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Andy Plattner

Hip Aunt Janet

 

Aunt Janet moved to Coral Gables after 32 years of marriage to a moody dentist. Before she left, she created and raised three angry children with him. The moody dentist, my uncle Bill, who lived only a mile and a half from us, phoned three days ago. Uncle Bill said he had just received a call from Aunt Janetís condo manager. The manager said Janet had been found dead on her living room carpet. The person who first suspected that something was amiss was the water meter reader--an Iraq vet--who recognized the smell. Uncle Bill said he was leaving for the airport in an hour, flying down there to see about the details.

My mother and I were having lunch together when Uncle Bill called.

After she hung up, my mother sat quietly at the table. When she looked at me, she did so in an unsurprised fashion. She said, You remember your Aunt Janet, donít you?

I had eloped several years earlier with my high school sweetheart, a swinging dick named Foster Purify. After we got sick of one another, Foster would simply hump anything in panties and I would fuck every brave soul who was sober enough to sit up the backseat of my Toyota. Eventually, I moved back home. I now lived in the basement of my parentsí house. My parents told everyone I lived at home so that we all could spend some time together before I headed off for my next ďgreat adventureĒ.

I didnít answer my motherís question. Details? I thought. And for a time, my mother was silent.

My mother said, Iíll tell you something you did not know. In 1974, Janet had this wide open affair with an insurance salesman, Henryk Kiley was his name. Your father and I went to a football game one Saturday afternoon with Bill and Janet and, right before halftime, Bill said he had to leave. Five minutes later, a man walked down the aisle and took his seat. Your father frowned at him and then Janet said, Hey, Iíd like you to meet Henryk Kiley. He and I have been seeing one another for a little while now. Bill knows all about it. When she looked at me, I nodded, of course. But you should have seen your father. He couldnít speak. Henryk was nice looking. Neatly combed hair, white teeth. He looked like someone from a news broadcast. Your father, he finally had to get up from his seat and take a walk. Janet knew it would bother him, but me, people know Iím not quick to judge. Janet said, I think itís better if everythingís on the table, donít you? To that, I said, Everyone loves you, sweetheart. I donít know why I said that, it just seemed like the right thing to say. Janet suddenly looked as if she wanted to cry. Actually, she hugged me. When she drew back, I looked at her beautiful face. The sky behind her was very blue. It was like a western sky. I went out to Las Vegas with the Slater sisters that one time. Everyone knew they werenít sisters, for heavenís sake. I will never forget that sky. Henryk was smiling, but he looked confused. I donít know whatever happened to him . . .

The day after Uncle Bill called with the news about Aunt Janet, he called again, this time from her condo in South Florida and when he did I was home by myself. He wanted to explain some things and then he said, Whereís your mother? Maybe I ought to talk with her. I said, Tell me, please. I am a grown woman. He said, The news is pretty awful. I thought, Worse than non-existence? After a pause, he explained that some of Janetís teeth were missing. He said, She asked a dentist, someone Iíve never heard of, to pull them because of abscesses.

Excesses? I said. 

No, he said. She also apparently cut her own hair. It looks like she chopped at it with a butcher knife. It looks like something from an asylum. She died from a drug overdose. But her body was riddled with cancer. Did you know she was sick? he said. I said, I didnít. He said, Did your mother know? After a moment, I said, I canít say for sure. He said, I didnít know. I had no idea. His voice trailed off.

My mother had been at the beauty parlor. When she returned home, her hair was in that frozen, Iím-headed-to-something-really-dreadful style, and we sat at the table and I told her that Bill had called and I told her what he had said. My mother listened and touched at her curls as I explained. I said, Bill wanted to know if you knew . . . My mother said, How would I know that? I havenít seen her in years. She never even thanked me for the Christmas cards I sent down there. How would I know that? 

I did not say anything to my mother. I would have said, You knew everything, didnít you? But I did not want to get into it with my mother because of how she looked right now.  Beauty parlor hair depressed me. 

For example: My grandmother went to her beauty parlor every Friday. Eventually, she contracted osteoporosis and was hunched over like a question mark. She would go to the beauty parlor with an oxygen tank rolling at her side. She liked to keep her hair the color of a red velvet cake. After I got my driverís license, she called me once and asked me to drive her there. I sat in a chair and watched them work on her. My grandmother, she was a smart cookie, though. Right at the end of her treatment, the beautician pointed at me with a comb and said to my grandmother, We gonna do her today?

I was 16 years old with straight brown hair. I never wore make-up and I had big tits that embarrassed me.

My grandmother said, Leave her alone.

Now, I looked across the table at my mother. I tried to imagine my own corpse but what I wound up thinking about was this deceased friend of mine, Joanie Neltner, who had drowned while swimming in a little country pond not far from here. This happened when I was a senior in high school. In her open casket, she wore a strawberry colored dress. At the visitation, I shouldnít have, but I reached over and touched her cheek with the tip of my index finger.

This was viewed by those around me as a display of affection.

Now, I said to my mother, When will I be beautiful? I worry that I have already missed it.

This caught my mother by surprise and then she seemed squared away again. She said, Not for a long while. Do you understand what I am saying to you?

I think so, I said.

I figured that we were all pretty smart. Seriously, we were astronomers. We were pioneers. We were the dreamers of dreams. Every cunt who had sat down at our kitchen table knew the score. I said, The 70s, they must have been something. What my mother said to that really cracked me up, though neither one of us even smiled when she said it.

She said, We had our own interpretation of them, yes.

We, I thought.

I tried to picture Janet with this mannequin-handsome befuddled guy sitting there behind her, the blue sky all clear above. But this was before I was born and really the only images I vividly recalled were those at family parties. Janet had a tanning salon color to her skin and she always had a drink in her hand. What I could imagine clearly enough was my mother sitting there in the same sunlight on the afternoon Janet displayed her affair for the world to see. The seat at the game beyond my motherís was empty and her expression was curious. She tried to understand all that Janet was telling her.

My mother saying everyone loves you because it was something a frightened child needed to hear.

They brought Janet back and cleaned her up at the funeral home. But while she still had a say in things, she had chopped at her own hair. She told a dentist to pull her teeth. When she looked in the mirror every morning, she saw was a primitive mountain woman from the 18th century. She was hip. After a certain point, time was always and forever moving in reverse. It never stopped, not even when you had just told one another everything.


Andy Plattner has recently published work in Epoch, Folio, Sewanee Review, Shenandoah, Tampa Review, Georgetown Review and The Literary Review. He has work forthcoming in Cottonwood and The Ledge Poetry and Fiction Magazine.

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