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Aunty

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I look in the mirror and see her big, green eyes staring back at me, her thick, blonde hair surrounding me, comforting me. It’s the reminder I need that she’s still with me, a part of me.

The calendar tells me that it’s been exactly a year since she's been gone. Not much has changed--- yet everything has. Her clothes still lay neatly folded in her drawers. Her perfume stands tall on top her dresser, and her religious books remain stacked underneath her vanity, collecting dust. Funny how she’s not around to catch me, but I still feel apprehensive snooping through her things. Everything is preserved and untouched, leaving me feel like a trespasser in a museum.

I slowly run my finger down the tall bottle of perfume, outlining the letters of Shalimar, careful not to press the button to release a mist of memories. That would be just too painful. I carefully slide open her top drawer and a stack of old photos tumble out, falling onto the carpet. I recognize them as the collection of photos my sister and I put together for display at her wake. Tape is still attached to most of them. Forty-six years of memories lay around me, carrying my mind back to times I’m not sure that I can handle thinking about.

A familiar photo catches my eye. My siblings and I, all under eight years old, trapping my mom in a dog-pile hug on the couch. Dark bags hang below her tired eyes, but she is smiling through the chaos, chaos I wish I could go back to. Stuck to the photo is a picture from my parent’s wedding day. My mom, dressed in a lace, long-sleeved wedding gown and my dad in a black suit, proudly stand together in my grandma’s orange and brown kitchen, both glowing, unaware of their future.

The third picture of Mom and Dad, holding onto each other in our old boat, was hard to look away from. I close my eyes and can smell fresh water and gasoline. The dark clouds in the background look miles away. So careless they looked, young, happy and healthy in love.

Footsteps approach the door; I gather up the photos and shove them back in the drawer for another year. An aged man in work boots enters.

“Hey, Dad.”

“What are you doing in here?” he gruffly asks.

“Just looking through some old pictures,” I reply. I meet his empty, bloodshot eyes and look back down to the carpet.

“We should get rid of some things; it’s about time.” Caught off guard, I stay silent. “Aunty is here.” We called her Aunty because her real name, Josephine, was too long for me to say when I was a child. When I did attempt to say her name, it came out more like “feen,” but Aunty didn’t like that so she named herself “Aunty.” Since then, the name stuck. “She’s gonna help clear out the closet and drawers.” I fold my legs into my chest and slowly nod, knowing it had to be done.

My aunt is a lot like Endora from Bewitched--- a whimsical character appearing suddenly, causing drama, and leaving as quickly as she came. Her visits come with good intentions, but intentions can go in many directions.

Aunty floats in the room, dressed in all black, soaking up the despair, playing the role of the empathetic aunt. She wraps her gangly arms around me, pulling me closer to her bony chest, and holds me. She strokes my hair and tells me she thinks about me all the time and knows exactly how I'm feeling. Funny, but she never once called, and last time I checked, both her parents were still alive, living in a bed and breakfast in Pennsylvania. She finally releases me from her grasp and wipes a forced tear from her fake eyelashes and turns to my dad.

"Oh, Mark, you look terrible." While pulling a few gray hairs out of his sideburns she embraces him in a drawn-out hug.

"I know that this must be dreadful to have to go through. When William passed away (her third husband), I was an absolute mess. I didn't eat for weeks!" The bones protruding out of her neck and shoulders confirm her story. But then again, I wouldn't put it past Aunty to fake an eating disorder for a few extra sympathy points from the family.

As she moves closer to my mom's closet I feel my heart rate quicken, anxiety rushing through my body.

"Oh Mark, (she says that a lot) how could you hold on to this stuff for so long?" My dad stares off into space, looking far away from his bedroom. Maybe he is on his boat, with Mom. Aunty takes a handful of my mom's pajamas---pajamas I haven't seen in a year---and throws them on the ground into a black garbage bag. I feel my heart thrown in with it.

"It's like a band aid my dear, just rip it off! Get it over with." With that said, she grabs an armful of sweatpants and throws them alongside the pajamas, and my heart. Within minutes, the closet is stripped, bare and bleak. I feel like the closet, nothing left but barren walls, ready to crack. My dad leaves---no surprise there. He is probably waist deep in a cocktail by now, drowning out the past.

I find myself alone once again. Aunty wanders off, probably snooping around looking for the bank statement. I climb into the right side of the bed, my Mom’s side. The cold is unbearable---no one has slept here in a long time. I close my eyes and imagine myself on the boat with my parents. The chilly September air creeping in, burning my cheeks. The engine sputtering as the boat cuts through the choppy water, rolling over the waves. I watch from a distance, as my parents laugh and sip their cocktails. Aunty appears and gladly takes their picture. They all laugh together, exchanging stories. But then waves come thrashing at the boat, beating and tearing the boat apart. Water pours in, seeping through cracks. A nightmare unravels. Water rises and pushes my parents apart. Aunty slips and falls into my mom. My mom loses her balance and plunges underwater but pops back up, gasping for air. She trudges through the heavy water, trying to get back to my dad. I'm paralyzed, unable to help. I try to yell for my mom but it feels like a vacuum is sucking my words out, leaving me speechless. The scene replays over and over again. She is pushed further and further away, wind pushing her backward, more water rising between them. She screams and coughs as water fills up her lungs. My dad throws her a life preserver but before she can grab a hold of it, a gangly arm snatches it from her and slips it over a black blouse. One last wall of water rams the boat and my mom is gone, swallowed by the lake.

I awake to Aunty’s dark eyes staring down at me like a doctor waiting for his patient to come out of a coma. Lips curled like a snarl, she smiles like an evil doctor. "Bad dream, honey?" I say yes, but look away. Today it is a bad dream, but a year ago, it was reality. Her gangly arm brushes against my shoulder as she tells me everything will be all right.



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