Scent Notes: A cloud of frothy, creamy grapefruit souffle.
“You’ll never catch me!” Mandy yelled, sprinting through the field. The long blades of grass brushed up to her thighs, encouraging her to run faster, go further. She saw the cliff in the distance; she knew she could climb up to safety. She could feel them gaining on her. Faster, harder, her brain yelled at her as she scrambled up the rock on all fours. “Get the girl!” they were yelling, closing in faster, shortening the chasm between them. She scrambled up the rocks, pulling herself up one hand at a time, willing herself to keep going up. After what felt like hours, she finally reached the top, and stopped for one second to catch her breath. She could hear them scrambling, tripping over each other in their frantic race to catch her. Mandy looked down, took a deep breath, and ran off the edge just as they reached the top of the cliff. She screamed as her body hurtled through the air; she was soaring, flying, untouchable, into the vast open expanse….
The alarm had been beeping incessantly for at least ten minutes when her mom burst in the door, finally waking Mandy up. “Girl! Get up!” her mom yelled, throwing a pillow at her. “You’re going to be late for school!” Mandy groaned and put the pillow over her head. “I’m already AT school; you teach me, remember?” “I know that,” her mom replied, “but I don’t teach you while you’re sleeping. Up and at ‘em!” her mom said, going back downstairs. “Moooom, close the DOOR!” she said to her mom’s retreating head, who ignored her completely. Mandy sighed, and reluctantly sat up in bed. “I. hate. my. life.” Mandy said. “Being fourteen sucks.”
She got out of bed and put her giant mess of curls into an extremely messy bun on top of her head. She’d inherited a lot of things from her mom, but her favorite was her hair: a huge mane of uncontrollable curls that bounced and flew around her head. Some days they shimmered with a blonde tone; other days they were dark, reddish brown. Her mom’s hair was the same; it was like a superpower to have this incredible head of hair. Sure, she was convinced she would never be as smart as her brilliant mom, who homeschooled her while being a single parent and tenured professor of science, but at least she had great hair. She pulled on a baggy t-shirt and a pair of cutoff shorts just as her twin little sisters burst into the room curls first. “Allie! Amy! Come on little ladies, let’s go get breakfast!” she said, swooping one up onto each hip. They were a little old to be carried, but Mandy melted at the sight of her younger sisters. Their dad had been gone for a while now, and their little faces looked eerily like his, with what looked like wigs of their mom’s hair on top of their tiny heads. She had to fight back tears; she missed her dad so much.
She carried them down the stairs, balanced on each side, before dropping them off at the table for breakfast. “Mandy, did you carry them again? You know they’re nearly seven now; they are perfectly capable of walking on their own,” her mom said as she picked toast out of the toaster. “I know,” Mandy sighed. “And I don’t want toast; carbs are bad for you. I’ll just have coffee.” Being fourteen meant that her body just felt weird to her at all times. Every friend of hers was obsessed with her weight, and Mandy had started to check the scale daily. Her mom had gorgeous curves and was genuinely beautiful along with being supremely intelligent. It didn’t seem fair that she was trapped in this narrow, gangly body that seemed determined to not grow anything except acne. How unfair was that? Plus, her little sisters were just short of certified geniuses. They acted more like little kids around Mandy because she babied them more than everyone else did, because to her, they were still babies. But they were advancing academically at a rapid rate, were able to maintain complex conversations and understand ideas far beyond your average six-nearly-seven-year-olds.
“Mandy, you know I don’t tolerate that kind of talk. You are way too young to subsist only on caffeine. Hell, nobody should subsist on caffeine; coffee is not a food. And your body needs carbohydrates to function. I’m adding that in to your science lessons this week.” Her mom gave her a sharp glare before setting down a plate of eggs and toast in front of her. “Plus, you know we only have organic, whole grain sprouted bread in this house. Now eat your breakfast.” Mandy did an exaggerated eyeroll for her little sisters, who giggled in appreciation. She could always make them laugh, and no matter how irritated she was with the world around her, their giggles made her heart feel better for a minute. Since her dad left, she’d started having what the therapist called “behavioral issues,” though Mandy thought of them as “normal reactions to life because it’s generally terrible.” She was capable of going into a fugue, dream-like state with very little prompting, which caused her grades to slip since she couldn’t pay attention in class. She kept getting teased for her unfocused eyes and for her dad leaving and for having little sisters smarter than she allegedly was. Her mom made the decision to pull her out of the school and begin homeschooling her, even though Mandy had objected because she thought it was totally unfair that she should be punished for things that had happened to her that were caused by other people: her classmates, her dad. But as time had gone on, being home every day and learning the things her mom wanted to teach her instead of the rigidly mandated school system had actually been kind of cool. Not that she’d ever tell her mom that.
