As the wine had finally pushed Ramona off to uneasy sleep that night, her last rational thought before dream logic took hold had been, I can’t wait for those few seconds in the morning when I forget all about this.
Of course, this being the worst year of Ramona’s life, there was no such moment of peace. Instead there was a small hand on her shoulder shaking her awake. Ramona spun on the couch, groaning as the light from the window hit her face, and finally dared to open her eyes, expecting the strange woman in her terrible nightgown.
Instead her youngest daughter Winnie was staring at her with those wide green eyes that hadn’t seemed to come from her or Winnie’s father. She was clutching her elephant blanket, her hair a tangled halo around her head.
“Why are you on the couch?” she asked.
“I…uh…” Ramona ran a hand through her own nest of hair. Maybe the woman is gone. Maybe the woman never happened! Not that I want to get started on a medical history of hallucinations or anything. Or quit drinking wine. But those options have to be easier than-
“There’s a strange woman crying in your bedroom.”
“Well, honey, that’s why I’m on the couch.” Ramona sat up on the couch. She had given Loretta the bed last night, unwilling to deal with the drama she was sure would come with asking this uptight accidental time traveler to take the living room couch.
“But who is she?”
“She’s a friend of Mommy’s, she needed a place to stay.”
“Oh. Can we have pancakes for breakfast?”
Oh, to be a child again, when every question had a simple answer you could just take a face value.
The many-syllable caterwaul flew down the stairs, bounced off a few walls, and pierced directly into Ramona’s left ear, causing her eyes to water. Maybe I need to lay off the wine anyway.
“What did I say about yelling across the house?” Ramona yelled at the stairs.
“There’s a weird lady in your room.” Ramona’s oldest daughter, Angie, came down the stairs just far enough that if she leaned over the railing she could see her through the doorway. Ramona hated it when she did that. All she could picture was that railing breaking under her weight. “She wants to know if I’m a house maid, and also she wants tea?”
Unlike her sister’s eyes, Ramona could pinpoint exactly where each of Angie’s features had come from. The brown hair and eyes and the heart shaped face, that was all from Ramona. If you put a picture of Angie next to a picture of Ramona at fifteen you might think they were the same person. But Lloyd was there, too. The way Ramona held herself, the way she moved, and that peculiar half smile. All the same as her father. She had caught herself staring at all three of her children, but Angie the most, begging them in her mind not to become like him.
“Are you asking me if you’re a maid?”
Angie rolled her eyes. “I’m asking if we even have tea.”
Ramona blinked. Tea? She tried to picture the pantry. All she could picture was a mess. Just like the rest of the kitchen. There might have been a box of tea hidden away in there. Did they have a teapot?
“I’ll figure it out. Tell Loretta to come down. I’m making pancakes.”
“Yes,” said Winnie in a tiny voice, accompanied by a tiny fist pump.
“And wake up your brother!” Ramona yelled after Angie as she ran back upstairs.
In the pantry, Ramona pawed through the boxes, her heart not really in it. The box of pancake mix was prominently displayed in the middle of the second-to-lowest shelf. Almost as if someone had really wanted a certain someone else to notice. And then she just went and asked anyway. Winnie was seven, and hadn’t really grasped the finer details of subterfuge. Given how good Angie had seemed to have gotten at it, Ramona wasn’t exactly hurting at her other two kids being bad liars.
The pancake box always made her think of her mother in law. Box mix wasn’t good enough for her ‘pwecious gwand-babies.’ Nothing Ramona did was good enough. The clothes she bought were too cheap and you couldn’t put a baby boy in a girl’s onesie and Heaven fore-fucking-fend if they got food at a drive-thru every once in a fucking while.
Ramona drew a deep breath. The only true silver lining of this entire situation was that Sylvia was a thousand miles away and Ramona had blocked her number and changed all the locks on the house. She fixed the look on her face before leaving the little room with the pancake mix and the single box of mint tea she had found.
“Where’s Loretta?” she asked. Angie and Noah were sitting at the table, each deeply engrossed in whatever it was that went on inside those phones. Winnie had long ago memorized what else went into pancakes and was deep inside the fridge trying to rescue the eggs.
Angie put her phone down and sat up, and when she spoke it was in what she imagined an upper-crust accent was, weaving in out of an English accent.
“The dearest Loretta doesn’t think she has the strength to leave her room today, and wishes breakfast and all her meals to be brought to her room. Along with her tea.” Angie snorted and picked up her phone again. “She also said she didn’t know what pancakes are. Who is this lady, Mom?”
The sudden urge to tell them the truth, at least as she understood it, washed over her.
You can’t tell them the truth. They’re too young. It’ll warp them. You shouldn’t even be letting this woman stay with you. You need to protect the baaaabies.
Potentially good advice, except all of it had been in Sylvia’s voice and Ramona realized she was crushing the corner of the pancake mix box in her hand.
“She’s the wife of the man who had this house built. She accidentally time travelled here last night and I don’t know what to do about it.”
Three sets of eyes were now locked on her, even Noah and he had barely acknowledged her these past few months.
See, Sylvia, I told the truth and got my kid to look at me, so you can suck it.