My Aunties took me to the Rose Garden, a tattered, sandy spot of paths and rusted signs which once identified shrubs and bushes that now overgrow the edges of the place. My mother’s sisters smelled of coffee and drugstore cologne. They had fuzz on their upper lips, lady-staches my Aunt Collie called them.
Though my aunties were blood and comforted me when I was with them they felt as far away as billboards on a hill — gathered cotton skirts, old purses, their manner of speaking in low cigarette tones, small felt hats with folded veils and pearl hatpins, This’ll put a man’s eye out, my Aunt Collie said, feigning a lunge.
After a single, slow turn around the Garden my aunties drove me back to their rambling shingle house. Oh, your mother, they said with a sad downturn of voice. Oh, your brother, what a handsome boy, how could he go like that?
In the upstairs den my aunties kept a dress mannequin moldable in shape and size made from wire hexagons ringed together, her pubus naked, untended. She lived in a closet with house dresses and an ironing board. At the hips she was bolted to a walnut stand with wheels.
I pulled her out and turned her shoulders to me. She was headless, armless, legless but seemed proud of purpose, fitted with blouses, ensembles, pinned and stretched, now naked, poised.
To soften the chafe and scratch I placed a tissue in the hole below her stomach and entered her. It was fast and complete. The stained tissue fell at my feet. I rolled her back into the closet and gently closed the door. She belonged to my aunties.
Bill Ratner is a 9-time winner of The Moth Story Slams, poetry and essays published in Chiron Review, Baltimore Review, Rattle Magazine’s Rattlecast, Pleiades, KYSO Flash, South Florida Poetry Journal, The Missouri Review Audio. Spoken-word performances featured on National Public Radio’s Good Food, The Business, and KCRW’s Strangers. billratner.com, @billratner