Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets Serious. Rowena Moves In, Part 2

Rowena Spreads Some Cheer

Fiction by S. D. Youngren



Rowena pulled up in front of her parent's house. Her sister's car was already there, next to the driveway. “It's so exciting,” her mother had said. “I haven't seen my Aunt Cissy for over thirty years.”

“Aunt Cissy?” Rowena had said. “The one Grandma won't talk about?”

“Don't you worry about your grandma. Aunt Cissy and Uncle Lambert are—are not getting along these days, and she's coming here to cheer up.”

“And . . . ?”

“And you're coming over, too,” her mother had said. “Saturday. And Sunday. Your dad's going away and your sister's coming over, so it'll be just us girls; won't that be fun?”

“Fun? I thought she needed cheering up.”

“Don't be like that,” her mother had said. “Aunt Cissy needs you.” And before Rowena could come up with a reply she added, “It'll be such fun. You'll like Aunt Cissy; she's so independent-minded and daring. When I was little she used to sneak me candy. And I'm told that when she was a teenager she went out and got her ears pierced when Grandpa—my Grandpa—told her not to! Just imagine!”

Rowena shut off the engine, hesitated just a bit before getting out of her car and walking up to her mother's door. She knocked, and after a moment a haggard-looking Maralynne appeared.

“Maralynne,” Rowena began, shocked. Maralynne moved to let her enter. Rowena hesitated, then stepped inside. Maralynne clutched her arm, as if needing support, and led her into the living room.

“Rowena, dear.” Their mother bustled forward, looking distressed. “This is Aunt Cissy.”

Rowena tried not to stare. “Hello, Aunt Cissy,” she said. Cissy, a fairly large woman with Technicolor makeup, an overly-skimpy dress, and an enormous mass of bright-yellow teased hair, swept towards her.

“Oh, look at you!” Aunt Cissy said. She held Rowena at arm's length, then gave her a big hug, then stepped back again and pinched her cheeks. “Look at you!” Cissy said. “Let's get some color in those cheeks. Babette, what have you been feeding this girl?”

“I hardly feed her anything any more, Aunt Cissy,” Rowena's mother said. “She doesn't live here now.”

“Moved out, did you? Of course you did.” Aunt Cissy regarded her again. “Married yet?”

Rowena took a breath. “No, Aunt Cissy.”

Aunt Cissy nodded. “Good for you,” she said. “Don't you go rushing into marriage. Hang onto your freedom.” She laughed, waggling a cautionary finger. “Hang onto your freedom.”

Rowena looked over at her mother, who was staring in shock. “I'm fine, Aunt Cissy,” Rowena said. “I'm not—rushing into anything.”

“No—no, she's not,” Rowena's mother managed. “She's been seeing the same young man for—for a very long time.”

“A long time, huh?” Cissy eyed Rowena shrewdly. “How old are you?”

“Old enough,” her mother said.

“I'm twenty-five,” said Rowena.

“And you've been dating this fellow for . . . ?”

“Over a year now.”

“Well. That's not so bad.” Cissy patted her cheek. “But mind what I said about freedom.”

“Yes, Aunt Cissy.”

“And don't you let anybody tell you what to do—no man, nobody.

“Yes, Aunt Cissy.”

Aunt Cissy nodded, satisfied. “And dress yourself up a little,” she said. “Get some color. Show some skin.” She pointed at Maralynne, though she could as easily have indicated herself; her splashy dress exposed her knobby knees and a good deal of aging breast. Aunt Cissy had apparently spent too much of her life with a dark suntan. “Be like your sister,” she emphasized. “Don't go moping around.”

If anybody could be accused at the moment of “moping around,” though, it was Maralynne. She stood against the wall, not looking at anybody, apparently not cheered by Aunt Cissy's using her as an example. “I'll see what I can do,” Rowena said.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

Rowena watched her mother grow more and more pale as the afternoon wore on. Aunt Cissy liked to use words that made her mother hyperventilate. At one point she managed to wheeze, “Now, Aunt Cissy!” but for the most part they left her entirely beyond speech. Rowena found herself trying gently to get her aunt to tone down her speech, but her efforts only got her a half-pitying, half-amused look and a “What, a big girl like you? Don't tell me you're still a virgin.”

