"Say kids, what time is it?"
"It's time to blow my brain out."
"It's Howdy Doody time!"
She stood, hands to her sides frowning at the television. The light danced on her face. It made her seem blue. The skin around her eyes was dark. She picked up the beaten remote and tried flicking through channels. She couldn't - a battery was missing.
She dropped the remote and looked over to the stairs, listening intently. A dread slid up into her throat and she tensed. She heard the whisper of slippers across the wooden floor above and her throat became tighter as the sound came closer and closer to the stairs.
The television droned. The children sang.
"It's Howdy Doody time."
A shadow appeared at the top of the stairs. She retrieved the remote from the floor and placed it on a little table, never taking her eyes off the shadow.
"Bob Smith and Howdy Do say howdy do to you."
She inched backwards, falling into the kitchen. She scrambled onto her knees and headed for the stove.
"Let's give a rousing cheer 'cause Howdy Doody's here..."
She flinched. She turned slowly to the blur shadowing the door. It was her aunt. It was Aunt Mary.
“You have my dinner done?”
Aunt Mary waved a shriveled hand dismissively.
“Of course not.”
She clicked her tongue and shuffled out of the kitchen – into the living room. The old woman eased herself into a rotting recliner. She stared at the television screen, the light turning her face grey. “You’d have a poor frail woman like me starve to death.”
Sally watched her with contempt as she stared wide-eyed at the television. The glow danced on her face – no doubt burning an impression onto her brain. Poor? Sally’s blood rang in her ears. There was nothing poor or frail about Aunt Mary.
For as long as she could remember Aunt Mary was the same – in appearance and horrendous disposition. Aunt Mary was a pumpkin that was left to sit in the sun too long. Her skin was bronze and looked saggy, but it was firm in its folds. Her hairline started a long way past her forehead and the remnants of her coppery hair was nearly always pulled in a tight twist at the back of her head, making her large eyes with their holier-than-thou stare larger still. These days she had taken a fancy to wearing nothing but robes and bedroom slippers. This gave the neighbours the fuel they needed for their afternoon tea gossip. Just how well is that questionable Sally taking care of her poor frail Aunt Mary?
Sally angrily jabbed a spoon into a bowl of porridge and walked to Aunt Mary’s side. She waited.
This will kill her. That will kill her. Sally shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Really, but she can eat all that sugar!
Sally let out a loud sigh. She immediately regretted it.
Aunt Mary pivoted her neck and looked up at her. Sally stiffened.
“What?” she barked. “Can’t you wait?”
Aunt Mary launched into a tirade about her sensitive digestive system and Sally’s worthlessness as a human being for not caring about the ailments of her poor frail aunt. Sally was compelled to look in Aunt Mary’s face as she ranted. The insulting words picked at her sanity one stone at a time. Sally watched her. She could see the bird-like tongue of Aunt Mary darting between the gaps left by teeth long lost.
Sally wanted to smash that mouth, but she could not move. She wanted to scream, but her tongue would not obey. All she could do was stand there looking at her immortal tormentor as a bowl of porridge grew cold in her hands.
“Give me that thing,” snapped Aunt Mary, straightening her small body in the chair. “I bet it’s cold.”
Sally placed the bowl on Aunt Mary’s lap and resumed standing at attention.
“Bring me sugar!”
Sally inched backwards. She turned and dashed into the kitchen once she was out of Aunt Mary’s line of sight. She searched the cupboards. There was no sugar. She paled, feeling a sickening knot start to form in her stomach.
She headed to the living room again. Her feet felt heavy – almost as if she were pulling wooden blocks with her ankles.
“There’s no –” she began quietly.
“Get me the remote!”
The knot in Sally’s stomach loosened a little. Aunt Mary had forgotten about the sugar. Sally picked up the remote from the little table near the recliner. She placed it in Aunt Mary’s outstretched claw.
Sally watched as Aunt Mary pressed buttons forcefully. The remote control was not working. It was missing a battery. Sally remembered too late.
Sally did not even see it coming at her face, so she did not have time to react. The remote, thrown with considerable strength, hit her on the brow.
Aunt Mary had started a new rant, but “Get the damn thing fixed!” was all Sally understood over the rush of blood pounding in her ears. Sally touched her brow. It was bleeding slightly and it felt sore. Sally imagined, not for the first time, throttling the old demon.
Knock – knock!
Sally circled the recliner and went to the door. A group of wrinkly smiling faces walked in with the stale smell of rotting cloth following them.
“Mary!” one of the faces cried, ecstatically. “You’re still in your robes? At this hour?”
“Well, I’m tired these days,” Aunt Mary whined, hunching her shoulders. “And that child! She doesn’t do what I ask her!” A claw covered her forehead. Hands reached out to pat Aunt Mary on her back.
“Shame!” said another face, looking at Sally. “You should take care of your poor frail Aunt Mary.”
Suddenly all eyes were on Sally. They were glassy eyes with no mercy.
Sally felt a trickle of blood slide down the side of her face. She smiled, barely maintaining composure. How she would love to smash each of the faces in the room. She would start with Aunt Mary. She would smash her mouth and crush her fingers and make her dance. Yes, she wanted to make poor frail Aunt Mary dance.
But she could not.
“Sally, make some tea!”
“Yes, Aunt Mary…”