By Lisa Colburn
Heidi stood in the doorway, staring at Aunt Lila’s plastic face in the mirror. It wasn’t really her aunt. That was just what her daddy called these women who passed through their lives after Mama left.
First there was Aunt Evelyn, who had looked down at Heidi with icy blue eyes and said, “Well, what do we have here?” Then she had turned to Daddy and asked, “Is this yours, darling?” Only the word “darling” had nails in it, and Daddy had turned a little red and stammered, “Um, yes, this is my daughter, Heidi.” “I see,” said Aunt Evelyn, and those were her only words to or about Heidi until her departure three weeks later.
Aunt Donna was nice. She’d had soft brown curls and a warm smile, but Heidi had overheard Daddy telling Aunt Donna that plump looked good on a chicken, but it didn’t suit a woman. Aunt Donna had cried when she thought no one was listening, and it wasn’t long before she was gone, too, with a big slam of the front door.
Now there was Aunt Lila, who had the sly and canny look of a fox. Aunt Lila had cooed over Heidi when they met—“Oh, Fred, isn’t she darling!”—but her smile never made it all the way up to her eyes.
Tonight Daddy and Aunt Lila were stepping out. Daddy was wearing his smart charcoal suit and fedora, pacing downstairs while Aunt Lila dabbed one more blob of color onto an already obscenely red mouth. Aunt Lila blew herself a kiss in the mirror, but narrowed her eyes when she saw Heidi in the doorway behind her, clutching her doll.
“Yes?” Aunt Lila asked, dangerously. “It’s not polite to sneak up on people, you know.”
“I know,” Heidi said. “I wasn’t sneaking. I just wondered who was in Mama’s room.”
Aunt Lila whirled around. “Whose room?”
“Mama’s,” Heidi said, though her lip trembled.
“Your mama’s never coming back, you know. Your daddy told me she left because of you. You’re a bad little girl.”
“You’re a liar!” Heidi shrieked, though hot tears sprang to her eyes. “Mama loves me! She does!”
Aunt Lila turned back to the mirror with a glimmer of a satisfied smile. But her face froze as the mirror reflected Fred’s grim stare. He stood in the doorway, his hand on Heidi’s shoulder.
“Oh, hello darling! I didn’t see you there!” Aunt Lila sang, though her voice faltered.
“Evidently,” Fred said. Looking down at Heidi, he said, “Why don’t you go downstairs now? Aunt Lila and I need to have a grown-up talk.”
Red-faced and sniffling, Heidi turned away and started down the stairs, dragging her feet just a little. She heard Daddy say, “I haven’t been fair.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that, darling,” Aunt Lila replied.
“No, I don’t think you understand,” Daddy said. “I haven’t been fair to Heidi.”
Brightening, Heidi continued down the stairs and went to the kitchen to pour a glass of cold milk. Aunt Lila would be gone by morning.
This is Lisa Colburn’s first submission to the Modern Retro Woman Short Short Story weekend feature. Welcome! Lisa lives and writes in Leesburg, Virginia. A certified Amherst Writers & Artists facilitator, she leads creative writing workshops and retreats in Northern Virginia and Maryland. You can find her at www.marketstreetwriters.com.
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