Fiction from Sarah Priscus
How to Remember What It’s Like to Be a 9-Year-Old Girl
1: After dinner is over and you’ve eaten all the chicken fingers and green beans that your stomach can handle, clear your plate. Retreat to your bedroom and shut the door behind you. Don’t listen to hear if Mom and Dad are arguing. Sit down on the floor, letting your legs sink into the downy texture of the carpet, and brush your hands across it. Draw patterns in the dust. Remember how Emma told you that you were too old to still play with dolls. Frown. Pick up your favourite Cabbage Patch Doll from the floor, the one with the stringy red hair and freckles on her cheeks. Her name is Daisy Brenda. Hold her softly. Press your face to her plush stomach and smell her sweet cotton. Tell her your secrets and trust that she’ll remember them. Handle her carefully. The seam in her left armpit is beginning to split. Maybe you can ask Mom to sew her together again for you. Then again, you’re scared of needles, so Daisy Brenda probably is too. Pretend to be a nurse. Grab a piece of sticky tape and attach her body back together. She’ll be nearly good as new.
2: Feel your tiny heart flutter when you think of Jacob, with the shaggy hair and soccer cleats, or Osei, with his coloured pencils and stupid jokes, or even Mrs. Greenwich, who is very pretty but sometimes yells when the class gets too loud. Wonder if you are in love. See the end half of Back to the Future. Write in your diary about how handsome you think Michael J. Fox is, even if he’s old now. Wonder how you can be in love with everyone you see. Stop wondering. Practice writing your first name with differing last names following it, depending who you love that day. Circle your initials and your crush’s initials in a heart. Smudge the graphite a little bit. Erase the smudged bit. Shut your diary and hide it underneath your day-of-the-week underwear. The corner of the book peeks out a bit. Maybe you want it to. It makes you feel grown-up to have secrets.
3: Your new bicycle has streamers on the handlebars, and even though they seem babyish, you like them. Bike quickly and turn them into a yellow, blue, and red blur of plastic. Bike so fast that you turn into a blur. Make sure the strap of your helmet is snug under your chin. Let air rush past your ears. Turn suddenly. Do not think about what is around the corner. Do not realize that you could crash into anything, even another person. When your feet begin to go numb from all the peddling, take a break. Prop the bicycle up against the fence of the good playground, the one with the spinning roundabout and metal slides. Slip off your velcro sandals and leave them neatly at the edge of the pavement. Walk towards the roundabout, feeling the hotness of the sand radiating into your feet. The ground is soft. Climb up onto the spinning structure and kick against the sand until you are rotating so fast that you think you might puke. Watch the world whirl by. It looks just as blurry as your streamers sometimes do. Realize your helmet is still on your head. Don’t take it off just yet.
4: Take your science class project up to your room to work on it in private. You say that you don’t need your parents’ help, so you complete it on your bed. The posterboard is aqua blue. Cut out pieces of paper and write information about dolphins on them. Decorate the edges with yellow and purple dots. Be meticulous. Be selective. There is no job in the world more important than this. Trace the photo of a jumping dolphin that you found in your junior encyclopedia. Follow the lines carefully and precisely. Wonder for a moment if your parents would take you to the ocean in order to complete your research. When you are done tracing, begin to carefully colour in the outline. Get halfway through the tail, then hear your sister watching Disney Channel sitcoms downstairs. Finish colouring with messy, ragged marker strokes, then run into the living room to join her.
5: When your dad offers to take you and your sister out for ice cream, jump at the chance. Jump at the chance to eat anything sugary. Bicker with your sister on the car ride over to Baskin Robbins, but don’t mean anything you say. She is two years older than you, but you’re both equally good at pretending to be mad at each other. Stop pretending to be mad once Dad parks the car. Barrel out of the backseat with your heart pounding in anticipation. Spend five whole minutes staring down at the selection of flavours. Admire the way the scoop has left abstract swirls in the ice cream tubs. Dad can order first. He gets rainbow sherbert in a waffle cone, which is funny, because he seems too grown-up to like eating things that are colourful. Your sister asks Dad to order her a single scoop of blackberry hibiscus in a cup, because she thinks it sounds mature. Order for yourself, asking for a scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough and a scoop of strawberry, all nestled into a wonderful, crackly sugar cone. Follow Dad outside to a bench. It’s hot out, and your treat melts quickly. Finish the scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough first, because it is on top. Listen for too long to your sister’s stories about school and forget to keep licking the strawberry scoop. When the ice cream begins to drip onto your skinny legs, don’t move. Let it dry and leave milky pink, sweet, sticky splotches on your thighs.
6. Pretend to hate going to the mall with Mom, but still go. Stand impatiently beside her while she looks for your t-shirt size at the department store. When she asks if you like the jeans she picked out for you, say you’d like them more if they were from one of the cool, teenage stores that you read about in celebrity magazines and pass quickly on the way to Orange Julius. Your mom buys them for you anyway. Groan and complain endlessly on the drive home. Take your new clothes up to your room like Mom asks you to. Try them on a second time, in the familiar light of your bedroom. Look at yourself in the mirror and pretend to be a model. The pants aren’t so bad after all. They have a dolphin stitched on the back pocket. You hadn’t noticed. Mom did. Wear them at breakfast the next day, and don’t look at Mom’s sly, knowing smile. She knows you better than you realize. She still doesn’t know you completely.
7: Go to the library with your cousin, who is old enough to borrow books from the grown-up section, but not by much. You, however, are still of an appropriate age to select books from the kids’ section. Descend into the basement of the library, where all the Judy Blume and Goosebumps books live. Steer clear of any picture books, because you don’t want to seem like you still read those. Flip through countless options and begin to collect your favourites under your arm. Everything looks interesting. Some of the books are torn or have boogers stuck on the cover, but that makes them feel special. Listen to the librarian ask if you need any help. Ask her to recommend you a book with a magical girl in it. Watch carefully as she hands you Matilda. Drift over to a corner and sit on the floor, giving the first few chapters a chance. Finish the book in one sitting before your cousin even comes to pick you up. Include Matilda in your collection of books to check out from the library. Plan to reread it as soon as you get home. When night falls, and your parents say goodnight to you, stay up reading. Hide under the covers with a flashlight, illuminating the pages of your book and nothing else. Feel the breeze drift in from your open window. Fall asleep with the book still open, your face flat against the pages. Dream about magic worlds and adventures. The next morning, wake up, and decide to have an adventure of your own.
8: Spot a baby bird on the ground, far from its mother. It looks newly hatched because its feathers are sort of patchy. It is incredibly small. Scoop it up with the bottom of your t-shirt and put it in a bowl. Turn the bowl into a nest by ripping up pieces of paper. Try to feed it some water or berries, and wonder why it refuses to take food from you. Name the bird something silly. Be gentle with it. Carry its new nest into your room and ask it if it knows how to fly. It doesn’t. Show it your toys. It chirps quietly. You are making a friend. When Mom finds out you have a bird in your room, she is not impressed. She tells you animals can carry diseases. You don’t care. She calls the bird rescue and has your new friend taken away. They leave his paper nest behind. Beg to keep him. Cry for hours.
9: Feel afraid of the dark. Worry that its creeping blackness is going to swallow you whole—that you will never find your way out once you inch into its expanse. Touch your hand to your chest, and feel your heart thumping. Feel afraid of the dark, then lace up your sparkly light-up sneakers and step into it anyways.
Sarah Priscus lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, where she studies English and Theatre at the University of Ottawa. She has previously been published in Every Day Fiction. Her hobbies include working on a novel and telling people that she “is working on a novel”. She can be found on Twitter at @sarahpriscus.