She begrudgingly took a nibble of toast and a couple bites of eggs as her little sisters spoke to each other in the secret twin language that Mandy still couldn’t figure out. They were so brilliant, sometimes she felt like they contained the knowledge of the entire universe in those little heads, and she felt that now as she watched them eating eggs and drinking juice. She was slipping into a dreamlike headspace, something that started happening regularly when her dad left, when her mother’s voice interrupted and snapped her back to the present. “Come on, little ladies,” she said. “Time to go to school!”
“Is Mandy coming to school with us yet?” Allie asked while Amy nodded with her traditional enthusiasm. “Or is she still home with you? Can we stay home? We’ll be good!” “We’ll be SO GOOD, mom,” Amy added. “Sorry girls, Mandy will be here today. You’ll see her when you’re home from school. Maybe we’ll do some baking today so you’ll have a treat when you get home!” “YAAAY I WANT COOKIES!” Allie yelled while Amy screamed, “CAKE! CAKE! I WANT CAKE!” The girls got up and ran to get their backpacks, giving Mandy sloppy goodbye kisses on their way out of the kitchen. Mandy’s mom followed them, then turned to say, “Start doing your math reading while I’m gone, then move on to your English assignment. I have to drop the girls off and then head to office hours. I’ll grab us some lunch when I’m on my way home. I love you.” Mandy just nodded and got up to dump her mostly uneaten breakfast in the garbage. “Yeah, okay,” she mumbled in response, but her mom was already chasing the twins out the door.
Mandy walked into the living room and picked up her math book off the coffee table. It wasn’t a standard textbook that was used in most schools; this was one that her mother had made specifically for Mandy once the homeschooling decision was made. It went through many different scientific aspects, and topics way beyond what Mandy’s school would have taught her if she’d stayed in her local district. Today, her mom had picked a section on tesseracts, which she had only known about through superhero movies. “This is actually pretty cool,” she said to herself, even if she didn’t fully understand what it all meant. “The tesseract is the four-dimensional analogue to the cube. The tesseract is to the cube as the cube is to the square. It is also known by other names such as the hypercube, octahedroid, cubic prism, and tetracube,” she read aloud to herself. “Octahedroid sounds like it should be a villain in one of those superhero movies.” She kept reading about the other convex regular 4-polytopes for a little while until her brain started to hurt, trying to imagine an n-pentagonal polytope hurtling through space. She decided to put down the math book and pick up the book she was reading for English, a sci-fi book she had picked out herself. Her mom had always been cool with letting her read almost anything she wanted since she was little. There were no banned books in this house, and for that, Mandy would always be grateful. Plus, as her mother was a professor, she had access to an incredible inter-library loan system with no limit attached. All she had to do was search the system and put in requests under her mother’s name, and within a week or two, she had the books she desired. It was magic. Books were always there for her: when her dad left; when her mom was busy with the twins; when she couldn’t stop her mind and heart from racing at night when sleep wouldn’t come, there was always a book there to comfort her and take her on a new adventure. English was easily her best subject, and the one she had to do the least work for since it came so naturally to her. Mom was not as much of a reader, though; at least, not for fun. It’s probably hard to find time to read for leisure when you’re a single mom to three kids, one of whom you homeschool, and half your job is researching, reading, and writing scientific papers for journals. But, hey, she’s the one who chose to be a professor so, like, that’s on her, Mandy thought to herself, settling into the couch to read the rest of the day away. Her mom hadn’t mentioned anything besides math and English, and she’d technically read her math book, so the rest of the day was for space aliens. She got up once to grab a sleeve of cookies from the stash she kept hidden in the back of the pantry so the twins wouldn’t eat them, feeling only a slight amount of guilt for doing so. Whatever, cookies are tasty, and most books are better when accompanied by cookies.
