Here's my short story that was included in the latest anthology edited by Celia Miles and Nan Dillingham, IT'S ALL RELATIVE, Tales from the Tree from 50 Western North Carolina Women Writers.
Aunt Peep and Uncle Leo
When I was a little girl there was nothing I loved better than going to the beach to visit my Aunt Peep and Uncle Leo. They were a hoot!
I would always go down and stay about a month. The visits were usually supposed to be two week visits, but somehow lasted longer. Aunt Peep would beg almost as loudly to my mom and dad as I would.
Peep and Leo owned a little restaurant right on The Boardwalk. It was a treat for me to be able to run in and out of that restaurant like a little wild child, coke in one hand, hotdog in the other.
I would roam Ocean City with summer friends, with a freedom today’s children don’t know, nor would they understand.
I was sent out the door after breakfast and the only rule was that I be back at the restaurant for supper. At that time it would be decided if Aunt Peep was going home, or if she’d stay at the restaurant. If she was free to go, I’d go with her. I just never could get enough time with my Aunt Peep.
The last summer I went down to stay with them, things were different. Aunt Peep wasn’t going to the restaurant as much. And my Uncle Leo didn’t seem to come home as much as he used to.
And when he did, there were arguments. Loud, mean arguments. And when I would hide in my room, I was scared that some of the noises I could hear might be hitting.
Doors would slam.
Peep would cry.
I was afraid.
When my two week visit was over, I went home.
I didn’t beg to stay. Aunt Peep cried, but said it was best if I went on home.
It was not long after that that I came home from playing with friends down the street to find my mother sitting in the kitchen crying.
Aunt Peep was dead.
Nobody would tell me what had happened. An accident. That’s what I was told.
I asked my mom if the bruises I had seen on Aunt Peep’s arms had caused her to die, but I was told to hush.
When I heard my mom and dad talking about going to the funeral and that they planned to leave me home because I was too young, I pitched what could only be called a hissy fit.
The fit didn’t win – it never did with my parents. But the fact that my heart was broken did.
We went to the funeral home for the viewing as soon as we got to Ocean City. I had heard my parents talking in the car on the way. They were wondering if the casket would be open or closed.
Seeing as how this was my first funeral and my first viewing, I was of two different minds about this casket being open thing.
I didn’t want to see a dead person, especially not one I loved so much.
But, at the same time, I wanted to say goodbye and wasn’t sure how to do that if I couldn’t see her face.
And, there was that horrible childhood morbid curiosity.
The casket was closed, and it turned out that my stomach quit hurting when I saw that. I guess my stomach knew better than I did that I didn’t really want to see Aunt Peep dead.
I waited until there wasn’t anyone standing near the casket when I walked over and whispered my goodbye to my aunt, along with an “I love you.”
And I just stood there, by myself, remembering how she would take me to the beach on her days off and race me into the waves. And how we’d share fried chicken on our beach towels. And talk about books.
I learned my love of books from Peep. She took me to the Ocean City library each summer to renew my library card and I would spend some time visiting with the librarians that I hadn’t seen since the summer before.
They all had recommendations – lots of recommendations, and I was never without books to read while I was there.
While standing next to the casket, I thought I heard a voice. Very soft.
And I heard it again.
“Katy? Katy, are you still there, honey?”
I turned around so my back was to the rest of the room and looked at the casket.
“Yes, honey, it’s me.”
“Aunt Peep, aren’t you dead?”
“Oh, yes, child. I’m dead.”
“Are you sure?”
I recognized Aunt Peep’s soft laugh and that’s when I started crying. How could I go the rest of my life without hearing that laugh? Well, maybe I wouldn’t have to after all. I mean, here she was laughing . . .
“Katy, don’t cry. Please, don’t cry. I can’t stand it.”
I sniffled loudly. “Aunt Peep. Want me to go get somebody? My mom, or Uncle Leo?”
She spoke so loudly, I jumped. Then peeked over my shoulder to see if anyone else heard.
“No, child. I don’t need anybody. But I wanted to tell you something, okay?”
I nodded my head.
“After the funeral tomorrow, I want you to do me a favor.”
I nodded again.
“I want you to say hello to Mrs. Mitchell.”
“Aunt Peep, I don’t like Mrs. Mitchell.”
“I know you don’t, Katy. Me neither. But just do me this favor and I’ll be able to rest easy. Okay, honey?”
“When you say hello, it would be best if there were a lot of people around, especially your Mom and Dad.”
“And look and see if Mrs. Mitchell is wearing a bracelet. A gold bracelet with cameos. Can you do that?”
“That sounds like your bracelet, Aunt Peep. You wear that bracelet every day. Even swimming! I remember.”
“It is my bracelet, Katy. You be sure and ask Hortense Mitchell what she’s doing wearing my bracelet. The bracelet that belonged to my mother, and to her mother. The bracelet that I wore every day – even swimming. You ask her, Katy. And make sure there’s a gracious plenty of folks around to hear her answer. Especially your good for nothing Uncle Leo.”