That afternoon, Hanna took her sisters to the public library. It was a short walk, even for Sarah. Their house was conveniently close to downtown. She left them in the children’s section, and went upstairs, to an area she had rarely frequented before: non-fiction. The second floor had towering ceilings, and felt more solemn and library-like than the cozy downstairs. It wasn’t the best-stocked library in the world, but it did have a section on cooking. Hanna had a vague idea of trying learn how to cook. She wasn’t exactly sure what. Maybe wholegrain bread. Something healthy. Her mom cooked, but she didn’t have a lot of time. She sometimes had Hanna heat something up, if she was going to be late – frozen French fries and fish sticks, or Kraft dinner with hotdogs and beans.
Hanna knew she could do better. But the array of cookbooks was disorienting. More than half of them claimed to promote health or weight loss. But they contradicted each other. Low fat? Low carb? Vegetarian? Vegan? She didn’t know who to believe.
She ended up wandering a bit, going from cookbooks to books on healthy eating, healthy living, nutrition, exercise. She scanned titles, picking up anything that caught her eye, skimming the back covers. A lot of them seemed pretty scammy, but she filled her arms with volumes that looked legit. Heading back to the cookbooks, she let herself pick out several, basing her decisions purely on emotion, without bothering about the science.
It was a job getting them all home. Emily and Sarah helped carry them, but Lizzy refused, walking ahead of the other three like she didn’t know who they were.
“What’s with Lizzy?” Emily asked, quietly. “She’s acting mad all the time.”
“Maybe she is mad,” said Hanna. “She probably misses home.”
“I miss home too,” said Emily. “But I don’t act like a jerk about it.”
Hanna couldn’t argue with that. But then she noticed Sarah.
“Hey,” she said, kneeling. “What’s wrong?” Sarah’s eyes were filling up with tears.
“I miss home,” Sarah whispered, looking down at the sidewalk.
“You mean Rose Valley?”
Sarah nodded, pitifully.
“Rose Valley’s not home, Sarah,” said Hanna, gently. She put her books down on the sidewalk. Took Sarah’s, and added them to the pile, and then took the little girl into her arms.
“This is home,” she said, kissing the top of her sister’s head. “Me, and Emily, and Lizzy, and Mom and Dad. We’re you’re home. No matter where we go.”
“Then why do I miss it?” Her childish voice trembled. Reminding Hanna so much of Adele.
Emily came behind her sister, and put a hand comfortingly on her shoulder. “Because we loved it there.”
“That’s right,” said Hanna, smiling at Emily. “You loved your friends, and our house, and our neighbours. It’s ok to miss them. I miss them, too.”
Sarah rubbed her nose. “I want to go back.”
Hanna felt her chest contract. She’d forgotten this. Sarah’s grief, so much stronger than their parents had ever expected it to be in someone so young, made her own feel fresh again. It had healed long ago, covered in tough scar tissue. But now, she remembered. And she felt the hurt, all over again.
“I want to go back, too,” she said, her own eyes glistening.
“Why can’t we?”
Hanna swallowed. Blinked back the tears she wouldn’t let fall. “Because,” she said. “This is where Mom and Dad think we should be. And we trust them.” Sarah’s eyes turned up to meet hers, slightly mollified. “So,” Hanna added, “we follow them. No matter where they take us. Even if it’s an African jungle.”
That got a smile. “With lions and elephants?”
“And cannibals,” Hanna confirmed.
“Or the North Pole,” said Emily. “Where it’s winter all the time, and we’d have to live in an igloo.”
“And eat raw fish,” supplied Hanna.
There were disgusted exclamations by both of the younger girls, at this information.
“But we’re not eating raw fish tonight,” declared Hanna.
“Are you going to cook something?” asked Emily, as they gathered their books up again, and continued walking.
“Maybe,” said Hanna. She should probably consider. This might be one of those things she should ask permission for, first.
Lizzy was waiting for them half a block away, at the next street corner. “What were you doing on the sidewalk?” she asked, as they approached. “People were staring at you.”
The words themselves may have been benign. But the delivery, in both the tone and the attitude, said otherwise. They confirmed the purpose of the words: to put down, to embarrass, to belittle. It was a small thing, a subtle thing. But it was mean.
