General Fiction posted June 12, 2019


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A short story about wrong moves

My Family

by Jerome Goldberg

I am in my mid-thirties and I have never heard my Aunt Ethel talk to her younger sister, my Aunt Greta.

They are both college educated, successful and socially adept woman. They come from a stable upper class, sophisticated family. Their father was a respected neurosurgeon and their mother was a full professor of Elizabethan Literature. Both are loved by everyone in the family. But, at family events there is a palpable tension.

Generally they make a point of never being in the same room with each other; however, at an event like a wedding where the festivities are in a large ball room, it can get very tacky. If you were to stand on a balcony overlooking the party, it would look like two hurricanes coming together. On one side would be a circle of people with Aunt Ethel at the epi-center and on the other side a circle of people with Aunt Greta at the center. Occasionally a few people would migrate back and forth.

Fortunately our family is scattered over a five state area and Ethel and Greta live about five hundred miles apart. So except for major events like Weddings and Funerals there is little interaction.

I have often wondered what caused this enormous rift that had lasted so long between two seemingly lovely older women. After many futile attempts to learn what happened from my parents and older cousins, I gave up and accepted it as it was.

Then, in January, Uncle Herman died. The funeral was to be held in Chicago and the interment was to be in a rural cemetery about twenty miles North of Chicago. I immediately flew to Chicago, rented a car, checked into a hotel, presented my condolences to Aunt Fanny, Herman's wife, and offered my services.

Since many people who live in large cities with good public transportation do not own cars, I was asked to drive Aunt Ethel, Uncle Abe and Aunt Ann from the Truth of Zion Funeral Home to the Everlasting Life Cemetery and then to Aunt Fanny's house.

Aunt Ann was in her eighties and had denied death. Since she had turned seventy, she refused to go to funerals or wakes or anything else that was in anyway related to death. Based on the below freezing January temperature and the gusty wind, Uncle Abe decided to go directly to Aunt Fanny's. So it was just me and Aunt Ethel in the car as we went the twenty miles to the cemetery.

During the drive, we were both lost in our own thoughts about Uncle Herman and other departed members of the Family. We each ruminated over the past, the present and the future. There was not much to say and it was a comfortable silence.
The interment service was eloquent and emotional. For a moment we forgot about the sub-freezing wind chills and, wished Herman well, searched our souls for comfort and prayed for the will to go on and to honor his memory.

We returned to the car, started the engine and turned on the heater. After a while, I felt my toes. We drove in silence, each of us dealing with memories and emotions. As the distance from the cemetery increased and the heat permeated our bodies we relaxed and began to talk.
Perhaps foolishly, I asked Aunt Ethel what had happened between her and Aunt Greta. There was a long silence. Then she cleared her throat and began to speak.

"I am about a year older than Greta and we were more like twins then just sisters. We loved each other and did everything together. We shared our dreams and our aspirations. We liked the same games and the same movies. We both liked mushroom and onion pizza. We grew up in a wonderful, loving and supportive home. We had many friends and everything, and I mean everything, was good.

In High School, although a year apart, we did everything together. We were both on the debate team, we were both cheer-leaders, we were both on the tennis team and we were both madly in love with Tony Antonelli.

Tony was a hunk! Tall, dark and handsome. He was, to us, the Tony from West Side Story and each of us dreamed of being his Maria. At lunch we always sat at a table where we could watch him. Whenever we got up to get something we walked right in front of him. We made up excuses to talk to him. But usually we lost our nerve and ran back to our table and giggled out of embarrassment. Sometimes we giggled so hard that we became hysterical. It was exciting and wonderful. But Tony was a year older and graduated."

That's a great story but what does that have to do with why you don't talk to each other?
Silence.

"Well, after I graduated from High School, I went to Vassar. One afternoon during my junior year, while walking to the Vassar Library, I saw Tony. He looked better than ever. I waved and he walked over. He was wearing a denim work shirt and tight jeans. Yum! Yum!
We reminisced a little about High School and he explained that he was at Vassar to visit his girlfriend. I coyly asked him why he never called me back in High School and he told me that he had asked Greta if I liked him and she had said no. Then he had dropped by our house one day to see me and Greta had said that I was not home and that I should stop wasting my time because Ethel only dated boys who drove expensive cars.

I was furious with Greta! I wanted to call and yell at her; but, I decided that I would wait till we were both home so that I could see her face when I confronted her.
At the end of the semester, when we were both home, Greta was as cold as a dead fish. Neither of us seemed to want to talk to the other so we kept all are conversations short and totally functional. Since Mom was battling Cancer and losing, the chill between us was ignored and just festered. It has been a long time and I think that I could forgive her if she just fessed up and apologized but she just walks around with her nose up in the air."

So there it was! I had somehow become the only one in the family who knew the cause of the great divide that haunted every family gathering. Now that I knew what should I do?

