Ten Years Earlier
From the window of a small red-bricked house in Springs Avenue at eight- thirty in the evening, all most pedestrians would see is an eight-year-old girl seated in her bed while watching television, with only a small white lamp giving off any additional light in the house.
Nothing odd about that.
If they were to look closer, they'd notice that Marisol Aguilar, dressed in a white blouse and long blue skirt, was watching an old black-and-white sitcom of a spunky, curly-haired housewife who's having yet another misunderstanding with her bossy husband. She sometimes chuckles, but usually stares at the screen in confusion, probably wondering why the lady was seen as silly by her husband when she usually turned out getting things right by the end of the thirty-minute show.
Again, nothing too odd about that. Perhaps Marisol came across the show by mistake as she was trying to tune into her favorite Nickelodeon cartoon.
But if they were to notice that Marisol would change the channel through the TV itself instead of using a remote, and that the only programs to be seen were that sitcom, Lassie, and a news program- also in black and white- giving a detailed report on the long- deceased President Eisenhower's latest speech to the American public, the pedestrians would finally shake their heads and question what exactly was going on inside that old house.
However, up to that point, no onlookers had ever set eyes inside of Marisol's house, a fact of which the girl was deeply grateful for. If anyone had done so, this would have been humiliating for her, since she had long been aware of how strange her home life was in comparison to other children her own age.
For one thing, you couldn't get a single new device or object through the door. On one occasion, Marisol checked out a Disney Pixar book from the library because she had little opportunity to watch the actual movies on account of not having a VHS or DVD player at home. Once she'd opened her backpack in the living room of her house, however, she found no sign of the beautiful new book. Instead, there was a small Mickey Mouse comic book in its place, filled with dated illustrations of Mickey as the captain of a ship, calling up his assistant Goofy for help in steering the ship away from a six-footed sea monster that was towering above the ocean and the ship. Marisol only found it mildly amusing, wishing she could be reading Finding Nemo instead.
Not long after this incident, Marisol had tried to help her mother Carolina bring a new computer into the house. Carolina had been saving over five hundred dollars from her job as a hair dresser to buy the thing, and had even brought Marisol along to Best Buy to help her pick the one she liked best. The girl had chosen the one with the apple logo, because she had read in the library that this was one of the oldest home computers around, having first been introduced in the seventies. Because of this, she assumed it would be more likely to work in their strange old house.
But the moment the box containing the computer went through the door, Carolina the weight of the box had lessened. To see what was going on, she started carefully tearing the tap at the box's top off, and instead of seeing the new computer, she saw a typewriter in its place. It was in perfect condition, appearing much better than the old things that remained permanently on display in second-hand shops, but it still wasn't what Carolina had spent months saving up for.
Feeling devastated over having lost yet another new possession, Carolina slumped over to the living room sofa and started quietly sobbing, hiding her face with her worn, trembling hands. And when Marisol went over to try comforting her, she gently pushed her away.
"Bad luck. That's all we've been having thanks to that cabron Federico and his need to meddle with time," she said. "The one thing us humans should leave alone at all costs, and he still finds a way to mess with it so that he may benefit from it! What a fool. And he only made it worse by forcing Lucia into it."
Marisol had not gotten the full details behind her great uncle Federico's story yet (and she had no idea at all over how her mother ended up living in the house), but from what she knew, he'd led a very carefree life in 1950s Cuba at a time when political turmoil within the country was increasing. He'd lived in a beautiful villa next to the Caribbean Sea, which was surrounded by dozens of wild flowers and palm trees in the old photos which Marisol had seen.
According to Carolina, the man only had three major concerns in life: women, parties, and gambling, all of which he had in excess during his short life. At one point in 1959, a little game of cards and a large bet had gotten out of hand, and Federico's closest friends had gotten cheated out of a great sum of money. Federico's latest girlfriend, Lucia, who had the desire of being a schoolteacher over in the states, had been trying to talk him out of his bad habits, but to little avail. However, when this incident came up, she was all too willing to stand by his side, and the two of them left Cuba together.
