Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Aunt Doris

Janet Yung


“What’s that on Aunt Doris’s head?”

The group at the round table sipped their drinks and watched as the figure of Aunt Doris breezed past in a swirl of tulle and crepe.  Her sister Carol swallowed her wine and said, “Why, it’s a wig, dear,” and smiled at Peter.  “You certainly look handsome today.”

“Well, it’s his special day,” John, Carol’s husband and Peter’s father said.  “More wine, dear?”  Carol nodded.

“But why is she wearing it?”  Peter couldn’t take his eyes off the light brown thing resembling some small furry animal who’d met with an unfortunate end, perched on his aunt’s head.  Her natural gray would have been an improvement -- something he didn’t think possible.

She’d always been a little different and up until today, he’d found her eccentricities endearing.  But he wasn’t a kid anymore accompanying Aunt Doris on one of her many small, but never boring adventures.

Soulard Market and tomato squeezing came to mind.  After a run-in with one of the vendors over Aunt Doris's technique for finding the best tomatoes and threatening to smack the owner of the stand when he'd told her to cease and desist, they’d been forced to make their weekly junket to the farmer’s market incognito.  Aunt Doris wearing dark glasses and a hat with a large brim, Peter, a baseball cap one size too big pulled down over his ears, forcing them to stick out more than they did naturally.  Approaching the market, they’d scope out the stands, make their purchases and run laughing back to her car -- mission accomplished.

“Well,” his mother said tilting her head from side to side, “she wanted to look nice for your wedding.”

“It looks awful.  Where did she get it?”

Carol looked at John.  “I think an estate sale.”

John smiled. “She said it was a steal.”

Peter groaned.  It wasn’t bad enough she was wearing something hideous on her head but she’d bought it from a dead person.  He’d been to enough sales with Aunt Doris on the Saturdays he’d spent with her.  She’d describe the experience as “going to somebody’s house we don’t know.”  He’d been fascinated when he was four or five, pawing through the treasure trove of items in musty smelling houses where time had stood still.  He never came away empty handed and remembered picking up toys or games and on one trip, a wind up alarm clock with two bells on the top.

“I hope she had it cleaned before she wore it.”

“Oh, I’m sure she did,” Carol assured him.  “She’s very particular about that.  You know how she is when it comes to a bargain.” John laughed and then asked his wife to join him on the dance floor.

His parents were now twirling around the room, Carol laughing and calling over her shoulder to Aunt Doris who had changed partners, dancing with Claire’s father. 

“What’s the story about your aunt’s hair?” Claire was next to him now looking radiant in her gown.  She’d removed the veil not long after the reception got underway.  Her face was flushed with the excitement of the day and the champagne.

“It’s a wig,” he said, now hoping it wouldn’t fly off while she was dancing with Mr. Campbell.

“What possessed her to wear it?”

“I don’t know,” Peter shook his head.  They’d managed valiantly to keep the cameras away from Aunt Doris throughout the day and he’d felt bad about not wanting her in any of the pictures. 

“We could have two sets,” Claire had suggested when she spotted Aunt Doris seated next to her new in-laws. The ceremony was over and the new Mr. and Mrs. Peter Fritsche were headed down the aisle on their way out of the church. Claire had lost her balance for a moment at the sight.  Peter caught her, afraid she was about to stumble. “I told you those heels were too high,” he whispered into her ear. “It’s not the heels,” she'd smiled and whispered back, convinced the assembly thought they were sharing an amorous exchange, “it’s your Aunt Doris’s hair.”

“Do you want to dance?” Peter asked Claire.

“Yes,” she smiled.  They moved around the room slowly.  Things were winding down on the happiest day of their lives.

“You know what I think we should do?” Peter asked.

“No,” Claire shook her head, the auburn curls cascading across her shoulders.

“I think we should change partners,” he dipped her and then swept her in the direction of her father and Aunt Doris.  “I think it’s time for the bride to dance with her father again,” and he handed Claire off to Mr. Campbell and snatched Aunt Doris who giggled with the move.

“I’m so proud of you,” Aunt Doris smiled.  He forgot how tiny she was.  He remembered her as larger than life from his childhood and suddenly he was struck by the fact he towered over her and she had never been that large except in his imagination. “Claire is a lovely girl and I’m sure the two of you will be very happy.” 

“Thank you,” Peter said.  He picked up the scent of moth balls. 

“What do you think of my outfit?” she asked.  She’d asked him that question when she had a date and she’d stop by their house before going out.  “I don’t like to ask your mother,” she’d tell him, “because she isn’t a guy or as hip as you.”  He’d been flattered and never failed to give her an honest response.  “I value your opinion,” she’d tell him.

“It’s nice,” he stammered. 

“Are you sure?”

He nodded.  “Purple is your color.”

She looked down at her dress.  “Oh, it isn’t purple, Peter, it’s cornflower blue. I would never dream of wearing purple.  Especially with my hair.  It would put me in the little old lady category and I‘m a good fifteen years away from that.”  She smiled up at him and he was about to dip her when it dawned on him her hair may not stay on.

Then the music stopped.  “Well, here comes Claire,” she slipped from his arms.  “I need to powder my nose.”  She brushed the bangs that had fallen across her face and he saw how blue her eyes were and thought she must be wearing contacts.

Friends finished snapping pictures with the disposable cameras placed on all the tables.  Aunt Doris managed to avoid the shutterbugs as she disappeared into the restroom, saving Peter and Claire the embarrassment of her image immortalized in photos preserving their special day.

___

Janet Yung lives and writes in St. Louis. Her short fiction has appeared in Writers On The River and on-line Foliate Oak and Terrain.

© Janet Yung

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2008