Two Sides To Every Story
Ma? What kinda cancer did Aunt Sugar have?
She didn’t have any cancer.
Oh. I thought she hadda couple kinds a cancer?
No. She had arthritis.
She didn’t have a couple kinds a cancer? Back when she stayed with us?
Well, she had mouth cancer and then she did have lung cancer. But it was only two kinds. It wasn’t like she had a lot of it.
Back when Aunt Sugar was busy not having cancer, she would be gone from our home for days at a time. When she returned, we fed her broth and were very quiet. It was the days before remotes when children were the channel changers. They sat by the tv like the ball boys at a Wimbledon tennis match, at the ready to go and change to whichever of the three available channels the reigning adult needed.
Her favorite was the news. If it ended on one station, we were to search until we found it on the next. As this required only three flips until you were back again, you tried to make them very long flips, turning the knob very slowly to dial in the channel a bit at a time. As soon as she saw a movie or Dialing For Dollars, you would have to begin flipping all over again. The white noise pictures in between the channels became a stopping place, a hanging out place before her disappointment appeared again.
Since no adults changed their own channels in those days, except for, I suppose, those without children within arm’s reach, it was not strange to us. I remember setting up camp on especially bad days, putting my soda under the tv on the floor so as not to mar the tv itself. I’m not sure that tvs were marrable in those days, but we felt they were. Just as we felt that a doily was good for the back of every chair not to mention the arms of the nicer ones.
My brother came in one day while I was dialing the tv stations in as slowly as I could. Aunt Sugar was asleep but I knew that as soon as I stopped switching channels she would open one eye and tell met to begin again. So, we passed the Million Dollar Movie and Don Mahoney and Jeanna Claire in their spangly cowboy outfits then came back to the man calling people at home live on tv. If they answered, they won seven dollars. If they weren’t home, he began again and this time the jackpot increased. This was when gambling was only in Las Vegas and some people even refused to play bingo at church. It was, I mean, a bit risque. The lights flashed all around his head and you know that Miranda on 12th Street would be told by all her neighbors that she had missed the Lucky Seven jackpot that day by taking her sweet time at the grocery store.
My brother said he had got out the braunschweiger (which was my father’s food) for us to eat while he was at work. Both my parents worked Saturdays. He sliced it off in little bits. It was terrible, worse than our fried bologna sandwiches that we usually had. I tucked mine down in the cat’s dish where it was gone instantly. Why are you eating this? It tastes like crap. Because he says we can’t. Well, then, grab a beer while you’re at it. We both eyed them up on the shelf. Then we saw the Koolaid packets my mom used for daiquiris and decided to make a glass of lemonade. She’ll kill us. Yeah, but not like him.
I got down the pitcher and made the lemonade. He was half way into the braunschweiger before he realized. We looked at each other and he put it right back where it was. Get out the baloney. He fried us up two sandwiches each, carefully using up both heels of the bread so that at least one of our sandwiches wouldn’t count. If you used the parts of food no one else liked, then you got a freebie with our parents.
You know why she’s in there, don’t you? Whaddya mean? Watching tv? No. I mean, you know why she’s in there, right? He got annoying when he repeated himself word for word. Sleeping? No, I mean you know WHY she’s in there, right? To get better? I had a vague idea she was sick, but since she never asked for Kleenex, I let it be.
Her lips are broken. Dad told me.
Whaddya mean, they’re broken?
A doctor cut them off. She got cancer from the snuff.
The chaw? You mean the chaw made her sick?
Yeah, it gave her cancer. So they cut them off. I pictured my mother’s kitchen scissors cutting a section out of my aunt’s face. I looked at him.
What did they do with them? I pictured the pickled pigs’ feet on the counter at the Seven Eleven.
How do I know? But you know what they put in their place? Dad told me last night when they were playing poker.
I never got to stay up on poker nights but my brother got to empty ash trays, throw away pop tops and wipe up vomit around the toilet. He was happy to for the chance to stay up and learn men stuff.
They cut off her you know and replaced it up there. I didn’t know.
Her head? They cut off her head?
NO. I tried to think of all the you knows I could think of.
Her boobs? They cut off her boobs?
No, you idiot. For crying out loud. They cut off her YOU KNOW. He pointed to where my green corduroys came together in the center.
Her that? No way. How does she pee?
I don’t know.
For once he looked thoughtful instead of like a know-it-all. I’ll have to ask….he stopped. No. He won’t tell me. I only heard because he was telling Mr. Ramirez. The one that never smokes.
I knew which one he was. He parked on our lawn and I always had to pull the sprinkler hose out from underneath his wheels before he drove off in the mornings because it was my job to sprinkle the lawn before school. He was usually asleep in his car. But he had learned to keep the windows up as it always seemed to rain in the morning at our house.
I snuck back in to look at my aunt’s face. I’d never noticed it before. To me, it was an old lady’s face. She was twenty-nine and so old she creaked. I was scared to get closer than the foot of the couch. I tried to see if her face looked any different than it did before. It was sort of puffy. But all grown ups looked like that in the morning. I got the tiniest bit closer and thought I could see a mark down by the corner of her mouth. Maybe it was not a Marilyn Monroe mark like I thought. Maybe that was the part they cut off. Maybe that was the part they patched up.
I ran back to tell my brother. She has a funny scab in the corner. Is that what you mean? Did I see it? Did I see it? He looked at me. No, idiot, it’s all healed up. That’s why she was able to come home. Dad says you can’t tell at all except for when you kiss her. Kiss her? When did dad ever kiss Aunt Sugar? She socked him in the gut for just touching her toothbrush in the bathroom.
He had his I-get-to-stay-up-late-and-empty-ashtrays-and-hear-men-talk look again. I ran back to where she was sleeping. The cat had curled up right behind her knees under the black afghan with the stretchy holes in it. One ear poked out next to a periwinkle flower. They were both in the fetal position, both enjoying those last few moments before awakening.
I took my sandwich apart and went and sat next to her. The smell didn’t wake her. The bologna was curled up into a little cup and it held the grease just perfectly the way I liked. I took the tiniest sip, then put it back on my sandwich. There was a movie on where Santa Claus fights Martians. I moved her Chapstick to the side, stretched out my toes and settled in.
Meriwether O’Connor is a farmer, short story writer and columnist.
To comment on this story, visit Fiction365’s Facebook page