Maggie rocked Henry back and forth, back and forth. Her arms and shoulders and back ached. Henry was two and heavy. He also had an ear infection and was cranky.
Maggie had taken Henry to the walk in clinic that afternoon. She’d spent two and a half hours there. Now he had antibiotics but so far they hadn’t been a miracle cure.
Henry was starting to relax. His head lolled against her shoulder. Maybe she could lay him down in his crib and he would actually sleep. Henry’s twin sister, Emily, was already asleep nearby in her own crib.
Gently, slowly, so as not to trigger another crying jag, Maggie settled Henry into his crib. Her heart swelled with love at the sight of him snuggling down onto the sheet in his footie pajamas. She covered him lightly with a flannel blanket, checked briefly on Emily and quietly left the room.
Maggie was exhausted. Downstairs she could hear the competitive game that was happening between Dan, her husband, and Michael, her stepson. It was nice to have Michael for the holidays. He really was a good boy and it made Dan happy. It was difficult though, Maggie admitted. Their son James and daughter Lily, who were at awkward tween stages, resented Michael and the attention Dan gave him. Michael wasn’t really interested in them either. He gave cursory nods to James when he wanted to show him the elaborate LEGO creations he’d made and had (politely, but still) asked Lily to stop talking earlier in the morning. Lily had looked indignant and then embarrassed and with her cheeks red, had gone to her room and slammed the door.
Maggie glanced across the hall at Lily’s closed bedroom door. Lily’s bedroom! It was always a terrible wreck. How could an eleven-year-old girl create such a disaster? Lily loved crafts of all sorts. She cut paper into shapes, she taped, she glued, she stapled. Then she left all the scraps and creations wherever they landed.
Lily would have to clean her room tomorrow, Maggie decided. There would be resistance and it would take all of Maggie’s patience but it had to get done before school resumed.
And thinking of school starting, Maggie had to get James to do his book report. It was due the first day they were back from winter break. (What kind of teacher does that?) Of course it had been assigned weeks ago but James hadn’t even started the book. Now Maggie couldn’t remember what book he was supposed to read. She was so busy getting ready for the holidays and dealing with the twins who seemed to take turns being sick, that she didn't have time to stay on top of James’s homework.
Maggie’s shoulders drooped and she sighed. She considered going downstairs to join the rest of the family but she was too tired and who knew when the twins would wake up. Neither of them was sleeping well since Henry was sick and maybe Emily was getting sick again too.
“I’m going to bed,” she called down the stairs to Dan.
There was a pause. Then a distracted “Oh, OK” came her way. They were deeply embroiled in their competition.
Maggie didn’t bother to wash her face. She ran a toothbrush quickly over her teeth then climbed under the covers.
Sleepily, Maggie muttered, “I just wish my family would disappear for a day and I could get some sleep.”
Maggie rolled over in bed. Light was streaming in through the curtains. How long had she slept? She glanced over at the alarm clock and gasped. That long! She hadn’t slept this late since she’d become a mother! Her back was stiff from lying in the same position for so long. Maggie glanced over to Dan’s side of the bed. He wasn’t there. Maybe he had gotten up early with the twins? That was sweet of him! As the fog lifted from her brain, Maggie noticed there were differences in her room. Strange. Where was the nightstand on Dan’s side of the bed? It wasn’t there and a big plant was sitting on the floor next to the bed. Their wedding picture wasn’t on the wall. In it’s place there was a landscape painting of a beach scene. Also, where were Dan’s things from the top of the dresser? His change jar? The popsicle stick picture frame Lily had made him for Father’s Day? What had happened?
Maggie climbed out of bed and left the room, trying to keep panic at bay. There must be an explanation. Outside her bedroom, she stopped short. Though it was vaguely familiar, there was something really different about the house. Then it occurred to her, this is the way the house looked before they remodeled. Before the twins were born, they’d added on to the house. They’d built an addition above the garage—another bedroom and a playroom. Now there was just a wall. Maggie was starting to panic. Her eyes slid around the uncharacteristically tidy hallway. There were no toys scattered. There were no scuffmarks on the wall and no handprints anywhere. Where was everyone? And who had cleaned everything up? And why was there a wall in front of the twins’ bedroom?
Maggie opened Lily’s bedroom door. (Where were the taped signs and notes that usually covered the door?) She stepped back and gasped at what she saw. It was a sewing room! All of Lily’s things were gone. There were shelves stacked neatly with colored fabric. There was a work table along a wall with a sewing machine and in the corner, there was a beautiful quilt set up on a large hoop that someone was in the middle of hand quilting. It was breathtaking; Maggie had always wished she had more time to quilt. Who did this belong to?
Next she opened the room James shared with Michael when he was visiting. Instead of the two twin beds and a scattering of Lego bricks on the floor, there was a queen size bed. It was very stylish with plump throw pillows. There was an end table next to the bed, where nothing sat except a lamp. There was more art on the walls. It looked like a guest room.
Nothing made sense. Maggie went downstairs to the spotless, unfamiliar kitchen. There was not one magnet on the fridge. Not one! Where was the Mother’s Day card from Lily? It was months old and curling at the edges but Maggie loved it and had proudly stuck it to the fridge with magnets. One of the magnets had been James’s handprint from when he was in preschool. It was made out of Sculpey clay and then sloppily painted bright orange. It was ugly but it was his tiny handprint!
Maggie picked up her phone and Dan wasn’t in her contacts. She dialed his number and it didn’t exist.
“It’s like they all disappeared,” Maggie said out loud.
Her sister Karen’s number was programmed into the phone so Maggie called her. “Happy New Year!” Karen said cheerily. Maggie could hear children in the background. Maybe her family was at Karen’s house?
“Something really weird has happened,” Maggie said.
“What?” Karen asked.
“Have you seen my family?”
“What do you mean?”
“Dan? Michael? James? Lily? The twins? I don’t know where they are and my whole house is different and really clean and I’m freaking out.” Maggie’s voice rose higher as she spoke.
There was a pause on the other end. “Um…who?”
“My family!” Maggie was practically shrieking but she couldn’t stop herself.
“Are you OK?” Karen asked.
“No,” Maggie wailed, “I’m not.”
“All right. I’m coming over there. Stay put, OK?”
To be continued...