My sister believes our aunts share a body and, at night, they all slot inside one another like Russian dolls. The aunt whose finance was stabbed, nestled inside the aunt smooched out of her savings, buried within the aunt who has a lizard she kisses and says, ‘it’s the same as dating these days.’
The aunts only visit in the holidays, Christmas Day is banished since one aunt found our sweaters at 70% off the next day. Dad looks for his cap and slips out the second they arrive. He just can’t tell which aunt is which. Who can?
In tight HO HO sweaters, I kneel with my sister, fingers crossed, shaking a large box wrapped in gold. It yelps like a puppy. Inside, we find a nest of paper surrounding a small plastic disk- the squeak people use to make toys.
‘See? I got you’, one of the aunts says. ‘You’d have killed anything living by shaking it so hard anyway.’
Another aunt agrees, cracking a beer. She brings her own, as well as pickles. All the aunts bring their own coffee. They don’t trust ours. They fight over the Dolly Parton mug, ask what it cost and insist we were robbed.
I stare at my aunts attempting to identify them. Sometimes I sniff. All the aunts have an interesting aroma. Perfume mingles with photocopying, chemicals, and ketchup. All the aunts work in pest control, payroll and in restaurants, and sometimes the jobs switch. One aunt might do a night class and go work in an office. Another will say she can’t answer one more damn phone, strap on a back-brace and fry eggs.
‘How much do course fees cost these days anyway?’ the aunts say.
Our mother shrugs, her features are like her sisters but smoother. The aunts say it’s because she married a dentist. It could have been them they say, if they hadn't chipped a tooth, didn’t hate hygienists so much, or developed a childhood fear of anything coming close to their face.
‘Anyone who listens to so much smooth jazz has to suck in the sack’, the aunts say. ‘Dentists have the highest suicide rate in Washington’, the aunts say, ‘8 people are killed by golf balls each year.’
They arrive instantly when the call comes, just after a feature about a man struck on the ninth hole.
Their bags spit out pamphlets, bottles and packets, advice about shyster undertakers and bamboozling florists. My sister and I stare at our aunts, the shiny faces they’ve kept locked away. They lick rosy lips and we can’t spot a line on our aunts faces. They hand Mother a beer and they glow.
Angela Readman's short stories have won The Costa Short Story Award, The Mslexia Competition, and The Anton Chekhov Award for Short Fiction. Her story collection Don't Try this at Home was short listed in The Edge Hill, and was the winner of The Rubery Book Award. In 2019, her first novel Something like Breathing was published by And Other Stories. She also writes poetry, her collection The Book of Tides is published by Nine Arches.