I still have it, almost forty years later. The pages are brittle and the cover is torn, so all it says is A Wrinkle, leaving In Time lost to when the cover cracked from too much love. It has my sister’s name written on the first page, but this book was just one of hundreds from her childhood. It could never mean to her what it meant to me.
Mama read it in my bedroom to all three of us over the summer, but Meg had already read it, of course, and Johnny was little and didn’t pay attention. Meg loved it because there was a character not just with her name but her nickname: Meg, not Maggie or Margie or Pearl (from the Greek word for pearl, Mama, ever the professor of linguistics, informed us). I loved the name as much if not more because I worshipped my sister in the way that only a little sister of a slightly older, and in my eyes, much cooler, sister can. She taught herself to read at three and here I was, eight, and I was mostly illiterate. My mother was teaching me but with dyslexia it is a slow, painful process and I hadn’t moved past books with one or two sentences a page on them at this point. But I lived in a house of readers and I loved stories – hearing them, telling them, dreaming them.
Meg and Charles Wallace seemed both so much and so little like us. Our parents were eccentric professors who nobody seemed to understand too – but ours were old and not beautiful and studied linguistics, not the science of the universe. We were forever being whisked away to strange places like Camazotoz except it was England or Holland and we weren’t with Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who or Mrs. Which (“Witch, Mama? Like in The Wizard of Oz?” “No, Judasha. which, like which cereal do you want. Now listen…”) but with hired nannies, taking us to see Big Ben or the canals of Amsterdam while our parents went to conferences to speak Linguistics, a language we didn’t know and secretly hated.
That summer that Mama read us A Wrinkle in Time was the last summer she was healthy. In the fall, she would get diagnosed with breast cancer and then she would die a few years later.
And later, as I longed for her, I pretended she was like Meg and Charles Wallace’s father, being held captive on another planet and somehow we could save her. Many boys played the part of Calvin O’Keefe to my Meg Murray, and we would battle IT, the force holding my mother. And the evil conformity of IT seemed all too real in the early 80s on Long Island where conformity was the name of the game.
Almost cruelly, shortly after Mama died, reading came to me, a gift to replace her love. I reread A Wrinkle in Time over and over, trying to figure out how I could tesser home with my mother, how I could wrinkle the fabric of time and space, and have all that I dreamed of – a whole family, even if they weren’t beautiful and even if I found linguistics deadly boring and even if we had to visit Big Ben a thousand more times with a thousand more nannies, it would be worth it to have Mama again.
Judy Ryan Hall is a writer and itinerant teacher of writing who has lived in such far flung places as Iceland, Sudan, Germany and New Jersey. Her MFA is from William Paterson University. She has been published in Brevity, Split Lip Magazine, The Blueshift Journal and many other places. Judy is also a fiction reader for Literary Orphans. Her as yet unpublished novel, Max Runs, listed in the Mslexia Competition. She has a blog on Facebook called Voluptuous Mermaid, so titled because of her love of being in water.