Months later, under the most bizarre circumstances, Federico and Lucia found themselves in a small cheap house in the suburbs of Illinois, once home of Jared Irving, a discredited scientist who'd been trying to build a time machine with little success. However, using some rather strange methods, he'd been able to allow the inside of his home to remain permanently in the year 1959, much to the pleasure of the young couple.
It should also be noted that amongst these bizarre circumstances include how, when escaping Cuba, Federico and Lucia had been foolish enough to attempt jumping into the deck of a ship heading off for Miami from a dock. And as chance had it, they ended up falling into the Caribbean Sea, clinging into each other's arms as they sunk further away from shore, drowning within a minute.
But the odds were still in their favor as seconds after they took their last breaths, they both managed to swim back to shore, then climb their way up the ship without being noticed by a single soul. And in their happiness over making it, it would take meeting Jared Irving (who'd dabbled with the paranormal in the past as part of his work) on board to discover that they were now ghosts, only seen by a limited number of individuals. One could only imagine the shock and sadness experienced by those two upon learning the news.
And so, thanks to Jared, they could relive the final year of their lives for as long as they wanted. No trace of the raucous sixties, including the fact that their home country was now a communist state, nor of the technologically claustrophobic twenty-first century, could ever get through the doors, although Lucia and Federico could still leave the house at night if they so choose.
And so that was why Marisol Aguilar was stuck watching black-and-white sitcoms every night.
She was about to turn off the television to read The Hundred Dresses, one of the few books from the library she could through the house, when she heard knocking coming from her bedroom door.
"Come in!" she called out.
And in came Lucia, a tall, curvaceous black woman who was currently wearing a white sleeveless dress with roses embroidered around the skirt and brown sandals that she'd taken from Bloomington's when she first arrived in Illinois. If she wanted, she could have walked right into the walls to get in, as Federico, who loved grand entrances, sometimes liked doing on the rare occasions when he visited Marisol. But because Lucia wanted to make her visits seem as normal as possible, she always walked in through the door, a fact for which Marisol was grateful. She gave Marisol a warm smile and said, "Hola, mi hija. How was your day?"
"It was okay," Marisol answered. "I managed to read five pages from The Hundred Dresses this morning, and I got through all of my multiplication facts up to five times five."
"That's good to hear, Marisol," Lucia said, her hand passing right through Marisol's when she tried touching it; a reminder to the girl of how this woman was a supernatural being and no longer a flesh and blood person like herself. "There's nothing that pleases me more than a young girl taking advantage of her education."
To Marisol, however, what she was doing didn't seem much like a proper education. Instead of getting on the bus in the mornings for school, as all the other kids in her neighborhood did, she would go next door to get lessons from Mrs. Jennings, a retired music teacher and widow with four grown children. She would give Marisol a brief description of everything they were to go over for the day, then give her up to four lessons that lasted half an hour each. In between that time, Marisol was required to complete all schoolwork on her own, although she was could ask Mrs. Jennings some questions if the work was too confusing. But unlike the lessons she saw on television, she was never accompanied by other children, spending most of her time sitting in the old glass dining table that Mrs. Jennings took so much pride in.
Whenever she asked Mrs. Jennings why she could never go to an actual school, the old woman would shrug and say, "I don't understand why either. Your mother seems to think you'll have a hard time adjusting to school because of the way you've been brought up, although aside from the old- fashioned clothes you usually wear, I don't see any other way you wouldn't fit in."
If she admitted that her house was stuck in 1959, Marisol knew she would be much more than an outcast if she were to attend school. But she figured that if she could keep it a secret, she would be as well off as Mrs. Jennings appeared to believe she'd be.
"Now, Lucia," she said. "Are you and Federico ever going to let me attend school?"
