The first week of third grade was a reunion of sorts for Romaine and me. I had spent part of July and virtually all of August traveling. We went to Maryland on an extended visit to my aunt. She met every definition of spinster: the cats, the knitting and crocheting, the old rocking chair, the decrepit, aging house; she still lived in the house she and my mother had grown up in. She made my mother seem urbane. In fact, my aunt emulated her own mother in every way, stuck on a rural farm in the year 1939. I hated visiting Maryland. My aunt didn’t understand the first thing about children. She thought I should be content sitting on the porch all day with a glass of lemonade. Once my mother became convinced I wouldn’t get lost or injured, I was allowed to explore the ten-acre backyard. It consisted of high grass and a few cattails nourished by the swampy puddles of the Chesapeake. Sometimes, purely out of boredom, I would lie down in the grass and marvel at how it stayed flattened even after I’d stood up. At night, I caught fireflies in a glass jar Aunt Maureen had reluctantly surrendered for that purpose.
I arrived comparatively late—five minutes before the bell—for my first day of school. Romaine was the first person to greet me, throwing her arms around me before I had the chance to wriggle out of my new backpack. Dave followed to shake hands with my parents, to tell them how empty the house had seemed without me for the past six weeks, that Lynnie was over at the first grade classroom at the moment, but could pick us up that afternoon if Mom wanted. Mom said she’d pick me up from school that day; we always went for ice cream at the drugstore after my first day of school. Dad always took the day off for my first day, maybe to make up for all the other days he couldn’t.
Before the bell rang and the parents bid us a great day, Dave and my parents had agreed to let me stay over at the Enson-Morton house that Friday. I had become accustomed to the sleeper time song, pancake Saturdays, and picking out Emma lettuce at the Farmers’ Market.
By the time Friday came along, I could barely stop tapping my foot against every surface it encountered. Mom had decided to extend our first day after-school ice cream into a first week after-school ice cream.
Lynnie picked us up exactly when school was dismissed, wearing sandals and a sundress, explaining that she’d spent the day running errands. Boo had stayed home with Dave. At three years old, he was beginning nursery school three times a week starting the upcoming week. When we exited the school, Ara—her light brown hair so lightened by the sun, it appeared dirty blonde—suggested we get pop pops at the general store situated between Main and Oak Streets, which we did. Lynnie brought one home for Boo, knowing he’d be upset if we got pop pops and he didn’t.
We spent the afternoon and evening doing our normal activities. We completed our homework in a half hour, then played in the playhouse during the daylight hours, played tag as dusk. Dave played tag while Lynnie cooked. Boo ran in his own direction, just beginning to understand how the game worked.
Lynnie had made vegetables with pine nuts and garlic. She had cut up some chicken so the four of us had adequate protein. We doodled on our placemats, made a game of trying to draw each other without looking at the paper– even Lynnie and Dave participated. Lynnie mused that it might be the basis of a great art exhibition. After dinner, we decided to watch Alice in Wonderland. I had never seen it, since we didn’t own it, and it was one of the Enson-Mortons’ favorites. Romaine and I whispered through the movie. The White Rabbit was Romaine’s favorite character. The Red Queen was Ara’s favorite. I preferred the Cheshire Cat.
There were only a couple minutes left between the movie and sleeper time. We chose to spend them jumping on the beds in the girls’ room, since that wasn’t allowed in my house. Boo fell asleep sometime during the last twenty minutes of the movie and Dave carried him to his room. At 8:30, Dave began the sleeper time song, and this time, I’d made sure my mother packed my sleeper at the top of my suitcase.
That night, Lynnie read to us from Amelia Bedelia. We giggled through most of the reading, pointing at the silly pictures. When it was over, Lynnie made us promise to go to sleep, even though we showed few signs of it then. We stayed up another hour or so, lying in bed, rehashing the summer—the Enson-Mortons had visited Vermont and Montreal—and the first week of school.
We woke up just in time for pancake breakfast. We raced downstairs—Ara was first this time—and took our usual places at the table. We began to eat right when Lynnie and Dave sat down. Lynnie gulped down the pills she took at every sleepover I’d spent there. She held her hand out for Dave to take his.
“Dave,” she prompted, after her hand had languished there for a minute.
Dave didn’t look up from his food.
“I’m not taking those.”
“Dave, you have to take them.” She used the voice she used when she told us to come inside and we protested.
“They don’t work.”
He took another couple bites of his pancake. Lynnie kept her hand open, her expression blank. When he didn’t respond, she tried again.
“You know that’s,” she continued.
“Lynnie, if I wanted to live with my mother, I would.” He snapped.
Lynnie bit her lip. She curled her fingers around the pills and retracted her hand.
“Fine,” she placed the pills between them on the table. “When you’re ready to take them, they’ll be right there.”
She patted the area next to them on the table.
We didn’t have much conversation that morning. Lynnie watched Dave, but he kept his eyes on his meal. When we’d finished breakfast, we took our plates to the sink, and Lynnie told us to go upstairs to change for the Farmers’ Market. We descended the stairs just as Dave slammed the door to his office. Lynnie stood in the kitchen, dropping white tablets, one by one, into their proper containers.