Rowena distinctly heard her mother gasp, but she looked at her aunt, hoping that Cissy had not heard as well. “It's just—you know what they say, if you overuse those words, they lose their . . . effectiveness.” Though they were still pretty effective, Rowena thought, where her mother was concerned.

“Well,” Aunt Cissy said, “even if that's true, I'm too old to change. That's what I keep telling Kevin.” She lowered her voice just a little bit; a formality rather than an actual attempt at confidentiality. “He's got the cutest little ass,” she said. She brayed with laughter. “Not the brightest, but I didn't pick him for his brains.”

Rowena glanced at her mother, leaning stiffly against the wall, and wondered how long she'd be able to stand up. She was considering what she might do when Cissy demanded, “What's the matter with you, Babette? You look like you could use a drink. I know I could.”

“Ummm . . .” said Rowena's mother.

“Gimme a Scotch,” Cissy said, adding, “a person could die of thirst.”

Rowena's mother managed to gasp out something about not having any Scotch. “Out of Scotch?” cried Aunt Cissy. As far as Rowena knew, there had never been any Scotch in the house. “Well, how about a beer? You got any beer?

“It's Wilder's”

“Pah! He won't let anyone drink his beer?” Cissy shook her head in disbelief. “I wouldn't put up with that.” She shook her head again. “Not even if he had an ass like Kevin's.” She looked again at Rowena's mother. “You gonna get me that beer, or what?”

“I'll help,” Rowena offered. She took her mother by the elbow and steered her towards the refrigerator. She opened the door.

“Take it easy,” she told her mother in low tones. “She doesn't mean anything by it.”

“Ooooh,” her mother moaned. “I don't want you girls exposed to that.”

“If she really bugs you, throw her out.” Rowena did not for a moment believe her mother would or could do this. She located a beer, removed it, and closed the refrigerator door. “Mom, listen. Maralynne and I are grown up now. We're not that . . . susceptible.” She located a glass for the beer and remembered that she was thirsty. She regarded the inside of the refrigerator, pulled out a soda for herself, then one for her sister and one for their mother.

“You're my babies,” her mother said.

“Mom. I'm an adult. And so is Maralynne.” To herself she added, “More or less.” She pulled down three more glasses. “Don't worry about us.”

“I can't believe it,” her mother said. “Aunt Cissy . . .”

“Maybe this is why nobody in the family—”

“I can't believe she's in this family,” her mother said. “And I can't believe she's Aunt Cissy. She was so—so alive, back then. She was so pretty and lively—just in her twenties, when I was little—such a pretty smile—she had these high-heeled shoes; I couldn't wait, when I was a kid, to have shoes like that. So shiny, and such high heels. So glamorous! And she said I was her favorite niece!”

“Mom—”

“I wanted to walk like her, do everything like her . . .”

“Everybody looks up to somebody as a kid,” Rowena said. “It's—”

“And now look at her! An old lady! Carrying on like—like—”

Rowena filled the last of the glasses. “I think she's lonely,” she said.

“Rowena!”

“I mean, for—family. Friends—you know?” She held out two glasses of soda to her mother, who seemed not to realize that she was supposed to take them. “We'll get through this fine. And then she'll go home, or wherever, and—”

“In this family,” her mother said. Rowena raised the glasses a bit and she finally took hold of them.

“Now, let's go out there and be nice,” Rowena said. She picked up the other two glasses, went back out to the living room and smiled at her aunt.

“Here you go, Aunt Cissy.”

“Thank you, dear.” She accepted the glass, admired it a moment. “In a glass,” she said. “Wow. The VIP treatment. You got a highfalutin' establishment here.” She raised the glass with a “Salud!” and drank. But she brought the glass down immediately, her entire face twisted into a wince.

“Ugh! What is this shit?”

“That's my dad's beer,” Rowena said, and told her the brand name.

“Is that the only kind he drinks?”

