Josephine and Her Antics
Aunt Josephine started the worry that atmosphered around us like the crawling mist infesting the house. She was feverish again, screaming nonsense about dead ballerinas and ex-convicts.
Mother, Cousin Shelby and Aunt Anna listened with forced calm. No one seemed to take her seriously but the worry was as serious as could be.
Cousin Shelby, the family’s clairvoyant said this was a sign. “He’s coming back, I’m telling you. He is!”
Aunt Anna coughed a lot. The shadows under her eyes told of a great yearning, unfulfilled. Her eyes flickered up from Aunt Josephine to Mother before turning away ever so quickly.
“It’s the mold. We have to move her to the sea-side room.” Mother’s lips trembled; her mouth gave a slight twitch. It wasn’t like her to utter lies, not since that day, so why now?
I had just come back from college—with my brand new degree in behavioral psychology—looking for our secret of an aunt, that delicate creature everyone wanted to hide. Of all the women in the house she resembled father the most. She had his sonorous voice with that touch of sad homelessness I recognized in mine. She was lying delirious on her bed with bits of white plaster disintegrating from the walls. They looked like that rare Alexandria snow that visited the city once every couple of decades. I bent down next to her to hold her sturdy hands, catching the golden tint of hair growth on them. I watched that beautiful space between her eyes where wild landscapes of thought occasionally broke through to the surface.
I could not remember Aunt Josephine as a child, but she was there in father’s stories peeking right through his eyes like a ghost in a loop waiting for an incarnation.
Father and I liked to spend most of our afternoons building doomed sandcastles during the windiest times of the year. The ghosts from father’s magic box were always willing to play.
Getting Ready for a Comeback
The women dragged Aunt Josephine across the rose-grey tiles downstairs. She was heavier than all three of them; her dress was lovely though, in faded shades of the sea.
Aunt Anna kept coughing. I didn’t know if she was catching something or if she was just sick of the company.
Cousin Shelby picked fights with me. I liked to remind her that she was a fraud and that there was no such thing as clairvoyance.
“He’s coming back, for good this time.” She insisted.
Mother started looking like one of those paintings that stared right back at you without ever moving. She disappeared in the background of her everyday chores: shopping, cooking, cleaning, and vacuuming like someone getting ready for a special visit from God.
I nursed Aunt Josephine with fish broth and sea-salt gurgles. The fever she spat out touched me, giving me a hibiscus-colored tint that lingered for two days, and that’s when I started dreaming.
In my dream wiry, brittle-looking colors hummed in my chest before they curled and boiled out. Enormous waiting eyes pointed their finger at father, smiling their subversive little smile. Light took on the shape of a vessel that was full to its brim with darkness. The lilac tint on my eyelids left as I looked inside the desultory darkness.
Father whispered tales about certain people who existed first as melodies born in seashells hidden in his mother’s secret box before they became real, and in that box a little girl in dust-stained tulle struggled with the pirouettes en arabesque and with each turn she saw the ex-convict knitting a scarf, and they all found parts of each other inside Josephine who was only another ghost inside father’s dying magic box. Josephine’s eyes flecked with sad knowing. I knew it then that the dream was over and that it was time to let go.
When I woke up from underneath the rubble of sleep, I felt like a grief-struck child lost in a crowd.
In the graveyard, mother, Aunt Anna, and Cousin Shelby avoided looking at father’s name engraved on Aunt Josephine’s tombstone. They squinted instead against the searing white of the sea-side morning.