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I hated going to Nora’s house. I went over because she was my best friend. But her mother used to stand behind me and dig her talons into my scalp; they were long, red nails—probably artificial, although I didn’t know such a thing existed when I was that young. Nora was a pretty girl, everyone said so. Everyone wanted to be her friend, but I lived on the same street. We were automatic best friends. Bosom buddies, I used to say, because I was enthralled by Anne of Green Gables and her wild, unrestrained passions. Nora had long, blond, wavy hair. It was perfect for braiding, for pigtails, for barrettes. I was jealous. My Mom used to keep my thick, frizzy hair short, for simplicity. Nora’s went down to her bum, and I envied her.
Nora’s mom was a witch. I never told anyone, but I was sure of it. Her pointy nose, her thick brown hair, and her thin lips convinced me. And then of course, there were her fingers, which were long, bony, and always reaching for me. I much preferred it when Nora slept over at my house, although really I just wanted Nora to go home when it got dark.
But we were girls, and we were supposed to have sleepovers. So we did. We would get into our pyjamas and sit up as late as we could before my mother sent us scurrying to my room. Where, in the dark, under the blankets, Nora would ask me do you want to be best friends forever, well then prove it, my mom says that if you want someone to stay, you have to do what they say. Now let’s play Truth or Dare.
I always did what Nora said, although I secretly didn’t want her to stay. Once I got out of bed, dressed, and tried to sneak out in the middle of the night. Nora caught me while I was tying my shoes. She told me I didn’t love her enough. If I didn’t get back to bed she’d tell her mom. So I trudged back upstairs and got undressed. Naughty girls don’t get pyjamas. You have to sleep naaaaaaaked. I wondered if it would be better not to have a best friend.
Then one day, Nora and her mother were gone.
My mother sat me down with a bowl of chocolate ice cream in the middle of the afternoon. Ice cream before dinner was never allowed. She told me that Nora was gone, her mother had taken her and left their house. My mother told me that sometimes Daddies can be bad, that maybe it was good for Nora to get away. But Mom had it all wrong; Nora’s Daddy was nice. He was gone a lot, he travelled for work. He brought home Nora lots of neat presents, sometimes Smarties from England, sweeter than the ones here, or Chelsea Yogurt Scotch candies from Japan. Nora would share the scotches with me, she thought they were too chewy. Nora had been snatched by the witch.
They were gone, and then her father moved away too. The house was empty for a long time before an older couple moved into it. I never had another best friend.
After Nora went away, I became afraid of hands living under the bed. Mom would tuck me in tight, but I knew if the blankets came loose, the hands would crawl up and get me. I pissed the bed every night, but I’d never make a sound. I wake up wet, and shiver back to sleep.
“Why didn’t you call me?” Mom would ask. “I could have given you dry sheets, and you wouldn’t have this rash.”