She was a woman with eyes like strawberries and lips like the sea.
The swollen red protuberances would fix on Tips when he slunk home late, jeans ripped and muddied. The lips, rank and dripping, waved constantly. Tips discovered early that you had to be quick to avoid the spray.
Tips himself was small and dark with the slightly harried look of someone regularly bullied. But in truth, he got along ok at school—largely because in a class of six he was the only boy apart from Max, who was also small. They were friends on general principle. When you’re outnumbered by pigtails, what else can you do?
No, it was Aunty Miriam that worried him. Aunty Miriam, with her swelling veins and flailing hands; Aunty Miriam, red faced and screeching.
And she was proud of it, the grotesque boiling anger that would regularly contort her features.
“Anger and passion are two sides of the one coin,” she would tell him. “Keep that in mind when you start courting. The hotter a woman’s blood, so much the better.” Then she would retreat to the den with a bottle of whisky, listen to “Carmen” and cry for the rest of the evening. Tips was twelve, and all this made him feel uneasy.
But the thing that worried him the most about Aunty Miriam, were the unfits. The moments when she was so angry, she couldn’t make real words anymore and her limbs started jerking furiously. Just when she seemed about to fit—she froze. Every limb locked, the eyes became glassy, the hair caught mid-swing looked like a photo taken underwater.
At first they had puzzled him. No-one else knew a thing about them, or believed him when he tried to explain them. As an adult, Tips told himself it had probably been a type of narcolepsy, triggered by anger. Young Tips didn’t know what narcolepsy was, but he could have told you for certain she wasn’t sleeping. She wasn’t breathing, after all, and he knew that you kept breathing when you were asleep because he’d asked his teacher.
He had no choice then, but to believe the sad voices in his head that said they were his parents.
“We’ve stopped her in time,” they told him.
There was a pause.
“Sometimes when people get very, very angry, and sometimes when they’ve been drinking like your Aunty has… they do things that they don’t really mean.”
“What sort of things?”
“Say things… hurt people.”
“When are you coming back?”
But the sad voices never stayed for long and never answered that question.
Tips supposed he should be glad of the unfits, because they always gave him a chance to slip away when Aunty Miriam had him cornered on an angry day or a whisky night. But mostly he felt sorry for Aunty Miriam, dangling in a moment of rage, ugly with spite and her own unhappiness.
Usually for me a “short” story entails at least 2,000 words (at least!).
This was my first proper attempt at writing a story 500 words or less, so I approached it by picking a single human trait (anger) and personifying it in Aunty Miriam, then trying to create a kind of literary portrait of her.
Constructive criticism extremely welcome.