It was a beautiful day when Aunt Norma died. I don’t mean because Aunt Norma was dead. I mean it was warm and the sun was out. The sky was blue like a kindergarten room. Not a day to kill or to be killed, I mean. Or left the way that Aunt Norma was.
She was dark-haired and pale, as if she stepped out of a black and white film. I spent weekends with Aunt Norma and played with my cousins. Myrna, and Greta. That side of the family, they’re all named for old movie stars.
Aunt Norma was like a mother, almost. To me, my cousins were almost like sisters. I was closer to Myrna. She was my age. I can see myself now, playing Barbies with her. Pony-tailed, giggling. Watching her wrench loose a Barbie doll’s head, and popping it back on. Smiling, and in her best Barbie voice saying, I must’ve lost my head for a moment.
When Aunt Norma was younger, she was straight-laced and steady. Then she turned forty and went out of her mind. Drinking and bringing home first one man then another. Hanging out in honky-tonks and who knows what all.
She was in Texarkana, at a bar called The Hideout. A real hole-in-the-wall. Got to drinking and talking to a truck driver there named Arthur Bolin. His friends called him Artie. Smooth talker, they said. Short-tempered, too.
It came on the news; police everywhere, and crime scene people. A white sheet. A gurney. The sheet’s whiter, I think, when it’s someone you know. I closed my eyes and thought of the brass-handled cabinets where Aunt Norma kept her Depression glass. Saucers and plates, in warm, sweet shades of pink and green, that looked cold somehow in her colorless hands.
Bolin said they went out to his truck. We were…you know…and he said that her eyes rolled back in her head. Passion, he thought, but then she went limp. Then she was still. Still in a way in a way he knew wasn’t right.
You look at the waves and walk down to the water. It swirls and you smile and it comes to your knees. Then a black manta ray juts out of those waves, and you wonder what else might be there you can't see.
It rained like hell the day of the funeral. We wore black and we stood under black umbrellas.
Drunk, confused, Bolin said that he panicked. I believe that he did and it doesn't explain...but the older I get, the less difference it makes. The sun was out. There were white northern pines. She was headless, and smooth, like Myrna's old Barbie; it was warm and the sky was a kindergarten blue. It was a beautiful day when Aunt Norma died.