Skeletons in the Closet

Sometimes families have secrets.  And sometimes curiosity gets the better of folks.  I was maybe eight or nine. One thing for sure, the age of reason hadn’t kicked in yet. In the summer, we visited Aunt Lucy.  Mom had warned my younger brother, Patrick and me, to mind our Ps and Qs cause Aunt Lucy had skeletons in her closet and Mom didn’t want any trouble.

            Aunt Lucy greeted us with cold lemonade. On a hot day and after a long drive from Chicago to Joliet, it just hit the spot.  Aunt Lucy always wore colorful skirts, copper earrings, and sometimes a bandana to hold back her thick white hair.  She gushed over how much my red hair had grown, so it didn’t bother me when the clacking and clinging of the bells and brass on her bracelets rang in my ears. She called us “Sweetie” and marveled at how tall Patrick had grown in just a few months. Patrick sat like a bump on a log while she tussled his hair. When mom told us about the skeletons, he had a deep concern of the possibility one might come and grab him. But I knew he loved Aunt Lucy, skeletons and all.  I secretly planned on catching those skeletons and putting my brother out of his misery.

            We liked to play on the big porch; there were flowers and Victory gardens all around the yard. I wondered why Aunt Lucy hadn’t buried the skeletons under the blue violets next to the picket fence ‘stead of in the closet? Just seemed more logical to me.

Rumor had it, Aunt Lucy became an old maid ‘cause of Grandpa. Grandpa caught her with one of those tinker guys­­­___you know, an Irish-gypsy pot and pan man. One day Grandpa found the two of them in the bedroom and ran to get his shotgun. When Grandpa returned Tinker Man had done and gone. Took his horse with him. Rode off into the sunset, or so the story went.  Grandpa bragged pretty good about how he made pot-n-pan man disappear. I figured Aunt Lucy might have hidden the tinker guy in the closet and he died. I imagined over time his corpse had been there so long his flesh decomposed to the bare bones.  

            The summer afternoon felt quiet and lazy. Even the birds didn’t fly. We all relaxed on the porch. Even Clark Cable, Aunt Lucy’s cat, curled by her feet and slept like a baby.  I glanced around. Mom and Aunt Lucy ogled the Vogue Pattern Book. Patrick kept his nose in the Sears catalog and seemed not to have a care in the world.

I figured the time was ripe to initiate my plan.

            I meandered towards the screen door acting like the toilet might be my destination.  For weeks I had calculated every move. First of all, there couldn’t be any noise. I had read enough Nancy Drew to know gentle movements would be needed ‘cause wood floors tend to squeak.

            The walls of the hallway were cluttered with pictures of dead relatives all in their Sunday best and looking mean as anything.  As I made my move, I wondered if those old folks could read my mind. What if some dead relative reached out to stop me? 

While I inched towards the room, I had a weird feeling, like old eyes tracked my every step. The picture of Grandpa glared at me. He stood next to a large dead bear and held a big rifle. Did he know my plan? Thoughts of him wanting to kill me crossed my mind, ’cause, I crept around like Tinker Man.

            When I turned to see if Grandpa’s eerie eyes were following me, I felt something fondle my legs. My eyeballs almost popped out. I caught my breath. The thing lingered. Holy Moly, what to do?

            I glanced at my feet. Then I saw it.

 If permission were granted to swear, I would go to hell for what I wanted to say. Aunt Lucy’s cat, Clark Gable, who always craved attention, wrapped himself around my ankles.

 What would Nancy Drew do?

            “Nice kitty, kitty.” I took a deep breath. “Mr. Gable, scoot along.” To my delight, he started to purr and took off.

Sunshine filled Aunt Lucy’s bedroom. Wallpaper with tiny pink flowers enhanced one wall and lacy pink pillows smothered the headboard. A pale pink chenille spread covered the bed. Lamps of leaded glass graced each nightstand and crochet doilies, my grandmother must have made, protected the walnut wood. Fresh flowers sat on her writing table and one of the pictures Aunt Lucy painted of children on swings hung on the wall opposite the bed.

In the corner of the room, a nail held an old cooking pot framed by leather straps with two sacks of potpourri. Probably a reminder of Tinker Man.

            The door to the closet was partially opened. I moved it wider and peered inside. Lots of clothes on hangers, but no skeleton. No Boogie Man. No nothing.

            “Hey, Mr. Pan Man, you in there?” I struck a rat-a-tat-tat on the door.

Well, you would have thought I set the house on fire. Things started falling. Boxes and thingamajigs propelled like bombs from a B17 Flying Fortress.  I fell backward and landed on the floor. A human head fell off the shelf and rolled onto my lap. Black eyes gawked at me. Big ruby lips searched to suck my brains out.  I felt terrified.

My hands grasped my mouth not wanting to let out a scream. I heard a screech so loud I thought the glass candelabra in the room would break. I felt like I wanted to pee my pants.

Then I saw a big blur leap towards me.

 I am going to die.

My arms few to protect my face. The creature slammed into my chest like a hard punch. My body shuttered. I struggled. It snarled.  Claws came out ready to attack…

Wait a minute?

 I ripped it off me and held it at arm’s length. We were eye to eye. I paused for a split second and Clark Gable struggled out of my grip. He rushed to the bed and whimpered like crazy.  I must have scared the heck out of poor Clark ’cause he trembled like a leaf on a cold windy day.

All the breath in me seeped out of my body as I slumped over. 

            “Seriously!”

 The whole ball of wax: the planning, the conniving, the tricks…wasted on a cat?  Clark Gable…the famous “Skeleton in the Closet” He turned out to be nothing but a great big scaredy-cat!

“Nice kitty, kitty.”

 I wanted to give Mr. Cable a big hug, but couldn’t ‘cause of the dead head in my lap.  I stared at the big black painted eyes and ruby lips.  A paper mâché-mannequin hat holder stared back.

            I had to get out of there. I didn’t worry about the mess. Aunt Lucy would blame it on the skeleton in the closet. I scurried to join everyone on the porch.

            “What caused all the racket?” Mom asked.

            “Oh, Clark and I were just playing.”

            “Ahh, Sweetie,” Aunt Lucy said, “Clark Gable loves you.”

On the drive home, I couldn’t sleep. Thoughts of discovering the real skeleton in the closet obsessed me.  In a way though, you might say I did capture the skeleton. At least I found out what was really in the closet. I wondered if mom should be told the truth. But then I figured if she believed Aunt Lucy had skeletons in the closet who am I to say something. Besides, she would get angry if she knew what happened. Patrick couldn’t know either. Let him grow up and find his own skeletons.

***

In a few days, it will be my eleventh birthday. I’m pretty sure I’ve reached the age where there won’t be any creeping around checking on skeletons in closets. Next week mom plans for us to visit Uncle Bunny.  He used to perform as a clown for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus. I heard he loved being a clown, but had to quit. Some County Cork Judge gave him twenty-five years in the big house for robbery of the First National Bank of Chicago.  A month ago, the warden of the Illinois State Penitentiary, handed Uncle Bunny his walking papers.

 Patrick and I are pretty excited to visit Uncle Bunny. Even though mom warned us over and over, we are still eager to check out the elephant in the room she told us not to talk about.

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