Beatrice managed to find her way to the kitchen table, wading through the pile of luggage, dog toys, and oddly scented grocery bags that had congregated on her floor. She sat down, taking a moment to collect herself and her thoughts, trying to procure a plan of action, to put together a last minute semblance of a routine. After a few minutes, she gave up, acknowledging the fact that her mother repelled routine like Off repelled mosquitos.
The rest of dinner felt muted. Beatrice could see her mother’s mouth move, but all she heard was the “wahhh wah wahhhh,” of an adult in The Charlie Brown movie. She could see the plate of exotic food in front of her, but she couldn’t taste it. Everything felt like it was moving in slow motion; Beatrice kept checking the clock on her wall to make sure the second hand was still moving.
“Birdie…oh, Birdie…Beatrice?” her mother said, interrupting her thoughts.
She snapped out of her trance, suddenly overwhelmed by the sensory stimuli impeding on her personal space; the noise, the mess, and the smells were stifling.
“Do you like your dinner?” Beatrice’s mother asked.
“My dinner? Oh, yes, of course, my dinner,” Beatrice babbled, searching for the correct response. “Dinner is delicious. Thank you.”
Her mother continued talking, but now that Beatrice had come back to reality, she realized something was off. Her mother was rambling, per usual, but in a way that felt like she was avoiding something. She was scraping the bottom of the barrel for things to talk about, telling stories that Beatrice was sure she’d heard before.
“Why are you here?” Beatrice asked, more harshly than intended. “I mean; why did you decide to visit now?”
“I just wanted to visit my daughter, is that a crime?” her mother replied, smiling in a way that suggested she was hiding something.
“Mother, what aren’t you telling me?”
Her mother hesitated, pushing the food around on her plate. It was the first time she’d been silent since Beatrice had walked through the door.
“Birdie…” her mother began. She looked at her daughter, her jaw suddenly set. Her expression was that of fear, masked by defeat. “They’re back.”
Beatrice felt like she’d just had the air knocked out of her. Most people would question her mother’s laughably ominous statement, but Beatrice knew exactly what she was talking about.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “Could it be a mistake?”
Her mother just shook her head sadly, knocking away the last strand of hope in Beatrice’s mind. Beatrice felt as if she would cry. Or scream. Possibly both. She felt like lying on her kitchen floor, slamming her feet and fists against the tile like a toddler having a temper tantrum. It wasn’t fair. First her mother, now them. It was 7:53. Beatrice should have been watching Wheel of Fortune. But there she was, on the verge of tears, incredibly grateful that it was her mother sitting at her kitchen table, and not someone else.
“They’re back,” her mother said quietly, “your cousins are back.”