I liked the way Susie referred to her brother as “Taffy” for my sake. Mama used to do that for me, call people by the name I should be calling them, even Daddy. It made me feel good when adults did that, like they were
taking the time to step into my world. Aunt Lucy didn’t do that. Taffy was Denny to her, never anything else.
“I didn’t want to come here,” I confided. “I wanted to stay with Taffy. He told me I had to come because Aunt Lucy is family. He said family is important. If you go down to see him, he has to be nice about it. And if you take me with you, I’ll make him.”
“You will?” Susie said. “Well, that’s awful nice of you, Jennie. I’ll talk to Taffy about it. In the meantime,” she added, “take it easy on your Aunt Lucy. She was always the baby of the group. She’s not used to looking out for
anyone but herself. She’s trying her best.”
“I know,” I said. Susie tried hard to be understanding, and it made me feel guilty for giving Aunt Lucy a hard time. I wasn’t respecting my elders the way Mama and the Good Lord wanted me to. Tomorrow, Aunt Lucy was taking me to church, and I’d have to answer for it.
We went downstairs and played Scrabble in Aunt Lucy’s dance studio. Susie said it was best to play board games while lying on the floor, and the upstairs was decorated too proper to do the game justice. We grabbed a
couple of mats from the corner so we would stay comfortable.
“Don’t let these tiles scratch the floor,” Susie warned. “Your Aunt Lucy would have my head.”
I carefully put my seven tiles in the caddy. Susie let me go first since I was younger. I spelled out “Halo,” Susie returned with “Dash.”
“Do you remember Mr. Lutzen?” I asked as I pretended to stare at my letters looking for a word.
“Everyone who spends more than a couple days in Leifton knows Mr. Lutzen. Half the town works for him, including Taffy – and my Daddy before he moved to Chicago. The whole town would go under without him. What
made you ask about him?”
“Aunt Lucy hates him,” I told Susie. “She yelled at him when he talked to me after the funeral. But Mama always told me to respect him, that he was a very important man.”
“Your Mama was right,” Susie said. “So was your Aunt Lucy. Powerful people can always be dangerous. Remember that, Jennie.”
“Aunt Lucy sure was mad,” I said. “She went back to the farm and found her Daddy’s old cider. She got terribly sick. Taffy had to take care of her.”
“I’ll bet,” Susie said. “I remember that cider. Taffy and your Aunt Lucy got into it more than once. Your Mama and Daddy too.”
“Mama?” I asked.
“Your Mama wasn’t as restless as your Aunt Lucy, but she had her moments.”
“Did you get into the cider?” I asked.
“A little,” Susie admitted.
I thought back to the night where Taffy and I had found Aunt Lucy drunk off the cider. I tried to imagine Mama like that, and I couldn’t. I couldn’t imagine her losing her balance the way Aunt Lucy had. I couldn’t imagine her going after Daddy, or anyone else the way Aunt Lucy had gone after Taffy. I decided not to tell Susie that part. “It must’ve been pretty hard for Aunt Lucy to be nice to Mr. Lutzen. It sounds like everyone had to be nice.”
“Mr. Lutzen was nice enough when he wasn’t drinking – or even when he was as long as he wasn’t too far gone,” Susie told me. “Sometimes I would watch everybody in the house with my Daddy and the whole gang of men playing poker. Before your Aunt Lucy took an interest in Taffy, I had a heck of a time keeping her out of their hair. Of course Taffy did tease her something terrible. Poor little thing. You may not believe it, Jennie, but Taffy
knew how to be mean.”
I didn’t believe it. Taffy mean? Never. He barely got upset at a barn fly let alone people.
“Mama used to get nervous when I would hang out with Daddy and Taffy too much. She said if you spend too much time around men they think they’re entitled.”
Susie got up to stretch her legs and turned around. I could see her shoulder blades rise and steady themselves again before she released a deep breath.
“Neither your Daddy or my brother would ever think they were entitled to anything they didn’t bleed or sweat to earn.” Susie told me. “Your Mama should have known better. If a man’s going to think he’s entitled, he’s
going to think it no matter what you do.”
I hadn’t been scared so far with Susie, but I was starting to be. I wondered if Mama and Aunt Lucy ever got scared when she used to baby-sit.
“I’m sorry,” I said, but I didn’t know why. It seemed like somebody needed to put those words in the air.
Susie flipped my hair behind my shoulders.
“Don’t be sorry, Sweetie,” she said. “You haven’t done anything wrong. I could hear a bit of Taffy’s voice in hers, a family resemblance, and I missed him more than ever. “Your Mama took a lot of what happened when we were kids and added it up all wrong. She was right about there being a lot of scary people in the world. It’s fine to be careful, but you can’t stop loving people who are good in case they turn out bad. Your heart needs a chance to
Susie looked at me as if I was an injured raccoon on the side of the road, and I didn’t like it. We tried to get back into the game, but it didn’t work.
Susie reminded me I had church in the morning and suggested I climb into the tub. I agreed, and by the time I got out Aunt Lucy and Uncle Frank were back, and Susie was gone.
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