“Yep.” Rowena took a good-sized sip of her own, safe beverage.

“Lord,” said Cissy. But she laughed and took another sip—more of a gulp, really—making not quite as sour a face as before. “You got anything drinkable here?”

“Nothing alcoholic.”

“Rowena!” cried her mother, coming suddenly to life. “Watch your language!”

Aunt Cissy brayed again, throwing back her head and exposing to Rowena the salt-and-pepper roots of her otherwise yellow hair. “Babette,” she said, “you kill me. You just kill me.”

Kill?” said Rowena's mother. “Me?

Aunt Cissy laughed so hard she nearly choked. “Lord, Babette,” she said. “It's a figure of speech. Though for a minute, there . . .” She shook her head, still laughing, and patted herself on the chest. “Babette, Babette, Babette.”

For a moment nobody said anything. Aunt Cissy didn't seem to notice. She took another swig of beer. “Vile,” she said cheerfully. “Utterly repulsive.” And she raised the glass again.

Rowena brought her own drink to the coffee table, where she found a photo album. A sudden movement made her look up; Maralynne, clutching her soda in both hands, turning to face into the wall. Rowena looked to her mother, who wore much the same expression of shock and horror that she'd been wearing since Rowena arrived—probably since Cissy arrived—and Cissy herself, still drinking. Rowena sat down, set her glass within reach, and brought her attention to the album.

And then she looked at her sister, and then at Cissy, and then briefly at her mother, and back at the album.

The young Cissy, at about Maralynne's age, was almost the image of Maralynne now.

Rowena stared at the pictures. The resemblance was striking; striking and unavoidable.

And she understood why Maralynne was so shocked.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“I tell you,” Aunt Cissy said, comfortably ensconced in Rowena's father's chair, clutching her fourth glass of Rowena's father's beer, “you gotta watch your men like a hawk. Like a hawk.” She took another gulp of beer. Nobody else said anything; nobody else had spoken for quite some time. “Why, I told Lambie the other day—Oh, Lambie.” She gulped more beer, remembering; Rowena wondered what Uncle Lambert thought of his nickname. “I told Lambie, any indi-cation he's spying on me or any of that—ANY of that—and—and—and I won't put up with it.” She nodded, emphatically. “Won't put up with it. And don't you, either.” She looked at Rowena; a lot of her remarks were addressed to Rowena, who was the only person who reliably answered. “Right?”

“Right.”

She turned suddenly to Maralynne. “What did you say your boyfriend does?”

“What?” said Maralynne, alarmed.

Cissy gave another loud laugh. “What's he do for a living, girl? He's got a job, hasn't he?”

“He—he's a computer programmer.”

“Computers, huh?” Cissy considered. “Does he know how to treat you?”

“He—”

“You got a picture of him?”

“No.”

“No?” asked Cissy. “You don't have a picture of him?”

“Not with me.”

Cissy looked at her a moment, then shrugged and turned to Rowena.

“What's yours do?”

“He works for an attorney,” Rowena said. “Clerical work and some research.”

“Law clerk, huh? Is he good to you?”

“Yes,” said Rowena. “He is.”

“Glad to hear it,” Aunt Cissy said. “You got a picture of him?”

“No,” Rowena lied. She didn't want any crude remarks made about Sammy, especially in front of her mother, and she didn't want to make Maralynne look negligent.

“No pictures? Neither of you?” Cissy shook her head. “Well, I just don't understand you young people today. Though maybe it's for the best; let them carry our pictures, huh?” She paused for another beer break. “Does yours carry your picture?” she asked Maralynne.

“Yes.”

“You sure? Have you checked?” More beer. “Go through his wallet next time he's asleep or in the can or whatever he does after you screw, and make sure.” Maralynne looked at her lap; Rowena supposed she'd already checked. She glanced next at her mother, who looked exactly as shocked as before; Rowena couldn't tell whether she'd even heard this last affront, or whether she could hear—or comprehend—anything at all.

Her aunt now turned to Rowena. “How about you?”

“I'm not going to look through his wallet, Aunt Cissy.”

