Aunt Dot lifted her shaky hand to her bifocals, lowered them to her nose, and squinted in my direction.
I cupped my fingers around my mouth and shouted again, “I LOVE this book!” She smiled—one of those fizzy drink kind of smiles that pops tiny bubbles of air to the lips over seconds of time. Then she went back to reading.
The fire’s flames started to slumber. Tiny rippling snores trickled through the warm air to my ears. Dot was asleep. We’d been sitting in our lush armchairs for hours, and my rear was starting to protest. I lifted the bookmark from the arm of the chair and lodged it deep between the pages, as per Aunt Dot’s training.
Taking off my own reading glasses, I glanced over at Dot. At 85, she was a marvelous mystery to all who met her, especially her doctor. She had survived the death of two husbands and a child, and suffered from some bone disease she couldn’t pronounce. Maybe knowing death so intimately was why she reached out to me, maybe not. I’ll never truly figure out why she did it.
She’d invited me over for a glass of lemonade after Dad’s funeral. I left Mom lying in her bed, her back to the door. Dot greeted me with an all-encompassing hug that managed to make me feel loved, understood and special all in one touch. “Call me Aunt Dot,” she’d said. We sat in her living-room eating ginger snaps and drinking cocoa. Even then, there was no need for talk. She brought me a pile of old hardback books, sat them like a treasure chest onto the cushion beside me, and opened the top one. Her voice didn’t crackle back then.
“’Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies' eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place…’” I was hooked.
We travelled through many places that year and all those since. Avonlea, Robinson Crusoe’s island, Sunnybrook Farm, under the sea, all the way to China. We were somewhere in Europe when Mom died, and Dot gave me another one of those hugs and said that she wanted to adopt me, just like Rachel Lynde adopted Anne. I cried and gave her a shaky smile and that was that.
I made it through high school, falling asleep most nights with a book on my chest and my mind elsewhere. I survived college. I did the whole marriage, kids, retirement thing.
And so here I was, aged 61, coming to the end of our monthly fireside get-together. I walked softly to Dot’s sleeping side and lifted the glasses off her face. The orange sherbet light fluttered over her crinkled countenance, highlighting her laughter lines, accentuating her warmth. I bookmarked her page, set the tale on the floor, and leaned forward to kiss her forehead.
“Eh?” Her eyes opened. I hopped backwards.
A grin burst onto her face. “Hello Sweetie. Did you say something?”
“Yes…no…um, well…you know, Dot..." I paused to find the perfect words but couldn't. "Just...thank-you.”
She kneaded her eyes with her bony knuckles. “For what, child.”
My own were beginning to fill up. “For everything.”
Dot patted my hand. “Silly girl.” For some reason, that made me cry more. She heaved her body forward, stretched out her arms to her walker, and I helped her to her feet. She hoisted the frame in tiny lifts to face me. Her eyes used their laser power to capture mine, to make sure that not one word was missed.
“Sweetie, having you in my life has been the biggest blessing God could ever give a woman. Don’t go thanking me. You’ve brought me joy.” She leaned forward against the edge of her metal support and gave me one of those hugs.
I cried and gave her a shaky smile and that was that.
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