28th June, 1987.
Aunt Marjorie insists I call her Just Marjorie. I tell her I am not comfortable with this. Then she insists I call her Margo. This is, somehow, far worse.
“Baby, you know how I want you and me to be? I want us to be like this!” she crosses her fingers and gives me her patent toothy smile.
Just Marjorie looks like a coked-up version of Dolly Parton. With a smaller bosom and less hair. And a cigarette between her fingers perpetually, like an extension of her hand.
“Of course, Aunt. It’s just weird, is all.” I mumble. I do that a lot. My father used to hate it.
“Pfft!” she huffs, waving her cigarette at me dismissively, “All kids your age here call me Margo!”
I decide not to point out that the only kid my age within five miles of her house is Kevin, our comely neighbor. (Who, by the way, was fixing a shaky floorboard in my New Room on Just Marjorie’s request the other day and now gives me a peculiar look every time we cross paths.)
“Call me Just Marjorie then! Whadya say, doll?” she flashes me an indulgent grin and turns back to the road. I should probably mention we’re in a car (she’s driving) and we’re headed to her Good Friend Molly’s dinner party, “Honestly, baby… when I was your age…”
I tune her rusty, loud voice out and focus on the bleak scenery of what will be my New Home for the next two months.
Conversations are fifty percent mutual and fifty percent delusion.
As it turns out, Just Marjorie’s Good Friend Molly has a pretty decent house. With three stories and warm, rich, wooden décor, it feels strange and homely at the same time. It also smells oddly of cinnamon.
There are already about twenty people there. I thought dinner party meant a bunch of old Texans sitting around a table talking about farm mortgage and increased horse prices (I have no idea if those are real things) but this is quite different. People are standing around the gigantic dining room in small groups, laughing and flitting about chattering with each other. There are people of all ages, all dressed very nicely.
A short, somewhat corpulent woman comes up to us and Just Marjorie and she greet each other.
Then Just Marjorie gestures to me, “Molly, this is my niece. Agatha’s daughter.”
After polite and requisite small talk on my part, I excuse myself to the bathroom. Crowded spaces make me extraordinarily uncomfortable.
On my way to the aforementioned bathroom though, I spot a set of doors and an excluded balcony beyond. The prospect of fresh air away from this suffocating room beckons to me.
I step through the doors and then notice I’m not alone. A girl, with her back angled towards me, stands there in a shimmering black dress.
She’s quite a vision. With wispy dark hair floating in the breeze.
I tell myself I ought to leave, interaction—of any sort—is something I normally avoid. But this stranger has a peculiar magnetic pull, keeping my feet rooted to the spot.
The girl turns around, as though sensing my dilemma and narrows her eyes. She’s pretty. But I knew that before I saw her face.
“You wouldn’t happen to have a cigarette on you, would you?” she asks after a moment of silence.
I shake my head no.
She sighs and turns back to the unimpressive scenery from the balcony, “Just as well, Father would kill me if he were here. It was a slim chance, anyway.”
I walk forward and stand beside her, wondering who she is.
A few seconds pass in comfortable silence and then she looks at me, “You’re not from here, are you?”
I shake my head again.
She raises an eyebrow. I die out of the utter coolness of it.
“Can you talk?” she asks, boredom lacing her voice.
I nod and then stammer, “Yes. I mean, yes, of course I can talk.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I’ve come with Just Ma—I mean, Aunt Marjorie. I’m her niece.” I mentally kick myself for not being cool.
“What were you going to call her before? Just Marjorie? Why?” She tilts her head and looks at me.
I shy from her gaze, “That’s what she keeps saying. ‘Call me just Marjorie’”
She grins, “You have a sense of humor. A rare quality up here. You will soon discover that the only people living in this town are people who are dead and people who wish they were. All this,” she gestures to the party behind us, “is just a lame attempt to make things colorful. But you can’t fix something that was killed long before it was broken.”
The air turns colder. I don’t know how to respond. So I turn around and gaze through the doors, at the party going on inside uninterrupted by the icy chill out on the balcony. It feels as though I’ve stepped out of time and on to the balcony with this strange, melancholy girl and if I go back inside, the clock will resume ticking and the spell will be broken and I won’t see her again.
“Your aunt isn’t that bad, she’s one of the better Rusty’s. You know, old folk.” She says when I shoot her a puzzled glance, “My mum used to play cards with her every Sunday. Then she died. Now it’s just me and Father. Oh, wipe that stupid pity off your face and replace it with horse dung, it’ll suit me better. I’m over it, you ought to be too.”
I blink and attempt to compose my features. Well, isn’t she a joy.
She glances apprehensively back at the party and sighs, “Well, I better get back in there. I don’t want my folks to come here looking for me, they’ve embarrassed me in front of enough people already for the effects to last a lifetime.” She looks at me and cracks a smile, “It was cool meeting you. I’ll find you at your aunt’s place soon.”
She heads inside but pauses at the door and looks back at me with a faint glimmer in her eyes, “Also, I’m glad you’re here now. This summer won’t suck so much, after all.”