Things went back to normal for the most part after the woods incident. My mother insisted that everyone stay over at our house for the weekend so no one else would get sick. Lynnie thanked her when she came to take us all to school (and nursery school for Boo) on Monday morning. We would have been more excited if we were less frightened.
Once we resumed our after-school schedule, we grew skittish around Dave. Lynnie no longer asked us to get him at meal times; she did it herself. He returned to his usual demeanor. He even asked if we could have Thursday teatime again, and we missed it too much to turn him down.
One Monday in late May, we were all at the house. Dave was in his office, working frantically. His exclamations were so loud we could hear them in the kitchen, even though his door was closed. Lynnie helped us make rice krispie treats. By “helped,” she did most of the work while we colored at the table. Occasionally, one of us would wander over and ask to stir for a couple seconds. She was making several batches because our third grade class was having a party the next day following a reading of the fairytales we’d written in the last month. I wrote a story based on a combination of Peter Pan and Cinderella. Romaine opted for a modern retelling of Hansel and Gretel.
The rice krispie making took up most of the afternoon. Ara counted the marshmallows we needed, mainly so she could demonstrate how easily she could count to forty. I measured seven cups of rice krispies and Romaine stirred the marshmallows until they melted. Stirring the rice krispies in was too hard, so we had Lynnie do it.
Around four o’clock there was a knock at the door. The Enson-Mortons rarely had visitors. We ran down the hall to see who it was.
“I want to open the door!” Ara screamed. She was in front.
When Ara reached the door, she waited for the rest of us to catch up, Lynnie the last to arrive. Ara slowly opened it, pulling it further and further back until she was squished against the wall.
Standing on the front step was a woman of almost sixty who looked so out of place on the Enson-Mortons’ doorstep that I thought she must have the wrong house. She was dressed impeccably in a navy and white tweed suit with buttons so shiny I couldn’t tear my eyes away. A strand of pearls decorated her neck. A matching pair of pearl earrings hung from her ears, barely visible behind her shoulder-length, light-brown hair. Her green eyes, ones that might be bright had she smiled, appeared dull and rigid. Her posture made her seem taller than she was; she struck me as positively regal. She was unlike anyone I’d ever seen before.
“Lynnie, now, is it?” She asked, looking past the four children at her feet. There was something wrong about the way she said it.
We turned to Lynnie, whose jaw had gone slack.
“Now, I don’t expect you to invite me in yourself, so I’ll save you the trouble.” The woman continued. She stepped into the house, her tiny heels clacking against the floor. She walked forward like a ballerina—a long, stretching stride, impossibly fluid and graceful.
“How did you,” Lynnie began.
The woman held up one of the business cards Lynnie had given away at the art fair several weeks before.
“A friend of mine bought one of your works. Very nice, I may add.” The woman looked around, her eyes resting on our small, motley crew. Ara pulled at her hair, weeding out the melted marshmallows that had become stuck. Multi-colored markers dotted my face and Boo’s hands. Romaine alone looked presentable, her arms resting at her sides, as if imitating the woman in front of us.
Lynnie hadn’t moved a millimeter since the door had opened. The woman stared at us, inspecting our faces, our fingers, the way we stood completely still, too struck to scamper off.
“Goodness, are these all yours? What’s your name?” She asked Boo, leaning down. Even bending down, her back remained straight; she was like a Nutcracker ballet doll. He didn’t respond.
“Dave? Dave!” Lynnie called. Her voice shook. Her hands fluttered. “And all of you, upstairs now.”
“But Mama,” Romaine protested.
The door to Dave’s office slammed. He appeared in doorway, disheveled and annoyed. He stomped down the hallway, studying a page in his hand.
“Did I not say I was working?” He looked up. At the sight of the strange woman, he stopped. He looked like Boo about to throw a tantrum when Lynnie refused something he felt entitled to.
“Now.” Lynnie told us sternly, pushing Romaine and me toward the stairs, her eyes darting between Dave and the woman. I grabbed Ara’s hand and Romaine grabbed Boo’s. We walked as slowly as possible to the stairs.
“Then I appreciate your taking the time for me. The living room, shall we?” The woman moved through the house as if it were hers. Lynnie didn’t say anything. Dave grunted.
We didn’t make it all the way up the stairs. We thought about it, but were too curious.Instead, we sat on the landing, out of sight.
“Who do you think she is?” Romaine whispered in my ear. She pecked her head about, struggling to catch a glimpse of the adults through the thick, wooden, banister bars.
I shrugged my shoulders; I wished Lynnie had introduced us.
They were speaking too softly for us to hear. A few words slipped through here and there, but nothing of substance.
“Four children?” The woman asked.
Ara held up her fingers, counting each of us on the stairwell. She held her hand out, four fingers up, just to prove her math skills.
“Three,” Lynnie responded. She said something else too, but it was lost.
Ara pointed to me and shook her head. For today’s purposes, my status as family member had been downgraded. Romaine laughed softly and kindly. Boo clung to her sleeve, using her as Lynnie’s surrogate.
Dave didn’t talk much downstairs. When he did, it sounded a lot like growling. The landing of the staircase was hardly better than upstairs.
We listened to what seemed to be mostly white noise for several minutes until we heard Dave smack the floor with his foot. We jerked backward. Romaine and Ara slid down a step to try to get a better look.
“Get the hell out of my house,” he said clearly. I knew from my mother that that wasn’t a very nice word. Romaine and Ara, still seated, scooted further and further down, so far that I was afraid Lynnie, Dave, or the odd woman would see them. Boo and I remained back. Boo tapped his fingers on his leg, having lost interest in what was going on downstairs several minutes before.
No other words were exchanged. Feet shuffled in the direction of the entrance. The door squeaked open and slammed closed shortly after. The footsteps inched toward us. Lynnie appeared at the bottom of the stairwell. At the sight of us on the landing, Ara and Romaine now almost at the bottom of the stairwell, she sighed.
“Mama, who was that?” Romaine asked, still sitting up straight like the woman had.
“No one we want to talk to!” Dave shouted as he passed by on the way back to his office, where he locked himself up for the rest of the evening.
Lynnie held out her hand.
“Come on, let’s finish up the rice krispie treats,” she said.
In the kitchen, Lynnie scooped the rice krispie treats into a pan and let them sit out on the counter. We returned to the table and tried to resume our drawings.