“Isn’t she the prettiest thing?” It’s not a question, at least not one directed to me. My aunt talks about me as though I am not in the room but that’s because she is not talking to me. The words, which I’ve heard her say many times before, don’t have anything to do with me being in the room. She keeps talking; this time she is talking to my mother. “She is so pretty. Imagine when she gets older and starts wearing makeup; imagine what her face will look like when she fixes herself up. You won’t have hands to keep the men away.” She laughs at her own joke, the haunting, mirthless laugh of someone who’s clinging to life but feeling their fingers losing their grip.
The beeping is a constant reminder that we are in the hospital where my aunt is convalescing after her most recent surgery. We have visited her here more times in the last year than I can remember. And usually, when Mom knows that my father might be here, we don’t come. Aunt Julie is my dad’s sister and when he moved out, he got to keep his old family, as well as his new one.
Even so, we visit Aunt Julie anyway. She is a lot smaller now than she used to be, back when she would hold me close to her and pat my bottom and give me sweet treats. I remember that. Now she has lost so much of what she was proud of, including the large bosom she would press me up against when we would visit and she hugged me as though we lived overseas instead of down the street.
Now, the thin sheet that covers her lies flat where it wouldn’t have before.
I wish I was anywhere but here and not for the first time, I wonder why my brother doesn’t have to make these trips.
My mother doesn’t answer and I know without looking at her that she is giving that tight smile she does when Aunt Julie says something like this. I don’t care. I’m fourteen. Nobody else says things like that about me so her words are like religious music to a communist, excitingly unfamiliar. I crane my head, trying to find my reflection in the mirror on the other side of the room.
“You must fix her up nice on her wedding day, P, with bright, red lipstick. That face should be shown off.” Aunt Julie looks at me, assessing me, her dark eyes, sunken, tears falling over the yellow matter that was already shaping the corners, like discolored eyeliner. Ironic that she is telling tales of makeup. Her voice trails off when she says, “I wish I could see it.”
It is the last time I will see her and this conversation is the last thing I will remember about her. When I tell stories of her, I will recall that when I was a girl, a woman thought I was the prettiest thing, or at least that I would be when I started fixing myself up. That, and that the men would like it when I changed myself for them.
Every week, I try to share some fiction on the Write or Die link-up. This piece is an excerpt from my upcoming book of short stories, It’s Complicated.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Copyright © 2016, Karen Wright