It takes four and a half months for the replacements to arrive. Ava and Lemon wake early one weekend in winter to unfamiliar laughter that drives them on tip-toe to the top of the stairs. Ava wonders, Is it that easy?
The women are everywhere—in the steam-warmed bathroom brushing their hair into fashionable poofs pinned at the crowns of their heads or curled around the legs of their father on the couch after dinner or spotlighted by the glow of the open refrigerator, a midnight soliloquy of water poured into an empty glass. Some months there are as many as three or four—the same redhead lasts nearly six weeks.
Lemon is drawn to their mother shape and smell, climbing without any prodding into soft laps warmed by cashmere sweaters in bright colors she longs to taste. But Ava is hard-won. She laments that there isn’t a single wicked one in the bunch. What fun is the crown if no one is vying for it?
As part of their interview, the replacements are always cooking, better or worse than the girls’ own gone mother. Lasagna from scratch: better. Chicken enchiladas: worse. There are a few who tell their father it’s time to get comfortable in his own kitchen and then hand over the spatula with a matte lipstick smirk. Ava uses her mother’s compact to practice making her mouth into that shape when she’s alone.
There’s a dwindling supply of Pizza Hut coupons for these evenings, and Ava sits across from the replacement at the table and peels off the pepperonis one by one, slipping them onto Lemon’s plate even though they are her favorite, knowing already that you should take care never to enjoy a thing too much.