Wild Nights Are Not Your Glory: A Disappointing Visit From Mrs. Whatsit

Wake up! Wake up! It’s a dark and stormy night, and you’ve been sleeping under an old patchwork quilt on an old brass bed in your attic bedroom! The house is shaking with the wild lashings of the wind, and the clouds scudding frantically across the sky leave the strangest moon-shadows rushing across the floor! How can everyone else in the house be asleep on a night like tonight, when it seems as though any moment the roof will be torn clean off the house, and you tossed out into the rippling night sky, to land who knows where? —But you asked for the attic bedroom, didn’t you, specially from Mother, and she let you have it as a privilege because you’re the oldest.

The wind is whistling through the chimney, and the dog Fortinbras adds his howls to it in an eerie twin column of sound. Better head downstairs, and make a cup of cocoa, and—it’s Charles Wallace, already awake and waiting for you in the kitchen, with a plate of bread and jam before him on the table. “There’s milk on the stove for you,” Charles Wallace says, swinging his feet in between bites. “It ought to be hot by now.”

How does Charles Wallace always know these things? How can he always tell, and why does he never seem to know (or care) what the twins are thinking? “No time to worry about that,” Charles Wallace answered serenely. “Mother will be along any minute, and she’ll want a liverwurst sandwich, I expect. Tomatoes for you?”

You nod. The smell of the cocoa, the warmth of the kitchen, the geraniums blooming on the windowsill and the sound of your mother’s stockinged feet in the hallway all go a long way towards soothing your attic-fears, at least until:

THE DOOR KNOCKS

“I’d better go see,” your mother says, and after a few anxious moments returns with

A TRAMP

Bundled up in a patchwork of scarves, and a man’s felt hat, a waxed overcoat, rubber boots, loud stockings, and a bright paisley stole; two eyes like deep stars peeping out from a face wreathed in smiles and lines, a shock of grey hair, and a smiling mouth like an autumn morning. Not like a regular tramp at all, and strangely comforting to look at. It might be an old woman, and yet you have the queerest feeling that she can move quicker than anything when she wants to, far too quick for an old woman. “Hello, Mrs. Whatsit,” Charles Wallace says.

“Many thanks for letting me in,” the stranger says, “and good to see you again, Charles Wallace”—here he bowed his head gravely while cutting the sandwiches—“I’ll only be here a minute to catch my breath before I’m on my way. What a storm! Storms are my forte, you know. And speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”

Your mother suddenly goes white all over and gropes behind her for a chair. She sits down in a hurry. “What did you say?”

“I said,” Mrs. Whatsit says, “that there is such a thing as a tesseract. And I’m going on the wildest of adventures imaginable to prove so, and there’ll be ever so much to learn and feel and experience on the way, and glorious creatures that make you shudder in terror and pleasure just to look at, and religious math, and kindly old ladies, and Aunt Beast, and flying, and individualism, and I’m going to rescue science and fatherhood from the grips of conformity, and only the most interesting and clever and unique and overlooked sort of middle-grade readers can come along”—here she fixes her suddenly-steely gaze precisely on you, and you catch your breath—“and I just wanted to stop by and tell you that you can’t come.”

“I don’t understand,” you say.

“Of course you don’t,” Mrs. Whatsit says. “You’re as thick as mud. Perhaps my sisters can get through to you. This is Mrs. Who,” and here she gestures towards a lovely older lady with quiet eyes in a fine emerald cloak who has suddenly appeared beside her.

“How do you do,” you say without thinking.

“How do you do,” Mrs. Who returns. “Behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.”

“She prefers to speak in quotations,” Mrs. Whatsit explains. “It helps her to access human thought. That quotation meant that you are not important.”

Mrs. Who nods.

“And this is Mrs. Which, my eldest sister, and the wisest of us all,” Mrs. Whatsit says, gesturing to her right, where something slightly less than a star, and a great deal more than a person, shimmers beside her.

“Yyyyyoouuuuu wwwwwouulllldddd bbbbee annnn awwwfullll bburdenn,” Mrs Which murmurs. “Yyyyouuuuu are onnne of thee ssssslowesssst sstudentss in yyyourr yyearr, are yyouu nnott? Aandd wwhhattt kinnddd of a nnamme iis Ffortiiinbraasss fforr a ddoggg?”

“An affected one,” says Mrs. Whatsit decisively. “Affected and backwards. What a terrible combination.”

“Jjjjammmesss ffourr thhreeee,” Mrs. Who says. “Yoouu askkk annnd do nnott rrreceivvve, bbbecaaausee yyouu aaasssk ammissss.”

“And you are afraid of hurricanes,” says Mrs. Whatsit, “How embarrassing. You think the other children dislike you because they are narrow-minded and conformist, which is broadly true, but in this one case, they happen to be right. You are a dreadful child, tiresome and self-indulgent, and not worth teaching Quaker geometry to, and the more time you spend in mental retreat indulging in what you think of as a “rich inner life” but what is in effect a non-stop fantasia of unmerited vengeance, grudge-nursing, and self-delusion, the worse your personality gets. And we just came here to tell you that we don’t like you.”

“Sssooo wwwweee mmussttt bbbbe offfff, ccchilddreenn,” Mrs. Who adds cheerfully, shimmering in and out of visibility.

“Yes, good night,” Mrs. Whatsit says.

“To say goodbye is to die a little,” Mrs. Which says. “We hate you so much. You are the worst child we can possibly think of, and you look terrible in braces, and we just came here to say that. We don’t think much of Charles Wallace, either. He’s a little creep, and he can stay home too, for all we care.”

“Just terrible,” Mrs Whatsit agrees, and with a sudden gust of wind and rattling of the doorjamb, they were gone as swiftly as they had come.