Mixed Genre by Maria Romasco Moore
I had more of them than was strictly necessary. Everybody said so.
True, Aunt Ruth brought bags of salt water taffy back for my little sister and me every time she went on one of her trips to the seaside. And, yes, Aunt Cecily gave excellent life advice. And, sure, I will always remember with fondness the day Aunt Edna took me out in the woods and showed me where the bodies were buried.
But it took a toll, too. I had trouble keeping track of them all, trouble remembering which took cream in her coffee and which took whiskey. They did not take kindly to being forgotten. It was imperative that my sister and I send every one of them handmade and heartfelt cards on their birthdays and on the anniversaries of their weddings and on the anniversaries of their husbands’ deaths.
They pinched our cheeks until we bruised. They shamed us for our untied shoes. They knitted us hideous sweaters, which itched worse than anything. They loved us, certainly, but not like their own. More like dolls, or tiny dogs.
Dolls, or Tiny Dogs
Aunt Cecily had quite a lot of both. You walked into her house, and it was nothing but eyes. Looking up at you from the floor. Looking down at you from the shelves on the walls. And Aunt Cecily’s own set, of course, somewhere in the middle of it all.
We assumed the dolls were haunted. We could see no purpose for them otherwise. But they never once moved on their own, even when we turned our backs specifically to trick them into it.
It was the tiny dogs who were haunted. Not all of them, but a few. There was a Miniature Schnauzer that was haunted by the ghost of Aunt Cecily’s first husband. This dog was her least favorite, to hear her tell it, but she let it watch the television all day long and fed it cigars with mustard on rye.
My favorite was a terrier haunted by the ghost of a Great Dane. That dog barely came up to my knees but you could tell that, in its heart, it towered over all of us. I wanted that dog for my own. Once, Aunt Cecily let my little sister pick out any doll she wanted from the whole house. I hoped she’d let me do the same with the dogs. But instead one day she offered me a doll, too. I said, What in the world would I want with a doll?
Aunt Cecily said, Child, if you live long enough you will learn the value of a set of eyes that do not watch you and a pair of lips that never speak. So I picked out a small porcelain doll with a chip missing from her cheek. I put her on the shelf in my room and I never bothered her and she never bothered me either.
I t was only a house. We just called it a castle because of the high stone walls and the moat all around it and the big spiked portcullis in the front.
Aunt Edna and Aunt Ruth moved in there the year after both their husbands died. That was before I was born. Everyone said it was much too big a place for two ladies alone, but they managed. Said all that space gave them room, for once, to breathe.
It was the perfect place for hide and seek. It had narrow corridors and spiral staircases and turrets and ramparts and a garden with a maze made of rosebushes. My little sister and I once spent three days making a map of it, but we barely covered half. Aunt Edna admitted that there were rooms she’d never been in. Aunt Ruth claimed she’d seen every room, but allowed that she was always losing track of them and that there were quite a few that, having stumbled upon them once, she could never find again.
The problem was that the castle was shrinking, like a sweater in the dryer. Every summer it got a little bit smaller. The moat had once rivaled the river, but by the time my little sister turned five it was only a trickle. Aunt Ruth would tell us about all the rooms that had gone missing for good. Used to be a big pantry here, she’d say. Used to be a pleasant little parlor, but now there’s just a niche. Edna said it was in the nature of real estate to depreciate. My mother said that the castle was never that large to begin with. She said it only looked that way. A trick of the light.