Ain’t Lizzie’s Spectrum

By Molly Seale

I thought they were married, Uncle Henry on his easy-chair throne in the large front room—silent, but not unkind; Ain’t Lizzie scurrying, concocting in her kitchen, serving, never sitting. Each Sunday after church we gathered around the long table in the dining room in the middle of the house. Uncle Henry was bald and remote, Ain’t Lizzie stout and wildly enigmatic, her graying hair pulled into an unruly bun atop her head. I was indifferent to him. I adored her.

They were sister and brother, my mother’s favorite aunt and uncle. Neither ever married, although Uncle Henry had been engaged once. Together they lived in their childhood home, a sprawling white house on a corner in a little Texas town, the school where Ain’t Lizzie taught third grade within walking distance, just down the way. The house was encircled by an expansive yard with a prolific garden out back where Ain’t Lizzie toiled and sang and lifted the earth to the heavens as it sifted through her fingers.

Uncle John, another brother, sometimes lived there as well—all alone in a dark, dank room into which I once wandered, in one door and out the other. I was curious, especially because Ain’t Lizzie and my parents told me never to venture in there. The mingled stench of sweat and whiskey, the unmade bed, the drawn blinds scared me. When I told them later what I had done, their three faces joined as one in horror, then fear.

Ain’t Lizzie and Uncle Henry died within weeks of one another, first Uncle Henry, then Ain’t Lizzie, in the tiny Robertson County Hospital in a neighboring town. Uncle John inherited the house and my mother arranged for us to help him clear it out. When we arrived, walking up the long sidewalk to the screen door, Uncle John’s expressionless face broke into a smile. Without warning, he scooped me up, held me in his arms and kissed my cheek as if he knew me well. He’d never touched me or even greeted me before. He smelled like his room. I watched my mother’s face dissolve in alarm. I squirmed until he put me down. Mother pulled me toward her, placing her warm hand on my heart.

I was underfoot as they sorted. Mother gave me a job, to look through the cedar chest in the dining room and pull out certain objects for her and Uncle John to assess. It wasn’t long until I found a treasure. Black, shiny, heavy. With both hands, I lifted it from the cloth on which it lay and turned to Mother and Uncle John. “Stick ‘em up!” I demanded.

Uncle John’s face froze in fright. “Put the gun down, Molly darlin’,” he said. “Slowly, gently now, place it on the floor.” Mother nodded her assent. I obeyed. They both breathed out. I felt their mingled breath rush over me, around me, through me. 

I don’t remember what happened after that.

Years later, Mother told me the gun had been loaded, the trigger cocked, ready to fire. Ain’t Lizzie, she believed, kept it handy in the cedar chest, ready to use on her own brother, Uncle John, if necessary.

Uncle John drank away the house and the land surrounding it. Then he disappeared. All grown up, I returned to the corner where the house once stood. A modest, red brick ranch took its place—the garden gone, the yard given to a driveway and garage. All that remained was the sidewalk, leading to what had been Ain’t Lizzie’s home, Ain’t Lizzie’s life, Ain’t Lizzie’s secrets. 

I wanted to wipe it away—the brick house, the years between now and Ain’t Lizzie bustling, beckoning me, welcoming me into her arms, her garden, her kitchen, her life of care and joy and terror.

About the author

Molly Seale has published memoir, essays, short stories, and poems in a variety of publications, including Hippocampus Magazine, Connotation Press, New Millennium Writings, Hotel Amerika, Months to Years, Humans of the World, The Write Launch, and Cathexis Northwest Press, as well as in numerous anthologies. She holds an MFA in Theatre from The University of Texas and resides in Makanda, Illinois.

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