But Cissy only laughed. “I'm joking, you two. Don't take everything so seriously.” She drained the beer, held the empty glass out to her hostess for refilling. “Let me tell you something, though,” she said to Rowena. “You gotta keep an eye on your man; you gotta know where you stand with him. You gotta stay alert; you can't just—Babette! Gimme some beer.”

Rowena's mother managed somehow to come forward, take the glass, and bear it away to the kitchen. Rowena wondered, for a moment, whether she would come back. “No,” Cissy said, “You gotta stay on top—so to speak.” She laughed immoderately, fell to hiccupping, and finally got some control over herself. “Information—that's the key.” She looked from Rowena to Maralynne. “I gotta know if Lambie will take me back,” she said. “I gotta know what to do. Either of you know of a good psychic around here?”

Rowena, somewhat alarmed, looked at her sister, who was standing even more stiffly than before. “No,” said Maralynne, a little too vehemently. “No, I don't.”

Cissy looked at Rowena, a bit fuzzily. “Me neither,” Rowena said.

“Too bad,” Cissy said. “I may be here a while.” She shook her head. “A Pisces gotta do what a Pisces gotta do,” she said, and laughed.

Rowena looked again at Maralynne, who seemed to have gone even paler. “Well, Aunt Cissy,” Rowena began, “what do you think of the area so far?”

Cissy shrugged. “I just got here,” she said. “A city's a city, you know? What I have to do is get out and meet people, you know what I mean? It's the people who make the city.” She raised her voice. “Babette! Babette! Where's my beer?

Rowena's mother reappeared with a full glass. “We only have two more,” she said, or managed to say. She gave the beer to her aunt, and went to stand against the wall, near Maralynne. “Two more,” Cissy said, and snorted. She took a swig, shaking her head.

“I was telling the girls,” she continued, “that wisdom—they need to know things. Experience. They should listen to mature women, like us. Us mature women—we know what's what, don't we?”

Rowena's mother wavered; apparently having her aunt lump them into the same age group was entirely too much for her. Rowena got up and caught hold of her, helped her onto the couch.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“So many ways a young girl can ruin her life,” Aunt Cissy mused. She looked at Rowena and Maralynne. “You're both using birth control, aren't you?” she asked. Rowena, who had been wanting to relieve herself but felt guilty about leaving her mother and sister, decided that she wouldn't wait after all.

“I'm fine,” she said. “Don't worry about me.” And she got up.

“Where are you going?” Aunt Cissy demanded.

“To the bathroom,” Rowena said.

“Well . . . when you gotta go, you gotta go.” And Aunt Cissy raised her glass.

“Me first!” cried Maralynne suddenly. Rowena stared as her sister, remarkably animated, leaped up and ran past her. She all but slammed the bathroom door behind her. Rowena stood awhile staring at the closed door. She wanted to tap on it and offer her sister some comfort, but wasn't at all sure what to say.

“I hope you can wait,” Cissy said, and laughed, as usual, too loudly. She waved at Rowena like a police officer directing traffic, beckoning her closer. “Come back here,” she said. Rowena came, dutifully. “Where was I,” Cissy began. “Oh, yes—babies. Well, a woman can't complain, especially when the kids turn out well, but as with everything else, there's a downside. Several, as usual. All the work, the messes, the worry . . .”

“It isn't that bad,” Rowena's mother managed to say. Rowena was sure this was to encourage the production of grandchildren rather than to state a personal opinion.

“And pregnancy itself. You know, I never quite got my old figure back. Never did. Looked good, but—not like before.” She shook her head, wistfully. “No, motherhood doesn't do much for a girl's figure.”

“Lots of women get their figures back,” Rowena's mother sounded desperate. Rowena felt her mother should just be grateful that Maralynne, much more easily swayed by such an argument, was safely out of earshot.

Some women,” Cissy said. “But I never did. I don't know that anybody in this family did.” She shook her head. “They talk about how beautiful motherhood is, but how many men will flirt with a pregnant woman? Hang onto your looks, I say.”

