By Laura DiCarlo Short

Aunt Rachel Got Married, I Got Spooked, and New-Uncle Tom Got Slapped by Nonna Who Came to Sop Up the Blood

What can I tell you about her? Aunt Rachel loved to sing, her hands were fair and soft, she wore long, old-fashioned dresses to cover a nasty scar on her knee. Aunt Rachel and her brother and some cousins. They were all around seventeen or eighteen and fighting over a lost bet. I don’t remember the details. A hundred dollars was on the line and Uncle Johnny’s reputation. When Aunt Rachel married a few years later, her husband saw the scar for the first time on their wedding night. He charged into our house at midnight and broke Johnny’s nose. “We was just kids” Johnny pleaded, “fighting for no reason — I never hurt her other than that once and that by accident.” We could hear them from the other room.

After the wedding we had all gone back to Nonna’s house and while the adults had eased gently into their big beds, all us cousins had piled onto mats on the living room floor. Eight of us crammed head to toe around the coffee table, drunk on wedding music and giddy on the drops of wine we salvaged from abandoned glasses. We were heavy with sleep when the front door burst open and New-Uncle Tom tripped in over our legs, Aunt Rachel calling after him “Don’t, Tom! Stop, let’s go back.” But it was too late; New-Uncle Tom was already in Uncle Johnny’s room: there was a thud and someone cursed and the bedroom lights flew on. Several of us children jumped up from our sleeping bags and piled onto the couch in fright. I tried to wake up my sister, Netty, but she was hot and sweaty with sleep and I couldn’t get her awake. Some of the older cousins ventured down the long hall of adult bedrooms, but they were soon shooed away by Nonna, who had arrived to sop the blood and slap the faces of the adults who acted like children.

Aunt Rachel came and sat with us on the couch. Josie and Nina and I curled more tightly together to make room for the weeping Aunt. We didn’t dare get close enough to touch her. She looked strange in this light: frightening. Aunt Rachel had always been our favorite lap to curl in and demand back scratches, our favorite hand to hold in the park, or our favorite adult to sit next to if we were allowed at the adult table for breakfast or lunch. But now her white hands were wet and trembly, her hair was topsy-turvy, her grey eyes were soppy and black and she seemed, somehow, to have grown smaller, as if the lights and music of her wedding had acted on her with some strange force and reduced her to a small frightened clown.

We dared not curl up in her lap now. Some strange magic was happening. Nonna was scolding the Uncles as if they were children, Aunt Rachel was weeping and small. I wondered briefly if Aunt Rachel and Uncle Jonny would be forced to join us in our sleeping bags on the floor, and eat with us at the child’s table tomorrow. Then something in my mind shifted and I realized what I never had before: Uncle Johnny and Aunt Rachel were still some sort of children. This is why Uncle Johnny still lived with Nonna and had so many Micky Mouses in his room and why Aunt Rachel still had a pink dresser like mine, why Nonna still called them her “bambini,” why Father had said Aunt Rachel was too young to get married. Though their outsides looked the same tall way as my other Aunts and Uncles, these ones were still children inside. I look over at Aunt Rachel’s ridiculous quivering lip and mascara-streaked face. She was still wearing her wedding dress and clutching a piece of it along with a soggy tissue. I felt spooked, pulled my legs tighter beneath me on the couch, and tried to scoot a little farther away from my Aunt’s trembling lap.   

Laura DiCarlo Short is a writer and teacher living in San Marcos, Texas. She holds an MFA from Texas State University and her poems, interviews, and her photography have appeared in journals including The Knicknackery, The Literati Quarterly, Front Porch Journal, and Texas Books in Review. Laura teaches writing and literature for Alamo Colleges.