Author: T. Francis Curran

People stand in the vestibule peering in, hoping to spot someone they know. Some enter, making that “am in the right room?” face. Some linger out there, pretending they are waiting for someone but sooner or later, everyone summons the courage and enters. Once inside, they pretty much know how to act; what to do and they blend in and disappear. Wallpaper. That’s all anyone really wants.

There’s an easel with a bunch of pictures pasted on it near one of the couches. It’s pathetic; the saddest thing you could imagine, as if no one had ever heard of a laptop. There aren’t even enough pictures to properly fill it. Somebody tried signing their name in the blank space, as if this was a birthday or a graduation party. They probably just panicked because you can only stand there for so long pretending to reminisce about good times that never happened or happened without you. After a while the line forming behind them nudges them along.
The Aunt Team finally showed up, the three of them, traveling together because there’s strength in numbers. They’re late, of course, and they hardly talked to anyone. Dad greeted them or acknowledged them anyway. He stood with them, shaking his head. They didn’t embrace or anything. The Aunts aren’t huggers.

When someone new arrived Dad excused himself, made his getaway. The Aunts scanned the room, looking for end seats so they wouldn’t have to climb all over other people to sit together. That’s what happens when you travel in groups. They finally gave up and wandered over to the embarrassing picture-board.

They didn’t address me but I did make out something about how I looked like my grandmother, their mother. It bothered me because they never say I looked like my father or my mother, which I do, each of them, a little. My mom more. Still, you had to feel sorry for the Aunts, looking at those pictures and not being in them. It was their own fault, they went everywhere together but never anywhere. Still, it must have been hard for them.
People started getting less uncomfortable. They got louder and louder. A small crowd by the door was laughing. It was too noisy to make out what anyone was saying but it wasn’t just that. I felt my peripheral vision was fading, my hearing too. That happens to me in crowds. It had been happening for a little while but now it felt like the process was speeding up. I felt cold and, for the first time, I felt scared. Like I was shrinking as the crowd got bigger.

I thought one of my safe thoughts, the one about falling asleep in the car when I was little. My father driving; the windows up; the doors locked. Me, cozy, wrapped up in a blanket in my car seat, serenaded to sleep by my parents’ chatter. Too little to know anything except trust. But that memory kept fading, changing to a different night. They thought I was asleep. They were fighting. Their voices scared me with a fear that had mass, density that pressed on me, enwrapping me.
Soon I sensed a claustrophobic deafness descending upon me. I felt a breathless muteness that I tried in vain to scream away. I peeked around the room. No one was looking at me. No one had heard. Then I saw a glimpse of my dad, he was crying but the Aunts were with him, consoling him, embracing him. It was brief but for that moment, I felt warm.