“The past is but the beginning of a beginning.” —H.G. Wells
Chapter 2: December 25, 2000
Part 1 of 2
Addison stood at the far end of her mother’s Victorian-styled dining room and rubbed her eyes. They watered from the ever-present scent of potpourri. She glanced around at the blushing wall coverings with floral borders, and the three cabinets of Waterford crystal, china and porcelain along the long wall. Elegantly framed photographs of her police officer father adorned the walls, put there after he died last year.
She smiled at the only family portrait while she stepped closer to see a young and proud Nathan and Catherine Johnson surrounded by three adolescent daughters.
“Your mother was twelve when that picture was taken,” she said to the ten-year-old boy who had walked in and now stood next to her.
“How old were you, Aunt Addie?” he asked. He pulled at the stiff collar of his white dress shirt and stared up at the picture.
“I was seven, Alan,” she said while staring at the photograph and becoming lost in another time. “Aunt Valerie was your age. Hard to believe how fast the years have gone by.”
Just then, her nephew Jeffrey rushed past in a fury and shouted, “Aunt Peggy’s here.”
Alan ran to the front door while Addison held up a glass of cranberry juice in her right hand and whispered, “Merry Christmas, Daddy.”
She went to the window and saw Daniel’s black Grand Cherokee pull into the snowplowed driveway. Behind him, a white Cadillac entered the drive and parked.
“Who’s that in the Caddy?” her sister Kay asked from the front room.
Their mother stepped from the kitchen. “Get away from the window — both of you. Your aunt is bringing some guests.”
Addison remembered the diary. She had not read it.
Kay whistled at her mother when she entered the dining room. Then, “Holy cow, you’re decked out more than usual for Christmas. These guests must be VIPs.”
Addison looked at their changed mother dressed in teal velvet with opulent white lace. Pearls hung from her ears and around her neck. A delicate glow surrounded her. She was a woman unknown to them, out of the pages of a French fashion magazine.
“Never you mind,” Catherine Johnson said, “and hurry setting the table.”
“Was it a gift from Valerie?” Kay asked. “It looks good on you, Mom … promoting the bon chic, bon genre.”
Catherine ignored her daughter’s remark and clapped her hands. “Come on you two and help me get the table set. We need ten settings of the good china.”
“Ten?” Addison looked out the window. She saw Daniel’s blonde head on the other side of the Cadillac, at the back, helping someone to a wheelchair. “How many are coming?”
“Two, but I don’t want the boys eating off plastic this year. So, let’s go. Hurry.” Catherine headed toward the front door.
Addison hastened to the center china cabinet. She put her drink down, opened the top drawer and pulled out silverware. She heard Kay behind her mumbling, “Why do Christmases have to be so formal? Why can’t we have pizza and wings and eat off paper plates?”
Addison finished counting silverware and napkins, and stepped aside so Kay could get to the plates and glasses. She glanced at her sister and smiled nervously. “There hasn’t been this many here since we were kids.”
Kay shook her long red hair and tugged at her shoulders. “I think Momma’s trying to fill a void. Valerie’s too important with her acting and modeling careers over in Europe to come home for Christmas.” She tugged again at her brand-new wine-colored dress — a stiff design meant to flow after a few washings. “Lousy sport bra’s digging me to death.”
Addison put an arm around Kay’s shoulder and said, “The secret is to go an extra dress size larger and go braless.”
Kay grunted while she took down plates and glasses. “Ever try chasing an eight- and ten-year-old while not wearing one? It’s not pretty.”
Addison gestured at her own attire of green blouse and red skirt from J.C. Penney. “Then go simple but nice.”
“I can’t believe mom let you wear that. Looks like something Aunt Peggy would wear.”
“Hey! Aunt Peggy dresses just fine. And so do I.” She turned when she heard Catherine at the front door greet Aunt Peggy and her guests, then hurried to help Kay set the table. When done, she heard Daniel say, “Lead me to the tree, Jeffrey,” and knew he had his arms full of presents from Aunt Peggy. She straightened the last setting and hurried to the front room. She stopped under the hanging mistletoe and pointed when Daniel finished placing the gifts next to the abundantly decorated tree. He went to her waiting arms and kissed her.
“Yuck, gross,” Alan groaned. They laughed and finished their kiss with a quick peck.
Aunt Peggy called for Daniel from the entrance hallway.
“Be right back,” Daniel said and left Addison to wander to her mother’s old love seat. Kay’s husband Frank nodded a sleepy hello to her from the matching sofa across the room.
“Did you have to work at the plastics plant last night?” Addison asked.
“Till six this morning,” Frank said between yawns. “A security guard’s job is long and boring.”
“He never gets holidays off,” Kay said as she joined him on the sofa and policed the boys’ activities around the tree.
Here, in the old family room, there was a hint of their past at the old record cabinet at the far end of the room where Nathan Johnson used to play country and western music. Addison looked at the stereo and lost herself in memories. Then she smiled when Aunt Peggy entered wearing her usual white Christmas sweater and red slacks. The boys rushed to her for their hugs and usual handout of five dollars.
“Merry Christmas everyone,” Aunt Peggy said while Frank shooed the boys away and helped her to the sofa. Catherine led Sara Holcomb into the room and introduced her. Sara, who appeared to be Addison’s age, was tall, with long blonde hair that cascaded over delicate shoulders in a red and white cashmere sweater. Her white jeans and boots were top of the line. Addison felt underdressed and wished that she had worn her Prada dress and Louis Vuitton shoes, like her mom wanted.
Still, casual was comfortable, she decided.
