The Word: Rib
My mother finally relented, and I was going to spend the summer at Aunt Thea’s. In L.A. At last. I never got to go by myself before, because my mother and her older sister don’t get along so great. But that summer, my dad and mom weren’t getting along so good either. In fact, Dad had moved out and Mom just wanted to lie around crying , and I kept saying, let me go to LA and see Aunt Thea, she asks me every year when she comes to Hartford for Christmas. But my mom always says no, she wouldn’t trust Aunt Thea with a plant, let alone a human being.
When Aunt Thea stays with us, she sleeps in the other bed in my room, and tells me stories about ghosts and stuff my mom and her used to do when they were kids, that I can hardly believe. We consult the Ouija board, but I don’t tell my mom. She’s, well, she wouldn’t go for that.
I love Aunt Thea. She’s got to be forty, and tan, with long hair down her back like a hippie. She’s getting wrinkles and she doesn’t even care. And she laughs more than anybody I ever saw. Once, she laughed so hard at a joke my brother Brian was telling she actually peed in her pants. “I’m going to pee in my pants!” she shrieked, and then she did. And thought that was so funny, she laughed until tears spilled down her tanned, wrinkled face.
My mom got so mad, like Aunt Thea was a bad dog that had peed the rug. “I can’t believe you just did that.”
“Oh, you’re no fun,” Aunt Thea said, holding her stinky wet pants away from her skin.
My mom can be fun, but she’s the “first you brush your teeth and then you get the story” type.
Whereas my first morning in LA, we had ice cream for breakfast. “What kind do you like?” my aunt asked me. She has this old fridge from the Fifties, and the dinky little freezer was packed with ice cream. I took one scoop of lavender mint, and one of espresso. and we ate out on the porch overlooking the lake.
A lake, right in the middle of LA. I never heard of that. With houses all around, up on the hillsides, like a foreign country, like France or something. We hung out on her porch and ate our ice cream, and I thought I was in heaven, I mean, heaven. LA, and this funky old house, and the lake and breeze in the trees and her dog Sobaka, which means dog in Russian. Sobaka has pretty white eyelashes. A white sort of greyhound, but hairy. And I have to admit, I felt bad, that my mom and my dad were breaking up and I was in LA eating ice cream for breakfast. It felt kind of heartless.
I thought about married people. “Why didn’t you ever get married, Aunt Thea? Didn’t you want to?”
She licked her spoon and put the bowl on the ground so Sobaka could slurp up the rest. “I had a love affair,” she said. “But he wasn’t the type who’d ask you to marry him.” The way she said ‘marry,’ she didn’t exactly roll her eyeballs but her voice did. “Being with him it was like fifty years squeezed into five. That was it for me. I’d had enough love for a lifetime.”
I never heard of that. someone who’d just had enough of something for their whole lives. Especially love, wasn’t that what everyone wanted, some guy to marry you and all that? I wondered how it would be for me.
That afternoon, she took me to a Vietnamese temple in Chinatown. It was kind of scary, there were no white people, and inside it was all red and yellow and crowded with bowls of fruit before the Buddhas and this weird incense. We went around and sort of prayed to the Buddhas, and she put some coins in their dishes and then gave me a thing of bamboo, full of sticks, and said to think of my question. “Do have to say it out loud?”
“Sure. Now think hard.” She frowned, which made all her wrinkles stand out.
I thought of my question. Will my parents divorce? Well duh. Why waste a question on that? “Will I be happy?” I finally asked. And shook the bamboo cup until a stick came out. Then the old wrinkly priest read my fortune. He talked and I guess he thought he was speaking English but I didn’t have any idea what he was saying. We thanked him and went outside. I was relieved to be out of there, though it was beautiful. Maybe if I hadn’t been so scared I would have enjoyed it more.
We went back to the car where Sobaka was waiting, her nose stuck through the window. “Could you understand what he said?” I asked Aunt Thea.
“Hungry?” she said, strapping her seatbelt. Mom does the same thing when she doesn’t want to answer a question.
She took us to this shack place nearby, a barbeque stand, kind of dodgy, but it smelled really great. I was surprised she chose barbeque–she’s a vegetarian. Maybe she made exceptions. She bought two giant beef ribs, and handed me one and we went to sit down at the picnic tables.
I started to eat mine, and she put the other rib, this big meaty thing, on the ground for Sobaka. For the dog! You should have seen the eyes of the other people eating there, staring at her, like they wanted to punch her lights out. “Aunt Thea. People are staring. You just fed your dog what they’re having for dinner.”
“So?” She looked around and smiled at the people aiming daggers at us. “Sobaka isn’t vegetarian.”
I ate in silence for a while, embarrassed as hell. Trying to understand. Why we were here, and what the priest said. “Aren’t you going to tell me what he said?”
She watched Sobaka happily gnawing on the end of the rib, having already stripped the meat clean. “He said, this year not so likely.”
A whole year. Well, duh. How happy was it likely to be. My parents divorcing. Chewing on my rib, trying not to cry, trying to concentrate on the wonderful gooey char. It hurt my feelings that my fortune was so lousy.
But really, the rib was fantastic.
And the breeze was cool, and Sobaka looked up from hers, all dog-smiley, and I was glad I was here. Whatever the guy said. And his dumb bamboo sticks. “I am happy though.”
“Me too,” she said, wiping Sobaka’s face with a napkin.
Part of a weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.” Feel free to post your ‘Rib’ in Comments.
Next week’s word is: CHARM