Even squinting I can’t see the skyscrapers that should be across the
bay. Dumbfounded, I realize my downhill neighbor’s house is not there
either. I get goose bumps and feel myself start to shake, but just a
I look down the hill again only to see telephone poles with a single
wire. I am in my yard, and yet, it isn’t the same. Am I hallucinating?
Dreaming? My yard is different, incomplete. I whirl around trying to see
what else is different when I see them.
I gasp. They’re different, old fashioned. It’s their clothing.
I’ve seen it before, but only in books and museums. Two strangers
stand on the other side of where my non-existent chain link fence should
be. And where is that fence? I slam my eyes shut tight.
I am Jesse Reiman. I have two little girls. I just bought this house. It
is 2010. We live in Staten Island. I am Jesse Reiman. I have two little
girls. I just bought this house. It is 2010. We live in Staten Island.
I open my eyes. They’re still there. I blink several times checking to
make sure this all won’t go away. It doesn’t. That’s when I come
to a realization that I can’t quite accept.
Oh, my God, this isn’t a dream… or an hallucination. Look at their
clothes! It must be close to 1885, my year, the one I research, wish
upon, long for. But, that’s – well – crazy.
The demure little woman, obviously younger than I, and much slimmer I
can’t help noticing,hurries toward me, taking little steps and holding
her plaid shawl tightly against the chill. I don’t know her.
“It’s been months since we removed here. We heard your children
playing in the yard and decided to introduce ourselves. I hope this is
not an imposition.”
I watch transfixed as she stops abruptly and stands smiling just feet
away from me in her own yard, not mine. The man takes only a dozen
strides to stand right behind her.
The woman encourages me with little nods of her head as I attempt to
walk up the grassy slope to them. It isn’t easy with the extra pounds
I carry and how slippery the slope is.
Slope? There shouldn’t be a slope here. Where are the stairs I’d
been meaning to have repaired? Where is the loose railing I keep warning
the kids about?
I feel as if I’m walking underwater, and so, make slow progress. I
assume I’m still in shock at having walked through a wall. The wall!
That’s how we got here. That’s not possible, is it? Things like this
don’t happen, do they? But the kids are here, too, I acknowledge. I
hear them chattering to each other.
My foot catches on my long skirt and I stumble. I attempt to right
myself on the little heeled shoes I wear. Wait, where did these come
from? What happened to my clogs? And my easy fit jeans?
I know I should be frightened, but I’m fascinated. No, I’m more than
fascinated. It’s my obsession with 1885 paying off, sort of like one
of my Victorian books come to life. I take a deep breath and raise my
chin just a little. Crazy or not, I like this – a lot.
“I’m Jesse.” I force myself to smile back, hoping I don’t look
as perplexed as I feel. I gesture toward my children as if it were the
most natural thing in the world to address two people I don’t know
dressed in 19th century clothes standing in my neighbor’s yard while
I’m wearing the same kind of clothes and my yard is different.
“Those are my daughters, Beckie and Serena.” I do a double take as I
see they’re dressed as miniatures of me, but cover my surprise nicely.
Does this mean we’re all crazy? How can they be part of my insanity?
Is this a group hallucination?
“How do you do, Mrs. Jesse? We were eagerly awaiting your arrival. I
was so eager to have a woman close by. We live so very far from the
city. I was beginning to despair at how lonely I would be living on
Staten Island, even this close to the ferry. I’m Mrs. Gramus and this
– of course – is my husband, Mr. Gramus.”
From the corner of my eye, I see little flashes of brown in the grass,
but quickly decide I can deal with whatever they are later. Now I want
to know who these people are. And why my kids and I are here, even if it
means lots of therapy for me.
She turns to face her husband, “Forgive me for speaking out of
turn.” I am flabbergasted at her subservience, the reaction of a sane
person, I’m sure.
Bunnies… the flashes must be bunnies hopping in the grass. My mind
seems to be going in many different directions at once.
