At the faculty meeting, people talk about the budget, an out-of-place period on a page of a course that I proposed, and I look down on the table, to the floor. I am wearing my aunt’s shoes, her necklace, her sweater, her perfume. As a colleague starts to talk about assessment, my mind tips back to days before, another visit to Wisconsin—where I couldn’t stop myself from an overhaul of crying.
The floor is dirty, blue. Chairs are square and plastic. As I hear a colleague talk about attendance, I hold onto my gut, so full with everything that happened since my aunt’s second bout of cancer. Since her downfall and her comeback, her relapse and her death. The long talks with my uncle. He and my aunt were adolescent sweethearts. He’s known me all my life.
As the department chair asks someone for a motion, I stare at a colleague’s seltzer and imagine how my uncle held me. I told him he felt good and then we moved into his room. We kissed for the first time and after a while I got on top, imagining my aunt there. Afterwards, we lay close and he talked about their sex life. He said it wasn’t bad. I kissed his arm and said, “She never told me.”
After a while, he said, “Today I got back the report.”
I leaned into him and kissed his chest the way I used to kiss my boyfriend. Since my aunt has left, everything is different.
My uncle said, “She took all those pills. The guy asked if she left a note.”
After the faculty meeting, I walk down to the office I moved to the night before my aunt died—then I put up posters of the Alps my aunt and I had made after one of our visits there. The next day in my office, while putting books on my new shelves, I got the phone call from my uncle. He said, “Marnie died.” We sat for a long time and cried.
Now there’s a picture of my aunt here, the stuffed cat I gave to her last Christmas.
A colleague knocks and says, “Are you okay?”
I say to him, “I think so.”
“I like your shoes,” he says.
After he leaves, I shut the door. My boyfriend texts, saying he can’t wait to see me. I lean on the desk and as I fold my eyes, I imagine my uncle’s lips, his smell, this new way he loves me.
Photo courtesy of Emory Maiden; view more of their work on Flickr