Conversations With My Aunt – Paul Beckman

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“So that’s it. I’m telling you, that’s it.”

“That’s the reason you’re not speaking to her anymore?”

“I’m talking to her. She’s the one not speaking to me. That’s it. That’s the story. She’ll have to speak first—then I’ll speak to her.”

“I’m missing something. Tell me what happened.”

“I told you. She did the same thing as last time.”

“Humor me. Tell me again.”

“Well, I was in Stop and Shop because I had coupons. Usually I shop Big Y. I picked up a loaf of rye bread when that woman comes up to me and . . .”

“Your sister. That woman is your sister.”

“. . . that woman comes up to me ands says, Seedless. How can you buy seedless? The first time that woman has spoke to me in five years is to tell me that I’m buying the wrong rye bread. Can you believe it?”

“Then what happened?”

“Seedless? I says. Oy! Without my glasses they both look alike. I fumbled around in my purse for my glasses, put them on and switched to the rye bread with seeds.”

“But you don’t like seeds in your rye bread. You say they get under your plate.”

“I know, but I couldn’t let HER know that.”

“Then?”

“Then she says, I thought you shopped that other place. Why are you slumming? The mouth on her. I tell you. If I wasn’t a lady I’d of walked away. So I says Coupons.”

“That’s ALL you said?”

“That’s all I had to say.”

“Then what happened?”

“Then what happened?”

“Nothing happened then?”

“How can nothing happen? You’re not talking again. What happened?”

“Then nothing happened. I shopped and that woman went on her way.”

“Your sister. Well. . .?

“Look. I’m not saying anything bad. She bumped me in mustard.”

“So?”

“So, I was minding my own business looking at a jar of Guldens when a cart bumps my cart and it’s HER.”

“Anything break? Anyone hurt?”

“No.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“What’s the problem, Mister? What’s the problem you ask?”

“I’m not Mister. I’m your nephew. What’s the problem?”

“She says to me, for a few cents more you can get the spicy. It’s worth the money. So I get out my glasses and I switch for the spicy.”

“But he spicy upsets your stomach.”

“You think I’d let HER know that?”

“So, ‘cause she bumped you in mustard you’re not talking.”

“No. We’re not talking ‘cause she bumped me in mustard.”

“Tell me.”

“She says, so long as you’re here you might as well come for coffee. Another time maybe, I says. It’s time for me to go home for lunch and she says so come for coffee and lunch. You’re already here. I’ll get a can tuna, she says.

So I says, don’t get bread. Bread I have right here—a nice rye. So she says, I can’t eat that, the seeds get under my plate. So can you believe that?”

“So that’s why you’re not talking again?”

“Of course not. So I come up to her house for coffee and maybe a bite and right off she apologizes for the mess and the house is so clean you could eat off the floor which is probably what she’d like me to do.”

“So what happened? Finally after five years you’re at least talking and sitting together. What possibly could have happened?”

“So I come into the kitchen while she starts the tuna and she says to me, Coffee? Sure, I says.

Well the water boils and she puts the instant in the cup and pours the water about two-thirds full. Listen, I make instant for myself, don’t get me wrong. But for company I perk. I know. I know. This is for a sister. Good enough.”

“So?”

“So she gives me the cup of instant and goes back to mixing the tuna and I says, I’d like a full cup of coffee—not a half cup and she says it’s not a half cup—I left room for cream. I tell her that I take mine black so I’d like a full cup, please.

So she says so you’ll have another. I tell her it’s not the same.”

“Well, what happened then?”

“Nothing happened then.”

“Then why are you talking again?”

“‘Cause nothing happened.”

“If nothing happened why aren’t you talking? What happened next?”

“Nothing happened. She mixed the tuna without saying another word and I waited for her to fill my cup with more hot water.”

“And . . .?”

“And nothing. She mixed. I waited. Then I got up and left.”

“You just got up and left? Why? After five years—why?”

“She says come up for coffee. I came up for coffee. She didn’t say come up for a half cup of coffee. That I don’t need her for. If she says come up for a cup of coffee she should at least give a cup of coffee if I come up.”

“And that’s why you’re not talking again?”

“Listen, Mister, you know a better reason?”

* * *

“So tell me. How’s the writing going?”

“Not bad.”

“Is not bad good or not good?”

“It’s good.”

“What’s so good about it?”

“I finished a story this week and mailed it to a magazine.”

“Well. I hope you included me out this time.”

“I love it when you do your Louis B. Mayer imitation.”

“Don’t change the subject. I see no humor in your stories about me.”

“I don’t write stories about you. I write some of my stories about a fictional Aunt who occasionally may have something in common with you.”

“Why don’t you write about a fictional Uncle?”

“OK. I’ll make my fictional Aunt a fictional Uncle from now on.”

“Good.”

“Satisfied?”

“Yes. Very satisfied thank you. Every story?”

“What do you mean every story?”

“Are you going to include me out of every story?”

