Linda’s heels slowly sank in the mud as Pastor Joe prayed. And prayed. She imagined herself sucked into the grave with Great Aunt Mae.
She’s probably laughing in heaven watching me ruin my two hundred dollar pumps. Did she ask for a thunderstorm? How cliché. What a way to celebrate my fortieth birthday!
“Amen,” Linda repeated and dabbed her dry eyes. She wouldn’t want anyone to think she didn’t care. She did love Aunt Mae. Sometimes...when she wasn’t correcting her behavior. Mae never approved of her clothes or friends as a child. Peering over her large tortoise shell glasses, she’d shake her head. “March back to your room and change, young lady; modest thirteen year-olds do not dress like Madonna,” she’d say. Linda would march back, mouthing, “You’re not my mom.” She’d throw on a baggy shirt to hide her outfit and walk a few blocks away, where Mae couldn’t see—even with binoculars—which she did use. Then Linda would toss the shirt in her bag and meet her friends to smoke.
Linda missed her mom. Great Aunt Mae was her mom’s aunt and the only relative alive and willing to raise Linda, a hyperactive preteen, after her mom overdosed. Her dad left when she turned two.
At seventy-two, Mae had outlived her husband, two sons, five cats and a rabbit and became a mom to twelve-year old Linda. She often said, “I didn’t retire; I reversed—got to love a teen again with a wider generation gap.” She’d chuckle and add, “But the good Lord has His reasons...just got to listen hard.”
Linda’s clicking footsteps echoed on the hardwood floors as she emptied Mae’s home of furniture and knickknacks collected over the century. She opened the walk-in pantry closet.
Oh, Mae, you sure had a sweet tooth. How’d you ever live to one hundred on a cake diet?
Powdered donuts, Yodels, cupcakes, and fudge-striped cookies filled a whole shelf.
No wonder I was a chubby teenager. Mom was so slim; she never would’ve...oh, what does it matter now?
She tossed the food in a bin for the homeless, all except the Yodels, her favorite, which landed in her shoulder bag. Maybe Mae bought them just in case Linda came to visit. She’d check the date on the box later; they could be ten years old. A pang of guilt shot her heart...
I should’ve visited more often. Traveling the world as a journalist always seemed more important; if I changed my lifestyle like Mae did for me...then...what was that?
Did Mae get another cat?
As she tiptoed upstairs—wondering why she was tiptoeing anyway—she was reminded of every horror movie she wished she never saw. Was someone watching her, shouting, “Don’t go in there!”?
Mae’s room smelled moldy. Sure enough, a window was cracked open letting rain drench her paisley quilt—the same paisley quilt Linda used to make indoor tents with on rainy days. Mae never complained about the mess; she’d bend her creaking bones, peek in and ask if she wanted some cookies and a flashlight to read her book. Linda forgot how she felt Mae’s love at those times.
Mae’s calico cat rubbed against her calves, startling her and purring like a vacuum. Linda scooped up the cat and stroked his fur.
You must’ve been shut in this room for days, poor thing. Were you looking for food up here? You knocked everything off.
Linda picked up a small bottle of Chanel no. 5, a broken cat statue, an antique hand mirror, a photo of Uncle Jerry in his WWII uniform, and a heavy locked copper box. As she placed the box back on a doily on the dresser, she noticed a note tied to the lock with a white ribbon. “Do not open my treasure!”
What are you protecting, Mae? You only wore costume jewelry. Hmmm...where would you hide...
Linda wiggled open the top dresser drawer. Only a handmade popsicle stick box with Grandma painted in red on the sticks. A tiny silver key inside the box reflected morning sunlight in Linda’s eyes.
That was too easy. Were you afraid you’d forget?
She turned the lock and lifted the lid. The old hinge creaked. Another note was tacked to the red velvet lining...
You can have all the treasure I’ve ever owned in my hundred years.
Linda lifted the Bible, careful not to pull the cracked leather cover off, shook her head, and smiled.
Okay, Aunt Mae, I’ll listen.
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