When Ramona had been picking her wedding dresses, her mother, a loving but practical woman, had tried to steer her to something sleek and modern. But Ramona had dreamed of her fairy tale wedding her entire life. She hadn’t wanted a wedding dress, she had wanted a wedding gown. Something white and made of lace and taffeta, with lots of layer and a big hoop skirt. She had wanted Lloyd to dress as her prince charming, her bridesmaid to be her ladies in waiting, and to walk down the aisle to a string quartet playing “So This is Love.” She had gotten it, and she had never regretted it.
Until this very second, driving into charming and historic Seaview, with Loretta sitting in the passenger seat of her crossover, practically drowning in waves upon waves of white fabric. Even without the hoop skirt – which had been lost in one move or another, and thank salty Jesus for that – the bottom half of the gown completely filled the foot well. She looked like she was sitting in a jar of marshmallow fluff. No, she looked like she was on her way to get married. But there was no wedding. So she just looked crazy. Ramona hadn’t even offered her the veil.
“We are going quite fast, aren’t we?” Loretta asked, her voice wavering.
“Not really,” Angie said from the back. “It’s only thirty-five. Wait until you see how fast we go on highways.”
Ramona looked at her through the rearview. “She’s not going to see that, because we’re going to get her home. Today.”
Noah was in the middle seat, phone in his face, as per usual. He sat forward, tugging on his seatbelt.
“It says here they didn’t have Coke or cheeseburgers in the 1860s,” Noah said.
“We are not getting McDonalds,” Ramona said. “Think about all the preservatives in that, her stomach couldn’t handle it.” She was never going to wear it again, but she still didn’t want anyone blowing chunks all over her nice dress.
Noah sat back in his seat, still searching through his phone. Any excuse to not have to eat his mother’s cooking, apparently.
Downtown Seaview was like every other ‘historic’ downtown in America. Small, quaint, full of bullshit stores that sold small, quaint bullshit and anything they could slap an American flag on. It was high tourist season, and to find parking Ramona had to pull onto a side street and squeeze in between two identical silver Toyota Camrys with Massachusetts plates.
“Angie and Noah, help Loretta out of the car while I get Winnie. And try not to rip anything!”
They met on the thin sidewalk. Loretta was pressed up against the bricks, and some little part of Ramona’s brain was chanting the bricks the bricks the lace the lace the bricks the lace the bricks the lace but there were too many other things to care about so she pushed the chant down. Out of habit she pressed the button on the fob to lock the car, and the tiny little beep that came from somewhere under the door made Loretta jump.
“There’s so many people here,” she said, wonder lifting her voice. “I haven’t seen this many people in the same place since I left Boston.”
Angie rolled her eyes. “Please, like Boston is big or something.”
“I want to hold Loretta’s hand!”
“It says here the Civil War ended in 1865. Does that mean your husband was a soldier?”
Ramona pinched the bridge of her nose. “Angie, don’t be mean! Winnie, I honestly don’t know if you can reach her hand over her skirts. Noah…don’t ask questions like that in front of other people but I like that you’re looking up history. Come on.”
The five of them walked down Main Street in the direction Ramona was eighty percent was correct. She led the group, partly because she (sort of) knew where she was going, and partly to avoid the embarrassment. The few times she looked back she found Loretta walking down the center of the sidewalk, surrounded by fluffy white skirts that took over nearly all the space from the curb to the wall, all while her smallest child clung to Loretta’s hand and suffered skirts in her face to do it. Tourists passing had to press up against the buildings or step off into the parking lane between cars to avoid her. Of course, Loretta didn’t notice any of this, her face awestruck as she tried to see everything on Main Street at the same time. When she finally saw what they were looking for, Ramona practically stepped on a four year old to lunge for it.
The Seaview Historical Society was tucked between Hattie’s General Store and Just Maine Things, both of which seemed to be displaying the exact same collection of moose and lobster themed t-shirts in their windows. The windows of the Historical Society were mostly bare in comparison, with just a few fliers for tours and events.
Inside was a mostly empty space with a few desks scattered here and there. Large maps and old paintings of Seaview adorned the walls. A single woman was sitting at the desk furthest to the back. She was maybe Ramona’s mother’s age, white hair pulled loosely at her neck. She was bent over something as they came in, her head jerking up when she heard the bells of the door. The woman stood up, putting her smart phone on her desk, and watching as they filed in.
The woman frowned. “Do you need directions?”
“No.” Ramona shook her head. “We-”
“Oh, well, we don’t have a public bathroom, if that’s what you’re after. You’ll have to go to the pizza place on the corner.”
Ignoring the way her son’s face lit up, Ramona pressed on.
“No, actually…this is the Historical Society, right?”
A shocked smile crossed the woman, making her look ten years younger.
“You actually want to be here,” she muttered to herself. She fumbled with her phone and a lanyard, putting one in her pocket and trying to hang the other around her neck until she realized she had swapped them. Carrying her phone, she came around the desk. “I’m Mrs. Reed. Did you want a tour?”
