When I woke up the morning after Mama’s funeral, Aunt Lucy was still sleeping on the davenport. I stared at her from the other side of the room. I didn’t want to wake her, but at the same time, I didn’t want to let her sleep. It would be perfect if the moment could hang there, where neither Aunt Lucy nor I had to deal with anybody in town saying anything about the way Mama was, or what we deserved for being who we were. As long as we stayed put there was no more to deal with. I wouldn’t have to meet anyone else, and Taffy was right down the road.
I went into the kitchen to grab an apple and the last of the milk, and the smell of the cider overwhelmed me. I grabbed the jug and started pouring it down the sink. Aunt Lucy shuffled through the door shading the sunlight with her own long blonde hair.
“You want an apple?” I asked.
“Ugh!” Aunt Lucy moaned. “I don’t think I’ll be having anything with apple in it for quite some time. You don’t suppose there is some leftover bread or something?” she asked. I looked in the breadbox. There wasn’t much there, only the crust left from the bread Mama had used to make the French toast the other morning.
“Do you want any?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “I’ll stick to the apples.”
“Its good bread,” Aunt Lucy told me.
“I know,” I said. “Mama made it,”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I wasn’t thinking.”
I didn’t say anything, and Aunt Lucy didn’t push me. She didn’t look like she was in a position to push anything. She made her way to the stove and put on a pot of coffee. She pointed to my apple.
“Finish that up,” she told me. “We need to get you packed the rest of the way. I want to be out of here as soon as possible.”
“We could stay an extra day if you want,” I offered. “No,” Aunt Lucy said. “They take over the house at five. We have to
be out by then.
“I need to get out of this town, and so do you.”
It was ten ‘o clock before we left — an hour later than the original plan. Aunt Lucy’s head raged, and the medicine she took did nothing to help it. Packing was slow. It didn’t help that I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d never moved before, and the longest trip I’d been on was school shopping in Mankato. It didn’t help, either, that Aunt Lucy was sick. Every time she’d get up to load something in her car, she’d have to stop and lie down for ten minutes to recover.
I thought of suggesting we take more time, camp out at Taffy’s for a night if it got too late. It would give Aunt Lucy a chance to feel a little better.
I decided against it. I still couldn’t figure out what to expect from her. One minute she was hopping around, full of exciting ideas. The next she was cranky and serious. I wondered if she had moods, like Mama. Daddy used to
tell me to get through Mama’s moods the best I could. Maybe all the whispering in Leifton was getting to Aunt Lucy, and she’d be fine once we got to Minneapolis.
I tried to stick with it, I only had to pack what I really needed, Aunt Lucy had plans to hire professionals to do the rest. Everything would go into storage, and she would go through it when she could.
We finally left, and I watched out my window as, one by one, every building and landmark I recognized slipped away. I didn’t try talking to Aunt Lucy, and she didn’t say anything either. She held onto the steering wheel with one hand, and her head with the other, as if she wanted to make sure it didn’t fall off and roll out the window. It stayed quiet like that for an hour before we pulled into Dairy Queen for lunch.
“I’m sorry I’ve been so crazy this morning. I drank too much last night. I wish you could understand how hard it was to be back in Leifton. I’m not like that, usually. I don’t make it a habit.”
I folded my arms and turned away from her. I didn’t feel like being agreeable. Aunt Lucy reached for my chin, and brought my eyes up where I had to look at her. “I’m saying I’m sorry. Are we okay?” she asked.
“I’m fine,” I told her. “I think Taffy’s the one who needs an apology. He’s the one who had to take care of you.”
“I’ll write him when I get home,” she said. “Beg his forgiveness. Don’t worry. You don’t stay friends as long as we have without a sense of humor.”
“You weren’t just friends,” I said. “I’ve heard people talk, Taffy was your boyfriend, and you left.”
“You don’t understand, Jennie,” she said. “I had to leave.”
“No, I had to leave. You still had your Mama and Daddy. You weren’t even a grownup yet.”
“I had my Mama and Daddy, but they weren’t taking care of me, protecting me the way your Mama and Daddy did. It was your Mama that protected me, mostly, and when she married your Daddy she couldn’t do that anymore. Besides, my leaving Leifton gave them an excuse to get a one-way ticket out to Arizona. They wouldn’t have been able to do that if I had stuck around, and you wouldn’t have had the farm and the house as long as you did.”
“Taffy would’ve protected you,” I said.
“You’re probably right, and that’s part of why I took off. Back then Denny was as sweet as he was now, but a little more impulsive. He was barely a grownup himself, and he was already working for Mr. Lutzen. I didn’t want him to get himself in trouble because of what happened to me.
It was the night after your Mama and Daddy got married. Denny and I went out, and I came home late. I didn’t think anyone would even notice. My Daddy had some friends over that night, playing cards. He never knew we were alive when he had company. Everyone but Mr. Lutzen had gone home, and I guess my Mama was out looking for me.
“It was just the two of them there. My Daddy set out to punish me, and Mr. Lutzen helped him.”
“If you broke the rules, maybe you needed to be punished,” I told her.
“Not like that,” she said. “Nobody deserves to be punished like that.”
“Did you tell your Mama when she got back?” I asked.
“Oh, I tried to, but my Mama took my Daddy’s side on everything. She must’ve left her mind at the altar when she married him. I can’t remember anyone even calling her by her first name. She was always Mrs. McMillen. She told me Larry Lutzen was a respectable member of the community, and reminded me that a lot of jobs depended on him, including my boyfriend’s. If I knew what was good for me, I would let it go.”
“So, is that when you left?” I asked. “After your Daddy and Mr. Lutzen punished you?”
“I hung in there about a month,” Aunt Lucy told me, “tried to get it all to pass through my head, but it wouldn’t. I couldn’t really talk to anyone about it except your Mama. Now-a-days a girl’s got more recourse if something like that happens, but I didn’t. Mr. Lutzen’s the one who runs the Grain Elevator. Denny and his Daddy both worked there. My Daddy sent his wheat there, and even though I figured my Daddy may as well rot in hell, I didn’t want to see my Mama suffer for it. As far as the town was concerned a man’s got a right to discipline his daughter any way he sees fit.”
“My Daddy never would’ve harmed a hair on my head.” I told Aunt Lucy. “Mama used to say he spoiled me.”
“You’re a good girl, Jennie,” Aunt Lucy decided. “You don’t seem spoiled at all.”
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