Part of Hanna wanted to be mean right back. But another part wanted to excuse it. To answer the question calmly, without taking offence. To ignore the intended barb. Because the grown up part of her knew why Lizzy was acting out: she was hurting, too.
But something told her she shouldn’t make excuses for her sister. She could understand the reasons for her bitterness, but that didn’t make it right. And Lizzy was better than that. She could be better. She certainly knew better.
How could Hanna help her remember it?
That was the puzzle. How to push Lizzy, without pushing her away.
Lizzy was looking at them with a sneer. Emily was glancing around self-consciously. Sarah was biting her bottom lip, looking down at her feet, as though she were about to cry again.
Hanna made up her mind. “Sarah was sad,” she said, finally. “And when one of our sisters is sad, we stop, and help her feel better.” Her words acquired confidence as she spoke. “And we don’t care who’s watching.”
She didn’t let her gaze falter. She didn’t make excuses. She didn’t mention the fact that the street was essentially deserted.
Lizzy’s face did something unexpected, then. It went from condescending, to surprised, and then – to Hanna’s amazement – embarrassment.
She’d hit it. Lizzy still had a conscience, and Hanna had made her feel it.
Lizzy looked at Emily, and then at Sarah, who had both been hurt by her words – ones which she’d only intended for Hanna. And she was unmistakably ashamed of herself.
Hanna felt no triumph in this. She knew it had to be done – that Lizzy needed to see beyond her own pain – but it was hard to watch.
“Let’s go,” she said, leading them across the street. The lesson had been taught. It was time to move on.
They hadn’t been gone long. Hanna could have searched for a recipe and tried her hand at making dinner, but she couldn’t decide if she should or not. She wasn’t supposed to call her mom at work unless it was emergency. So she settled on further altering her wardrobe. There hadn’t been any objections to that particular endeavour.
All her pants would soon sport narrow triangles of extra material, sewn into the outside seams, from knee to hem. Instant bellbottoms. There wasn’t much she could do about her t-shirts, but she gave a lot to Lizzy, as a peace offering. And resolved to do some serious shopping the next time Mom took them to the Salvation Army. As a child, Hanna had hardly looked at the clothes, agreeing passively with whatever her mother chose for her, as long as it didn’t seem likely to attract attention. She supposed she’d been a little embarrassed about having to shop second-hand, or too discouraged by all the ugly clothing to bother looking for something she might actually like. Add all of that to her lack of confidence in her fashion sense. When faced with the reality that she didn’t have much of a choice over what she wore, she chose not to care.
Now, however, she knew exactly what she liked. She’d spent enough time admiring beautiful clothes that she couldn’t wear. Imagining how she would dress, when she finally lost enough weight to pull it off.
That time had come.
What she couldn’t find or alter, she would make. What was stopping her? She could sew. She didn’t have a sewing machine, yet, but she had hands. And, without the bother of homework, she had lots of time.
Lizzy came upstairs around 5:00, and found Hanna on the floor of their room, surrounded by fabric and an open sewing kit.
“You’re making a mess,” she complained. As if she hadn’t just been given an armload of Hanna’s clothes. As if Hanna didn’t live with her mess day after day.
“I’ll clean it up,” Hanna said, ignoring the hostility in Lizzy’s voice that irritated her so much – she couldn’t handle another teaching moment right now. She would just avoid being drawn into an argument.
“I don’t know why you’re doing this, anyway. You look dumb.”
Hanna looked up at her, then. Lizzy, standing there, wearing a sweater Hanna had just given her, with a becoming haircut of Hanna’s own doing. The girl really was frustrating. It was as if her moment of self-realization had never happened. The twelve year old in Hanna felt amazingly indignant. Her clothes, dumb? Hanna’s wardrobe was – or was going to be – the coolest collection of clothing any twelve year old had ever had. And since Lizzy would one day reap the benefits of her hand-me-downs, she could at least be a little grateful.
“Fine,” Hanna said, putting a cheerful lilt in her voice. “Then I won’t do anything to your clothes.”
Lizzy stalked off, and Hanna got back to sewing.
Their mom made one of Hanna’s favourite meals for dinner that night. But even as she enjoyed it, still relishing the novelty of eating supper at the table with the family of her childhood, she couldn’t quite ignore that it was made with canned soup containing MSG. And that was an awful feeling. She was still a kid. It was even worse when she thought about her sisters. Their growing bodies needed better. It wasn’t their mom’s fault, she was doing the best she knew how. No one thought about chemicals in their food these days. It was still the 90s. The health crisis wasn’t a crisis yet. Their mom had been raised on these foods without any problems; and they were eating better, on a smaller budget, than most Canadian families.