We got back to Aunt Fanny's and had something to eat and a shot or two of something to calm our souls. As the evening wore down, I was again asked to play chauffer. I made three trips to the hotel. On the first two the car was full but on the last, as fate would have it, it was just Aunt Greta and me. Now, I know that it had been a very long and very emotional day and we were both tired but I could not stop myself. I asked Aunt Greta what had happened.

There was silence and then she started to speak.

"You know we really don't hate each other, we just don't talk."

Another long silence.

"I am about a year younger than your Aunt Ethel and we were more like twins then just sisters. We loved each other and did everything together. We shared our dreams and our aspirations. We liked the same games and the same movies. We both liked mushroom and onion pizza. We grew up in a wonderful, loving and supportive home. We had many friends and everything, and I mean everything, was good.

In High School, although a year apart, we did everything together. We were both on the debate team, we were both cheer-leaders, we were both on the tennis team and we were both madly in love, as only teenagers can be, with Tony Antonelli.

Tony was a hunk! Tall, dark and handsome. He was, to us, the Tony from West Side Story and each of us dreamed of being his Maria. At lunch we always sat at a table where we could watch him. Whenever we got up to get something we walked right in front of him. We made up excuses to talk to him. But usually we lost our nerve and ran back to our table and giggled out of embarrassment. Sometimes we giggled so hard that we became hysterical, which is a nice way of saying we laughed so hard that wet our pants. It was exciting and wonderful. But Tony was older and graduated."

That's a great story but what does that have to do with why you don't talk to each other?
Silence.

"Well, after I graduated from High School, I went to Mount Saint Mary. One afternoon during my sophomore year, while walking to the book store, I saw Tony. He looked better than ever. I waved and he walked over. He was wearing a dirty denim work shirt and very tight jeans. Yum! Yum! Although I was still a virgin, I was definitely thinking lecherous thoughts.
We reminisced a little about High School and he explained that he was at the Mount to visit his girlfriend. I asked him if he had ever thought about dating me back in High School and he told me that he had asked Ethel if I liked him and she had said don't waste your time, Greta only dates boys who are on the varsity football team.

I was furious with Ethel! I wanted to call and yell at her; but, I decided that I would wait till we were both home so that I could see her face when I confronted her.

At the end of the semester, when we were both home, she was as cold as a dead fish. Neither of us seemed to want to talk to the other so we kept all are conversations short and totally functional. Since Mom was battling Cancer and losing, the chill between us was ignored and just festered. It has been a long time and I think that I could forgive her if she just fessed up and apologized but she just walks around with her nose up in the air and a stick up her ass."

Oh my goodness! It was almost the exact same story! What should I say? What should I do? Who could I confide in or get help from? Who and where the hell was Tony? I needed a stiff drink and a good night's sleep.

The next day, as everybody rushed to catch their planes and trains, there were many perfunctory hugs and kisses but no substantive conversations. I returned to my home in Upstate New York at about 10:00 PM.

I had left home with a small suitcase and returned with a mountain of responsibility. Why had I asked those questions and what should I do with the answers? Could I get Ethel & Greta back together? Were they both telling the truth? How did Tony turn up at both colleges? The more I thought about it, the more I believed that Tony held the key.

I knew that he went to high school with my aunts and that he was a year or two older. So I was looking for a Tony Antonelli from Middletown who is between 62 -- 65 years old. And, would you believe, I found a carpenter in Middletown named Anthony Antonelli who had been in business for over 40 years.

Since, I wanted to add a screened-in porch on the side of my house, I tossed caution to the breeze and invited Mr. Antonelli to bid on the job.

The Ladies were right. Even at 65, he was tall, dark and handsome. He had excellent references and made a competitive bid. We signed a contract and he began work in the spring.

One night as he was nearing completion, I popped open two bottles of beer and went out to review his progress. He was doing a good job and we sat down to finish the beer and enjoy the sunset.

With just a little prodding, and another bottle of beer, we started talking about our growing up. He told me how his father had been a carpenter and he had learned the trade from him. How he had gone directly from school every day to work with his Dad. No time for sports. No money for cars or dating. And, even though he had good grades, not a chance in hell of going to College.

I mentioned that I had relatives in Middletown, Ethel and Greta. Oh yes he knew them.

"Beautiful girls but a bit giggly. He could not afford to date, especially not Doctors' Daughters but he always liked them even though they made fun of him and wet their pants laughing at him."

He said, "that he had run into them a few times while they were in college. He was embarrassed that he was just working construction on the campuses while they were attending these expensive schools so he made up wild stories about why he was on campus and why he had pretended not to notice when they paraded in front of him in their expensive, trendy clothes.
Glad I am not young and foolish anymore"

He finished his beer and packed up his tools.

One story, three different perspectives. Questions of knowing who to trust and how to communicate? Does maturity bring wisdom? Who knows?

Aunt Ethel and Aunt Greta, I hope that if you read this, perhaps that you will be able to again love each other, again do things together and again share your dreams and aspirations.




The Wrong Move writing prompt entry
Writing Prompt
Write a story where your character made the wrong choice and must deal with the repercussions.


This story is fictional
Pays one point and 2 member cents.


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