The next morning, I drove the remaining three hours to Aunt Mary Lou’s house. She lived in a small sky blue split-level house surrounded by trees. I got there at ten and let myself in. “Hello!” I called.
Aunt Mary Lou waddled over with her cane. She’s almost 58, about fifty pounds overweight, and has a bad shoulder. She wore a black shirt that said “I See Dumb People” on it.
“Valerie!” she said, attempting to hug me without falling over. “How’s my favorite niece?”
“I’m your only niece,” I reminded her. “And I’m good. Uncle Oliver told me you needed some emotional support.”
“Like hell she does. She almost hanged herself last night!” Uncle Oliver, who was watching a crossword game show on TV, chimed in.
I gasped. “She did?!” I asked him.
“Yeah, she had the noose ready and everything. She was writing her suicide note when I caught her.”
“Ashley’s ghost told me to kill myself,” Aunt Mary Lou spilled.
“What?! That’s bullshit! Ashley would want you to be happy!” I said. “She’d also want you to move on. And on that note, let’s go clean out her room.”
A pained expression formed on her face. “No! That room is all I have left of her!”
“You have millions of pictures to remember her by; it’s not gonna kill you to get rid of all her stuff. You’ll probably even make enough money off of it to redecorate the house! It hasn’t been redecorated since 1998!”
“What we really need to do is move out of this joint,” Uncle Oliver butted in. “This place is cursed! Two children have died in this house!”
Back in 1979, the previous owners’ daughter had died of pneumonia at a very young age. Nineteen ninety-eight was the year Ashley had died.
Aunt Mary Lou grunted, and I took her hand and led her up to Ashley’s room. When I opened the door, I noticed the room was covered in dust, all from not being touched in fourteen years. There was a white four-poster bed and matching furniture. Toys and clothes were strewn all over the floor.
“Good God, this room is dusty!” I said. “And you haven’t picked it up once!”
“This was exactly the way it was when Ashley died,” she told me.
I mentally rolled my eyes. “I know. We need to clean this up. Let’s start by putting all the dirty clothes in the hamper…”
Aunt Mary Lou and I spent all day cleaning Ashley’s room and deciding what to keep and what to give away. In the end, we weeded out more than half of Ashley’s things. By the time we finally finished, it was time for dinner.
That night, I got a call from Uncle Oliver in the middle of the night. I rolled over and answered my phone. “Hello?”
“Valerie, Mary Lou’s dead,” he said.
Suddenly, I was wide awake. “What?! I thought I’d convinced her not to kill herself!”
I’d spent most of the evening trying to talk Aunt Mary Lou out of suicide.
“Well, I guess it didn’t work. She claimed she was going to the kitchen to get a midnight snack, but when I went down to check up on her a half hour later, she was on the floor with a knife in her chest. I’m sorry, Val. I know you loved her very much.”
“Well, how am I gonna tell Amber? She’s only two!”
“Just tell her when she’s old enough to understand. Chances are, she won’t remember this even happened.”
Uncle Oliver changed the subject. “Hey, I was looking up this One Direction and came across a picture of you with one of the members walking out of a restaurant.”
“Yeah, that was Niall. I ran into him on the way here, and we went on a date. He even kissed me afterwards!”
“Oh, that’s nice. Well, I better go. I can’t keep my eyes open.”