But Hanna knew what none of them did. And, if she got to stay here, she would have the time to implement changes. Tomorrow. If she was still here tomorrow, she would start cooking. And she wasn’t going to ask permission.
She was just putting her sewing away for the evening, when their dad got home from work. She hadn’t seen her father yet. He was always gone by the time she got up, and didn’t get home until after she was asleep. He’d worked so hard, in those first few years. Trying to find a business to buy, so that he could be his own boss. Right now, he was learning the printing business from an owner who wanted to sell. He still had to find the money to buy it with, and that was going to be more of an ordeal than anticipated. But at least he was home every night. That was all he wanted – to come home to his family at the end of the day.
Hanna never made a big deal about things. But she decided to make a big deal about this. When she saw his car pull in to the driveway, she called down the stairs. “Dad’s home!” When he came in from the porch, she was there to give him a hug. The girls were on the couch, watching a show. But when Sarah saw Hanna, she got up and gave their Dad a hug, too. Emily followed. And Hanna got to see the twinkle come back into her Dad’s eyes.
Mom warmed him up some supper in the microwave, and Hanna went back upstairs to go to bed. It was early, but the sun was going down, and she was tired. Sarah followed her, so Hanna got her ready for bed, too, and read her a story. She couldn’t remember ever doing that.
“I like this,” said Sarah, as Hanna tucked her in. “You should put me to bed every night.”
Hanna smiled. “Maybe I will,” she said. “If you’re a very good little girl and do everything I tell you to.”
Sarah made no such promises. But looking at her, so innocent, hardly more than a baby, it was hard for Hanna to believe Sarah would ever be anything other than good. Even if she knew otherwise.
She put aside the thought. She didn’t know anything, anymore. Who Sarah would, or wouldn’t be. What was real, and what wasn’t. Maybe everything was changing.
She needed to sleep.
There were few things Hanna liked better, than sleep. She seemed to require more of it than the rest of the world. While everyone else got by on eight hours a night, she functioned best on ten. Nine was acceptable, but not optimal. Anything less, and there were consequences.
Over the years, she’d learned to make sleeping a priority. Others might think her lazy – and her defensiveness at the idea betrayed her fear that they might be right – but it was necessary to her survival. Her routine was carefully crafted, formed from experience.
She’d always felt it could be improved, however. It never seemed natural to wake up while it was still dark. Or to stay up long after the sun had set. She didn’t buy everyone else’s enthusiasm for electric light bulbs, and their ability to lengthen the day beyond what God had ordained. Sometimes, she felt like she’d been born in the wrong century. Like an old woman, protesting against the march of progress. Longing for the simpler days of her youth.
It didn’t make sense. How could she miss something she’d never experienced?
Well, this was her chance to change. She was eating better. She was being a better sister. A better student. Why not go to bed with the sun, if she wanted? There was nothing stopping her.
She had no problem falling asleep, and she wasn’t woken up by Lizzy coming into the room. But she woke up during the night. The first time, she lay motionless in her bed, contemplating. Questioning the world around her in a way she’d never dreamed she would ever have to. Was all of this a dream? A vision? Or was it real? And if it was, what about the life she had lived before – was any of that real? Had it ever happened, or had that been the dream? Because this felt as real as anything she could remember.
No, it couldn’t have been a dream. The people in her life were not just figments of her imagination. They existed – or had existed. Or would exist. She hadn’t dreamt them. If anything was a dream, it was this life, not the one she had known for the last 16 years. Those years were the real thing.
Eventually, sleep came, once again. But then, for the first time since she’d become a time traveler, she dreamed.
Of Sarah, planting seeds in their garden. And then she wasn’t Sarah, she was Adele. Talking to herself as she took handfuls of earth, and pat them in place over her seeds, with her tiny, chubby hands. Hanna came up to her, smiling, and asked her what she was saying. Adele looked up at her, laughing, her mouth full of baby teeth, her golden curls bouncing against her round, pink cheeks.
“Dead and buried!” she said, happily, patting her seeds down again. “Dead and buried. Just like me.”