These days I often find myself picturing the kind of aunt I’ll be. It will always be Winter. I’ll arrive and remove my hat and scarf to reveal a full head of blonde curls. Slipping out of my heavy coat to show off a colourful wrap dress. Kissing my brother in-law on the cheek, accepting a glass of red. The smell of Chanel No. 5 following me in a cloud. Pulling presents out of my handbag for my two nieces.

After dinner, I’ll go to the guest room and emerge in a long silk night dress and robe. My lipstick will be gone, but I’ll still smell of perfume. Soft, floral, gentle. I’ll sit with a niece on either side of me, all of us under an endless cotton blanket. I’ll sing to them and read them stories. I’ll convince their mother to let them stay up late in a way that only I can.

I’ll tell them about all the trouble I got into when I was younger. I’ll put on a movie that will captivate them. One they’ll associate with me for the rest of their lives. As I spend quality time with them, I’ll try to remain chipper. I’ll wipe my tears before they drip onto their golden hair. The need to use the bathroom will be gone. My wine glass will refill itself, or perhaps it will be topped up by their father. I’ll never get up from between them. I’ll never want to.

Finally, it will be time for the children to go to bed. Their mother will clear her throat. Their father will clap his hands together. It’s time girls. They’ll look up me at me from under their spiky fringes, with wide eyes and slight frowns. I’ll nod at them, giving them permissions to leave me in the nest I created.

The girls will follow their father to their room. They’ll brush their teeth side by side under his loving gaze. My sister will sit beside my legs on the couch. She’ll sweep her hair behind one ear and subtly enquire about my love life. I’ll look down at my long hands, clutching one another. That ship has sailed. I’m eighty years old, but I’m thirty. I’m holding my old bones together under smooth skin. Perhaps I’ll tell her I’m still trying to get over the last man. The one who made me smile by merely giving me a knowing look. The one who my family loved. The one who I pushed away because I didn’t deserve him or he didn’t deserve me.

My older, sister, who is so much younger than me, helps me from the couch. She squeezes my hands. We walk side by side down the hall. As my sister puts her arm around my husband’s back. I go to the children’s single beds, side by side. Angelic faces looking up at me. I lean in and kiss them gently on their foreheads.

I’ll see them tomorrow. A line that I say every time I tuck them in. If you wake me up before twelve, you’re dead. I’ll expect you at my door with a strong cup of coffee by nine. They’ll giggle, as they always do. They don’t notice tears dripping onto cotton sheets. Water in their laps.

Back to the sitting room. Good night sister. The bottle of wine placed on a coffee table beside me. Brother-in-law puts a hand on my shoulder. He pretends to understand me. Pretends it’s normal that I carry an aura of sadness into his house every visit. Pretends he doesn’t open the window the minute I leave. Trying to let my loneliness escape. His girls are too young for that sort of thing. Daddy will always mind them. They won’t end up broken, like their aunt. Of course all these thoughts are private.

His wife doesn’t let him have an opinion on his tall, blonde sister-in-law. She’s protective of me. Simultaneously my older and younger sister, Stroking my head from up above, standing as tall as my knees. Hugging my legs, afraid I’ll turn to sand, like I’ve always seemed to want to do. The only time she’ll see me will be on the beach, grains filtering between her fingers.

Perhaps he’s noticed the glances I give him. My eyes dropping whenever he meets them. Perhaps he saw me crying into my mother’s lap at their wedding. He wonders whether I’m attracted to him. He knows he’s handsome. Perhaps he pictures my lips, slightly apart while he’s on top of his wife. The curve of my back. That tight shiny dress I wore last Christmas. The looks the female relations exchanged behind my back. Placing their hands on their husband’s shoulders too often. They’ve always thought me capable of something like that.

I’m left alone, on the couch. The sitting room is now the size of a football field. One more glass of wine, but I don’t feel sleepy. I pad across the wooden floor and out the double doors. Across the decking and through the little gate. It was Winter when I arrived, but now the air is hot. I’m on the beach looking out at the sea. Of course there’s a full moon. Its incredibly bright.

The tide hasn’t come in for once. I stare across the water and think of my beautiful nieces and the burden they already carry. the burden of a little girl, to grow up the minute they’re born while remaining as innocent as possible.

I’ll think of the man who broke my heart. I imagine him here. Would I be in bed, instead of on this beach, weeping? Would I be giggling beneath the sheets? Would we gossip about my sister? She really lucked out. Gorgeous house, husband and kids. I won’t be able to resist. She must have a magic pussy. He rolls his eyes, shakes his head. Oh Laylah.

I think about my brother-in-law. How he’d also like me to have a man. Four adults instead of three. Someone to drink beer with. Someone to joke with. Beattie sisters eh? I am pretty. I look womanly. Surely I could find someone to marry. Someone who’s not ashamed. Someone who doesn’t care what people say. She’d be easier to have over if she was married.

I picture myself walking into the sea. Becoming water. My sister’s shock. She seemed fine. It’s been years since she did anything like that. She wasn’t strong enough to be surrounded by air. The water was always too appealing. I stand up and the sand falls away. Sand that doesn’t stick. I’m a child. A little sister. A daughter. A long, willowy figure still holding teenage anguish in my shoulders. I’m old. I’m a lover. I’m an aunt. My hands are wrinkled and slender. I’m the last member of my family alive. I was the first to die.

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2 Comments on “Cynicism and Familial Relations.

  1. Laylah

    I read and re-read your piece. It’s a beautifully crafted, intimate, piece of considered writing, deserving of a wide audience. In a simple twilight setting, tender moments of circumstance reflect so much else about what is happening. With growing isolation from peers, who can’t read you, your search for belonging and identity comes more from outside than in. It’s your tenderness to your nieces which is so touching. Here you allow yourself to relax and be honest, but only for a while. Although comfort can be found in love, loving and reliving childhood, it isn’t always. And then, the what-ifs. Doubts raised, burdens return, a simple loneliness envelopes you. With delicate turns of phrase, the reader is gently positioned in your corner, and on your side, empathising with the same questions you have. Here your purple prose style helps contextualise your fragility. Your sensitive and inviting descriptors (the water was too appealing, my older sister who is much younger than me, Water in their laps,) and allegorIcal references, (I’m eighty years old but I’m thirty ) capture & convince.
    The mystery here is still why, or what could we have done ? Would your sand grains have slipped through our fingers too.?
    Easily your best piece – by far. It’s so good, and so relevant, it deserves a big platform and to to be read widely.

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