Aunt Mary

By Andrew C. MacRae

Every family has an Aunt Mary, or so it seems. My Aunt Mary drifted in and out of my life a half dozen times as I grew from a small boy into my teen years. She moved about the country, picking up and moving at random every few years, acquiring and jettisoning husbands along the way. Every so often and without warning she arrived in our little town, filling our arms with exotic gifts and the kitchen with amazing stories. The next few days would be filled with a frenzy of activity as Aunt Mary took us shopping, to the movies and the soda fountain, all the while telling us stories of her latest adventures.

As I grew older I began to wonder about those stories and one day, on one of her last visits I confronted her with a contradiction between one story and the next.

"Why Paulie," she answered without hesitation. "Sometimes I tell little fibs, that's all. It's just the way I am." She said this with such charming openness that I simply accepted it and happily went on listening to her stories.

After a few days Aunt Mary would leave just as quickly as she arrived, trailing astonishment in her wake and our house would return to its normal, staid routine. But as I grew older so did she and her visits became less and less frequent. She stopped her wandering and bought a small farm in a western state from which she was loath to travel. The last time I saw her was a dozen years ago, at my father's funeral. We exchanged Christmas cards and gifts and an occasional telephone call, but that was the limit of our relationship.

When I discovered my next business trip would take me within a couple of hours drive of Aunt Mary's farm I resolved to go visit her and see how she was doing. It would be a short visit, as I needed to be on the other side of the country the next day. I checked out of my hotel in the city early in the morning and began the drive out to Aunt Mary's farm.

It was a pleasant drive through rolling hills and farmlands. The smell of cows and crops came in through my open window and the sun shone on green fields and pastures. I began to wonder if I could give up the insane rat race of my life in the city and find a home in the country like Aunt Mary.

From the interstate I turned onto a state highway and then drove along a county road until I reached Aunt Mary's driveway where a battered mailbox displayed her name in hand-painted whitewashed letters. Her driveway's rutted gravel surface made me inch my way for fear of damaging the rental car.

She must have heard my car as I approached her house because she came out onto the porch, looking much like she always did, only older. Her long black hair was now silver white. She wore a long, country-style dress with a pale blue apron. She carried something and as I pulled to a stop I realized Aunt Mary held a shotgun propped on her hip. I opened my car door and slowly got out, facing her from about twenty feet away.

"Aunt Mary?" I called. "It's me, Paul, your nephew." Mary squinted in the late morning sun.

"Paulie? Is that really you?" She squinted again and a moment later laid her shotgun down on the porch and hurried over to me. "Why, so it is," she exclaimed. "I hardly recognize you, you've grown so much."

I suspected it was my aging from eighteen to thirty in the years since we last met that provided the most change, not my gaining any height, but decided against saying anything. Mary gave me a big, strong hug, then stood back at arms length and looked me over. "My, you're all grown up now, aren't you Paulie?" She hadn't lost her touch of making me feel like a little boy.

"I've kind of outgrown Paulie, Aunt Mary," I said. "People call me Paul, now."

"I'm certain they do, Paulie," she said with approval. "Well, come on in. You're just in time for lunch." I followed her to the porch where she retrieved her shotgun. "How long can you stay?"

I eyed the shotgun. Its barrel was long and black. The stock was made of dark wood with rubber grips at the end and it looked lethal. Aunt Mary seemed quite at home with it, laying it against one shoulder as she opened the screen door for me. I was fascinated by the sight of it.

"Paulie? I asked how long you can stay." Aunt Mary seemed amused by my open stare at her shotgun and she made a point of placing it out of sight, behind the open front door. With that done, she led the way back to the kitchen. I caught a glimpse of a traditional looking parlor and dining room along the way. We emerged from the hallway into a classic country kitchen with large windows facing the back.

"I can only stay a couple of hours. I have to catch a late afternoon plane."

"That's a shame. I was hoping you could spend the night."

"I would if I could, but there's a meeting tomorrow morning I have to get to."

"Well, then we'll just have to make the most of what time you have." Having settled that, Aunt Mary bustled about, setting out the makings for sandwiches. I would have helped but she waved me to a chair at the table. I looked around. Hers was a nice, comfortable kitchen, one where a person could happily spend much of their day.

"Aunt Mary?"

"Yes, Paulie?" She asked as she poured lemonade from a glass pitcher she took from an old-fashioned refrigerator.

"About that shotgun..."

"Oh, don't worry about that. It's not loaded. It hasn't been cleaned in so long it probably wouldn't fire anyway."

"But do you always greet people with a shotgun?"

"Heaven's no! It's just when a strange car pulls up that I get a little worried, that's all. We get people from the city sometimes who don't have much respect for a person's privacy. Usually the sight of that old shotgun teaches them some manners."

I didn't think the shotgun looked all that old but didn't say anything, willing to drop the subject.

