by Mary Thompson

‘Shall we play a game?’ said Auntie Brenda, hoisting up her skirt and sticking a ridiculous flower between her teeth.

‘Typical Auntie Brenda,’ whispered Mum. ‘The poor, poor lady.’

She sent us funny birthday presents. Silver-plated spoons, turquoise giraffes or tiny cocktail sausages, wrapped up in foil. ‘Shush, the little piggies are sleeping,’ she wrote on the label.

She sent me letters, addressed to The World, The Universe, Infinity.

‘Mad as a box of frogs, that one,’ said Dad. But up till then, I hadn’t thought of the world as being anywhere bigger than our little cosy home in a small village in the Scottish borders. Auntie Brenda made me realise there was so much more than that.

But sometimes she wouldn’t see us when we went to visit.

‘She’s not available at the moment,’ Uncle Jim would say, yet we could hear her. Jumping and singing and bounding around upstairs to ‘Puppet on a String‘ or ‘She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah.’

Other times she’d appear, clad head to toe in tartan and launch into a never-ending Scottish jig. She had a penchant for India and on occasion, she’d take herself off there where she’d volunteer in an orphanage, then pop up at some random family do months later.

The day Auntie Brenda hung herself, I was strolling on the Yorkshire Moors where the sky seemed limitless and any damn thing seemed possible. It was one of those crisp winter mornings a few days before Christmas. My husband had recently left me after his latest affair and I was clearing my head with tears, walks and copious bottles of wine.

‘She’s finally gone,’ said Mum on the phone. ‘The poor, poor lady.’

‘That’s so sad,’ I said. But as I looked up, beyond the trees, beyond the sky, I swore I could see her loitering by an elaborately decorated Christmas tree, smiling and mouthing, ‘You go, girl, the world is truly your oyster now.’

Mary Thompson works as an Academic English tutor in London. She is a recent winner of two BIFFY 50 awards. (Best British & Irish Flash Fiction 2018-2019) and has just been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her work has been published in various places, including Ellipsis ZineRetreat West, Ghost Parachute, Literary Orphans, New Flash Fiction Review, Pidgeonholes, Elephants Never and MoonPark Review, and is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel.