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Teatime at Auntie Ethel's
By Debbie Sickler

Walking into Auntie Ethel's house, Kira's nostrils were typically assaulted with the pungent aroma of pine-cleaner and mothballs. Except for on Thursdays. Thursdays were their tea days. She could expect to be treated to the scent of fresh cookies and Earl Grey tea served in the prettiest teacups Ethel had collected over her seventy-plus years on this earth.

Kira couldn't get there fast enough this particular Thursday morning. Driving through her tears, she applied some lipstick at a stoplight. Stephen and she had exchanged horrible words before he'd gone to work. They seemed to be making a habit of that lately.

Ethel was finishing the preparations as her niece entered the kitchen. Kira pecked her on the cheek hello, before sitting at the table decorated with a gingham-checked tablecloth. She stared down at her lap, grateful her aunt's back was still turned.

"So dear, tell me. How is everything?" Setting the silver tray on the table, Ethel picked up a dainty teapot and began pouring. Kira helped herself to a few cookies and began nibbling. "You don't seem your usual chipper self today. Don't tell me Andy's been suspended from school again. That boy--"

"It's not Andy. He's actually been pretty quiet lately. Becka too. Guess they're trying to stay out of the way. Stephen and I haven't exactly been civil to each other lately." Kira blew across the surface of her tea as she began revealing the ugliness that had transpired only an hour ago. "Auntie Ethel, sometimes I don't think we're going to make it. He seems to be angry with me all the time. I-I'm not even sure he still loves me."

"And how do you feel about Stephen?"

Kira raised her eyes from her cup in uncertainty at her aunt's question. Ethel over-stirred her tea, waiting for a reply.

"I used to love him so much. I don't know what happened. We got so caught up in our jobs and the kids. That money-pit house of ours." Ethel leaned in as her niece spoke. "He started spending more and more time with his friends. Now we're so distant. Like we share a house and sometimes a bed, but not really our lives, you know?" Kira took a sip of tea, and then set her steaming cup down on a saucer.

"I know all too well, dear. Unfortunately, it seems to happen often in your generation. Just last week, Helen was telling me about the messy divorce her son's going through. Mamma taught me that failure wasn't an option when it comes to marriage."

"That's just it Auntie. I don't want it to end. I just don't know how to fix it. He barely even looks at me any more. Do you think breast augmentation would help him to notice me again?"

"Honey, do you think my boobies were touching my toes when Harvey met me?" Kira nearly choked at her aunt's uncharacteristically crass remark. "Of course not! He wouldn't have hung around long if they were, but that doesn't stop him from loving me now.

"You know, the other night, I found one of my flimsy, old nighties and put it on for a laugh. I acted like I was trying to seduce Harvey, and he surprised me. He lay down beside me and caressed my cheek so gently. Then he traced over every line on my wrinkled face. He stared into my eyes and told me that he loved every crease. He called them bookmarks for all the beautiful memories that he has been fortunate enough to share with me these last fifty-two years."

Kira was in awe of the love that was still evident in her aunt's eyes as she spoke of her husband. She tried to picture herself and Stephen at that age.

"Marriage is a commitment. It's a path you have chosen to walk together. Sometimes there will be blind turns or forks in the path that threaten to pull you in different directions. But you must hang on to each other. Hang on for your life, Kira. You need to make up your mind that you want him to walk by your side along the path of life, until the day you reach the streets of gold."

Kira slouched down in her chair and held her teacup close, contemplating her aunt's words. She had always cherished their tea times, but this was by far the best tea they had shared in quite a while.
Debbie Sickler, a stay at home mother of three boys, began writing about a year ago. She has had several short stories published and is currently working on her first screen play. If you would like to write to Debbie, you can do so through the Letters page of this magazine.