“I don’t want to stay with Aunt Elise!” I insisted as I threw my Barbie suitcase into the backseat of Mama’s tiny car.
“It is only for two nights, sweetie.” Anna was at a friends house, Father was away on business, Maria was off for the weekend, and Mama had plans with Penny. They had been planning a trip to Nashville for weeks and didn’t have any way of getting out of it without losing money.
“Couldn’t I go with you and Penny?” I was desperate. I could only imagine myself having to sleep in Victoria’s bed, which creeped me out.
“Honey, we have tickets to two concerts that are sold out. You wouldn’t be able to have any fun.” Mama felt bad about leaving me behind, I knew. “Elise will love having company anyway.”
Aunt Elise’s house was small compared to ours’. It was a one story house with a hall that went straight through the middle of it, it only had one bathroom, and didn’t even have a dining room. Elise was single. She used to be married, but I never met her husband, he was long gone before I was born-- or before Victoria was born for that matter and Victoria was two years older than me.
“Addy!” Elise was standing on her big front porch waiting for me. I tried to act excited because of the fact that she seemed very excited to have me, but the truth was that I wasn’t excited at all. Mama gave me a big hug and left me there. She didn’t seem nearly as sad as I was, but I figured she was better at hiding her emotions. “Oh don’t cry honey, we’re going to have a great time!”
Elise took my hand and led me inside. “You can stay in Victoria’s old room!” My worst nightmare confirmed. “I’ll put your suitcase on Victoria’s bed.”
I waited for Elise in the living room. She had a big corduroy couch that Mama said was tacky, a worn out leather chair in the corner, a bookcase full of little animal figurines, and a huge painting of Victoria above the fireplace. I stared at her. She had long blonde curls, giant blue eyes, and a certain sadness about her. She almost looked like she knew she was going to die. She was wearing a pink fluffy dress and was holding an umbrella. Victoria looked like she was from a different time.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” Aunt Elise was standing beside me, admiring her sweet Victoria.
“Yes ma’am.” I nodded, telling the truth.
“Hungry?” Her eyes were filled with tears, another emotion that she could eat. She had gained a good hundred pounds in the years following my cousin’s death.
“I could eat.” I didn’t want her to have to eat alone.
“I’ve got brownies!” Elise took me by the hand and led me into the kitchen. We sat and ate brownies, chocolate chip cookies, cheese, grapes, fish sticks, and baked potatoes. Everything she offered, I said yes to. I was stuffed and finally turned her down when she offered me left over pizza. I was surprised Aunt Elise had left over pizza! Seemed to me she would have eaten the whole box. Maybe she ordered two.
“I’m full, Aunt Elise.” My jeans felt like they were going to pop at any moment and I wished I had elastic pants like hers’. She slid the box of pizza back into the fridge and sat down across from me.
“I am having so much fun!” she announced.
“Me too.” I smiled, wanting her to feel good about herself. “I’ve never tasted better brownies.”
“That is too sweet, Addy!” she smiled proudly.
“Do you think we could go for a walk?” I needed to get up and move around after our feast.
“A walk?” she didn’t seem too thrilled. “How about we play cards?”
Elise and Mama spent countless hours playing cards as little girls. I remembered Mama telling me that, so I agreed to play. “Okay, let’s play.” Aunt Elise liked playing cards almost as much as she liked eating! We must have played for three hours. She was very good!
“I guess I should start cooking supper.”
“Oh I couldn’t eat a bite.” I confessed, still full from earlier. “I think I’ll take a bath before bed.” It was getting dark outside and I was tired of entertaining her, so I decided to turn in early.
Elise ran my bath water and headed into the kitchen to fix herself a TV dinner. I couldn’t believe she was eating again, but was glad to be alone. I played with the pull string fish that she found in the back of the cabinet for me, knowing that it had probably been Victoria’s.
“Goodnight, Addy.” She tucked me into my cousin’s bed, I was fresh and clean, with my hair braided down my back. “I’ve had fun!”
“Me too, Aunt Elise. Goodnight.” I yawned, I really was tired.
“Tomorrow we’ll go for that walk after breakfast.”
“Okay.” I nodded, watching her survey the room one last time before turning out the light.
I looked around. Victoria’s dolls were lined up, her teddy bears were arranged according to size, her porcelain dolls were standing side by side on her dresser, and her tea set was set up on the table-- ready for a tea party. I thought about my cousin and wondered why she had to die. She and I were friends when we were little, before she got sick.
Her tiny casket had been covered with flowers and I remembered thinking about how much she would have loved them. She was a very girly girl. She loved the color pink, loved wearing ribbons in her hair, took care of her baby dolls like they were real babies, and always sparkled with fancy shoes and little heart shaped earrings. Victoria was six when she died, but four when she got sick.
Even thought I was sleepy, I couldn’t sleep at all. If I were in my own room, I would have gotten up and played with the toys that surrounded me, but I didn’t want to mess anything up. I didn’t want to change a single thing. Even at eight years old, I knew better than to disturb Aunt Elise’s shrine.
Several times during the night I heard Elise creep into the kitchen for a snack. I thought about how pretty and fit she used to be. She was the blonde headed version of Mama before. She was still pretty, but it was a shame that she had let herself go. She would never find a husband now, I heard Mama say it all the time.
“Good morning, sunshine! Did you sleep well?” Aunt Elise was standing over the stove shuffling eggs around a frying pan with a spatula when I finally felt like it was late enough to get out of bed.
“Mmm hmm.” I lied. I dozed off a few times, but really hadn’t slept at all. I ate the food that she placed in front of me, and wondered what Aunt Elise had in store for me.
“Your Daddy called. He’ll be home early, so our walk will have to wait. He’ll be here before lunch to get you.” I bet Aunt Elise was glad that she didn’t have to exercise after all.
“Oh, okay.” I smiled. I couldn’t wait for him to come rescue me from the sadness that showed no matter how hard my aunt tried to hide it. I watched her eat what I left on my plate and swore to myself that I would never eat my feelings.
“You can go play in Victoria’s room if you want…”
“I’ll just watch TV, thanks.” I sat and watched Andy Griffith and waited on Father to arrive.
Around eleven thirty the doorbell rang and I darted into Victoria’s bedroom to grab my suitcase while Aunt Elise answered the door. The bed was now made exactly as it had been when I arrived. A Raggedy Anne doll centered between the pillows and a worn out teddy bear tucked under the covers. The only evidence left of my visit was the little suitcase that was propped against the wall. I grabbed it and headed outside with Father. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought I felt Aunt Elise breathe a sigh of relief as she kissed me goodbye. Maybe she was happier alone. I didn’t know, but I knew that I was happy to be heading home to my own bed and my own toys.
“Are you hungry? Want to grab lunch?” Father asked as we pulled away.
“No!” And I wouldn't be hungry at dinner either.