Thirteen-year-old Sarah stood in the kitchen doorway, arms firmly folded. Defiance kindled her annoyance. Tension grew as she watched her mother fill the dishwasher. ‘I’m not going,’ Sarah declared. ‘Give me one good reason why I should.’
‘It’s only going to be a month. Please Sarah; you know your father needs this cruise to help with his recovery.’
‘But Aunt Carla … stinks.’ She knew it wasn’t a nice thing to say, but it was true. Everyone knew it.
Sarah remembered their visit to her Aunt Carla’s at Christmas. She lived in a sun-bleached clapboard house in an old neighborhood. With no car, she walked once a week to the store and post office. Her only apparent regular visitor was a nurse every Wednesday. Sarah recalled the embarrassment she felt when they took her smelly aunt to the Christmas service.
Her mother’s voice drew her back to the present. ‘I know how you feel about your Aunt Carla, but she’s close to school. You won’t be with her all day every day. Even church is nearby and you can phone Pastor Jim for transport to youth group.’
Sarah unfolded her arms and opened her mouth to respond, stopping short at the sight of her father staggering in from the yard. His mouth drooped on one side and spittle hung in mid-air about two inches from his bristly chin. She turned and ran to her room, throwing herself onto her bed. Her mother followed.
‘You will go, Sarah. The doctor said it will take time and this cruise will help. He’s fortunate the stroke didn’t affect his walking.’
‘Okay, I’ll go to Aunt Carla’s.’
Sarah ate her breakfast in silence. She ignored her aunt sitting opposite. The kitchen smelled musty and mingled with the naphthalene, which lingered in the air throughout the house. Neither had spoken much since Sarah had arrived three days earlier. In the evenings, the only sound heard was the tinkling of silverware against old dinner plates while they ate their evening meals. The spacious sunroom, consisting of a large comfortable day bed, a closet and an antique table, was where she would stay … out of Aunt Carla’s way.
‘Would you like something special for supper tonight?’ Aunt Carla asked. ‘I can make hamburgers and chocolate chip cookies, your father’s favorites.’
The packet macaroni and frozen pizzas her aunt had prepared previous night, invaded Sarah’s already depressing thoughts. ‘That’s okay, whatever you want.
Aunt Carla rose to her feet and wheezed heavily; her foul breath caused Sarah to cringe. The older woman took her breakfast plate to the sink and stood with her back to her niece.
Sarah felt a pang of unexpected guilt. She finished her breakfast and hurried to collect her things for school. Her aunt was still at the sink when Sarah passed the kitchen on her way out. She heard her aunt sniffle and watched as she removed a tissue from her pocket. Leaving the room noiselessly, Sarah step outside and closed the door.
‘Sarah, what’s ya doin’ at Stinky’s?’ She looked up to see a face disappear back through the window of a passing school bus.
Keeping her eyes downward, Sarah began walking in the direction of school. She quickened her step and almost immediately bumped into someone approaching from the opposite direction. Sarah quickly apologized and knelt to pick up the items the woman had dropped. Sarah lifted her head and realized this woman was a community nurse. ‘Oh, you must be going to see my aunt.’
‘Yes, I’m Jenny and you must be Sarah. Carla’s been so excited about you coming to stay. You know, I overheard that boy. I’m sorry. It must be hard to hear people say such nasty things about your aunt. They just don’t understand that some forms of terminal lung disease cause the body to produce odor from dying cells.’
‘What? Oh…yeah, I … I … I better get to school.’
Sarah’s heart pounded and her breathing accelerated, but it had nothing to do with her vigorous walking. She began to cry thinking about the terrible things she had said and thought about her aunt.
Oh God, I’m so selfish. Help me to be a friend to Aunt Carla. Please look after Daddy and make him well. I think you have a few things to teach me while I’m here. Help me learn…
© Chrissy Siggee