it so.
I will be like those bluebirds and stick with my family.
Jay looked up to see Grandpa and the doctor shaking hands. The doctor had good news. The surgery was successful, and they could see Ellen once she woke from anesthesia. It was as if the room got suddenly brighter.
Jay took her papers and made a card for Ellen. She drew a horse on the front and inside it said, Get Better Soon. I promise not to be such a pip. I will do your chores when you get home. For a while, until you are better. So, get better soon, eh! Love, your niece, Jay-Bird.
Mary Daurio is a grandmother studying creative writing at Brock U while working on a short story compilation about her experiences driving racehorses. Her work has appeared online and in print, in Friday Flash Fiction, Cafelit, Medium, Pure Slush, The Fictional Café, Harrowsmith, and Adelaide’s magazines.