A Poor Aunt Story
People used to call my aunt
as someone romantic
who sees life through
pretending it’s all ideal
in a non-ideal world.
After some time, having a goodwill
or believing people are much nobler
in the heart than they actually show
no matter how cruel they behave,
is counted as folly.
She’s not gullible, my auntie,
and not that much of a romantic maybe,
but she’s someone who has lost
more fights than she’s won all lifelong
and doesn’t want to believe an existence
can be this painful and meaningless.
So, she wakes up before the sun
every morning and paints the town
to whatever color she desires
while the songs in minor keys cry
secretly in her lungs.
And who are we to judge her?
“Oh, is that the time again?” said the white cat named Mao, without raising her head. She was helplessly lying on a big, pink cushion. The pink of the cushion emphasized the white of her hair, making it easy to catch the quickened heaves of her tiny chest.
I’m afraid so, said a hooded, big shape, under the folds of a black cloak which nearly seemed liquid. It’s time to collect.
“How many have you collected so far?” asked Mao, tired.
Do you mean today? Let’s see, it is still very early in the morning. So far, it is one million one hundred thousand–
“No, no,” Mao interrupted. She stopped for a second to catch her breath. “I meant from me. How many of them have you collected from me over the years?”
Oh, said the cloaked shape before pausing for a second. This will be the ninth one.
“Ah,” said Mao, crestfallen. “I don’t have any safety nets left, then?”
I’m afraid not, said the shape, bringing its invisible hand to its invisible itchy nose to scratch it.
“Can’t you cut me some slack?” asked the cat with her loveliest voice. “After all, we go back nearly thirteen years. One can even say we’re old friends, right?”
I suppose so, said the shape, after quickly reflecting on her words. Though our perception of time differs greatly from each other.
“Yeah, I remember you saying that before,” replied Mao, now panting. “In any case, would you do me a favor and not collect this time? I’m not in that bad of health. I still can go on a couple of years, even three, if I finally start to eat that diet food the human keeps forcing me to eat. I can also exercise more. Exercise is beneficial for one’s health, isn’t it? I’ll be good as new in no time. What do you say, old friend?”
Your internal organs are shutting down as we speak.
“So what? That horrible dog-smelled doctor will fix them up again. I’ll be okay if you go now, collecting nothing.” She looked at the shape with her blue eyes pleading.
I’m sorry Miss Mao. There is nothing I can do but to collect it now, said the shape. The hood of its cloak was lowered as if it was looking at its invisible feet. It seemed genuinely sad.
“But I don’t want to go,” said Mao, twitching her whiskers with sorrow. “I still have so much to do. I’ve just met a tortoiseshell called Momo, and I want to lick his beautiful hair, rub my nose on his. I’ve been waiting for such a romance for the last couple of years. I can’t go now. I’m not ready.”
I’m really sorry, said the shape again. But it is your time. After what seemed like a moment’s hesitation, a golden pocket watch materialized where its hand was supposed to be. Here, I will let you see it for yourself since we are old friends.
The pocket watch held by an invisible hand floated in front of Mao’s now dull blue eyes and sparkled in the dimmed light of the night lamp. Mao tried to focus on but she couldn’t make sense of what she saw.
“I don’t understand what you’re showing me,” she said wearily.
It says you are ready, whether you accept it or not. You will see.
Mao closed her eyes with half-fatigue, half-acceptance. A moment later, she opened them to see the shape drawing a big scythe under the immense, black layers of its cloak. The scythe burned with a silver, otherworldly flame. Mao’s eyes widened with fear.
“Will it hurt?” she asked, trembling.
I’ve collected eight of your lives before. Have I ever hurt you? asked the shape. You know I’m light-handed.
“Yes, you are,” murmured Mao with closed eyes, as if she had found a bit of consolation. “Will there be any fish on the other side at least?” she asked, as her last breath slowly left her chest. A weird, high-pitched meow parted from her pale pink mouth for the last time.
Quadrillions of them, the shape said. Then, in a split moment before the swing of the scythe, it added, And the tortoiseshells are by the bucketload.
Thanks for reading! If you’d like to read more poetry from me, please check out my new poetry book ‘The Anguish of an Oyster’ here.
You can also check my website for more information.
Both gems. 🙂
What a wonderful story. Sad and uplifting at the same time.