He directs a brusque nod in her general direction, ignoring the bunnies,
my confusion, my children who are playing a short distance down the long
yard, then turns to me again just as I decide to pipe up and establish
“No, Jesse is my given name. Our last name is Reiman.” In the midst
of all this strangeness, I’m concerned that the Gramuses understand
which is my last name? And just how do I think that’s going to inform
them we’re not supposed to be here? We can’t really be here, can we?
Or do I mean in this time rather than here? My house is from 1885, but
I’m not. I belong in 2010. They don’t. Their clothes, their speech.
How can we be in 1885?
As she averts her face, I catch how bright red it’s become at my
response. Mrs. Gramus keeps playing with that too-small-to-be-of-any-use
embroidered handkerchief in her hand, twisting it this way, then that.
“Forgive me. It is rather odd to hear your given name when we’ve
just met. I simply presumed you were offering your surname.”
Her husband throws her a barely perceptible frown while I stare at his
handlebar moustache. What prompts that look? And how long did it take
him to learn to make the ends of that moustache so perfect?
He continues for her, “We tend to be somewhat informal here in the
country. We intend no offense.” Silence. Clearing of the throat.
“Ahem, Reiman, is that a Jewish name?” He doesn’t look at me.
I gaze around me, taking in the lack of a fence at the end of the yard
and between our yards, and more importantly, the lack of any other
houses as far as I can see beyond my house and what I presume is theirs.
Why is this man talking about my religion? I didn’t ask about his.
I ignore what I consider his rude question and ask one of my own
mimicking their speech as best I can. “Uh, when did you come to reside
in your home?” I try not to stare at their strangely familiar
clothing, her ornately done hair, his curled moustache. I know I’m not
crazy. Would a crazy person be annoyed by his question?
I barely hear, “In September,” so soft is Mrs. Gramus’s voice when
“Yes, but what year?” Damn! I can hear the pushiness in my voice.
I sneak a peek at the kids again. They’re still wearing those clothes.
I bring my eyes right back to this couple. I’m afraid they’ll
disappear if I turn away. Or maybe I’m afraid they won’t.
“Why, this year, of course.” There goes that poor little
They seem at a loss and I gather they suppose me dimwitted. Not that I
really care about that right now.
“But what year is this year?” I bark. Silence as they shift
uncomfortably, she causing her blue and green taffeta skirt to rustle as
they come just a teeny bit closer.
I notice the sun bouncing off the tortoise shell combs in her hair. I
raise my hand to my own hair only to discover the cool smoothness that
must be silver and understand I’m wearing silver combs in my usually
Her voice is soft, sympathetic, almost pitying. I can barely tolerate
that she talks to me like that. “It is 1885, of course. Doesn’t your
husband allow you to read the newspapers?”
This, of course, is senseless. That is my favorite year, but it is also
a long, long time ago. Stalling, I smooth my velveteen skirt, tuck in my
high collared blouse, push my tight sleeves up the little bit they’ll
go and pull them down again as I think.
My house was built in 1885. We’re dressed in Victorian clothing. Their
language is formal. Most of the trees and shrubs seem immature, except
for those separating the house from the street.
My mind functions at lightning speed, logical and objective for the
first time since this started. This is the year I dream about living in.
The one I buy book after book about. The one I watch movies about. No,
it can’t be. Oh, my God, this is not a dream or hallucination. I’m
not crazy or dimwitted.
“Are you sure?” I find myself the one whispering now as I keep my
eyes firmly on my sash.
They fidget, appearing not to know how to treat me. He twirls his
moustache with both hands while she mimics my actions, maybe not
realizing she does so. Maybe they think me worse than dimwitted. They
look at each other, at me, at my family, but they don’t answer.
