Pennies

Pennies

When my Great Aunt Lordes died she hadn’t left her bed in 40 years. My mom used to tell me in whispers that she had a skin problem that made her look “scary” and made her feel ashamed so she just stopped going out one day. I understand her shame when I pictured her how I knew her; clawed, spotted hands tugging at the blankets, fiddling with the remote, clumsily petting her many cats. Her eyes seemed to be in a constant battle to stay open, sunken deep into a rosaceous berry of a face. “Come give Lordes a kiss,” she would say as she slowly leaned away from the bed frame, welcoming her nieces in.


My mom brought my sister, Sabrina and I to visit her a couple of times a year. Each time I would sit in the pine-scented cab, pulling excitedly at my itchy tights. Sabrina sat beside me, pushing songs out of her chubby cheeks. We knew what to expect, we had done this before: in a way, a visit to Lordes’ house was similar to a holiday, a gift-stuffed day to look forward to and a day to miss when the strange glory of it was over. At the door we were always greeted with a distinct and enchanting doorbell melody, etched with high notes and lows (to this day it will pop into my head hauntedly and unexpectedly). Upon entering, we were hit with an overwhelming smell of cat and everything pertaining to cats (litter, hairballs, cheap, chunky food). Immediately after the smell had settled, the multitudes of them would rush towards us and weave through our legs. Sheryl would usher us in. Sheryl was Lordes’ “partner” as my mom explained. It wasn’t until I was older that I would learn about my family’s hunch that Sheryl was in love with her, but at the time it just meant someone who stayed there in the dark house, taking care of my Aunt Lordes, who for unclear reasons needed taking care of.

Lordes, in essence, was a twisted version of Santa Claus. She showered me and Sabrina with seemingly endless
amounts of chocolate (“how about some chocolate syrup on that?) and perfectly wrapped gifts that sometimes towered over our heads, filled with barbies (as well as their jetplanes, cars, houses), clothing, purses, makeup and kits of all kinds. One visit I brought home a barbie equipped with rollerblades that would inspire me to set up a barbie shoe-store in my kitchen. Another time Sabrina wore purple lipstick for a week after we received makeup kits in a heart-shaped box. All of this was a virtual candyland, that I would later find out was all bought pre-our arrival by my able-bodied and successful grandfather.

Sabrina and I gobbled up this fairytale world. Sometimes when I sat there fastidiously opening my presents, I would watch Lordes’ face from the corner of my eye. Her distorted image smacked me back into reality. She smiled while Sabrina and I opened our gifts and it confused me. Did her joy come from our naivety? Did she love us? Or was it the deceit of being able to hide her miserable life behind objects that would seem magic to any innocent girls? I would picture myself lying on a similar bed later in my life and feel goosebumps raising on my arms and legs, panicked at the thought.

We would leave smelling of cats and wrapping paper, mouths smeared with sprinkles and chocolate sauce. Full of soda, I always stopped to pee before the long, nauseating cab ride home. The bathroom was home to the most fascinating toilet I had ever seen. Composed of the shiniest, most pristine pennies, laquered into place, it shone brighter than any other room in the house. It was a normal, fully-functioning toilet at first glance but there were pennies inside the resin of the seat and lid.  I would stand and stare, mesmerized at it’s impeccable order and cleanliness that posed such a juxtaposition to the dark hairball of the rest of the house. I’ve heard a theory that there are infinite universes, and in each one, for each decision that you make in the next universe you choose the alternate path. Basking in the luminescense of the toilet, I prayed, out of both shame and hope, that this theory might be true for Lordes. Each penny simulated a Lordes before her skin problem, alive, pumping with the same blood that runs through my veins, ready for the world just as I am but forever encasing herself in fear and embarrassment, simply waiting for somebody to notice her true glory. The image of myself assuming Lordes’ position would flash into my head once more and set me running outside to reassuringly gulp in fresh, fresh air.

Jane Drinkard, Age 17 Grade 12, Berkeley Carroll School, Silver Key

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