THE SINS OF AUNT EVIE
It was a Wednesday, Harry’s day for trimming the lawn. Monday was weeding and fruit cake, Friday was cleaning the shed and vanilla slices, but Wednesday afternoons he trimmed the lawn and ate warm scones oozing with strawberry jam and cream. On that particular hot and hazy afternoon, during which Aunt Evie morphed from a drab and very slightly hairy caterpillar to a less than stunning, but perfectly pleasant butterfly, Harry was nursing a badly sprained ankle so he didn’t come, but his nephew did. Harry was sixty three, proudly grey and a gentleman. His nephew, Tony, taut and tanned, was fifty, denied his age, Grecian- greyed his hair and was, in his own mind at least, God’s gift to the world of older, grateful ladies.
Aunt Evie took up her position by the kitchen window and watched, managing to polish the stainless steel sink to perfection, without once taking her eyes off him.
He didn’t just trim the lawn. He manicured it.
Aunt Evie was impressed. She filled the scones and fished the best teapot from the back of the cupboard. Harry always had his coffee in the blue mug with a sad-eyed puppy on and she almost reached that out too. But she remembered, just in time, that Harry wasn’t there. And her stomach fluttered, just a little.
She put the scones and the cup and the teapot on a wooden tray that was almost as old as she was, reached across the sink that sparkled with all the love she had lavished on it, because for years, there had been nothing else for her to lavish anything on, and lifted her hand to knock on the window, just as Tony stood up, stretched his arms, arched his back and took off his shirt.
Aunt Evie lowered herself into the nearest chair and sat for a moment, fanning her flushed face with a starched tea-cloth she kept because it looked good even though, as a tea-cloth, it was useless. There was a map of Italy in the centre and she had always loved the thought of Italy. It should have been more than just a tea cloth. It should have been a painting, or a photograph – some reminder of a life lived with a flourish, but it was just a teacloth. Lots of things in Aunt Evie’s life had not been what they should have been.
She felt her cheeks with the backs of her hands, smoothed her skirt, ran her fingers through her hair, knocked on the window and beckoned to Tony.
He looked up and smiled. That was the precise moment that Aunt Evie exploded. She watched as this almost-stranger strode up the path, trailing his shirt behind him, and she waited as he took off his boots at the door. She watched as he swung his shirt round his shoulders and started to push his arms through the sleeves. And she thought that it would have been such a shame to fasten the buttons when the weather was so warm, and the kitchen was so stuffy and his chest was so shiny and so – there in front of her.
She was staring. Tony was smirking. The tea went cold, the scones went uneaten and he went at just turned nine. Aunt Evie couldn’t sleep. She still had a slightly foolish fever.
Her face was still flushed and her smile was a long way from innocent when she spotted Father Paul at the library. She kept her head down, sidled past him and Doreen from the bakery, who could smell a scandal before it occurred and headed home feeling full of sin and loving it.
Tony came again on Friday. She shunned the usual vanilla slices and experimented with one of Delia’s cheesecakes, blamed the weather, the economic downfall, the state of the world in general for her departure from all that knew was right and proper, and opened a bottle of Pinot Grigio that had been sitting in her cupboard since last Christmas. On Saturday morning, following another long and disturbed night, she slid into the confessional box and took a deep breath.
“Father I have sinned,” she said. “Twice on Wednesday, three times on Friday and I’m not sure, but I think I may be sinning next week too.”
Father Paul smiled, told her she had committed no sin and wondered why it had taken Harry so long.
Now, with the blessing of the church, Aunt Evie planned the coming week. She laid out her clothes, shortened two skirts, re-vamped two blouses, visited town and caused confusion in The Undies for You store, which was discretely hidden at the lower end, behind the High Street.
Tuesday she had her hair done.
“Cut and blow love?” Claire asked.
“No,” said Aunt Evie. “Let’s have a change. Re-arrange me. I want to be a new woman.”
“You want to try one of our facials,” Claire said, mentally calculating her bonus.
Aunt Evie went home considerably poorer, but with her hair a gentle shade of ‘golden dawn’, her face deep-cleansed and still tingling and her fingers and toes sporting an amazingly garish nail varnish. Over the next three weeks she lost half-a-stone, gained a self assurance and slid into the confessional box on two more occasions.
Then, on the Friday morning, three weeks and two days since she first set eyes on Tony, and with the bottle already chilling in the fridge and another Delia inspired offering waiting, she heard the gate open, looked through the window, and saw Harry hobbling up the path.
“Evie,” he called from the back door. “You in? You got me today love, Tony’s back home to Ireland.”
She had thought she’d be disappointed when this day came. She wasn’t. She was weary and more than a little relieved. Harry was definitely not his nephew. But he was there, like he’d always been. Week after week, regular as clockwork and almost as dependable. He was just the same old Harry even if she was not the same old Evie. She’d needed to change. So did he. If he was to continue enjoying her shed and her baking, things would have to be different – from today. From this very moment.
She twisted the knob on the oven turning it from cool to full speed ahead. Then, with a sly smile, a silent ‘thank you’ to absent friends and the god of fortuitous sprained ankles, and a mental promise to visit Father Paul first thing in the morning, she said, “Come in then. Give me that coat, it’s hot in here. And that shirt looks a little tight round the neck. Why don’t we loosen the buttons Love?”