“Not a tour, but we do have questions,” Loretta said. Winnie was still pressed up against the skirts, determined to hold her hand even as the fabric folded around her face. Mrs. Reed looked at the two like a grandmother.
“Playing dress up with the youngest, isn’t that cute? I would do that when my grandkids came up to visit.”
“Yes! Dress up!” Damn it, why didn’t I think of that? “We moved into the McEnnis House, over on Highland Road, and-”
“Oh, such a lovely place. A bit of a fixer upper, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, you could say. So we were wondering-”
“My dear, I forgot! We have something very special for the kids who are interested in history!”
Mrs. Reed was already scurrying back to her desk, otherwise she might have caught Ramona gritting her teeth. The kids didn’t notice, either. Even Angie perked up – who wouldn’t at the scent of something free – and had started following Mrs. Reed. Winnie didn’t want to let go of Loretta’s hand and tried to drag her with her, Loretta managing a look of sympathy before attentively following the six year old.
“I know they’re in this drawer…I think I have some left…we just don’t get as many kids as we used to…where…ah!”
Mrs. Reed stood back from her desk, shoulders high, and held out three plastic cards, the size of a library card. Each of her kids took one, and Ramona peered over Angie’s shoulder.
“Member of the Seaview Junior Historical Society,” it said in bright blue letters. Next to it was a mess of pixels that was probably the town crest but could have been a smudged bird.
“Are there…dues, or something?” Ramona asked. Angie and Noah were staring at each other with that unfriendly look they had gotten very good at, while Winnie had handed hers to Loretta.
Mrs. Reed shook her head so hard her hair became unclipped. “No, not for the children! All they need is an inquisitive mind. Well, go on, look on the other side!”
Noah flipped his over and his eyes went wide. He scurried over to Ramona, holding the card out to her. On the back was a list of eight places in town.
“‘Elroy’s Pizza, free cheese slice,’” Noah read out. “‘Scoops, free waffle cone!’”
“They’re good all year!” Mrs. Reed said, beaming. “And if someone doesn’t want to honor that, you come right here and tell me, I’ll set them straight. I was saving those three for my grandkids, but then my daughter decided they just ‘didn’t want to come’ this year, and it’s not like I’ve got the money lying around to get out to Texas, so…”
Mrs. Reed laughed as she rubbed her hands together, perhaps realizing she had said too much. Ramona instructed her kids to say thanks, trying to move the conversation forward. She very much wanted to get some answers and get out of there.
“What are your grandkids’ names?” Loretta asked.
Murder is fun.
While Mrs. Reed and Loretta chatted about her grandkids and how big they were getting and whether or not they would like to play with Ramona’s kids, Ramona tried very hard not to chew her nails. She compensated by shifting from foot to foot. Until she noticed Angie doing the same thing.
You’re supposed to get my good habits, not my bad ones.
“Anyway,” Mrs. Reed said, pulling a tear from her laughter away from her face. “What was it that brought you all in today?”
“We moved into the McEnnis House, and we were curious about the young wife that went missing?” Ramona said it all as fast as she could, for fear of being interrupted again.
Mrs. Reed tutted. “Yes, very sad. Her husband was lost at sea in the spring of 1868. There are accounts of her after in some of the locals’ journals. A Mrs. Johnson seemed deadset on getting her to marry her son.”
“I knew it,” Loretta said.
“Well, I, uh,” Mrs. Reed sputtered. “Besides that we don’t know much. Late that summer her house staff came in one morning and she was just gone.”
“And there’s no record of m- of her after?” Loretta asked.
“Not here in town. The house stood empty for a few months, in case she or her husband turned up. Eventually they found the wreck of her husband’s ship, but never her.”
“Maybe she went somewhere else? Started a new life?” Ramona asked.
“I guess maybe, but I wouldn’t know,” Mrs. Reed said, shrugging. “I’m the Seaview Historical Society.”
Loretta hid a sniffle and stood up straight. “Thank you, Mrs. Reed, you’ve been very helpful. I hope you get to see your grandkids at Christmas.”
“Come visit, anytime! We do all sorts of events!” Mrs. Reed called after them.
Back outside, filling the sidewalk, and no closer to an answer. She gave Loretta the side eye.
“Did you have to ask her about her grandkids?”
Loretta looked at her with confusion. “She seemed very much to want to talk about them. That her daughter didn’t bring them this year has obviously made her sad. She didn’t seem to get many visitors, so I thought maybe just talking for a few minutes would brighten her day.”
Ramona crossed her arms in front of her, stepping back and forth, trying to come up with an argument that didn’t make her sound like a monster.
“Can we get pizza?” Noah suddenly asked, shoving his head between them.
“It’s not even ten o’clock,” Ramona said. “And we’ve got one more store to find.”