The last time I saw my dad’s baby sister I was 18. We had a family gathering in Portland, Fourth of July weekend, 2013. She looked like a child, her clothes hung off her like the sheet on the clothesline, blowing wildly but forced to cling to the line. When I saw her she hugged me, pressing her face into my breasts and mumbling about me “getting so big.” I could only cringe as she made a motor-boating joke and rubbed her mouth back and forth along my t-shirt, leaving a wet line along my cleavage. My father laughed at that greeting. The Julie of my childhood had large rosy cheeks, no not rosy, I think they were just always sunburnt from her exotic life in Florida. The Julie before me looked like the survivor of a civil war confederate camp, her knees and elbows a little too sharp under skin that looked baggy and too tight at the same time, but Julie survived tongue cancer, an entirely different war. She was a different person. Well, she was the same person, her body just begged her to change.
* * *
In May 2015 I sat on my ex boyfriend’s couch mindlessly watching TV when I got a text message from my father, “we are giving aunt Julie her angel wings today.” I did not reply. Consoling a parent sounded like something I could never be taught and would never be ready for. Four hours later I got a follow up text, “Julie has joined your grandma and grandpa in heaven” and a picture of a sunset. As if Julie and the standard pattern of the sun were somehow connected. I never met my grandparents and my father is an atheist. Again I did not reply to his message. If he wanted anything he could call.
* * *
That last weekend, in July, I woke up around 7am in my tent in the backyard as the sprinklers pelleted the side of my nylon haven. I clawed out to turn off the water when I heard Julie yelling from my bedroom window. Not yelling anything real, just the early morning yell of someone gripped by the fact the end of their life is near. My dad does it too, when he drinks too much. In the night he will wail, like the alcohol is turning to spiders inside him. I guess it is genetic. Not an hour later she was on the porch smoking her first of the day and half way through her first bottle of wine, bringing the finish line that much closer.
* * *
After she died, my father had gone to Florida to deal with her estate and he called me daily. He would speak of no one mowing the lawn, how many frogs were in the pool filter and how my aunt and uncle had not properly hurricane protected their house, then at the end of his distracted complaints he would end the call with the question, “How could she go first?”
* * *
By noon Julie demanded we play Frank Sinatra so she could dance. My father tried to dance with her but he was just holding her up. She stood on his feet and he made slow steps, like fathers and daughters are suppose to. He and I never have. By the first chorus of ‘Fly Me To the Moon’ he gave up on keeping her up and told her to dance with herself. She took maybe three steps and fell backwards into the kiddy pool on the edge of the porch. Her falling seemed inevitable due to her consuming a bottle of wine almost every hour since she woke. As she emerged from her self given baptism all she could say was “who pushed me?”
* * *
My father would call me midday everyday and recount the moment of her death and how angry he was after he had mowed the lawn, cleaned the pool, and put the house on the market. He said it wasn’t fair, the way she left. He was not referring to the fact of her death but how she looked.
“She was grey. I- I watched her face fall after they unplugged the machine.” He would pause between statements in the way someone choking back tears might, but I knew his pauses were to take another drink. The only reason he ever stops talking is to deep throat a Sierra Nevada.
“I mean that is what she would have wanted right? She just didn’t look right anymore.” He said that it wasn’t fair for her to leave him with that last image, she wasn’t his baby sister, she was some lifeless hollow thing. He said there wasn’t any rose left in her cheeks. “How could she leave me with that?”
“Don’t ask me Dad.”
* * *
Julie bobbed and swayed on her feet as the day proceeded, like she was fulfilling my father’s words and dancing with herself, to a soft drunken melody. Her dance only stopped when her cup was empty. She teetered back into the house through the sliding glass door, closing it behind her. Minutes later she came back and ran into the closed glass door, smashing her newly filled cup, coating herself in wine. She opened the door as hard as she could, trying to throw it along its tracks. She could only open it far enough to get her body through. To someone being held up by wine and cigarettes, moving a sliding glass door three feet must be the weight of the world. She emerged; sack dress stained with red wine, and closed the door behind her. She looked like Carrie on prom night. I think she would have preferred to be covered in pig’s blood than to waste wine. Realizing her glass was empty again she turned on the spot and slammed back into the closed glass door. She screamed, “Who closed that door?”
* * *
“Be nice because you don’t know when the next time you’ll see your aunt will be,” my father told me the last day I saw Julie.
“It doesn’t matter. The next time I’ll see her, she’ll be in a casket,” I told him.
“How could you say that?” He asked me.
* * *
Julie sat heavy on a lawn chair, speaking at great lengths on living a life of rebellion, and that real health was doing what made your soul happy. She thought of herself as some sort of modern day pirate. If being a pirate meant drinking, fucking, boating and blacking out then she fit her hazy definition. It is hard to regret a life you can’t remember. Julie thought she was living life to the fullest, denying her own mortality.
“Rylee!” she yelled, “you really are a Langton woman aren’t you? So why don’t you have a drink?” I took a beer. Pretending to drink at her level was easier than explaining that I had no intention of becoming an alcoholic embarrassment.
“Don’t ask me,” I would say.
Rylee Langton is a senior at Western Washington University; she is studying Creative Writing, Film and Political Science. She also enjoys cooking and photography. She has been previously published at the Scarlet Leaf Review. You can check out that work right here: http://www.scarletleafreview.com/shortstoriessep2016/category/rylee-langton