The attic was a mess. Piles and piles of rusted knick-knacks, worn-out books, and moth-ridden clothing took up the majority of the cramped room, leaving only a small path from the ladder to the other edge of the room for Judy to walk through. She had to cover her mouth so the dust didn’t choke her to death.
Judy never understood why her mother kept all these things. Most of it was useless junk she just didn’t have the heart to throw out. She held onto all of it until her dying breath, and now it’s all Judy’s problem to deal with. Soon, it’ll be Goodwill’s problem.
She coughed, shoving away yet another cardboard box of trash as she moved toward the dresser that caught her eye. It stood out from the rest of the rubble of the attic—its paint was light, its wood chipped yet still beautiful. It was the only thing up there that didn’t make Judy want to burn the whole place down. She ran her finger along crude carvings of names that she didn’t recognize. James, Damon, Lizzy. Aunts and Uncles her mother forgot to mention, probably. It wouldn’t be the first time she kept things from her.
Judy shook her head; no point in pondering her mother’s secrets now. Let them die with her.
She pulled open the first drawer—nothing. The second, a broken comb. She opened the third with a sigh through the nose, expecting a dust bunny or something equally disappointing. But, inside the crooked thing was a book. An old blue journal with a name written in black marker on the front: “Meredith Rudolph.” She snorted. Her mother had a diary? Secretive Meredith Rudolph? It was laughable.
Nonetheless, she opened the journal. Her mother’s crooked handwriting stained the first page:
July 23, 1985
Damon got me this journal a while ago—a place to take out my “problems” he said. I think its bullshit. But, you know what? I need a hobby.
We went to see Grandmom today. It was the first time in a while I saw anything in Dad’s eyes beyond annoyance. Something like pain shone as she asked for the 30th time who he was.
I hope the pain consumes him.
The last line plunked in her mind like a stone in a lake. Judy never met her grandfather, didn’t so much as see a picture of him. No wonder.
She flipped to the next entry.
August 15th, 1985
Dad takes his anger out on us now. Me and Damon are old enough to deal with it, but Lizzy and James are so young... they can’t be around him. I can’t let that happen.
Judy paused at the passage. Her mother was abused as a child? Why hadn’t she...
She shook her head. No questions. She couldn’t answer them anyway.
October 21, 1985
Damon left. Took the car keys and ran off with some girl he met. I begged him to let us come but all he could think about was being with Abigail. Bastard.
High school ends this year. Maybe I can get out of this hell on a bus after graduation.
April 2, 1986
Dad hasn’t come home in two days. Maybe he never will.
She flips through the book, skimming a few more pages. All of the passages were barely two lines, and it looked as if she barely picked the thing up.
One passage caught her eye.
February 13, 1990
Judy expected less than that, honestly. With the way she acted when she was alive—private, even cold at times—she expected that her mother would rather hide every bit of evidence that she was knocked up.
She turned to the last page with writing. It was the longest by far.
November 20, 1990
Her name is Judith. She’s so small and chubby. Her eyes are mine, thank God. The doctor said she looks just like me. I don’t know what I’d do if she didn’t. It’d be painful, for sure.
I left my family behind a while ago. My father died a few months after I ran out, and Lizzie and James were sent to some random far-away aunt that no one ever heard of. Damon can rot. I had no family. Until now.
It’ll be different for her. I’ll be a good mom—the best. She’ll never have to wonder, never have to compensate for lack of care.
I promise, Judy. You are loved.
Judy’s eyes welled. She reread the passage again and again, the last line burning in her like a crackling flame. You are loved.
Closing the dresser drawer at last, Judy clutched the journal to her chest and left the attic.