Lucia sighed. "Marisol, we've been through this already. You haven't been brought up to handle the challenges you'd have to put with in school. You may be able to read, write, and do arithmetic well enough, but there's more you'll be required to understand if you were to start going, especially when it comes to getting along with your classmates, and that's where we think you'll struggle the most with."
Marisol thought she understood what Lucia meant. The few times she managed to listen in on conversations from kids her own age, she'd hear them mention many famous names that were unfamiliar to her, like Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Lindsay Lohan, and Miley Cyrus. The shows they talked about (Marisol could never remember their names as easily as those of the celebrities) seemed even stranger, with plots ranging from pop stars pretending to be regular teenagers, rich girls who were followed around all day because of their glamorous lifestyles, and cartoon boys who got away with the most outrageous situations. If anyone confessed to not watching these shows, or not knowing what the celebrities were up to, they would always get weird looks from their friends, or else snarky comments over how they probably weren't cool enough. "Bet you're still watching Barney or Dora, baby," they'd once told a girl who'd admitted to not watching the rich girls' show.
"If you do let me go, I promise I'll try not talking about anything popular they bring up," she said. "I'll change the subject and have them talk about our homework or something like that."
Lucia shook her head, her long dark hair swaying around her face as she did so. "Children your age are always looking for the most insignificant of things to make fun of you for, and it often gets worse if you tell them to stop. I know because that was my own experience in school when I was your age?"
"Really, Lucia? What did they make fun of you for?"
Lucia ran a hand through her smooth, dark-skinned arm. "It was simply because I looked different from all the other girls. I was the only black girl in my school, and nearly all my classmates instantly disliked me for this, especially those who were beautiful and wealthy. Their parents deliberately separated themselves from those they considered lowly in society, and they usually passed on their hatred to their children, turning them into cruel little devils from a young age. You always hear parochial school horror stories of mean nuns, but from my own experience, they were much more descent towards me than the girls they had to teach, who always attacked me with both their words and their fists. If they didn't pull my hair as I was walking home or kicking me from under the desks, then then made terrible insults about my looks, my family and where I came from. It was a living hell for me."
This brought chills down Marisol's spine. From the safe space provided by their old house, the television rarely showed information about those who were hated because of their race, and even rare were books that told about these people's stories. If it hadn't been for some of the newer books Marisol found in the library on figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, she may have never been aware of how major this was in 1959.
"But things have changed since then, haven't they?"
"Not as much as people want you to believe, my dear," Lucia said. "As much as we tell children that hard work and good deeds are enough to make it in this world, there are always be someone out there who will taunt them because of some trait that displeases them. For me, no matter how well I did in my studies, my classmates never failed to see me as anything other than an ugly dark girl from a poor family. With you, they may see your long skirts or your caramel colored skin, and decide that's a good enough reason to always hate you."
Marisol was about to ask something else, but Lucia then sprung up from the bed and started walking out of the bedroom. "Have a good night, Marisol. While things may change in the future, I want you to still think about what I told you and consider whether your current situation really is that bad."
And with that said, she was gone. Marisol was left with nothing but silence and her books until around ten at night, when she heard an old salsa record being played in the living room.
She found herself thinking back on that night she first walked in on the music, and found Federico and Lucia waltzing around the house with as much bliss as if they were two young people in Havana, with Federico sporting around an expensive dark tuxedo, and Lucia showing off a sparkling black dancing gown. The two of them had gone on dancing without taking a break, their bodies never once showing a sign of fatigue, and as far as Marisol could tell, they never appeared to be awkward or out of step as they danced, with every move looking like it came out of musical or dance video. All the while, the ancient grandfather clock, stationed in the middle of the living room-and a little too close to where Federico and Lucia danced- ticked away much too slowly, allowing new days and nights to pass by, but never the year.
Marisol spend the rest of her waking moments wondering if Federico and Lucia were still capable of dancing without stopping, and whether they loved that moment together as much as the first time around, or if they ever got bored with it all, wishing they and the others could move on sooner or later.