The whispers were beginning to make her feel uncomfortable. For the third time since she’d placed it in the oven, Ingrid peeked at the roast. It was fine. Starting to darken around the edges, eleven minutes from the brown perfection her friends hated her for. Hate was a strong word. Envy was a better word. She wondered if anyone would be willing to come over again tonight, then she could ask if anyone else was hearing the whispers. Marie wouldn’t, the cow. Marie’s husband, the sports writer, hated when Marie visited Ingrid, because Marie always returned from her visits bobbing in white wine, and wouldn’t let him at her when he was ready.
She checked the roast again. The whispers told her to go back to the basement. She couldn’t. Not until the roast was finished. Maybe Julia or Ashby would come over for dinner. She could probably coax them, if she promised not to show them the way chicken should be marinated, or the most efficient way to get a wine stain out of the kitchen tile, or explain the difference between Bubble Trubble™ and Bubble Trubble Deluxe™. They were probably still a bit put off after yesterday. Ingrid untied and retied her spotless yellow apron, the one with the cute ducklings on the fringe—her favorite. She picked up her dishtowel and moved through the kitchen again, her mind wandering back to that afternoon.
They made her try it, even though she protested. It hadn’t felt right, but they shamed her with the same tone Susan Marks used in high school so she gave in. She didn’t want to play. It was fine, they assured, she was being silly. They laughed when she closed her eyes and apologized when she opened them. She hated the giggles, the same ones from high school. The giggles spoke of things said away from her. She hated the giggles, but it was hard to make new friends. There was hardly enough time to clean the house before getting dinner ready for Peter when he came home from work. And he noticed. He always noticed.
“Put your hands on it, Ingrid,” said Angie. She did and they erupted again.
They had picked it up in a curiosity shop. It was an antique. They never invited Ingrid to go antiquing. The board was a rectangle. The bottom corners depicted a pair of women, ghostly figures hovering behind them as they stared into a mist ahead. The top corners had a sun on one side and a moon on the other, with smiles that made her uneasy. The letters were blocky, laid out in dipping crescents above the numbers, which sat in two neat rows.
Angela told her to close her eyes again, it was all for fun. Maybe if she played along they would invite her to book club. Ingrid desperately wanted to go to book club. Marie placed Ingrid’s hands atop the heart-shaped planchette. Angela took a dramatic tone, pulling more giggles from the girls as she read from the faded yellow card that came with the box.
“We welcome any spirits into this home. Join us. Is anyone there?”
Her hands moved. She felt the tension in Marie’s fingers and opened her eyes. The planchette slid, Y…E… Ingrid let the resistance slip from her own hands, feeling Marie tug them along the board. …S.
“Ask.” They laughed, “Ask what Peter thinks of his new secretary.”
The whispers were very polite. They started up like a fall breeze, kicking through her mind, a swirling group of voices. They wanted to know if they could come in.
Her silver pig snout alarm dinged from the stovetop. Ingrid folded the towel neatly onto the stove handle, and slipped on her pink oven mitts. A frayed thread poked free between thumb and forefinger. She plucked it between her front teeth and pulled. It drew out, forcing her to take a calming breath before removing the mitts and opening the drawer next to the fridge. Taking her small kitchen scissors from the drawer, she snipped the thread at its base. A good host doesn’t stand for sloppy presentation.
And Ingrid was a good host, unlike her mother. It had been Ingrid who had taken care of everything once her father passed; Ingrid who cooked, and Ingrid who cleaned. To her credit, her mother had been an excellent cook. She loved to cook with wine, and sometimes added it to the food. Ingrid replaced the mitts, opened the oven, and removed a succulent brown roast ten times the meal her mother had ever cooked. Perfect, the voices said. Stunning. Of course she had let the voices in. What kind of host denies entry to those so polite? They complimented her home and her immaculate attention to detail, they told her she was lovely, they told her she mattered.
“Ingrid, darling, you look more vacant than usual.”
“What? Oh, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, ask it something.” They drank her wine and ate her roasted almonds. She asked her question to the whispers, not realizing she hadn’t spoken aloud. Marie gasped as their hands moved, and turned an accusing look on Ingrid, as if appalled that she would take their joke into her own hands. Ingrid didn’t notice, really, she was too busy listening for the answer. It was the perfect idea. A splendid dinner, a roast.
Ingrid left the roast to cool on the stovetop and opened the fridge. Reaching for the Tupperware container she was inspired, and grabbed a bit of pepper as well. She closed the door and poured the contents of the container into her curving, silver sauceboat. She transferred the roast from its rectangular pan to the lovely wooden platter Peter had purchased for her birthday. The whispers said they would help with the roast, but they couldn’t do it without her expertise, and her permission. She gladly gave her permission, it was such a lovely idea.
The girls decided that it was no longer any fun if Ingrid was just going to sit there like a mouse and move the planchette on her own. They finished her white wine and gossiped. Ingrid never took her hands from the planchette. They began to leave, one by one, and the whispers told her it would be a good time to start the roast. She really ought to, if she was going to have it ready by this evening. Peter would be so pleased.
She sliced it into even slabs. The carving knife worked through the meat effortlessly. It was so tender. She couldn’t wait to see Peter’s reaction. Dribbling a slow stream from the sauceboat, she tried to think of a way to thank Angela for her help. She had stayed, long after the others had left, to help with the roast. Ingrid knew there was a good chance the wine influenced Angela’s decision, but Ingrid was grateful for the help all the same. They really hadn’t gotten along in high school, she and Angela, but time had passed, and they had grown. Husbands, work, and obligations add up. Life’s everyday tedium accomplishes wonderful and terrible things, drawing layers over old wounds and twisting time so that the eternity of high school looks like four short years when it’s over. Eight more had flown by, each day blending into the next as Ingrid waited for the next bit of excitement life was to deliver. She decided to make a plate for Angela—a thick slice, soaked in the delicious sauce Ingrid had come up with all on her own. Peter’s car trundled into the driveway just as Ingrid finished setting the silverware onto his napkin. The roast made a glorious centerpiece. It glistened just the way the voices said it would, a soft, caramel brown wet with flavor, and a tenderness that would slip from the fork and melt against the tongue like so much sugar. The voices were right, Peter would be floored.
He was surprised and suspicious, as she knew he would be. Perhaps he thought she had done something, something she felt the need to make up for, but she didn’t mind. The whispers said he would enjoy it. As he set his coat on the back of his chair and took the first bite, she forgave him the grease on the tablecloth for the ecstasy in his eyes. He finished, and asked what in the world he could do for another tomorrow. She smiled, and thanked him for the compliment. When he retired to his armchair for the evening, still spouting praise, she went to the fridge and took Angela’s plate and the near empty sauceboat. Opening the door to the basement, Ingrid pulled the frayed cord, illuminating the immaculate stairwell, and closed the door behind her.
Stepping gingerly, so as not to drip sauce on the steps, Ingrid made her way down the stairs, to the chair Angela was bound to. The whispers had given her a spectacular way to dress the wound, and Angela looked to be very much alive. Her right leg was gone from the hip down, and with Peter’s appetite, Ingrid would certainly need to take the other. She tugged the binding away from Angela’s mouth, shushing the whimpers as a mother would a child. Slicing the meat, Ingrid fed Angela a piece, then set the sauceboat down so she could extract more of it from her friend’s leg. She smiled, and for the first time since it killed her mother, had a glass of wine.