Then, his face softens. Surprisingly, he takes his wife’s hand and
caresses it before responding, almost as if to silence this woman who
isn’t speaking. When he does respond, it is in a slow and deliberate
“Yes, I’m certain. Would you care to view this week’s Staten
Island Gazette and Sentinel? I may easily have it retrieved from my
drawing room for you.”
How can I inform them we’re from their future if they can’t even
accept my questioning today’s date? I forage in my mind, coming up
with nothing anywhere near appropriate to say in this bizarre
“Mom.” We jump just a bit at the sound of Beckie’s high, clear
voice. The kids seem happy and safe so I paid no attention to them until
now. Is that smart?
He drops his wife’s hand and she goes back to tormenting her
handkerchief. Beckie’s voice carries so clearly this far uphill from
the bay. Or is it that we hear no other neighbors, no other children,
not even a car – or maybe I should say carriage.
“Serena won’t believe me. She’s crying because her doll is a
little girl and not her Barbie. I told her that Barbie is safely inside,
but she wants to see for herself. Can we go in now?”
I silently thank her for rescuing me from having to answer the Gramuses.
It strikes me that she and her sister readily accept the situation.
Maybe this isn’t something to fear, this appearing in a different time
I look at the couple. ”Excuse me. It’s a family matter. I’m
certain we’ll meet again very soon. After all, we are neighbors.” I
give them what I hope is a smile.
I speak lightly, not wanting to alert them to the strangeness of the
situation, at least not until I figure out just what is happening here.
They’ve already shown me they don’t think it strange at all.
Somehow, the three of us, my daughters and I, fit in their world. They
don’t have a clue how truly different we are.
I turn on my heel to gather the kids, noticing how tightly my corset is
holding in my girth, and feel my neighbors’ eyes burn a hole in my
back as I do. They stand there for just a moment, not even long enough
for me to reach my daughters.
“Well, then, until next time,” Mr. Gramus calls after me as they
make their obviously reluctant way into their own home, practically a
duplicate of ours, at least from the outside.
Once I reach the girls, I stand there, not speaking, stroking their long
hair, gazing at the blue of the sky, the blue of the bay and the blue of
their dolls’ long dresses until I hear my neighbors’ door close. But
my kids don’t have dolls with long dresses. Or they didn’t.
“Serena, it’s all right. You’ll see Barbie soon. Thanks for coming
to get me, Beckie. You’re a good big sister. Have I told you lately
that I love you?”
They giggle. I used the title of a popular contemporary song – to our
time, that is - they usually mock since it’s about ‘love stuff.’
Ah, but Serena’s tears have stopped.
“Mom, I found candy in my pocket. I didn’t eat it because you told
us not to take anything from strangers and I didn’t know who put it
there. But, Mom, I put it in my doll’s mouth and it came out her foot.
How did that happen? Do you think dolls should come with candy? This is
so great! Can we take the dolls back with us?”
“Can I try? My doll doesn’t do that. It’s not fair! And she’s a
little girl, not a Barbie!!”
They talk about these dolls the same way they talk about anything else
that’s commonplace in their lives. For them, we’re here and this is
just the way it is.
They bicker while I hang on to something Beckie said. She wants to take
the doll back with her. So they know we are in a different place, no,
time. And they don’t think they’re crazy. They know they’re here.
And I admit it: I do, too.
I don’t talk about this or the differences they surely must notice in
our yard. Why aren’t my inquisitive kids asking about those
differences? I grasp my daughters’ shoulders, turning them toward our
new home. At least it still looks like the old house I’ve just bought.
“Ready? Let’s go find Barbie.”
I lead the way to the back wall of the wine cellar, something I have no
use for that was considered a necessity when the house was built. I lead
the way back to the time where we belong. The century old brick looks
new. How? And why hadn’t I noticed? I fervently hope we can walk
through that wall back to the time we were born into. The kids tell me
it’ll be cool to countdown from three like on a space mission, so we
Excerpted from "Portal in Time" by Gail Rae-Garwood. Copyright © 2016 by Gail Rae-Garwood. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.