Rowena's mother made a whimpering noise; Rowena tried to think of some way to reassure her without provoking her aunt. “Well, some—”

“Oh, God!” Cissy said. “Look what I've done! Spilled beer all over my dress!” Rowena, who for a just moment had thought Cissy had finally noticed her hostess' state and was about to apologize, shut her eyes briefly before getting up and fetching paper towels from the kitchen. While Cissy mopped herself up, Rowena snuck off to the bathroom they weren't supposed to admit existed, off her parent's bedroom.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

Maralynne didn't come out of the hall bathroom until Cissy pounded on the door, threatening an accident. When she did emerge, she edged out, staring at her feet; she seemed relieved when Cissy dashed in and shut the door. Rowena guided Maralynne back to the living room, where their mother still sat.

“Don't let her get to you,” she said. “There's—there's one in every family. Okay? It doesn't mean anything.”

Maralynne hugged herself, not looking at her sister. “I—she's—she looked like me.

“That doesn't mean anything.”

“She looked like me! If I—if I end up—oh, God.”

“Maralynne—Maralynne, listen.”

And she's a Pisces!

“Maralynne, don't let that get to you. Listen; you have forty years or so to—”

In the bathroom, Cissy began singing, her own version of “Anchors Aweigh.” “Fare-well to college boys!” she roared. Maralynne hid her face. Rowena looked over at her mother, who sat flinching.

“Mom?”

“In this family,” her mother moaned. “Aunt Cissy.

“Mom—”

“When I was a little girl I wanted to be just like her! Just—” And she hid her face too.

“Aan-chors-a-waaaaay!”

Rowena took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“Here we all are,” said Cissy, indicating a group shot in her album. “That's your grandma there, my oldest sister; there's your Uncle Jerry and Aunt Ann. That one there is me.” She mused over the photo. “Look how serious Ann is! And your grandma—all she ever wanted to do was get married and have kids. She took care of all of us when she was young, and then she went and got some of her own to look after when she was grown up. And then grandchildren—no offense.”

“None taken,” said Rowena. Her grandmother had not exactly raised her anyway.

“What kind of life is that, though, just looking after other people? Never went anywhere, never saw anything, never did anything—just babies and a husband. Well, she doesn't have any babies now, but I expect she's just waiting for the next batch. And she's still never going to go anywhere or do anything.”

“Well . . .” Rowena said.

“I couldn't stand for that,” said Cissy. “Never.” She shook her head emphatically.

“Here's our dog we had when I was little,” she continued, bringing Rowena's attention back to the album. The dog in the picture was a long-eared, blotched mutt. “That's me holding him.”

“What was his name?” Rowena asked.

“His name,” Cissy said impressively, “was Pony.”

“Pony?” Rowena said. He wasn't a terribly big dog.

“My father named him that because your grandma was pestering him for a pony at the time. Had been for years, actually.”

“Oh, no.”

“He was like that, my father. In his old age he used to forecast the weather by his arthritis. You've heard of people doing that?” Rowena nodded. “Well, Father did that, until one day he predicted fine weather and we damn near had a flood. Hadn't rained like that for ages. Well, what does Father do but go to Dr. Getler and demand to have his joints tuned.” Rowena laughed. “He said, ‘This arthritis hasn't failed me for years. Fix it.’”

“What did the doctor do?”

“What could he do? He rubbed on a little liniment or something, thumped Father's knees with his mallet, and proclaimed the problem cured. And Father went right back to weather-predicting.”

Rowena laughed again. She looked over at her mother, who evidently was not amused. Maralynne was gone, having jerked to a sudden awareness and charged abruptly out of the house when she saw Cissy leave the bathroom.

