Cheryl loved her house, a gingerbread-style Victorian with front and back staircases, tower rooms, nooks and crannies everywhere. She and her husband Philip had moved in twelve years ago, renovated the entire thing themselves and then settled down to fill it with children.
And, fill it, they did. The house had 6 bedrooms. Cheryl and Philip had recently had their fifth child.
Philip worked long hours, so the brunt of the housework and child rearing fell on Cheryl’s shoulders. Five kids and a big house is a lot of work. Cheryl never stopped moving from the time she got up to the time she fell, exhausted, into bed at night. By the time the baby was six months old, Cheryl was having near constant fantasies of just walking out the door and not coming back. “Just one nap a day,” she thought, “That’s all I need. Just a couple of extra hours in each day to have a nap.”
One Tuesday, she got up at 6AM, as usual. She went downstairs, put the coffee on, made a big pot of oatmeal, set bowls out on the table, checked the kitchen calendar, went upstairs again to wake the three school-aged children, reminding each one what things they specifically needed for school that day, went back downstairs to pack three lunches and found the toddler sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor in a puddle of milk and cold breakfast cereal.
“I hungry!” he said, “I maked ceweal!”
Cheryl closed her eyes and counted to ten. She made a wish and then opened her eyes, only to find that there were no fairy godmothers and the mess, along with the messy kid, was still there. Sighing, she picked up the little devil, pulled his pajamas off and threw them in the vicinity of the basement door, which led down to the laundry room. She stood the naked child in the sink and rinsed him with the sprayer. She dried him off and carried him around the mess on the floor, put him down and pointed him in the direction of the front stairs.
“Go wake up, Daddy!” she said.
The toddler took off, shouting with glee to be streaking through the house.
Cheryl found the bucket and mop and attacked the milk and cereal ocean on the floor.
Just as she had finished, three school-aged kids came barreling down the stairs and into the kitchen, followed by a tall man with a baby on his hip, his other hand holding the hand of a now-dressed toddler.
“Good morning!” the man chirped.
“There’s coffee,” Cheryl replied, pecking her husband on the cheek.
Breakfast got interrupted several times by the usual emergencies. “Mom, can you sign my homework?” “Do we have any paper plates? I was supposed to bring 25 of them to school today” and “I need new pencils.” Cheryl got them all in the car and drove off to drop the older ones at school and the toddler at nursery school. She ran a few errands, getting home at 9:45 just in time for the baby’s nap.
The baby went down without a fuss, for which Cheryl was thankful, and she headed down to the basement to throw in a load of laundry.
As she was pulling odds and ends out of the pockets of her 8-year-old’s jeans, a small rubber ball flew out of her hand and went bouncing behind the furnace. She finished loading the washer, walked over to the opposite corner of the cavernous basement, and peered around the furnace to see if the ball was within reach.
There was a door behind the furnace. A padlock secured the latch on the door. Strangely, the padlock did not look old and rusty, even though it must have been there for years. Twelve years, at least. Cheryl had never noticed this door before, hiding behind the large furnace in this dark corner. Cheryl had never really had anything to do with the workings of the furnace. She glanced around for the key and noticed a small ledge above the door. She reached up and felt the key. Cheryl took it down and opened the padlock and then the door. What little light reached this corner of the basement showed a good-sized room with a light switch just to the right of the door frame. Cheryl flipped the switch, and the room filled with light.
The room was clean. The furniture, what there was of it, was free of dust. Not how one would expect a neglected room to be. The air smelled fresh, too.
There was a single bed in one corner of the room, all made up and ready for a slumberer. Across from the bed there was a red leather wingback chair with a matching hassock and a small table and gooseneck reading lamp. Cheryl looked at the chair and wished she had more time to read. There was a worktable in the middle of the room and a tall stool.
Cheryl walked to the one corner and ran her hand across the quilt that covered the bed. It was a gorgeous creation, small squares in a checkerboard of blues and grays that ran diagonally from light to dark. Cheryl had always wanted to take up quilting, but she didn’t have the time. The quilt felt like it had been washed and hung to dry on a sunny summer day. It even smelled like it had just come in off the line. The pillow was a giant puff filled with down and covered in a soft cotton pillow case. Cheryl longed to lie down on it. She was so tired.
Cheryl lay down on the bed, burrowing her head into the pillow, just to see if it was as comfortable as it looked.
Cheryl opened her eyes. She felt so refreshed. She hadn’t felt this rested in years.
She suddenly remembered where she was and sat straight up. She looked at her watch and gasped. It was 2PM. She had slept for four hours. The baby! The poor thing must be screaming by now. Her morning nap was usually only 30 minutes, and she hadn’t had her lunch.
Cheryl jumped up and ran upstairs. She heard no sound of the baby crying or even of her playing in her crib. As she rounded the corner into the hall, the grandfather clock chimed.
Cheryl stopped running. The clock continued to bong.
She turned to look at the clock. The hands showed 10 o’clock. She hadn’t fallen asleep after all.
But why did her watch show 2 o’clock and why did she feel like she had just had a great night’s sleep?
Cheryl shook her head to clear it. It didn’t matter. She felt wonderful. Wonderful enough to make a big pot of soup for dinner and some biscuits, too. She felt like she had enough energy to bake some cookies as well. Cheryl enjoyed cooking from scratch, but wasn’t able to find the time every day.
After dinner, Cheryl went down to the basement to get some ice cream to eat with the homemade chocolate chip cookies. She had made the soup, the biscuits, and the cookies all from scratch. She had danced around the kitchen and sang as she worked. When she had picked the kids up from school, she had told jokes in the car and had enjoyed hearing about their days. She whistled while setting the table for dinner. When Philip came home, she winked at him and laughed outright when he raised his eyebrows in surprise.
Cheryl had told her family that she was just going to pop down and get the ice cream and she’d be right back, but she had another plan. She became more and more sure as the afternoon wore on that she had, in fact, fallen asleep in the secret room. She hadn’t been cranky and short-tempered with the kids as she usually was when she was trying to make dinner. And her watch had worked perfectly for the rest of the day after she had reset it, keeping the same time as the kitchen clock.
Cheryl walked down the steps and over to the chest freezer. She took a container of ice cream out of the freezer, closed the lid and placed the ice cream on top. Then she walked over to the furnace, went around and let herself into the secret room. She sat down on the chair in the corner and stared at her watch, gazing as the second hand swept around and around. Cheryl sat there waiting for her family to wonder what had happened to her and to come look for her, but no one called down to the basement and no one came. She sat there for half an hour.
Then she stood up, walked out of the room, locked the door behind her, and pocketed the key. She walked over to the chest freezer to find that the ice cream was rock solid. It had not melted at all. The container had not even begun to sweat.
She walked up the stairs to the kitchen to find that her watch was 30 minutes ahead of the wall clock. This confirmed her suspicions.
She smiled, thinking of the endless possibilities.
She had all the time in the world.
© 2018 Liza Cameron Wasser