Image by Christine Renney
His mum’s aunt was going to be an embarrassment, this was clear to Robbie from the moment he set eyes on her. His dad pushed and his mum, taking his arm, pulled him into the living room where he stumbled to in front of her.
She didn’t fit, didn’t belong, not here. Why? He wondered, had she come back but no, she hadn’t come back. She had simply appeared as if from nowhere. It seemed to Robbie that she had stepped from out of the past, from some bygone era with her tweedy clothes and her pearls and her sprightly demeanour.
Oh yes, she was going to be an embarrassment, a big, big unavoidable embarrassment. He resented her for disrupting the very fabric of his Sunday. He was annoyed with his mum and his dad and his sister for acting up, for trying to talk posh. How, he asked himself, could this work? How could she come back? No, not back but how could she come here? If, in order to impress her, they were expected to act falsely, if they couldn’t be themselves.
‘How do you like your school?’ she asked.
‘It’s alright I suppose.’ Robbie mumbled.
‘Which is your favourite subject?’
‘English,’ he said, without thinking and regretted it instantly.
‘English? Really, that’s interesting.’
‘Robbie,’ his mum snapped, ‘don’t!’
‘Don’t be rude.’
‘Yes you are.’
‘Which sort of books do you like?’ his mum’s aunt, unperturbed, continued with her questions. ‘Tell me some of your favourites.’
‘I can’t; I don’t remember.’
‘Robbie,’ said his mother, ‘don’t be silly.’
‘ “Stig of the Dump”,’ he blurted, ‘ “White Fang”, “Catcher in the Rye”.’
‘”Stig of the Dump” I don’t know but Jack London and Salinger, their works I have read. Interesting, don’t you think?’
‘Is it? Why?’ Robbie said, but this time his mum was smiling.
‘We’ve read the same books, Robbie, despite the vast difference in our ages. We have both wallowed in the angst of Holden Caulfield and we have both ventured into Jack London’s bleak, beautiful terrain. Now don’t you think that’s interesting?’
‘Yeah, I suppose,’ Robbie admitted. ‘Can I go?’ he asked and his mum nodded yes, that he could go.
She stood out in their small town as Robbie had known she would. His mum’s aunt was too smart and far too proper. Avoiding her he watched from afar and had to admit that she was entirely at ease, that she hadn’t any difficulty adjusting to her new surroundings.
His mum said that she hadn’t ever really settled but had moved constantly throughout her life. Moving from city to backwater to city and back again. Boxing her possessions and transporting her antique furniture from house to house, time and time again.
Robbie wondered if she had decided to settle down at last. And if she had and she stayed here he suspected that she would begin to blend in. That as the years progressed she would stand out less and less.
‘Why now?’ he asked his mum.
‘I don’t know Robbie,’ she sighed. ‘We are her family, her only family, and she wants to be close to us. Is that so difficult to understand?’
‘But she hasn’t been interested in you and dad, or any of us, until now.’
‘She’s getting older, Robbie. Perhaps she wants to get to know us better before it’s too late.’
‘Yeah, right,’ he scowled.
‘How did you get to be so cynical?’ his mum paused. ‘I think that she’s lonely. I think that the answer is as simple as that. Why now? Because she’s lonely.’
It was bound to happen, inevitable in this little town, that they would collide. He was coming out of the newsagents on the High Street with his friend Martin. And there she was; standing in the door and blocking his way. Martin was breathing down his neck and when she stepped to one side he followed her so that his friend could get past. Martin stood out on the pavement and gazed in at them.
‘What are you doing with that rubbish?’ his mum’s aunt asked, looking down at his hands. He was clutching a can of Coke and a Mars Bar. He mumbled something about being hungry and thirsty and it struck Robbie that their relationship so far had consisted mostly of moments like this. He, standing in front of her awkward and uncomfortable, whilst she questioned him. Her questions were annoying and not worthy of his attention and yet, despite himself, he tried to answer.
‘Why don’t you put those away?’ she said. ‘Why don’t you and your friend come to my house and I’ll make you something to eat.’
‘Okay,’ he said.
‘Good,’ she smiled, ‘give me a half an hour or so.’
‘Okay,’ Robbie replied.
Turning, she called back, ‘I just have a few things to do first and then I’ll be ready to welcome you both.’
‘Who was that?’ Martin asked.
‘No-one, a relative. My mum’s aunt.’
‘No, my mum’s aunt.’
‘Your great-aunt then.’
‘Yeah, something like that.’
‘What did she want?’
‘Nothing,’ Robbie said, ‘come on, let’s go.’