“You mean my fictional Aunt?”

“Yes.”

“Yes.”

“Oh.”

“Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“Once in a while is OK.”

“Once in a while like half of the time?”

“Half is not once in a while.”

“You’re right.”

“Thank you.”

“Would you consider one in ten as once in a while?”

“That’s too once in a while.”

“OK. I got it now.”

“Good. What are you writing?”

“Writing? Just some notes on my fictional Uncle.”

* * *

 

“I thought I’d see you at the funeral this morning,” Aunt Leah said.

“Funeral? Who died?” I asked.

“Tessie. May she rest in peace.”

“Who the heck’s Tessie?”

“Don’t swear.”

“I’m sorry. Who’s Tessie?”

“She lived on the third floor of Garfield Street when you lived there.”

“We moved from Garfield Street when I was four.”

“So? That’s a reason not to go? She was very good to your mother.”

“I didn’t know she was still alive.”

“She’s not. I told you I went to her funeral today.”

“Yes. You’re right.”

“You should have gone. Your mother would have wanted you to go.”

“How was I to know she died? I didn’t know she was living. I didn’t know her and never ever heard anyone mention her name.”

“Don’t get upset. If you would call me more often you would know what was going on.”

“But I spoke to you three days ago.”

“Three days ago Tessie was still alive.”

“Well if it was that important that I go to the funeral why didn’t you call me?”

“You know me—I don’t like to call with bad news.”

* * *

“I didn’t want to go alone so Frannie went with me to make a condolence call. That’s why I wasn’t home if you tried to call me Tuesday.”

“I didn’t call you last Tuesday.”

“I didn’t think so. I know how busy you are.”

“I tried to call on Wednesday.”

“Wednesday I had a feeling that you would call so I stayed home waiting until three. Then I went shopping.”

“I called around four.”

“Next time call when I’m home.”

“I’ll try to remember. Tell me. Who was the condolence call for?”

“You know my friend Minnie?”

“Yes.”

“Her sister had three daughters. Do you remember them?”

“No.”

“Sure you do. You remember Linda – braces, long brown hair, pimples – a little wild.”

“I don’t remember – it was a long time ago. Is she still the same?”

“Her face has cleared up.”

“The condolence call.”

“What about the condolence call?”

“You were telling me about the condolence call and Linda.”

“Linda has two sisters…”

“I never met them.”

“I know. You were always so busy.”

“Did something happen to Linda or her sisters?”

“No. Why?”

“The condolence call is why.”
“The girl’s father died.”

“That’s too bad. You know – I don’t remember hearing anyone mention him.”

“The girls’ mother was a saint; but the father was never much of anything – a real sourpuss.”

“I thought we don’t speak badly of the dead.”

“I’m not speaking badly. I’m just saying.”

“So you went for the daughters’ sake. That was nice.”
“No. The daughters are not so nice. They are sourpusses like their father – nothing like their mother. No personalities. That killed their mother.”

“I thought she died of a heart attack.”

“You see?”

“Then why did you go? If you didn’t like him, don’t like them, and the Saint is dead – why did you go?”

“Respect. Out of respect. When you get older you’ll understand.”

“I see.”

“So we went up and sat for ten minutes, Fannie and me. No one else was there and no one came over to talk to us. It was terrible.”

“Did you go up to anyone?”

“Well at first we walked in and went up to the sisters and said our sorries. Then we went and sat down in the living room. That’s when no one came over.”

“Did you go over to anyone else to talk?”

“That’s not how it’s done. We don’t stand on ceremony in our family, but there is a ritual.”

“Oh.”

“So we got up to leave and sourpuss Linda comes over. She wasn’t all that friendly if you must know.”

“Her father just died.”

“Her sisters never came over.”

“And?”

“And nothing. We got away from the sourpusses as fast as we could.”

“So – it’s over.”

“Not quite. The other day I got a card signed by all three sourpuss sisters thanking me for my condolence call. They said it meant a lot to them. I was quite surprised.”

“That was nice.”

“Nice?”

“Yes, nice. They didn’t have to send a card.”

“Nice, maybe, easier. To them it was easier than calling.”

“How come?”

“You know. Sourpusses never call.”

 

Paul Beckman’s story, “Healing Time” was one of the winners in the 2016 The Best Small Fictions and his 100 word story, “Mom’s Goodbye” was chosen as the winner of the 2016 Fiction Southeast Editor’s Prize. His stories are widely published in print and online in the following magazines amongst others: Connecticut Review, Raleigh Review, Litro, Playboy, Pank, Blue Fifth Review, Flash Frontier, Matter Press, Metazen, Pure Slush, Jellyfish Magazine, Thrice Fiction and Literary Orphans. His latest collection, “Peek”, weighed in at 65 stories and 120 pages. His published story website is www.paulbeckmanstories.com and blog is www.pincusb.com. Parts of “Conversations With My Aunt” originally appeared in Paul’s chapbook “Come! Meet My Family and other stories.”

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