A scene in the middle of the first act
A moving cloud of dust, kicked-up by Aunt Jane’s sporty little red truck, travelled the length of the pond on the newly graveled road that stretched from her property to her late brother’s. Instead of a ten-minute drive, she could be on Uncle John’s doorstep in a few minutes flat.
Early one morning last week, a large clap of thunder caused me to sit bolt straight in my bed. I tossed back the throw and bounced to the window getting a splinter in the process. The sun had crept near the top of tree line into a clear sky. This was a storm of a different kind, man-made or more aptly, woman-made.
Dump-truck motors rumbled as their beds repeatedly clunked into an incline. Stone tumbled from their beds falling weeds and filling the well-worn ruts of the pasture road, the one Nathan had pushed his bike that first morning. I spied Great Aunt Jane. Outfitted for the occasion, she wore a yellow duster coat and coordinated gaiters over blue jeans.
Aunt Jane in denim?
Although something as small as a voice had no chance to be heard above the deafening work at hand, Aunt Jane shouted orders that buzzed in her brain, reverberated through her outstretched arm, and boomed from her pointer finger. By the end of the day, the gravel road continued from the pasture along the pine windbreak on the other side of the pond, then rounded about the barn connecting up to the lot at its bank side and the main drive that separated the barn from the house.
The screen door banged behind me, as I walked toward the forebay where Nathan worked in the shade on some tool. A red blur of dust squealed to a stop. The top of AJ’s truck brushed a low-hanging branch of the maple turnaround separating the barn from the house. Pots of flowers and watering cans filled its bed.
We both watched her alit from the cab of her truck. Both feet on the runner board she surveyed the roof.
She turned in our direction. “Not a scratch." She called. "Norman will be over later to do some pruning."
“What fresh hell is this?” I said to Nathan. Aunt Jane waved and moved to the back of the truck adjusting a spade shovel.
Nathan wiped the rust from his hands. “The caustic wit of Dorothy Parker.”
“She coined the phrase you just spoke. Look through those boxes of old magazines in the attic. There are copies of The New Yorker from the 1930s when she was a regular contributor. You would enjoy reading her.”
I didn’t bother asking how he knew about the magazines in the attic or Dorothy Parker and that she wrote for The New Yorker, no less than, forty plus years ago. What was the use? Instead, I decided to rummage through those boxes.
Aunt Jane wore a big smile as her fire-engine red wellies strolled through the grass. “Morning children!”
“AJ,” Nathan volunteered. “I will trim the branches this afternoon. There are plenty of tools in the workshop.”
Eyebrows raised she said, “The only things oiled in that shed are the locks on the doors and windows.”
“You gave me a second ring of keys.” Her gaze shifted to me when I responded.
Changing the subject, “Well, get your boots and grab a hat, flower planting today.” She flashed a smile, which gave me the creeps.
I shook my head pointing to the weeded, turned garden bed next to the parlor door to strengthen my point. “I’ve prepped one bed. That’s it.”
“Cemetery flowers. I have a cooler of drinks and bug spray.” She smiled that smile again. “Gather your things. Make it snappy. I am going to pull the vehicle around.” That was that. She strode back to her truck.
“Nathan, why don’t you come with us?” My voice whined into a plead, which irritated me. In such a short time, I had grown to depend on him – too much.
“It would not be appropriate, not a good idea.” His face took on a pensive look. “Your aunt will be there. You will be fine.”
A prickly sensation inched along the side of my temple. ‘Inappropriate’ meant something other than him intruding upon a family ritual of honoring their dead.
What an odd thing to say, I laughed when I said. “What are you talking about? I want you to protect me from Aunt Jane.”
His look turned queer.
Protect? My neck muscle twitched and sent an electric jab to my temple. Why would I choose such a word? Maybe, this cemetery held a clue to the web of mystery that entangled so many people, living and dead. Maybe, Aunt Jane was right too; Nathan’s bike might not have broken down at the end of Uncle John’s service road by accident.
The horn tooted.
Nathan smiled his languid smile. “Better get going.” I treaded into the house to ‘gather my things’.