The cardboard box is small, no wider than the width of my palm, and no taller, its lid a faded paisley print in blue, its edges yellowed from the passing years. Every time I look at it, which is not often—I keep it in a roll-top desk I rarely use—I think of my Aunt Louise.
She pulls up next to me in her car, a maroon Hudson Hornet badly in need of a new muffler, and leans her head out the window. “Where you goin’, handsome?” she teases.
I can feel my face turning red, something that happened frequently when I was twelve, and Aunt Louise takes great delight in it. “Down to the woods,” I stammer.
“Meetin’ some girl, are you?” she says with a wink.
She is wearing a yellow gingham dress cut deep down the front to reveal the half-moons of her breasts, and the dress is hiked up over her thighs, I guess to give her a better view of the brake and the clutch. But the view it gives me makes me blush even more. She catches me looking and laughs.
“Well now, you think her legs are better than mine?” She pulls the dress even higher and shakes it like a cancan girl.
Impossibly, my face reddens further. “No, ma’am. I mean I’m not meeting a girl.”
“No, just some of the guys. We’re going to build a fort.”
“Wouldn’t you rather take a ride with your Aunt Louise?”
I don’t remember what I said to that. All I remember is the way she leered at me and the way she said “ride,” like something else was intended.
Years later, when my mother died, I found the little box stuffed in the back of my mother’s closet. My mother never talked much about her sister, Louise, but when she did, her tone was always angry, and the anger was always directed at my father.
“Why don’t you ask your father about Louise,” she’d say. My father would always look away and leave the room.
So now I am the keeper of Aunt Louise’s ashes. I have thought many times of spreading her ashes here or there, but I don’t really know how she’d feel about it. I don’t know what her wishes would be. But maybe that’s okay. Maybe having her come alive every now and then is good for both of us.