“What’s it like having your driver’s license?” Aunt Kat asks. She’s stirring a large bowl of pumpkin pie mix with an impossibly huge whisk as sunlight pours in through the kitchen window, making her glow like the Human Torch.
“It’s good.” I say.
“I remember when I finally got mine, June 15, 1994. Kurt Cobain was on the radio…” She goes on about an 84′ Cutlass with grandma rims and a broken tape player, every so often dipping her finger into the poop colored mix for a sample. Aunt Kat is shifty like that. Her questions aren’t really questions but preludes to her own stories.
“I put about three-hundred miles on that baby the first day.” She goes on, mixing more sugar into the bowl. “That isn’t easy in Beulah. The town’s about half the size of a dog pile.”
I nod whenever she turns to me. She’s only thirty-something but her stories, the interesting ones anyways, have been set on repeat for the past several years, with new flourishes being added every so often. Last year the broken tape player was an old 8-track with a Journey cassette stuck in the slot.
Behind us, Mom washes up several large baking trays, carefully scraping sweet potato residue off one with steel wool. A large robber apron covers her good cloths, a long beige skirt and an off-white silk blouse. I’m sure she’s listening in.
“I just drive around Greenville most of the time.” I say. I’m setting knives and forks on the kitchen table, making a set of each for Morgan, Oliver, Mom, Dad, Grandma Mimi, Aunt Kat and her brats, the twins Kiefer and Presley. I’ve been doing this for at least an hour, escaping other Thanksgiving meal chores like gutting the turkey or shelling green beans into a seemingly bottomless metal pail. Oliver must have done about a million by now.
“We even go to Brannon sometimes,” I continue, picking up the utensils and shuffling them again, “usually on the weekends”
“Who’s we?” Aunt Kat asks. Apart from a lack of new stories, my aunt is about as nosy as Pinocchio, ever sniffing out some new development in the lives of anyone around her. I guess that’s what happens when you’re a housewife whose lost her kids to adolescence and trucker husband to the Pan-America route.
“My friend June.” I say. From behind me I hear Mom’s sigh of disappointment. She’s accepted that June is now as constant in my life as the light bill is to her and Dad’s and hasn’t said a word about it for several weeks, beating the past record of three days. But I’m sure Aunt Kat won’t hear the end of it when I’m not around.
“Can I help?” Grandma Mimi, three-hundred pounds of elderly widow wrapped in a stained night gown and bunny slippers, shuffles into the kitchen. Her head is an orange cheese puff of short once-red hair, and cats follow her around like children following an ice cream truck. I cringe at this terrifying vision of my future.
“No Mama, were fine.” Aunt Kat says. She begins pouring the pie mix into two thawed instant pie crust. “Mable has the table, the peas are almost done, and Helen is cleaning up some of the trays. We’re not going to leave you with a mess.”
Grandma Mimi mumbles something and opens the fridge. She complains as she searches through selves of diabetic safe foods. “I don’t like turkey.”
It’s Aunt Kat’s turn to sigh. She’s been checking in on Mimi since Paw Paw kicked the proverbial bucket about a year ago; visiting most days and taking her to the doctor’s once a month and church on Sundays. But with the way the old women acts, you’d thought Aunt Kat was the ungrateful one hobbling around on swollen feet and hiding candy wrappers under couch cushions and inside pillow cases.
“How much longer before dinner’s ready?” Mimi asks. One of her cats, (a former neighborhood stray) rubs against her leg. She squats and scoops the feline in her arms. It purrs like a fine tuned Mercedes.
“About an hour. The turkey’s already carved so its just the side dishes.” Aunt Kat says, slipping the pie into the preheated oven and setting the digital timer. She moves to the fridge and pulls out a small Hillshire Farms ham and begins unwrapping it.
“Those boys…” Mimi grumbles.
“You know the twins hate turkey.” Aunt Kat says. From the living room we can hear Dad yelling something at the Saints game. The twins, I’m sure, are sitting beside him, Bose headphones blaring with whatever music their iPhones provide, oblivious to the world around them.
Mimi, now with the added three pounds of cat, mumbles wearily as she shuffles out of the kitchen.
Aunt Kat cuts the ham into thick slices and adds pineapple slivers before mummifying it all with aluminum foil and sliding it into the oven beside the pies. For a moment she pauses by the window. Paw Paw’s two tone Chevy truck sits on the car port, cobwebs stretching behind the windshield, it’s tires (white-walled Goodyears) melting airless into the concrete.
“So Mable, is there a boy in your life?” Aunt Kat asks. She opens can of cranberry sauce with a twist-turn can opener, being careful as she removes the razor sharp top.
“Well?” She smiles at me, all one-hundred and thirty pounds of strawberry blonde hair, plump breasts and a thin but not quite petite body. Where nature missed the mark with rest of the red haired Nolan’s, it hit the bulls-eye with her. She’s a twelve out of ten, Paw Paw would say.
“Well?” I mutter. Behind us I hear Mom’s washing slow. I don’t have to turn around to know her head is cocked to the side, listening in. I decided to throw them a well rehearsed bone, something to let them know I’m not diking it out with June. I’m sure Mom’s beginning to worry.
“There is a boy name Daniel Pratt, he’s in my English Class…” I go on with the sweet details; a shared group assignment about the early Romantic poets, him being on the football team, his perfect, ocean blue eyes.
“He sounds like a keeper.” Aunt Kat smiles. She bumps her butt against mine.
“He is.” I say. How can I tell them about Timothy? I can’t even talk about him with June.
“You kiss him yet?” Aunt Kat’s whispers, her voice a decibel below a mouse fart.
“No.” I say.
What would they say if they knew about who the real Daniel Pratt was? That pale sixth grader who gained permanence in my psyche by being the first person to ever call me fat? You’re like hippo huge! His exact words. I remember it was during lunch, he was wearing a Slipknot t-shirt, blue jeans and had a band-aid on his forehead. His eyes were a deep, unforgiving brown.
“What are you waiting for, kiss him! Just slip one in there!” Aunt Kat says. She plops the cranberry sauce onto a butter tray like a burgundy colored turd and tosses the empty can into the trash. “I remember my first kiss. Lewis Acker just behind the gym. I was in the fifth grade…”