The Writing Disorder


New Fiction


by Karoline Barrett

      When I saw my Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Jerry’s light blue Mercury Grand Marquis parked on Boston Avenue in Atlantic City, it should have surprised me. First, because they live in Brooklyn, New York. We live right outside of Atlantic City, and rarely see them; maybe for Christmas and Easter, if we were lucky. Not that the two cities were so far apart, that’s just the way it was.
      Second, my mom was just whispering the other day to someone on our yellow kitchen wall phone that Jerry, on occasion, hit Beatrice. When she realized I was in the kitchen and heard what she had whispered, her mouth dropped open as if I’d caught her in bed with our thirty-something year old mailman. I grabbed an apple while she told the person on the other end—a little too loudly and slowly—that she didn’t need any more Avon products. It must have been code for “my daughter’s in the kitchen, I can’t talk.” I hoped she didn’t have aspirations to go into the Secret Service; she was no good at deception.
      “Uncle Jerry hits Aunt Beatrice?” I asked.
      My mother dried her hands on her apron. “Did you wash that apple?”
      “Of course,” I lied. “Uncle Jerry hits Aunt Beatrice?”
      She went to the sink and turned on the water, scrubbing dishes to within an inch of their lives before they were allowed in the dishwasher. “I was just repeating to Charisse something your Aunt Cecelia said. I certainly don’t believe it. You know she’s jealous of your Aunt Beatrice, and me, too. She’s always been cranky and difficult.”
      Charisse was my mother’s hairdresser and best friend. I nodded, as if I understood. I didn’t really. Aunt Cecilia, like all my mother’s sisters, seemed sweet and harmless. I could tell my mother wasn’t going to have a heart-to-heart talk about it with me, so I let the subject drop.

      Considering these things, it should’ve been weird that I was staring at Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Jerry’s car right now. But I was a huge believer in Kismet, Destiny, Chance, Karma, and the rest of the Fate family, so seeing their car on my way to the beach made perfect cosmic sense to me.
      Their back door was wide open, and as I came up to the car, I saw them in the back seat, drinks in hand, feet planted on Elvis Presley floor mats. I was relieved at how happy they looked. Would a wife whose husband hit her be sitting in the back seat with him drinking what I figured were probably martinis, their very favorite drink? “Aunt Beatrice, what are you guys doing here?”
      “Christine, oh my God, Christine, is that you?” my aunt gushed, not answering my question. She was the only one in my family that called me by my full name, which I actually preferred. “What on earth are you doing here?”
      I looked at my aunt. She was forty, but looked at least fifty-five. She reminded of Edith Bunker, Archie’s wife on All In The Family. Stick legs on a stuffed body. Not fat, just stuffed. Mousy brownish blonde hair chopped short, sparse bangs curled under. I thought that a strange question given that she knows I live in the area. “I’m on my way to the beach.” I pushed up my sunglasses, and raised my red canvas beach bag that held my towel, Coppertone, and radio. Oh, and a book, in case I got adventurous.
      “Chrissie, get in, get in,” my uncle boomed. “Move your ass over, Bea, let the girl in.”
      My aunt giggled and scooted over on the plush blue velour seat, somehow managing not to spill her drink. My Uncle Jerry was a study in tan and plaid. Plaid brown and tan sports coat, plaid brown and tan pants (not matching), and these big tan plastic glasses. His wavy, thick dark blonde hair even looked tan. Unlike Aunt Beatrice, he did look like forty, which he was, and for some reason, my nineteen year old self found him sexy in some bizarre way. He threw his arm around the back of the seat, touched my shoulder, and winked at me when I swiveled my head to look at him. “Where can we find a private part of the beach? You know, to be alone for a little while?”
      Seemed to me they were alone enough right here, but I could understand wanting to be in the sun and by the water; they both looked like they had spent their entire lives indoors.
      I grinned. “I know lots of private parts of the beach, but I don’t know that Aunt Beatrice would like to be left by herself in the car.”
      Uncle Jerry withdrew his arm so he could slap himself on the knee as he flung his head back and guffawed. “Good one, Chrissie. Wasn’t that a good one, Bea?” He elbowed my aunt, and this time some of her drink sloshed on her flowered shirtwaist dress. Neither of them was dressed for the beach.
      “We’re here to see Frank,” my aunt finally answered my earlier question as soon as she stopped tittering at my joke.
      “Frank?” I parroted. “As in Sinatra?”
      My aunt bobbed her head up and down, then looked at me as if I had sprouted an extra head. “Of course, dear; why else would we drive all this way?”
      To see your family? I thought, but I kept my mouth shut. I was afraid to know why they never called and rarely visited us. “He’s playing at the Golden Nugget?”
      “No,” my aunt dismissed me with a wave of her hand. “Jerry’s got a friend who’s showing a home movie of Frank when he appeared in Vegas. On the strip.” She looked at her watch. “We got thirty minutes till show time. Want to join us?”
      “Come on, Chrissie,” my uncle said. “Join us.”
      I shook my head. There was something depressing and lonely about a middle-age couple driving from Brooklyn to Atlantic City to see a home movie of Frank Sinatra, and not their family. “That’s okay. I don’t want to intrude.” I leaned in and hugged my aunt. She smelled like my uncle’s cigar smoke and Emeraude perfume. She smelled like her sister—my mother—except my mother didn’t smell like the cigar smoke part. I slid out of the car. “Have a good time.”
      My uncle held his glass up to me. “Watch out for the sharks, and the ones in the water, too.” He laughed.
      My aunt rolled her eyes. “Have a good time at the beach, dear.”
      A few blocks later I was at the beach, laying my towel on the sand. I pulled out my radio and found an oldies station. Maybe they’d play Frank. I peeled off my white shorts and New York Mets t-shirt. I favored them because my father did. Slathering on the Coppertone, I lay on my back. The sun heating my skin gave me goose bumps. The salty ocean smell and the rhythmic, bubbly whoosh of the blue/green waves rushing home to the sand instantly made me sleepy.
      I wished I hadn’t heard what I did about Uncle Jerry. I closed my eyes and thought about the invisible heartstrings that bind family. I wished Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Jerry would visit us every weekend. We would all play Gin Rummy in the kitchen. Aunt Celia could come too, just so she could be gathered in by the rest of us, and see that she didn’t need to spread ugly rumors. My father would win all the Gin Rummy hands, of course. He always wins. I couldn’t get comfortable, so I flipped onto my back. I thought about the purple and green bruise I saw on my aunt’s arm.

Karoline's fiction has been published by Short Stories for Women, Necrology Shorts, The Other Herald, Scribblers on the Roof, Eastown Fiction, Wild Horse Press, Flashshot, Read-A-Romance, The Storyteller, True Love Magazine, Slow Trains Literary Journal, and Long Story Short. Karoline is currently at work on her first novel.

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