We spent the next hour eating and catching up on news of our extended family and old friends. After a while I got up and stretched, then went to the refrigerator and poured another glass of lemonade. I stood and sipped from the glass and looked out the windows. The fields behind Aunt Mary's house were well tended and growing a hearty crop of tall, green plants, though there was a small patch of freshly tilled dark, wet soil near the house. The crop was a lush green and taller than a man's head and filled my view. They looked strong and healthy, all in neat rows and their broad, serrated leaves caught the nourishing rays of the sun. A light breeze made them move as one in a gentle, dance-like motion. I sipped my lemonade and took a closer look.

"Aunt Mary," I said, still looking out the window.

"Yes, Paulie?"

I tried to keep my voice light. "Those are marijuana plants, aren't they?"

"Yes, Paulie, they are."

"Looks like quite a lot of them"

"Oh, only an acre or so," came her reply. I turned to face Aunt Mary. She avoided my eyes, taking a sudden interest in the red and white checkerboard design of the tablecloth.

"Aunt Mary, you're running a pot farm?"

She looked up at me with a smile. "Just a small one, dear. And it's for a good cause."

I was having trouble keeping my voice calm. "What cause?"

"I'm part of a cooperative of growers. We supply medical marijuana clinics in the city."

I came over to the table and sat opposite Aunt Mary. I took her hand in mine. Her fingers were much stronger than I expected. "You do know you could go to jail, don't you?"

"Oh, I don't worry too much about that. Rusty Weaver, the sheriff, is an old friend and he knows it's for a good cause."

"What about the feds? They're not too keen on medical marijuana."

"They stay away, too. They don't want to bring a little old lady into court. The press would have a field day." She put her other hand over mine. "Really, Paulie, there's nothing to worry about."

I thought about the shotgun with which she had greeted me. "Nothing?"

"Nothing I can't handle."

As if on cue, a quiet beeping sound began. I looked around for a microwave oven but didn't see one. A small blinking light on a panel near the pantry door caught my eye. Aunt Mary was already rising from her chair and heading into the hall. I got up and followed her. She took the shotgun from behind the front door, and holding it behind her back, opened the screen door and stepped out onto the porch with me right behind.

A trail of dust marked the approach of a car coming down her driveway. It came fast, hitting the ruts and bouncing, then slid to a stop not far from my rented car. The car, big and black, had tinted side windows. Through the windshield I could see two men in the front seat, the driver and a passenger. The engine turned off and a radio antenna slipped down and into the hood with a quiet whine. Both the driver's door and the front passenger door opened at the same time and the men got out. They were similar enough to be brothers, about my height but stockier and each with jet black hair brushed straight back. They wore sunglasses and dark suits and their shoes shone. The driver came around the car and stood with his partner, facing the porch where Aunt Mary and I stood.

"Can I help you?" asked Mary in a flat voice. She kept the shotgun out of sight behind her back and long dress.

"You got something we want, lady," said the driver. "We're here to arrange its delivery."

"There's nothing here for you," answered Aunt Mary. "Now you gentlemen have just thirty seconds to get off my land." The driver looked over at his companion then back at us. "Lady, you don't know who you're dealing with, do you?"

"I told you to get off my land."

Neither of the men said anything. Their car's engine made loud ticking sounds as it cooled. I decided it was time for me to try to defuse the situation. "Look," I said. "We don't want any trouble." The driver looked at me in an appraising way.

"Maybe you and I should talk," he said. "Come over here."

"Paulie," warned Aunt Mary.

"Don't worry," I answered as I moved down the porch steps. "I know what I'm doing." Inside my head a voice was screaming at me to go back up the steps. I hadn't the slightest idea what I was doing. I walked up to the driver. He moved to one side and I followed.

"It's like this," he said in a low voice. I leaned closer.

I never saw it coming. His fist caught me in my stomach, knocked the air right out of me and I fell to the ground gasping. The gravel of the driveway stung as it dug into my cheek.

"Now, lady," I heard the driver say in a calm voice as he stepped away from where I lay.

The next thing I heard was the sound of the shotgun being cocked and a second later an enormous blast filled the air. In the distance I heard the caws of startled crows. The sound of the shotgun cocking again made me sit up and look.

Aunt Mary was standing with the shotgun to her shoulder. A small trail of blue smoke came from the barrel. I looked at their car. Holes peppered the passenger door. The two men stood stock still, looking at Aunt Mary and her shotgun up on the porch. I got unsteadily to my feet.

"Maybe you two didn't hear me the first time," said Aunt Mary, her cheek near the stock of the gun, which was now aimed at the two men. "But this is a twelve gauge single pump shotgun with three more shells loaded with double-ought shot and at this range I don't think I could miss, do you?" They didn't say anything. "Now, get off my land!"

The strangers looked at each other. The driver tried not to hurry as he walked around the car and opened his door. He stood at the open car door while his companion opened the passenger door. They both looked up at Aunt Mary, their sunglasses hiding their thoughts.

"And don't get any ideas about coming back," she said, the shotgun still pointed at them. "You see that rocking chair up on the porch?" The men looked at it. "Well, that's where I'll be tonight, waiting for you. Now, get going!"

The two men got into their car and closed the doors. The car started and a moment later was put into gear. It lurched forward and turned in a tight circle and drove back down the driveway, spitting gravel as its tires spun in haste. Aunt Mary watched it, keeping her shotgun aimed at the car until it reached the county road and disappeared.