Mandy had expected her mom to be gone for a while, so she was shocked when she came home hours earlier than anticipated. Mandy had a cookie halfway out of her mouth when her mom proudly declared that they were going on an adventure. “It’s something I’ve been working on for a very long time. My final missing component was delivered today, and I got to test it out earlier. Now you get to join me.” Mandy was completely confused as her mother excitedly grabbed her hand and dragged her out into the backyard. “Did you read the section in your math textbook that I marked for you?” her mother asked. “I actually did, yes, thank you for trusting me,” Mandy said, kicking at a rock in the dirt patch that used to be her father’s vegetable garden. Nobody else in the family had a green thumb except her dad, and though she would totally deny this if asked, part of her missed gardening with her dad: pulling up weeds, harvesting the vegetables and herbs and using them fresh from the garden, sometimes still with the dirt on them if the twins were charged with “helping” prepare dinner that evening. It was one of the ways they bonded together and seeing the patch bare was making her feel all kinds of emotions. Couldn’t whatever her mom wanted to show her wait? Apparently not.
“Mandy, look at me. Please,” her mom said, pleading. “I know you’ve been having a really hard time since your dad left. I’ve been working on something that has led to a gigantic discovery that will change the world as we know it. I know you love science fiction. You’re going to love this.” Mandy just looked at her mother with pure confusion. What was this all about? Science fiction is fictional, that was the whole point; her mother was a professor of actual science and should know better. Right? “I can tell you’re skeptical. It’s okay; I would be too if I were you. But look at this. Look up at the sky. Do you see the pattern in the clouds? Your sisters pointed them out to me as I was driving them to school.”
Mandy looked up. The clouds were, indeed, moving in strange patterns in the sky. They were moving faster than she’d ever seen clouds move in her life. What was going on? It looked like they were attempting to form some sort of sha— was that a tesseract? What does that mean? Her brain couldn’t comprehend what was happening. Her mother was just staring at her with a huge smile on her face. “Darling, do you know what this means?” Mandy just shook her head in disbelief. “No, mom. I have no idea what this means.” “I invented a new form of an ultrasonic transducer. The missing crystal piece was finally delivered to my office today. Check this out.” Her mom pulled a small object from her pocket. It looked like a fancy pen she’d only seen in movies, the sleek types that were all silver and you refilled yourself with special ink. Or maybe it was like a really long, thinner, silver battery. There was one button in the middle of it. It looked deceptively simple. “I’ve been working on this since before you were alive,” her mom said. “It’s a device that allows people to travel through space and time, possibly other dimensions. I can’t say with 100% certainty, because I just finally got it to work in such a compact form to allow for human travel. But I do know I was able to travel through space just an hour ago, and now I want you to experience this with me.”
Mandy was overwhelmed and confused. This is not how science works; this is impossible and totally improbable. And yet, all she wanted to do was fly up into the sky and go wherever she wanted. “Could … could I see dad?” Mandy asked. Her mother’s face fell a little bit, but she perked up quickly. Mandy caught it and felt a little guilty, but in all honesty, that’s what she wanted more than anything in the world: to see him and ask him a simple question: “Why?” “Yes, we can do that if you want to, love. We can go to the past when he was with us. I know you miss him. But you have to remember: It’s not real life anymore. We can’t live in the past.” Mandy nodded; she knew that. She did. But the temptation to travel through space and time and see him was too great.
