This is a work of fiction.
He looks at his watch and says, “Oh, it’s 9:30. Somebody’s coming at ten to see how Mona’s doing.”
Before I can ask him if he has any pretzels or chocolate in his home office, he runs into the kitchen, comes back with the broom, and tries to sweep the carpet clean.
“You need to use the vacuum.”
He shakes his head and says, “I don’t want to wake up Mona. She’s hardly getting any sleep.”
I shrug. Maybe he’ll manage to get some of the crumbs swept up.
I go back into my room, my stomach churning emptily, and open my English book. What am I supposed to have read? My mind comes up blank. I look at my notes, but they’re mostly indecipherable, sleep-deprived scribbles. I search for the syllabus, but it’s too general to be useful.
Dang it, what are we reading?
I listen to Dad rushing around. He only has half an hour, and I think it would take at least five hours to get our house even sort of clean. I feel bad that I haven’t helped out lately, but I’ve been trying to concentrate on college, and doing a mighty poor job of that, too.
At ten, my English class starts.
“Today, we’re discussing Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night. This is one of my favorite poems.”
I flip franticaly through the huge anthology, but can’t find it.
Where the heck is it?
I shrug and just listen. It makes no sense. “Blinding sight?” It’s all too abstract for me, and I tune out and watch the clock. Fifteen minutes pass, and then thirty. Didn’t Dad say someboy was coming at ten? Oh well, I’m too tired for this. I put my laptop on my nightstand and lie on my bed. I close my eyes.
“. . . essay topic.” My eyes fly open.
The doorbell rings.
Mona starts to cry.
“I’ll get it!” Dad yells over the noise.
“What?” Mom says. She sounds as confused as she did last night.
What essay topic? I look at my computer and nudge the volume up, but Mona’s wailing tops the crappy little speaker. I’ll have to e-mail somebody and find out what the assignment is. It’s probably about that poem.
“The nurse is here,” Dad says.
“Oh, right.” Slowly, Mona’s cries move from the bedroom into the living room. I think I hear the door open. “Hello,” Mom says, “are you Victoria?”
“Yes,” a woman’s voice says. “Is that Mona? How long has she been crying?”
“I don’t know. Please, do come in.”
“I’ll have a quick look around while you feed her. You can’t leave a baby crying for hours.”
“It was only when the doorbell rang,” Dad says.
“Be that as it may, it can’t go on.” I hear Mom taking Mona back into the bedroom.
I get off my bed and look for my noise-canceling headphones.
I open my closet, and hear Victoria say, “You can’t leave dirty dishes out, they’re a health hazard. You’ve taken out the trash, but you need to disinfect the container you keep in the kitchen. You wouldn’t want Mona to get sick, would you?”
“No, of course not,” Dad says, with an edge to his voice. He doesn’t take criticism well, especially when it’s about things he’s trying his best to do well.
I see my headphones and take them to my laptop. There’s just one problem: the headphones are wired and the laptop doesn’t have a headphone jack. Crap. I’ll have to spend money I really don’t have to buy some Bluetooth ones, but given how bad the computer is, I doubt the signal will be good enough. At least Mona has stopped crying, but the class is over, and I haven’t learned a thing, except that I don’t think I like Victoria.
“How often has your wife been feeding her?”
“Whenever she cries.”
“She needs to stick to a rigid schedule, otherwise she’ll grow up a spoiled brat.”
Their voices are getting closer, and suddenly, I realize that Victoria really meant what she said, that she was going to go through our house, including coming into my room. I throw the headphones down on the bed and go and open my door.
Victoria is standing right in front of me. She’s fairly tall, and she’s dressed from head to toe in protective clothing, so I can’t guess her age. She’s wearing boots, some kind of rubber suit that covers her legs, torso and arms, rubber gloves, and her face is covered by a rubber helmet. Everything is black, except for her face, which has a bright-red mouth painted on it, and yellow smiley faces where her eyes should be. It’s creepy, and I hope it won’t scare Mona.
She must be able to see me staring at her, and she says, “You can’t be too careful during this pandemic. I wear this not only for my own protection, but for the safety of the vulnerable people whom I serve.” She makes a self-satisfied sound and says, “What’s your name?”
“I was not made aware that there was another adult living here.”
“He’s our son,” Dad says from behind Victoria.
“Oh, I was led to believe that your wife was a new mother.”
“She’s never had a baby before. We adopted Billy when he was a little boy.”
“All right, come into the living room with me and we’ll add this information to the case, but in future, you must inform me of anything such as this.”
I hope she doesn’t want me in the living room too, but Dad smiles distractedly at me and he and Victoria go down the hall. I close my door, relieved that she’s out of my sight. Too bad my room isn’t sound-proof.
I check my class schedule, hoping I don’t have anything else today, but I do. It’s calculus again. There’s a note pinned to the online calendar saying that Professor Jansen needed to reschedule the class. Great, more calculus, and why didn’t he even mention this at the end of class earlier? Well, maybe he did and I didn’t notice. I look and definitely don’t have anything else after that. Good. Maybe I’ll go out and buy some food. Heck, maybe I’ll spend a couple hours researching how to cook some of the stuff I saw in the freezer.
The house has fallen quiet, and I turn the volume down so the noise won’t bother anybody. I wonder how long Victoria will stay? I sure hope I won’t have to see her again.
At 11:29, I log in and the class starts. I try to pay attention, but I’m too tired and hungry, and now also wondering how Mona is doing. I really should look at her. I’ll wait for Victoria to leave, and then I’ll ask Dad to go ask Mom if she can bring Mona into the hall so I can see her. She’s my sister, after all.
At 11:39, Professor Jansen’s face disappears from my screen, and the lights on my computer die. I keep it plugged in, and the light on the charger is still lit, so that can’t be it. I press the Power button, but nothing gives. I’ll have to ask Dad if I can borrow his computer, but no, he needs it for work. Maybe I can use Mom’s. I go to my door, and then remember that Victoria is still here, and I’ll have to wait until she’s gone before I can ask Mom or Dad anything. I sit down and think.
Maybe I can call the bank, make sure I have enough money, and then order a new computer over the phone. That way, I won’t have to borrow Mom’s for long.
While I’m placing an order for a computer that definitely does have a headphone jack, I hear Dad saying goodbye to Victoria, and then the front door closes. Somehow, without her here, the house feels a lot lighter.