Aunt Mary

He wore a suit and tie to sell linoleum at Eatons and he napped in his good work pants. You had to play quiet when he was napping. But none of them were quiet then. The turkey people.

I recognized many of them. They were from the French side. They spoke French to each other. I understood some of the words, lots I didn’t. They gobbled at each other, everybody talking at once. It seemed to me that they all talked and nobody was listening. There was heavy smoking. Some of the men were drinking beer. One of them, was already drunk and it was not even night time. He stood with another pair of Uncles. All three talked at the same time. It reminded me of the farm, standing in the turkey pen with all the turkeys gobble talking at the same time. I’m not sure they were even talking to each other about the same thing, they were just talking. It was French anyway so it didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand it.

The flock of gobblers instantly fell silent when Aunt Mary squealed. A high-pitched single note sustained squeal. “Eeeeeeeeee,” is the sound she made. I never heard her make that sound before. The only sounds I ever heard from her was her laugh and the cluck she made at me when she pretended to be angry because I’d made a mess playing or pulled a button off my shirt or came into the apartment with mud on my shoes. I never heard her cry but I think the ‘Eeeeeeeee’ was her cry. Grandma Ducharme sat beside her and held her hand.

There were so many people collected in the two rooms of the apartment that all the kids were ordered to play in the hallway. We wanted to stay by the kitchen table and the plates of small dessert squares. The French Aunties brought them. Too many for the number of people there and nobody seemed to care about them except the kids. They lay there,  plates and pans and trays full of dessert squares, going to waste. They lay there among the tea cups and ashtrays and beer bottles. We were allowed to take one each and go play in the hall.

There was a pipe that came up through the floor, ran up the side of the wall and disappeared into the ceiling in the hallway. It was always warm, sometimes hot. It was an excellent climbing pole. It made for a good contest with the French cousins. There was no winner in the contest, it was just to see who could shimmy up to the top and touch the ceiling. Old Uncle Alex came out of the bathroom, zipping his trousers, scolded us for climbing the pole, and then went back into the kitchen and took another bottle of beer.

Aunt Mary was skinny. She looked even skinnier then, like a skeleton and her face sagged. She sat on the telephone chair like a frozen statue, like she didn’t know all the people were there. She just sat and looked straight ahead across the room to the bed where Uncle Dan used to nap and every now and then she would “Eeeeeeeeeee.”

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