My Aunt Sue is coming to town with a friend also named Sue, and they want to get dinner. The other Sue and I are not wild about seafood, Aunt Sue texts. Can’t wait to see you! And to meet your friend Dee! Will she join us? I mark off Wednesday night for Aunt Sue and the other Sue. What’s this not being wild about seafood? I live in a coastal town famous for seafood. Sea-to-table. Doesn’t she know this? I don’t pick the battle. I strictly want to battle, actually. We decide on Italian. I email in to work, asking for Tuesday off. In my calendar I pencil in, Mental prep Re: Sue2. I list a few things underneath:
Let’s avoid talk of sexual orientation, okay?: The underlying discomfort of that Christmas Eve I blurted it out (excuse me, I’m gay) over clams and cinnamon-whiskeys. We all remember that Yuletide distress: Alan high-fiving me and saying nice, nice, finally, Ames, my parents just smiling and looking on, already having known for years, no doubt, and Aunt Sue quickly excusing herself, undeniably to vomit/call her therapist Doug Borden Wood/pray vigorously. She ignored me for several years after that (4).
No Catholicism: Aunt Sue and Jesus being strange bedfellows — what with her extramarital affairs, unresolved charges of corporate embezzlement, child out of wedlock, etc. But she feels forgiven. She told me I was going to hell when I was fifteen because I was on birth control for violent menstrual cramps. But sure. She’s forgiven.
Prep Dee: Dee and I read the text on a Sunday, still warmed by the morning’s unholy aubade. Dee laughs. “‘Friend?’ What, does she think I’m your roommate?” “I mean, you are.” “Roommate with benefits, then.” The Catholic Wall of Denial is high in AuntSueland. After my grandma voted for Obama, Aunt Sue sent out a lengthy email about how politics would from there on out an off-limits subject at family events. Offenders will be asked to leave.
Protect Dee: “Catholics get off on denying, don’t they?” Dee asks, nuzzling her nose between my shoulder blades. I say, “It’s not even that erotic. You’re not coming to this dinner. You’ll be halfway across the world by Tuesday, okay? Any flights to, say, Prague?” Dee says I’m needlessly worried. Tells me to calm down. “We all have an Aunt Sue. That’s my Aunt Theresa. Alcoholic psychopath. Kept buying birds and just letting them starve.”
Consider God, just for kicks: “I don’t want to talk about crazy aunts anymore.” Dee hunkers down between my legs. At this moment Aunt Sue is probably at mass, deeply entrenched. The church will have wonderfully high ceilings, just high enough to hold in all that duplicity. I think of all the perverts sitting next to her, the adulterers and frauds, the fathers that don’t know how to emotionally connect with their sons because of the unremovable stain of hetero-normative masculinity in their lives.
Dee worships differently. I feel something close to the holy spirit moving through me. In an effort to be respectful, I say amen.
To reiterate: avoid talk about The Unmentionable Night of Confession: Sometimes I imagine the conversation Aunt Sue had with The Guy Upstairs that Christmas Eve —
Aunt Sue: My niece is…gay.
Guy Upstairs: Hmm.
AS: Lord, give me strength.
GU: Did you tell her about Hell?
GU: Did you read the book?
GU: Did she read the book?
AS: Don’t make me laugh!
GU: Well, you have no choice.
AS: Tell me what to do.
GU: You act like it never happened. You deny ferociously. Deny deny deny. A fun little maxim I made up. This is my will.
AS: I will follow your will until the end.
GU: Oh, it’s my kid’s birthday tomorrow, light a candle or two, will you?
Who is the other Sue???: On Wednesday night we talk politely about jobs, kids, and strange weather patterns. Dee wears a slightly androgynous outfit which I can tell is giving Aunt Sue a bit of an aneurysm. We all order pasta except the other Sue gets shrimp linguine. Does Catholic hypocrisy know no bounds? Both Sues are wearing silver cross necklaces.
“And so how do the two of you know each other?” the other Sue asks.
“Roommates,” Dee and I answer at the same time.
“No kidding!” The other Sue is jovial. Her silver cross dangles dangerously close to her cleavage. Almost unholy. She beams at my Aunt Sue. “So are we!”
Emma Stough will graduate from College of Charleston with an MFA in Creative Writing in May 2019. She is a Midwestern fiction writer that enjoys speculative fiction, photography, and absolutely any kind of pasta. She has work forthcoming in Third Coast.
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