The Fateful Breakfast
As so often happens, it all started in the morning. Mom was wiping down the sink with a small sponge. The Hellman children—Halley, eleven, Koby, nine, and Mimi, six years and four months—were sitting at the round kitchen table, eating corn flakes.
The news was on the radio: Schools have let out for the summer, warm weather on the way, weekend traffic running smoothly . . .
Mom’s sponge hovered above the sink as she turned to the children. She was nervous and for a good reason.
“It’s the morning of my departure, but the train tickets still haven’t come,” she complained. “I’m sure that grand prize drawing win was a hoax. Trip to Lapland and two weeks of relaxing treatments! Too good to be true. Such things just don’t happen.”
Mom turned back to the sink and continued scrubbing while mumbling, “But I still believed it. I even packed my suitcase all ready, but there’s no sign of the tickets.”
The children looked at one another.
“And by the way, no sign of the nanny, either,” Halley said.
“No sign of the nanny,” Mom repeated.
“Nor Invisible Voice,” Mimi continued.
“But Invisible Voice is often heard,” Koby corrected Mimi.
“One who is heard a lot doesn’t need to be seen,” Halley giggled.
“Stop that Invisible Voice nonsense,” Mom said sternly. “Dad’s coming home tonight, as you well know. He’s already on the plane.”
“I don’t think he’s on the plane,” Halley whispered to Koby. Invisible Voice was not very good at coming home on time.
“What are you whispering?” Mom asked.
“Nothing,” Koby answered quickly.
The doorbell rang.
“Here they are!” Mom exclaimed. She looked around. The kitchen was still messy.
“I’ll get it,” Halley said, jumping up. Mom quickly swiped the breakfast crumbs off the table with the sponge and hurried to the hall after Halley.
The postman stood at the door. He was not the usual postman, but smarter-looking and more energetic. He wore a yellow jacket, gray baseball cap, and gray tie. He had definitely not ridden to their street on the post office bike.
“I wonder if Mary Hellman is at home?” he asked politely. “I have a package. Someone must confirm receipt.”
“Confirm?” Halley repeated.
“Sign,” the postman explained.
Mom wiped her hands on her apron and stepped forward.
“I am Mary Hellman,” she said. “I’ve won a trip in a prize drawing. This must be the train tickets.”
The postman nodded and handed Mom a paper and pen. “Right there. And your name in capitals, if you please.”
Mom signed. The postman handed her an envelope.
“Here we are. Have an excellent day!”
He raised his cap and disappeared down into the stairway.
Mom carefully tore the envelope open.
“Oh, yes, here they are,” she said, relieved, and pulled a folded sheet of paper out of the envelope, with the train tickets inside.
“What does it say?” Halley asked.
Mom unfolded the sheet of paper and read out loud:
Once again: congratulations to the winner! At last, it is time for your trip. Time to recharge your batteries, relax, and learn new things. Time to think of your own well-being, wake up to birdsong and the tickle of the sun’s rays. Welcome!
After two weeks you will be like a new person. Our relaxation camp, the exact location of which will be revealed as soon as you arrive, starts tomorrow at noon. The camp duration is exactly two weeks, and in all that time you will need no money, just warm clothing and an energetic camping mindset. After the two weeks, you will be returned to your home, unless you choose to go to some other place. The special camp train leaves the central railway station at eight p.m. today. Please, do not be late. Your train tickets are enclosed.”
“Special camp train!” Halley echoed. “Looks like Mom wasn’t the only one to win a relaxation trip.”
“Idiot, the others must pay for it themselves, of course,” Koby corrected her. “Isn’t that right, Mom?”
Mom didn’t reply but stared at the letter. Her brow became strangely crinkled.
“What else does it say?” Halley asked.
“Hell’s bells,” Mom grumbled. “It says here that because your dad travels for work, the nanny will stay day and night until I get back. Two weeks, night and day!”
“Didn’t you tell them that Invisible Voice is coming home?” Koby asked. “I mean, that Dad’s coming?”
“I thought it was self-evident!” Mom said.
“Are we having a nanny move in?” Mimi asked, delighted. She liked all the staff at the daycare center.
“They never said anything about nights,” Mom muttered. “I thought we’d get someone who tidies up and cooks dinner a few times a week. This is a different thing altogether.”
“Is Invisible Voice’s coming home canceled?” Halley whispered to Koby.
Koby shrugged. He really didn’t know.
“They should have made this clear before,” Mom went on, shaking her head. “A total stranger! Where do we put her in this place? We haven’t got a guest room.”
“Your bed will be free,” Mimi piped up.
“This has gotten too complicated,” Mom said, not happy. Then she was quiet again and continued reading.
“What else does it say?” Koby asked, when Mom’s lips suddenly clamped together in a tight line.
“Read it out loud!” Mimi said, agitated.