Jeep never got used to the hospital bed in the living room, against the wall where the Christmas tree stood every December. Mom, who always had been full of life and energy, had aged daily, it sometimes seemed, until now she looked like a shriveled little imitation of herself lying there, hooked up to monitors with an I.V. inserted in the back of her hand to keep her hydrated or something.
The visiting nurse finished taking Mom’s vital statistics, double-checked the intravenous drip, and smiled blankly at Jeep.
“Sorry to interrupt,” the nurse said, a hand brushing back Mom’s hair. “I’ll be in the kitchen for a while before I have to go, so holler if you need me.”
“Thank you,” Mom said, and after the nurse was out of earshot, added to Jeep, “She’s one of the good ones. I wish they were all like her.”
“She does seem nice,” Jeep said, although she couldn’t really tell the difference between this nurse and any of the others who came to the house twice a day to monitor her mother’s deterioration.
She managed to laugh at one of Jeep’s lame jokes and then something dark seemed to pass over her eyes.
“Honey,” Mom said, “you need to know something, something important.”
“Out in the garage, under the tarp —”
Jeep relaxed a little. “Yeah, Mom, what IS that thing? Some old classic car from the ’70s or something?”
The woman lying in the bed widened her eyes and then laughed softly.
“You little snit,” she said. “When did you look under the tarp?”
Jeep shrugged. “I don’t know, it was a really long time ago. They made cars a lot bigger when you were a kid.”
“Yes, they did, but it’s not a classic car from the’70s. You’re close, though,” and Mom coughed from laughing. “The design is based on a 1965 Buick Riviera — the designer had an impish streak — but it’s more than a car. Much, much more than that.”
“We called it The Traveler,” Mom said in a half-whisper. “It’s how I traveled between worlds over the years.”
OK. This was something new. Jeep knew Mom was involved in some sort of scientific research she wasn’t allowed to talk about, and now she was talking about it. And she traveled — wait, what?
“Between worlds? Like you went to Mars?”
“And Venus, and —”
“Oh my gosh, Mom! This is ridiculous!”
“And by ridiculous you mean —”
“Awesome! You went to Venus and Mars and what was it like? Howcome you’re not like famous? Why doesn’t everybody know? Why is your spaceship sitting under a tarp in the garage?!”
“It wasn’t as —”
“Oh, Mom,” Jeep said, her eyes suddenly wet, “Why didn’t you ever take me with? We could have had so much fun together.”
“I know,” she said, patting her daughter’s hand. “But you have to be very careful. I was waiting for the right time; I guess I thought we had plenty of time.”
“That’s OK,” Jeep said, although of course it wasn’t OK. To walk with her Mom on Venus — or Mars — it would have been incredibly special.
“Like I said, you have to be very careful calibrating your settings,” Mom said. “We lost your father that way.”
“What? My dad went with you, too?”
“No, he went out in the first Traveler, and we lost him because we —”
“Wait. You and Dad worked together on this? You have to tell me everything!”
“Yes, I think it’s time. Slow down and I’ll tell you,” Mom said. “What I was trying to say is you have to be careful with your calibrations when you decide where you’re going — and when you’re going. That’s what got you in trouble.”
“What does that mean? What did I do?” Jeep said. “I never did more than look at it, I swear.”
“Oh, I know. It’s nothing that you did, it’s what you’re going to do.”
“No, you said that’s what ‘got’ me in trouble, like I already did something.”
Mom smiled. “Right. It’s my past, your future. Oh, Gwin, I’m so proud of you.”
This was now not only confusing but embarrassing. “So I’m going to get in trouble, but you’re proud of me for doing it?”
“Oh, the places you’ll go —”
“OK, cut it out, Dr. Suess,” Jeep said, which made Mom laugh, which was good news and bad news because she hadn’t laughed much lately but she started coughing and it took a minute before she could speak again.
“Oh, dear,” Mom said, her eyes suddenly filling with tears. “There’s so much I want to tell you, but you have to find out for yourself. You have to go through so much, and I can’t help you any more than I already have. I wish there was another way to do this, but the worlds depend on you discovering it all in the order you discovered it. Oh, my little Guinevere, a mother only wants to protect her little girl, and I can’t protect you from what’s going to happen. I wish I could tell you, I wish with all my heart, but I can’t, I just can’t.”
And now Jeep’s mother was sobbing.
“OK, Mom, here we go again, this is not making sense at all, and you’re really starting to scare me,” Jeep said, not scared for herself as much as scared that her mother was going a little crazy.
“You must think I’m going crazy,” Mom said, and now Jeep wondered if she had ESP too.
“Well, yeah, a little. It’s like you’re future Mom coming back to warn me that something bad is going to happen, but you can’t tell me what it is because it would mess up the time continuum or something.”
Mom laughed through her tears. “Oh, my bright girl. I’m so proud of you.”
“You said that,” Jeep smiled back gently. “So what’s going to get me in trouble in the future that you remember somehow?”
“Yes,” Mom said, remembering. “I’m so glad you have Blaine, he’s such a good friend to you. And your other — oh, but I can’t say more about that. It’s what you need to know about the Traveler.”
“Yes, the Traveler that looks like an old Buick,” the woman on the bed chuckled. “It’s not that hard to operate, but you need at least to understand what it is.”
“It’s a car that you flew to Venus and Mars, and — where else?”
“That’s the thing, dear, it’s not just where, it’s when, and both when and where combined.”
“Try to start making sense for me, Mom.”
“Right.” Mom took a deep breath. “All right. It’s not just about flying between planets, you see. The most important thing you need to know is that the Traveler goes through time and between — Oh!”
She held her hand to her temple, and then both hands to both temples, and said “Oh!” again.
“Mom? You OK?”
“Not now, not yet, no, no, no,” Mom said, shaking her head between her palms. She looked up wildly into Jeep’s eyes, suddenly in a frantic hurry to tell her daughter what she needed to know. “Gwin! The Traveler travels through space and time and —”
Then Mom cried a long, moaning cry that turned into more of a scream and made Jeep jump up and yell, “Help! Nurse!”