The next thing she knew, her mother had taken her hand and pressed the button on the transducer. “Hold on,” she said, and the next minute they were soaring through the air, into the tesseract. She was just enjoying the sensation when suddenly they were back in their backyard. For a minute, Mandy just thought she had hallucinated. Then she looked and realized the garden was luscious, absolutely teeming with vegetables and fresh herbs. She could hear her father singing in the kitchen as he cooked something that smelled absolutely incredible. Her eyes filled with tears, and she looked at her mother, who just nodded at her sadly and handed her the transducer. “Go on,” she said softly. Mandy felt her feet flying into the house, into the kitchen, and straight at her father, whom she grabbed from behind in the biggest hug. “Dad! Dad! I missed you!!” She was full-on crying now, even though she hated the raw emotion she was showing. “Hey kiddo, I just asked you to go get some dill; it’s fine!” he answered, turning around to hold her. When they finally broke apart, Mandy just stared at her father’s face. It looked exactly how she remembered it and completely different; just like the twins, and yet, not at all like them. It was strange how time could change a face in your mind. He was her dad, and yet he wasn’t. She could’ve sworn she saw a weird shimmer cross his face for just a second. It was almost like a computer glitch, something that temporarily distorted his features. “Where are the twins?” she asked him. “With mom! They’re out getting grapefruit so we can make dessert.” “Oh. That’s great! How, uh, how are you?” she asked him cautiously. “I’ve missed you a lot.” This whole scene felt so familiar. She remembered him making this dish when she first got weird about eating carbs; he felt it was a good compromise. Plus, more homegrown veggies were being eaten, and that was never a bad thing in his book. And he made the best pink grapefruit pie; it was like a key lime pie, but better: creamy, tart, sour, delicious. Her mouth watered at the thought of it. Would she really be about to eat this meal again?
“Sweetheart, it really hasn’t been that long; I don’t know what you’re talking about! Can you go grab some dill for dinner, please? These cucumber noodles need some dill to give them some pep,” he said, turning his back to her and walking over to the stove. She came out of her reverie, nodded and mumbled, “Uh-huh,” and slowly turned back to the back door. This whole thing was so strange. She’d hoped to have a real heart-to-heart with her dad. She wanted answers, and maybe if she could interrogate whatever version of her father this was, it would explain everything to her. But really, she just wanted to know: Why did he leave? Did he have another family now? Where was he? Was he happy? Was he ever happy with their family?
She finally opened the door and went outside as her father had started singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” the song he always sang while he cooked. It had driven her mother absolutely nuts. “There are a million songs; why is it always this one?” she would ask after he sang it for the third time in a row. “Because it’s a classic, and it’s about triumphing over hard things. It’s inspirational!” “Inspirational my butt,” her mom would whisper to the girls, and they’d all giggle. So would her dad. Then he’d pretend to be upset, but that never lasted long. He’d just sing louder, more obnoxiously, until everyone was laughing uncontrollably.
Those tears were in her eyes again, stinging as she walked outside into a suddenly brisk afternoon. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. She’d tell her mom she was ready to go back to reality now. But as she glanced around the yard, she realized her mom wasn’t there. “Mom? Mom! MOM!!!” she yelled, her voice rising with every syllable. “Mom, where are you?!” She ran around the entirety of the backyard, but her mom wasn’t there. She ran into the house, slamming the door behind her. Her father took no notice that she had come back, nor that she was frantically yelling for her mother. She checked every single room as her father’s singing echoed eerily, following from room to room. “Somewhere over the rainbow / skies are blue,” had never sounded so ominous. Plus, he was horribly off-key. She’d never heard him sing off-key; he had perfect pitch. Or at least, the real version of her father did.
She’d checked every other room in the house, then crept back into the kitchen. This version of her father seemed to be stuck at the stove in the kitchen, not actually cooking anything. The smells had vanished; he’d stopped singing and remained a static fixture, his back to the windows and the backyard. His right arm suddenly started moving, as if it was trying to reach for a pan on the stove, then it would slam back into his side. A second later, it would go for a pan again, only to slam back down robotically. The song started up again, except this time, after a few words, the song became a mechanical, glitching scream.
She froze for a long moment in horror, staring at her “dad.” Then she ran back outside and looked up to the sky. Not a cloud to be seen. Her mom was nowhere to be found inside the house. Where could she have gone? Why would she leave her in this place? She screamed, letting every last bit of oxygen escape her lungs, and then collapsed on the ground, sobbing. This wasn’t her real house; this wasn’t her real dad. Where had the tesseract taken her? How would she get home? Would she ever see her mom and sisters again? She was trapped, stuck, and terrified. She tried to believe that things would get better, that the clouds would appear and form the tesseract to take her back home, back to her mom and sisters. She laid on the ground and cried for a while.