Cissy turned another page. “Here I am with my friend Maude. We used to play hooky from school, go spend the day looking for boys. Father was livid, but he couldn't stop me. I liked boys better than school.” She laughed. “That Maude—her parents let her do whatever she wanted, let her run wild.” Cissy took a long swig of beer. “Here I am again, at my high school graduation—barely got through, but I did it. And I went and got a job so I'd have my own money. My father didn't think it was proper; he raised the roof. And then a little later I quit the job and he said that I was flighty. There was no pleasing that man, and it didn't take me long to quit tryin'. Actually, I don't know that I ever did try.” And she laughed again, loudly. Rowena didn't think this was funny. She looked at the picture of her graduating aunt, then at Cissy and Maude, smiling at the camera; two teenage girls with their lives ahead of them. “But the boys liked me just fine,” Cissy said now. “They sure did like me, back then.” She sighed. “I was a free spirit. And I had the looks. It was all I needed. I figured that'd take me anywhere, forever.” She sighed. “Forever's not as long as it used to be, when you're old.”

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“And there we are on our honeymoon,” Aunt Cissy said. Lambie, in the picture, looked proud and happy. “You'll never guess where we went.”

“Where?” asked Rowena. The photo gave her few clues.

“Cleveland,” said Aunt Cissy. And watching Rowena, she burst out laughing. “Well, we were wondering where to go; British Columbia, Mexico—all kinds of places. And then I said, ‘We'll be newlyweds; we'll be happy anywhere. Right?’ And for no better reason than that we went to Cleveland.” She laughed again, and Rowena joined in. “That, and the fact that neither of us had ever been there. Which was as good a reason as any, really.”

“I suppose.”

“We were crazy in those days,” Cissy said. “Not crazy, of course; young. We had no idea how young we were; nobody does, almost, at that age.”

Rowena regarded the picture. “Did you have a good time?”

“Of course.” Cissy turned the page, showed Rowena what appeared to be more honeymoon shots. “We were so young. And we'd go dancing, and all the other young men wanted to dance with me. I'd tell them I was a married woman, but I'd do it just a little flirtatiously, you know what I mean?” She smiled. “I can still turn a few heads,” she said. “When I can't do that any more, you can shovel me under, and I mean it. No point staying alive after you're done living.” She sat a moment in silence, staring at the album. “But I'll never be young like that again.”

“Well—”

“I was so beautiful,” Cissy said. “I looked like your sister. Did you notice how much I looked like your sister?”

Rowena glanced at her mother, whom she'd almost forgotten; she honestly couldn't tell whether her mother, who sat staring at her own lap, was listening.

“Yes,” Rowena said. “You looked a lot like her.”

“I was so beautiful,” Cissy said. “And I knew nobody else could . . . could fascinate Lambie; I knew no other woman was as fascinating. I couldn't cook or clean, but that couldn't possibly make any difference; I was . . . well, fascinating.

“Only after a while—after enough years—he just wasn't so fascinated. I had no reason to suspect him of anything; we just . . . we'd been married a long time. That's all.” She trailed off, turned another page in the album, and then another. “Do you understand?” she asked Rowena.

“I think so,” Rowena said.

Aunt Cissy nodded. “Good girl,” she said. “But it's a shame.” She regarded Rowena and her mother. “It's a shame what can happen to a good thing. To a marriage.” She stared into what was left of her last beer, but did not drink. “And still caring for somebody, and knowing he still cares for you, and he may be a little boring after all this time but he's basically good.” She heaved a deep sigh. “But there's no magic; there's no magic anywhere in your life, and you're getting old. You have everything you were ever supposed to want, everything you worked to get, and there's no magic anymore. And you don't know what to do and you end up messing with some young pip-squeak like Kevin even though it's not really what you need, but you know you want something; you have to have something. You have to.” She looked up from her beer, gazed at her audience. “Don't you let it take you by surprise,” she told Rowena. “Don't you let yourself get trapped. Don't trap yourself.”

“I'll try,” Rowena said. Her aunt regarded her.

“You're a bright girl, aren't you?” she asked. “I hope you're happy. I hope you have a good life.”

“Thank you,” Rowena said. “I'll see what I can do.”

“Nobody warned me,” Aunt Cissy said. She looked at Rowena's mother. “It's not too late for you, Babette,” she said. “Make sure you do something before you go.”