Sara and Catherine stepped aside and made room for a woman in an electric wheelchair. Addison felt the air become dry as the woman entered. Her body was sunken inside the chair and mostly hidden beneath a navy blue blanket. Her old and gentle face with red-rimmed eyes behind stylish glasses looked out at the room. A spongy voice said, “Hello. Merry Christmas.” She pointed a shriveled hand at the record cabinet. “Someone should put on some Johnny Cash.”
Kay agreed. “Or some classic Christmas music like we used to.” She went to the cabinet and opened the doors.
“Find some Gene Autry for the kids,” the old woman said. “I love Here Comes Santa Claus.”
“Like Daddy used to play every Christmas.” Kay pulled out vinyl records, looked at their covers, but put no music on the turntable. Her shoulders trembled. Frank went to her and comforted her.
Addison turned her attention back to the woman in the wheelchair, studied the full crop of white hair, the long ears hanging from each side of her wrinkled face, and the blue, aquiline nose. Then she looked at a faded pair of sad, green eyes. A sadder smile spread across the woman’s face as she looked back at Addison. Tears rimmed her eyes
“This is Jane Holcomb,” Aunt Peggy said. Addison said hello and smiled politely. The woman she had seen in the photograph had not changed much, just had grown older.
Alan approached and stopped. “Do you own the Holcomb Mall out at North Ridgewood Plaza?”
The old woman shook her head and Sara smiled at him. “That would be me,” she said and winked.
From behind Alan, Jeffrey was impressed. “Wow, you get to play with all those toys.”
The room erupted in laughter and Daniel entered with the last of the presents and skirted past the awe-struck boys. Catherine announced it was time to eat and showed Sara the way to the table. The room slowly emptied until Aunt Peggy and Jane were alone with Addison.
Addison could hear a high-pitched hum come from Jane’s electric wheelchair and wondered if it was having mechanical problems.
“I can tell by your face that you haven’t read the diary,” Aunt Peggy said. She looked at Daniel standing in the doorway. “But I can see on your face that you have.”
As Daniel stepped inside, Addison said, “Why is reading that diary so important, Aunt Peggy?”
“Why not ask Jane?” Aunt Peggy said.
All eyes focused on the woman in the wheelchair.
“I had an accident,” she said. “For the longest time I had no idea what happened or who I was. Then, a month ago, I became terribly ill. The doctors found a spongioblastoma.”
“Oh dear.” Addison put a bone-dry hand to her parched lips. “I’m so sorry.”
“What’s a spongioblastoma?” Daniel asked.
“A brain tumor,” Jane said. “Nearly always fatal.” She looked at Addison. “It was during that time of having all those magnetic tests done on me that I remembered my accident. It’s also when I remembered my name and where I came from.”
Kay came to the door. “Momma’s waiting and the boys are anxious to eat.”
“Tell her we’ll be right there,” Aunt Peggy said.
“I know what you’re going to say,” Daniel said to Jane when Kay left. “But I’m telling you now that it’s not possible.”
“But it is possible,” Jane said. “I’m living proof.”
The noise became louder.
“Is something wrong with your chair?” Addison asked.
“Time and space,” Jane said. “The same entity can exist in two different places at the same time. But when they come together—” She twirled a hand at the room. “Electricity … that’s what you hear. It’s what caused me to end up in this chair. And now it’s taking me out of it. Science is right. I’m slipping away because of our proximity. That’s why I had to see you. I’d rather go knowing I can change things this way than die from a tumor and do nothing.”
“I don’t understand.” Addison looked at Aunt Peggy. “Is she okay? Should one of us call a doctor?”
Aunt Peggy said, “It’s all so incredible, I know. But if you listen with an open mind, then I think you’ll understand.” She rubbed her forehead. “Lord, help me, but it has taken Jane and me … and Sara, such a long time to figure this out, and … well, I still find myself unable to believe it’s true. But thanks to Jane’s memory returning and modern medicine with its blood testing and DNA, the truth has surfaced, even if it is that much crazier.”
“I’m sorry,” Addison said, “but I still don’t understand any of this. Whatever you’re trying to tell me, perhaps you should start at the beginning.”
“Look at her hand,” Daniel said.
Jane held a hand in front of her face. Addison saw bone and muscle and blood vessels inside the woman’s freckled hand. She also saw Jane’s face on the other side of the transparent hand.
“How is that possible?” Daniel asked.
“It isn’t. It can’t be,” Addison said.
The hum became a buzz, but she did not hear it. The transparent hand fascinated the scientist in her. She slowly reached out and touched Jane’s hand. A large spark of electricity snapped across Addison’s fingers and struck her chest. She jumped back and yelped while Jane slumped forward in her chair and became still. Daniel hurried to Jane’s side, paused, and then checked for a pulse.
The transparency continued until the woman disappeared in front of him. Her glasses, clothes and blanket settled to the chair’s seat. He felt at them, lifting them to see if she was there. The chair was empty.
“Oh my,” Aunt Peggy said. “So very fascinating … and quite unnerving.” Her eyes were like saucers. She leaned forward and studied the empty chair.
Addison stumbled and began coughing. Daniel went to her, rubbed her back, and asked if she was okay. Addison shook her head. Daniel excused the two of them and took her to the front room.
“B-bathroom,” she said, so he hurried her to the staircase and upstairs.
“Are you okay?” he asked at the bathroom door.
She looked at him with large, frightened eyes, clutched her hands over her mouth and ran inside. He heard her vomit into the toilet, so he went inside.
On her knees and hugging the bowl, her body shook violently. He hurried to her side and she said, “I-I’m … f-freezing.” He held her in his arms and waited for the shaking to stop. Then he led her to the bedroom that once was hers.