Letting Life Lead
Lyric made her bed every day since she was six when Aunt Kay told her she had to do it herself. “I’m not your maid,” she’d said. Lyric, she insisted, was also old enough to be knocked down a few pegs. They had just returned from the funeral and Lyric thought her aunt meant that she planned to push her down the stairs. “Have mercy.” Aunt Kay had clucked her tongue. “I won’t be calling you that ridiculous, airy, fairy name neither. I don’t know what my sister and that man were thinking — rest their souls. In this house we have sensible, real names. Lydia will do for you.”
She didn’t sleep for two days convinced that Aunt Kay would murder her. Lyric had planned to stay awake forever, but the Sandman put her to sleep at the table. Luckily, the macaroni and cheese wasn’t hot. She didn’t want to eat it anyway. Aunt Kay bought the kind in the yellow can not the blue box. The memory of it made her gag. It was like trying to swallow white worms in a dog saliva consomme — a sure fire way to starve someone.
Whenever she dressed the bed, she chanted her name to herself — Lyric Piper Nelson — so she’d never forget it. For 14,600 mornings for ten minutes she wasn’t Lydia. She stared at the new sheets still creased from the package and decided she didn’t want to do something that added no value to the day. Just putting the sheets on the bed without washing them first and ironing out the wrinkles felt good. Lydia would never do that because Aunt Kay wouldn’t allow it. “We take pride in our house and appearance,” she’d say. “You’re a lazy girl. Your mother spoiled you.”
Lyric didn’t want to make the bed or use that other name ever again. A lot of wasted minutes for something that added no quality to life. She yanked out all the hospital corners and threw the bright, new quilt on the bed in a crumpled heap. To set in the rumples, Lyric indulged in a few frenetic jumps and rolls. Her aunt would have a cow if she saw her lying on the bed in the middle of the day. She’d say, “Beds are for sleeping, not recreation.”
Aunt Kay never married.
She attacked the round, tasseled rug next — with each fringe brushed straight and slippers placed neatly at its center. It was always sliding on the floor and getting crooked. Lyric asked why they needed the rug once and decided it was better to adapt than to listen to an hour-long lecture about unrelated transgressions. She tossed them on the pile of old, purple peony sheets, matching dust ruffle, curtains, and bureau scarves.
The antique furniture seemed to stand prouder and heave a sigh of relief. The vigor infused her and she yanked the old roller shade from the window. Even though gray and overcast, the mid-morning light brightened the room. She opened the window and let the fresh air draw out the stale. That was one thing good about Aunt Kay’s habits — letting the fresh air in for a little while even on the worst of days. She breathed in the cool, damp scent of wet leaves and pavement. The back of her neck felt delightfully naked. She’d cut off the heavy braid that morning with old shears. Aunt Kay would say it was vanity’s work even though the hairdo was a hack job. What would she say about the mismatched socks that topped off the morning like two exclamation points on Lyric’s feet?
A bell jingled from downstairs.
“I’ll be right there!”
Lyric scooped up the pile intending to donate them, maybe clean the toilet, or feed a fire. Aunt Kay couldn’t do or say anything about it now that she needed care, a part-time nurse, and could barely remember her own name. When her aunt called her Cece yesterday — mistaking Lyric for her mother — a name not spoken in twenty-nine years, Lyric went on a tirade. She poured out every word and curse she’d tamped down. She was one digit from calling a nursing home and halfway out the door. Aunt Kay hadn’t understood she was the reason for the misery. Instead, her aunt offered comfort to the imagined Cece.
Aunt Kay was the child now. Vulnerable. Confused. A burden.
Lyric shook a blue box like a maraca. “Aunt Kay, tonight we dine on Kraft dinner.”
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