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Zany Aunt Martha

by Lea Schizas

The clapboards hung loosely, flapping against the ivy wrapped around the unoccupied house like gift wrap. He’d heard all sorts of folklore from his aunt but thought little of it. After all, Aunt Martha was more zany than sane... lately.

It was said a lady ghost, looked out from an upstairs window every New Year’s Eve. If you rang the bell after midnight, you’d hear someone muttering behind the front door. It had taken him every bit of control he could muster to keep from laughing when Aunt Martha blurted this out during Christmas dinner last week.

Just nonsense, he thought, stories invented by the people Aunt Martha bought the house from.

“Thank you for staying with me, Charlie. You’re a soul saver,” Aunt Martha said, tousling Charlie’s hair like she used to when he was a kid.

“Aunt Martha, the only reason I’m doing this is to prove to you ghosts don’t exist. Besides, you should have stayed at the hospital another day. Doc said your pneumonia was bad.” Charlie placed his duffle bag on the floor. He really wanted to tell her he was afraid for her to be in this run-down house all by herself.

“That’s why I love you, Charlie. You care about me, not like those vultures waiting for their inheritance.”

Charlie ignored his aunt’s comment and traipsed into the kitchen.

“Aunt Martha, want me to make you a cup of tea?” Charlie placed the kettle on the stove and glanced over at the counter where he saw a pile of letters. He picked them up and started to sort out Aunt Martha’s bills when his eye caught an opened formal letter from the family lawyer. He gave it a quick glance. It was Aunt Martha’s will.

Just then, the phone rang, and he answered it. “Hello?... Hey, Mom... No, sorry about not calling. I got tied down at work and then went over to Aunt Martha’s... Yeah, I think I’m going to stay here at the house tonight... I’m fine... No, I’m not upset, really... Mom, there’s nothing to be upset about, okay?... Love you, too. Bye.”

The kettle was whistling.

“Aunt Martha, you want a cup of ... Oh hell, she probably can’t hear me.” Charlie poured two cups of tea and placed them on a tray. Inserting the will into Aunt Martha’s kitchen drawer where she kept her bills, Charlie went to the living room.

“Aunt Martha?”

“Up here, Charlie.”

He placed the two teacups on the living room table and started up the wide, wooden steps to the second floor. His aunt’s bedroom door was ajar.

“Aunt Martha?”

“In here, Charlie.”

Charlie walked into the bedroom and the musky scent of Ben-Gay liniment enveloped his senses. The lace-embroidered curtains were partially drawn, allowing the moonlight to settle on the old Victorian furniture. His aunt’s silhouette was barely visible, standing by the window.

“Aunt Martha, I have our tea ready downstairs. Shall I bring it up to you?”

“No, Charlie, I’ve always enjoyed our teas on New Year’s Eve. I’ll be down in a minute.”

Charlie walked down the stairs back into the living room. He waited a couple of minutes before he took a sip. The phone rang again.

“Hello?... No, this is her son... No, that’s my aunt. Would you like to speak to her?” As Charlie spoke on the phone, his aunt walked past him into the living room. “Excuse me? No, there must be some mistake.” He looked over to his aunt, making sure to place his hand over the receiver so the person would not hear him. “It’s the hospital, Aunt Martha. The idiots are asking when we’re going to make arrangements to have you picked up.”

Removing his hand from the receiver, he continued the conversation with the annoying person who kept insisting arrangements had to be made.

“Listen, I told you there’s no need for arrangements, okay? She’s here, with me.” Charlie glanced over to his aunt once more shaking his head as he motioned to her with his hand that the person on the line was crazy.

His aunt smiled and said, “Oh, Charlie, if you didn’t believe me then, I know you will believe me now. I’ll always be there for you.”

“What? No not you, I’m talking to my aunt... Hold on just a minute, please.”

“What is it, Aunt Martha?”

“I love you, Charlie.” She picked up his teacup along with hers and walked to him. She handed him his cup, and they clinked a toast, each taking a sip just as the big clock chimed that New Year’s Eve was ending.

“Happy New Year, darling. Take care of the house.” Aunt Martha slowly began to fade right before Charlie’s eyes. Her smile, like that of the Cheshire Cat, was the last to dim before she vanished.

Charlie apologized to the person on the line, hung up, and went into the kitchen, to the drawer where he had placed his aunt’s will.

Copyright © 2006 by Lea Schizas

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