The fifth floor of the Dragonswan Mansion had been remodeled when the girls had turned seventeen. Their mother’s special needs required the change. A stairway from the ground floor led directly to the fifth and opened into a wide space filled with arts, crafts, books, and many collections of things her mother valued from dolls and stamps to comic books and coins. She had her own kitchenette, a bath tub, toilet, and sink, and a bunk bed, because, as their mother once told them, sometimes it’s nice to have a fort, and sometimes it’s nice to sleep in a tree.
Margaret entered the room without knocking to find her mother sitting at a card table playing go fish with her sister, Maggie. Maggie was the middle child between her and Gretchen and cared for their mother during the day. She was also a physician, the genius child who finished medical school and her residencies before she was legal to buy beer.
“Maggie, dear, we have a guest in need of your attention,” Margaret announced leaning over her mother and kissing her cheek.
“Margaret. How are you?” her mother asked loudly.
“I am very well, Mother. The tours started today and we are making apple butter and apple preserves in the kitchen. How are you?”
“I am well, too, thank you for asking. Did you know that I got a new doll today?”
“I did! I gave the package to Maggie, remember?”
“No. Sorry. I do not have a very good memory. Do you want to play with us? We are playing gold fish.”
Margaret smiled gently at her mother and petted her straight light brown hair. “Maybe I can later. Right now, Maggie has to go look at a woman who hurt herself earlier. Do you mind if I steal her away for a little while?”
“No, I do not mind, thank you for asking. Do you want to play when you bring her back?”
“I’m not sure, Mother. How about if I promise to come play with you at seven this evening?”
“That is an hour before I go to bed.”
“Yes it is. We can play until bed time, okay?”
“Okay. See you then.”
Margaret gave her mother another kiss and smiled at Maggie, nodding toward the door. Her sister stood, another exact copy of Margaret and together they left their mother’s room. Once they were out, Margaret sighed. “How is she really?” she asked.
Maggie shrugged. “She’s the same. The medication wears her out, but she has been a real trooper about it anyway. Her oncologist says she has another good year if all goes well. If not, it could be less than three months. Her hair is falling out now, but she doesn’t seem to mind.”
“How are you?” Margaret stopped Maggie on the stairs and took her hand.
Maggie’s small smile didn’t reach her eyes, and she held tightly to her sisters palms. “I’m sad and I’m angry, and I’m tired. I want to be with her, but it’s difficult. I love her so much, but she wears me out.”
Margaret squeezed her sister’s fingers. “Maybe Gretchen and I should each take a day too. You need a break if you are feeling like this. Let us help you.”
“Ha! As if Mother would let you. You know she only wants me to help her like she needs. Besides, you and Gretchen do so much for this household; I could never replace you, even for a day. It’s fine. I will be fine.” Maggie wiped unshed tears from her eyes and squared her shoulders. “Take me to your guest.”
Margaret sighed and led her on. When they reached the first floor, the tour had made it all the way to the art gallery so they were able to make it back to the guest suit without any interruptions. At the door, Margaret knocked, waited a second and then opened the door when Peggy called to them.
The poor pregnant girl was sitting at the table where she had managed to make quite a dent in the offerings. She had a guilty smile on her face, but for the first time since Margaret had laid eyes on her, she wasn’t carrying a burgeoning weight on her shoulders. Instead of hunched as she had been, she was sitting up straight. “Thank you for this, it was so delicious!” she waved at the table as she cumbersomely stood to greet them. “I’m Peggy,” she offered to Maggie, who took her hand and squeezed it.
“Look at you!” she said with a happy smile. “You look about thirty-six weeks on. How are you feeling?”
Margaret surreptitiously stepped out of the room to give Peggy some privacy and went in search of her other sister. On the way, she was accosted by a tourist who’d managed to break away from the group.
“Hi, I’m Ann Hitch, reporter for the Bay, mind if I ask you a few questions?” the woman abruptly said, getting between Margaret and the kitchen.
Margaret gave her a whimsical smile. “Absolutely, Ann. Please walk with me.”
Margaret turned toward the kitchen again as Ann began questioning her. “Rumors in town say that your house and grounds are haunted, any truth to those rumors?”
“Personally, I have never seen a ghost in my life, but they could be true. Who knows what lies on the other side of death?”
“Rumors also say that you and your sisters are practitioners of dark magic, any truth to that?”
“Have you seen any evidence of magic on these premises?”
“The legend of the athame certainly implies magical capabilities.”
Margaret laughed as she entered the kitchen and winked at her sister. “Did you not see the pregnant woman who cut herself on the athame?”
“True. What about the apples? Your apples are famous and have made Littleton famous, is there something special about them that the world doesn’t know about?”
“Darling Ann, our apples are absolutely special—that’s why they are famous! If we had run-of-the-mill apples, do you think you would be interviewing me?”
“True again. What makes your apples so special?”
Margaret grabbed a fresh apple from a barrel and rinsed it in the sink. Taking it over to the cutting board she sliced it in to eight spectacular, mouth-watering pieces. “Eat,” she said, handing Ann a slice and taking one for herself.
Ann smiled and ate the piece she was given. “They are probably the most flavorful apples I’ve ever had, but I’m from the city so that’s not saying much. We get our apples from the cheapest possible places.”
“Well, Ann, give me your address and I will personally see to it that you stay stocked with fresh apples all year—on the house.”
“Really?” Ann said surprised. “I—I can’t. I still have more questions and you might not like the rest.”
Margaret smiled and handed her a pen and paper. “I don’t mind your questions, Ann, and even if I don’t like them, I still like you and I want to give you apples for your home.”
Ann gave Margaret an awkward smile and wrote her address down. “Why do you all have the same name?”
Margaret tucked the paper away and turned, leaving through the back door with Ann on her heels. “Our mother loved the name Margaret, and planned to name her daughter—me—Margaret, so when I came and then Maggie came, and then Gretchen came, she didn’t have any other names picked out. So she just stayed true to her plan to use Margaret and named the three of use variations of the same name.”
“She didn’t know she was having triplets?”
“Dearest Ann, don’t you know? Our mother is autistic. She refused to let the doctors anywhere near her. She had us in the bathroom tub in her room. She didn’t even tell our father that she was in labor. She called him after we were born.”
“Your father? If she’s developmentally disabled doesn’t that constitute abuse? Shouldn’t she have been protected from him?”
Margaret had made it to the security gate and waved to James, the man on duty. “My father loved my mother and she loved him, in her own way. She was the only Dragonswan descendent and with permission from her parents before there was such a diagnosis as autism she married him when she was sixteen and he was thirty-two. They tried for eighteen years to get pregnant and then finally, after years of failure, they had us. My father loved our mother with all his heart until the day he died. She has been a wreck since then, deteriorating in both her body and mind. It’s not really a matter of abuse or not now. Now it’s a matter of two souls who were desperate for each other in this life, being separated and there is nothing anyone can do for them.”
“Is your mother dying?” Ann asked quietly for the first time.
Margaret smiled sadly. “We all are, aren’t we?” She turned to James again. “Darling, will you please see to it that this lovely woman makes it back to her hotel room?” Before Ann could protest Margaret tisked her. “Tut, tut, Ann. You came here under false pretenses. We have a form for reporters to fill out and get passes to the grounds. Please take the time to submit it on our website and I promise, tomorrow when you get here there will be a pass waiting for you.”