Kevin?” said Rowena's mother querulously. Cissy looked at her a moment, then drained her beer.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

Rowena woke the next morning with a feeling of dread. She had not slept well. Cissy had left soon after that last beer in search of a “night on the town,” but Rowena had stayed with her mother for some time, trying to calm her. She did not like to think of Cissy's driving in such a condition, but her mother was quite enough to worry about. She sighed, now, remembering how she'd ended up telling her mother—as gently as she could—that, yes, it looked to her as if Cissy were cheating on her husband, but that Lambie probably knew; that he'd apparently thrown Cissy out, despite what Cissy had originally said. “It may not even be the first time, Mom,” she'd said—utter madness, saying that to her mother. Rowena groaned.

Her mother and sister couldn't believe such a person could be related to them.

Rowena sometimes felt the same way about them.

She went into the kitchen and fixed herself a cup of tea. They'd heard all about Cissy's Admirers (past and present), Cissy's grandchildren, Cissy's opinion of Rowena's and Maralynne's jobs (compared to those of Cissy's own children, one of whom was a doctor, and one of whom had made “such good money!” as a stripper). Everything Cissy did, Cissy felt was the only thing to do and everything Cissy did drove Rowena's mother to despair. “You got a job doing what?” “What do you mean, your husband won't eat casseroles? I wouldn't put up with a husband like that!”

And as far as Rowena's mother was concerned, everything Cissy did served as a bad example for Rowena and Maralynne.

Rowena sipped her tea. Today she was supposed to go over and get herself dragged back into all that; the day after, she would go back to work, to begin what she was sure would be a very long week.

She tried not to think about it. She finished her tea, had some breakfast, took a shower, and tried not to think about Cissy and her mother.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

When she showed up at her mother's house, she found her mother and Maralynne in a state—though it wasn't quite the state she'd been expecting.

“Oh, Rowena! Did you get my message this morning?”

“Message?” asked Rowena. “No.”

“You'll never guess,” her mother said. “You'll never guess what happened to Aunt Cissy!”

“Never?” asked Maralynne archly.

Rowena glanced around the room, failed to find her aunt. “What?”

Her mother clasped her hands in front of herself. “Aunt Cissy got arrested last night for drunk driving.”

Remembering the state in which her aunt had left the house, Rowena was glad it wasn't worse. “Where is she now?” she asked.

“She got arrested! They locked her up! She was drunk! And she called Uncle Lambert to come and get her and he did.” Rowena's mother opened her eyes very wide. “And he took her to a motel and this morning they came and got her things and now they're on their way back home.”

“Oh,” Rowena said.

“He took her back!” her mother said. “After all that!”

“Well—” Rowena began.

I would never do that,” said Maralynne with satisfaction. “Driving drunk.”

Rowena looked at her. Somehow, she suspected that Maralynne already had done this, but she kept her mouth shut.

“And that hair of hers!”

“And that makeup.” Maralynne gave a fastidious shudder. “I don't see how she can.


Rowena wanted to say something.


“Imagine my calling your father ‘Lambie,’” their mother said. “Or, ‘Wildy,’ in his case.”

“Wildy!” Maralynne burst out laughing. “Wildy!”

“She dresses much too young,” Rowena's mother said. “At her age, it's a disgrace.” She shook her head. “You couldn't pay me,” she said.


To say that what Cissy was now didn't change what she'd been before.


Maralynne laughed again. “You don't suppose she really is a Pisces, do you?” she asked. “There musta been some weird conjunction or something goin' on when she was born.”


That Maralynne didn't have to end up the same way.


“Weird is right!” their mother said.

“And ordering people around like that,” Maralynne went on, clearly relieved at having been rescued from Fate. “I don't believe she's a Pisces. I bet she doesn't even know what she is.”

“Maybe she was born in-between or something,” their mother said.

“That is so pathetic, not even knowing what sign you are. How unaware can you get?


But she knew they wouldn't listen.


“Oh, well,” her mother said. “There's one in every family. Isn't that right, Rowena?”

“Right,” Rowena said.



_____________________________/


Next Story:
Rowena Gets Domestic

Rowena Moves In, Part 3

~ Table of contents to Volume II ~


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