As if on cue, her sisters appeared. Well, whatever version of her sisters existed in this plane of existence, that is. Their faces had an odd shimmer momentarily, as if they were being forced into view on a screen. She stood up and grabbed them, pulling them into a big bear hug that neither twin resisted. “Why are you so sad?” Allie asked her. “Yeah, it’s us. We’re here to help you!” Amy added enthusiastically. “What is this place? Are you two okay? Can you help me leave?” Mandy was panting and desperate, but the twins were calm, stoic. They seemed to expect that this was exactly what she would ask them, and they did indeed have an answer for her. The twins looked at each other and started speaking in their special twin language. When they’d first started doing it, Mandy had assumed it was some kind of pig Latin, or a weird replacement of vowels for other vowels. She’d learned to just tune it out since there was no way she could understand it herself, and she knew the twins wouldn’t just teach her their secret way of communication; it was their language, their special secret together, and it seemed horribly unfair for her to try and insert herself into their unique twin world. But now, listening to them speak together in a near chant, she found herself swaying to its odd, yet somehow familiar, rhythms of speech. She nearly felt like she could speak along with them from somewhere deep inside of her soul. Her heart started beating faster, her mouth was mumbling along in a half-formed facsimile of the language, her eyes were closed, and her whole body was moving, swaying, dancing along to this unknown yet intimate dialect.
She wasn’t sure how long this had been going on for, but she suddenly looked up into the sky. The tesseract! It was back! She looked down at her little sisters, who kept speaking and just solemnly nodded at her. Before Mandy could say anything or nod in response, she pushed the transducer button. She felt herself rushing upward, up, up, up, flying, floating, going so fast her eyes shut automatically. She heard a man’s voice yelling “Get her!” But nobody could catch her, nobody, she was too far gone, up into the clouds, up and away from this cursed place. She believed she was going home, she believed in the tesseract, and it was taking her back to where she was supposed to be.
Her eyes snapped open. Mandy was lying on the grass. She was in her backyard again. The garden patch was just empty dirt. Her mom’s car was in the driveway. She could hear her sisters giggling and running around inside the house. She breathed in deeply, and let out a slow, calm sigh. It was a dream. It was a weird, freaky dream like the one she’d awakened from this morning. Her mind had been playing weird tricks on her, as it had been doing so often lately. She took in and let out another long, deep, slow breath. Everything was fine. She’d go in the house, apologize to her mom for her random afternoon nap in the backyard, and would make sure to watch the twins while mom made dinner. And she would do the dishes tonight without making a fuss.
Mandy got up, brushed the dirt and grass off of her legs, and went inside. “Amy! Allie! Ladies, what are we doing?” she asked. The twins were going crazy, screaming their nonsense language while full-on running around the living room, into the dining room and kitchen, and then back out again. They did a few of these laps before she finally caught them and made them stop, practically dragging them to just sit down on the couch and chill out. “Hey! What’s going on? Where’s mom?” “Mom’s not here,” Allie said quietly. “What? She didn’t tell me I had to babysit tonight. I mean, that’s fine, but that’s a little rude,” Mandy said. Amy just shook her head. “No, mom’s not HERE, Mandy,” Allie said. “She went into the tesseract and she hasn’t come back. We don’t know where she is, and we don’t know how to get her back here.” Mandy’s eyes went wide, and her skin went ghostly pale. Even her hair seemed to lose its bounce and shine. It hadn’t been a dream. It was real. The tesseract was real; her sisters were geniuses with some kind of special power; a version of her father was out there in the universe; and her mother was lost somewhere. Mandy felt like she was going to throw up, and she ran to the kitchen sink. She stood there for a few moments, but nothing happened. She was grabbing a glass for water when she saw the note on the counter. Well, it wasn’t much of a note, it was just a single word, written in her mother’s penmanship: “Neverwas.”
Scent Notes: A cloud of frothy, creamy grapefruit souffle.