Excerpt from Best Girl
My life changed on October 23rd, 2010. Suddenly I didn’t know who I was. Before the phone call,
here’s what I knew: I was adopted. My real parents died in a car crash when I was three. Shelley was
the only mother I’ve ever known. As soon as I could understand, she told me I was adopted. Shelley’s
husband—I never thought of him as my father—wasn’t home much. When he lost his job, he went out
west to work in the oil fields.
I didn’t have a lot of friends. It was mostly Shelley and me. I always cared too much and didn't want to
get hurt. Because people let you down. People are liars.
All the time I was growing up, Shelley and I argued. She never saw things my way. Then she could
stay mad for days and not speak to me. In the end she’d be all lovey-dovey, as if nothing had
happened. When I was a kid, I was relieved when she started talking again. It was hard living with
someone who ignored you. Once I was a teenager, though, I didn’t mind being left alone. When she
saw it didn’t bug me, she gave up the silent treatment.
The best thing she ever did for me was make me take piano lessons. She said her own family was too
poor to pay for lessons when she was a kid. Her mother laughed when she asked for them and said
she was too stupid to play piano.
Shelley loved listening to music (mostly bad music). She couldn’t hold a tune. To her, musicians
walked on water.
Where she got the money for the piano I never knew. It’s been there since I can remember. When I
was young I hated practicing. I was always a little rebel. Anything Shelley wanted, I didn’t. So she
made me feel guilty. Her usual line—if she could scrounge together the money, the least I could do
was practice. She found a music student a few blocks away who was giving lessons at a discount, but
it was still a lot of money for a hairdresser. She said she had to cut and style two heads of hair to pay
for one hour of piano lesson. Sometimes we ate Kraft Dinner to make up for it.
So I pouted while practicing my scales up and down, up and down the keys. Until I realized I was good
at it. Then I just pretended to hate it. Shelley didn’t understand why the piano teacher started me on
Mozart and Bach. “Doesn’t the teacher know any Billy Joel or Phil Collins?” she’d ask. I’d roll my eyes
and say, “She’s teaching me music that doesn’t suck.” I stopped piano lessons when I was fifteen
because I got interested in the guitar. My voice wasn’t bad either. I only sang when Shelley wasn’t
The radio in her hair salon was stuck on the “easy listening” channel, so those old songs were
background music while I was growing up. They made me want to hurl. Even going into Shelley’s, the
salon she owned on the Danforth, made me want to hurl. It was old and dingy and badly needed a
facelift. Her customers were old, too. When I was younger, some of them would comment on how I
didn't look anything like Shelley. I took that as an insult because Shelley was hot. Tall and thin with a
long neck. Her ears were perfect little shells with earlobes. I was always jealous of her ears because
mine were ugly. They were big and flat with thin round edges like clam shells. And no earlobes! She
laughed when I complained, and said no one would notice my ears if I wore my hair long.
I thought Shelley would be happy when I told her I wanted to sing with a band. But she wasn’t. It
seemed to make her nervous. And I didn’t even tell her I would be playing guitar, not piano, for
accompaniment. She said I needed to make a living, so she taught me to cut hair. I fought at first, but
then I started to like it. I had complete control over someone for an hour. They sat in my chair and they
couldn't move. Not if they wanted a really cool hair cut, which I gave them. Shelley showed me how to
dye hair and after that, I was the only one she trusted to do hers. She liked to change her hair colour
with the season. I dyed it a streaky blond for the summer.
Then I pulled the rug out from under her feet. Without telling her, I registered for an apprentice job at a
salon in Yorkville where the customers had style. I had to take classes in a hair school for a couple of
hours a week, too. The boss liked me and printed out some business cards with my name. Shelley
was mad, but impressed with the cards and the snazzy address.
I hadn’t told her ahead of time because I knew it would be a hassle. She’d yell and call me ungrateful.
Maybe I was. But I wanted more than Shelley’s salon. She was really mad when I moved out—but hey,
I was twenty-three! Now that I was making my own money I could afford a studio apartment near the
subway. I was so out of there. Couldn’t live with her anymore—she was a control freak. Okay, so we
both had control issues. Even so, last month I came to her shop on a Sunday to dye her hair mauve-
red for the fall (her choice). She was almost fifty but looked good for her age.
Back to the phone call. A woman named Diane called asking for Amanda Jane Moss. That was me.
“You don’t know me,” she said. “I was a friend of your mother’s. She was a good person.”
“How do you know Shelley?”
“I mean your real mother.”
“She asked me to give you something. Can I come by this afternoon?
“There’s some mistake. My mother died twenty years ago.”
“Is your birthday December 3, 1987?”
“How d’you know?”
“Your mother told me. Her name was Carol Allan. You were born Amanda Allan. You were adopted
by Shelley and Stephen Moss. Carol…your mother and I worked together. We were friends.”
I was speechless. This was the first time I’d heard my birth mother’s name. Shelley always said the
agency wouldn’t tell her who my parents were, only that they had died in a crash.
Then she said, “I’m sorry to have to tell you—Carol died last week. It was cancer. I’m so sorry.” There
was a pause. “Please tell Shelley.”
In a daze, I gave her my address. Why did my mother give me away? She was alive all this time! It was
like a knife in my chest. I could’ve met her.
It was Monday so I had the day off. I stewed for half an hour, getting madder and madder. Then I called
“What’re you talking about?”
“You lied to me! About my mother.”
I felt the shock over the phone. I knew her too well. After my father left for the last time there were just
the two of us.
“Who told you that?”
“Nobody you know.”
“You talked to someone…”
“She was alive all these years and you didn’t want me to meet her.”
“No, no, that’s not true. You don’t understand… I… I was trying to protect you.”
“Why did you lie to me?”
“There are some things… better not to know.”
That was just like her. “I’ll never meet her now.”
“What’re you talking about?”
A long pause. “It’s better that way.”
“That’s a horrible thing to say.”
“I’ll never forgive you.”
I heard a sharp intake of breath. Good.
“I didn’t tell you because—she was evil.”
I slammed down the phone.