"Paulie, dear, are you all right?" asked Aunt Mary. She lowered the shotgun and came down the porch steps and over to me.

I dusted off my pants. "I'm fine." I said, looking at her with amazement. "What about you? Are you okay?"

She laughed. "Oh, I'm fine. It takes more than a couple of city hoods to scare me."

I looked at her. "You told me your shotgun wasn't loaded. That it probably wouldn't fire at all."

Aunt Mary laughed again and took my arm and led me back up the steps to the porch. "Oh, Paulie. You know me. Sometimes I tell little fibs. It's just the way I am. You know that."

I let her lead me back to the kitchen where I gratefully sat down and carefully rubbed my cheek where the gravel had dug into it. I watched in wonder as Aunt Mary opened the breach of the shotgun and replaced the spent shell with a fresh one she took from her apron pocket.

"Aren't you worried they'll come back?"

She answered nonchalantly as she poured me some more lemonade and handed me the glass. "They probably will. They usually do."

"They've been here before?"

"No, not those two. I mean that type. They can't stand the notion of a little old lady putting holes in their car and scaring them off. They'll wait until midnight or so, then come sneaking back."

I put the glass down with a thud. Lemonade sloshed over the rim. "But Aunt Mary, what are you going to do?" She ignored me and took a dishrag from the sink and wiped up the spill. "You have to call the police."

"We don't have police out here, Paulie. This is the country. We have a sheriff and deputies."

"Then you have to call them. Call your friend the sheriff, what was his name?"

"Rusty," she answered. "Rusty Weaver." She poured a fresh glass of lemonade for herself. "Of course I'll call Rusty, Paulie. That's what I always do."

"Always?" My mind was having trouble comprehending all of this. "How often does this happen?"

"Every year or two, just about this time. It's getting close to harvest time, you know. Word gets out in the city and some foolish hoods think they'll come and hijack our crop."

I thought of something else. "You aren't really going to spend the night out on the porch, are you?" I asked.

"Heaven's no," she said with a laugh. "That was just a little fib for their benefit." She pointed to the panel on the wall next to the pantry door. "The co-op installed that alarm and it tells me when a car comes in the driveway or the back road."

"There's a back road?"

"Yes, there's an old fire road that comes in through the back of my property. Those two will probably find it this afternoon and use it if they come back tonight as I expect. That's why I told them I'd be watching the driveway. They'll be congratulating themselves on outfoxing me by coming in the back way." She took sip of lemonade. Her blue eyes sparkled with amusement. "They don't know that old road is so rutted their fancy city car will bottom out and lose its oil pan half a mile in and maybe the muffler as well. Anyway, by the time they finish getting up here to the house I'll be waiting for them."

"You mean you and the sheriff, right?"

Aunt Mary looked out the window. "Of course, Paulie. That's what I meant. The sheriff and his men and me. We'll all be waiting for them."

She looked at the clock on the wall. "And now you have to get going, remember? You have a plane to catch and it's a long drive back to the city." She got up and pulled me out of my chair and hustled me out the kitchen and down the hall, all the time chattering about how I was to call this relative and that one when I got home. I noticed though that she had time to pick up her shotgun as we left the kitchen. I was halfway down the porch steps before I had a chance to get a word in edgewise.

"Aunt Mary," I said, turning to face her and taking hold of both her shoulders. "Promise me you'll call Sheriff Weaver."

She smiled at me with those clear blue eyes. "Of course, Paulie. I promise to call him just as soon as you leave."

I didn't know what to do. I absolutely had to be at that meeting the next morning and that meant I had to catch that flight and that in turn meant I had to leave Aunt Mary's farm then and there if I wanted a chance of catching it. She pushed me toward my car. I walked over to the driver's side, opened the door and looked at her. She smiled and waved with one hand while holding her shotgun with the other.

There was nothing left to do or say. I climbed into my car, started it and drove away, down the same gravel driveway on which I arrived only two hours before. As I nosed the car onto the main road I caught a glimpse of Aunt Mary in my rear view mirror. She was standing just as she stood when I saw her that morning on my arrival. Her long silver hair hung down past her shoulders, her gingham dress fluttered in a light breeze and she held her shotgun easily on her hip, its barrel toward the afternoon sky, her finger on the trigger and a gentle smile on her face.

All the way back to the city I wondered about what was going to happen that night at Aunt Mary's farm. I wasn't worried much about her anymore. She had shown me she was more than capable of taking care of herself. I wondered about the two hoods from the city though, and if Aunt Mary really was going to call the Sheriff or just handle things in her own way. I began to wonder if there really was a Sheriff Rusty Weaver at all. Perhaps he was just another of one of Aunt Mary's little fibs. I thought about the newly tilled patch of soil in the field behind her house, shuddered and decided it would be good to get back to the city and a normal world.

ANDREW C. MACRAE has recently published two detective noir short stories in Mysterical-E, several poems, and had a novel accepted for publication next year; MURDER MISDIRECTED from Mainly Murder Press.

Copyright 2012 Andrew C. MacRae. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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