SHU-HUEI ANNE CHIANG HENRICKSON
Your second auntie was born to have a very easy life." My mother stopped her mopping to straighten up her back. I watched her smooth a strand of hair near her ear. Then she looked at her finger tips, pruney and stained from too much janitorial work. "She never worked to help feed our many-mouthed family," she sighed. "Her hands are as smooth as a baby's."
I turned back to the T.V. while my mother resumed her floor work. "What's the use," I thought. "What's the use talking like that. You choose to work yourself to death." Besides, my mother had never complained about her life or work before second auntie moved into our apartment.
I never liked second auntie, whose name is Beautiful Cloud. She always wore too much make-up. Furthermore, whenever she came to visit my mother, she showed up in the world's most tasteless outfit: a bright orange dress with black polka dots, orange or red tights, a pair of three-inch high-heels. Beautiful Cloud wore her dyed hair in an elaborate, blow-dried style that was not at all like my mother's straight, gray hair. Then there were her nails, polished to match the shade of her lipstick. Once my mother almost took my head off because I said second auntie smelled like a whore.
"A child has no right to criticize the elders," was the lesson I learned that day.
But none of those objections applied anymore after second auntie came to stay, for the "old" Beautiful Cloud soon turned into a sloppy cloud. It happened after her husband left her.
I still remember the call my mother got three years ago, a desperate Beautiful Cloud crying that someone had to rescue her from her husband who was beating her to death. Mom left the dinner table immediately, took a cab, and hurried to her sister. About two hours later, she came home with Beautiful Cloud, her face swollen almost like a full moon, the snot still smeared all over it. I went to the kitchen where stacks of dishes awaited, but I heard it all: second auntie crying while my mother told father how her sister had found out that her "son-of-a-swine-husband" had been "raising" a mistress. It seems that he'd given Beautiful Cloud a good beat-up and ordered her out of the house when she questioned him. My father didn't say anything.
But after my mother had finished her summary, it apparently occurred to her that maybe Beautiful Cloud hadn't had dinner. So, full of sympathy, she asked, "Have you eaten?"
"Ahhhh..." Beautiful Cloud cried loudly.
"Do you want to have something to eat?"
Still no answer from second auntie.
"Want something to drink?"
But Beautiful Cloud only snuffled.
"Ai-ya," Mom sighed. "Let me take you to my room."
Only then did second auntie speak.
"How's my lipstick?" she asked. I can still remember the sound of her voice, the way my hands shook in the dishwater--so hard that I broke a bowl.
From then on, Beautiful Cloud was a member of our household. I was still in college at the time, home visiting my parents. Ours was a very small apartment, only two bedrooms. And since mom had put her sister in her own bedroom, the three of us had to share my room that first night. I volunteered to sleep on the floor, and pretended to fall asleep as soon as we all settled in. Later, mom and dad had a fight in whispers.
"You don't seem to be sympathetic with my sister at all."
"I am, I am. But this is just an ordinary husband-and-wife-fight. She will go back to him in a few days."
"It is not an ordinary fight. That swine has had an affair with some bargirl, don't you see?"