By Karen Brode
Winnie turned over on her left side to try to get comfortable in bed. She had never understood how anyone could sleep in brush rollers, but the television commercial had shown a woman resting peacefully with them in her hair. The picks that she used to hold the rollers in place were digging into her head in several places, and she wasn’t sure she had rolled her hair right. Things never came as easily for Winnie as they seemed to for other people.
Her mind was racing. There were meals to plan, Christmas presents to buy, and now Uncle Charlie’s funeral to put together.
Winnie had known something was wrong when the phone rang that afternoon.There was something different about the ring. And then Aunt Emma was on the phone crying and, between sobs, telling her they had found Charlie out in the field.
At first Winnie had asked if he was in the hospital, and Emma broke down all over again. No, he wasn’t in the hospital – he was dead! As Winnie listened to Emma on the phone, she turned and looked at the guests sitting quietly at her dining table. All of their heads were slightly bowed as they anticipated the bad news that Winnie was hearing: Travis, her brother, his wife Jane, Winnie’s husband, Pete, and those two sweet darling little girls who were her nieces, Karen and Kathy.
Winnie always made sure that Karen came to her house when Kathy was visiting. Winnie felt that family ties were very important. It angered her in some primal way that this was happening; that Uncle Charlie’s death at this particular time would rip a big tear in what all she had been planning for her visitors. Couldn’t he have died after Christmas? She felt bad about herself when she looked in the mirror and saw how angry she was!
They packed up and went to Aunt Emma’s house immediately. Emma was so grieved. Her hose were torn and her dress was old and faded, and Winnie was so embarrassed – as if this was all somehow her fault. Winnie glanced at Travis to see if he was blaming her for Emma’s condition. She hoped not.
Winnie looked at the house as she imagined Travis and Jane might be seeing it. They didn’t have to come every week and she was certain that the sights and smells that assaulted them were nauseating. She knew they must be repulsed by the chair covered in cat hair. Winnie knew that they must feel as if they had stepped back into the former century. A huge potbelly stove burned in the corner of the room and cats wound their way around Emma’s legs.
Emma was crying. She picked up the orange cat and comforted it.“He’s just a baby! Poor little thing! He knows Charlie’s gone!”
Winnie looked at Travis in fear. Winnie felt as if she was seeing Aunt Emma for the first time, and she was suddenly aware of how crazy Emma sounded, how helpless she looked. Winnie usually looked away when Emma started talking and cooing to one of the cats, and Winnie doubted that Travis had ever seen such behavior except maybe in his psychology books. Travis taught psychology at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and Winnie felt somehow guilty that he had witnessed this odd behavior in one of his own relatives.
Winnie heard the clock strike three, and she turned back to her right side. She stared at Pete sleeping peacefully through the night. What was she going to do about Aunt Emma? Aunt Emma had no one now that Charlie was gone, and Winnie had not yet bought Karen’s and Kathy’s Christmas presents. She knew she wanted to get clothes for them. She might get them matching outfits. Were they too old for that? Winnie didn’t know.
Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972. She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years. She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.