She dressed like a gypsy, or, at least, the way I thought a gypsy would dress. All flowering skirts and wild paisley scarves wrapped round her neck. She wore sloppy, over-sized blouses that hung over her skirts so that her rolling bulbs of fat wouldn’t be so obvious. She applied her makeup with a shovel. She had shocking pink cheeks like a Raggedy-Ann doll and blood red lips that oozed lipstick past her generous, flapping lips. She was built like a T-Rex, with formidable hips like anvils under withered Fu Manchu claws. She didn’t walk: she stomped. But, none of this was as disturbing to me as her bizarre behavior at funeral parlors. My father’s sister, this wilted, loveless cow of an old maid, faithfully visited every one of her relatives after they died, and she always, always, planted a big wet kiss, right on the lips of the corpses.
To me,that was her most outstanding trait. Why she did it, I could never guess. It embarrassed me. I thought it branded my family as being peculiar and eastern European. Indeed, we were recent transplants. My grandmother, Radka Korienek, herded her brood of children onto a boat and escaped Hitler in 1938. All of us born and raised in the U.S.A. were embarrassed by our parents’ eccentricities and tried hard to blend in. Aunt Ruth, fifteen years older than my father, clung to her heritage and never tried to act American.
I asked my father why aunt Ruth kissed dead people. He said he didn’t know. He told me to ask her. I was afraid of the old hag and never learned When my father died, she did it to him. Planted a sloppy lip-lock on those dry, cold, liverish lips. It gave me the willies.
No matter how skilled the mortician, dead lips always scare me. They look like worms.
Three years, ago, when my brother died, she did it to him. I wanted to strangle her. I supposed, in her goofy, old-world mind, she was doing something appropriate, maybe even cathartic. I didn’t know and I didn’t care. When I saw her wading through the mourners, claiming her inevitable spot in front of the casket, I wanted to scream, “I don’t know this woman! She is no relative of mine.” I wished I could melt into the floor.
Just before she sealed her lips over my brother’s, I noticed she whispered something in his ear. I hadn’t noticed her doing that, before. I wondered what she said. I looked away and pretended I hadn’t seen.
When I died, I decided to play a trick on Aunt Ruth.
I knew she would come to the funeral home for the viewing. I knew that, after wringing her hands and dabbing her bloodshot eyes with a heavily perfumed handkerchief, after telling everyone within earshot how dearly she loved me, she would come up to my open casket and kiss me. Right on the lips. A heart attack had gotten me, seven days before Halloween, on October 24, 2013. As my still-warm body convulsed in its death rattle, I told myself what I was going to do, how I was going to finally get even with this old-world beast, this memento of my heritage, this humiliating shadow that always returned to my life when things were at their worst.
When they drained my blood and injected me with that icy embalming fluid, I could not get that image out of my mind, that picture, the inevitable, horrid nightmare-scene, Aunt Ruth putting those devouring lips on mine. I knew, then, how I would stop her from ever performing her obscene act again. I would grab hold of her arms and hold her down to me and not let her go. That’s what I would do!
As the mortician slapped makeup on my frozen face, it was a struggle keep the smile off my icy lips, as I envisioned my last, final act before being dumped in the ground.
It was on the first night of visitation, when loved ones and family arrived to pay their final respects, that Aunt Ruth lumbered her way up to my casket. She moaned like a banshee and tears flew like spit.
“He vuss mine favorite,” she roared. I held myself rigid, furious at her dishonesty, at her shameless attempt to steal attention from me. She had said the very same thing when my brother died. Oh, I would enjoy this.
The moment had arrived. All eyes were on the old shrew as she went on with her performance. She leaned over me in my casket. Her wrinkled talons tightened on the shining oak. She bent down. Her breath, like old milk, bathed my face. The moment had arrived.
She was inches from me. She pushed her rolling bosom over my still chest and pressed her lips close to my left ear.
“I have got at last, you slimy worm, you scum,” she whispered. She looked into my eyes, knowing that I could see her and hear her. Her lips twisted into a ugly smile. They came closer and closer to mine. I felt her hot lips on mine and the shrieking sound began, a wailing scream that rose in intensity and volume until it filled my soul, and I could feel heat rising within my throat that spread throughout my body. I wanted to scream, but I was locked in place, as if in a straightjacket. A spasm shook my body and I tasted bile. Something was on the back of my tongue and I could feel it sliding down, deeper and deeper inside me. The last thing I saw through my melting, burning eyes was my Aunt Ruth. Her lips pushed down onto mine and she forced them open. Her tongue licked my teeth. I could feel my stomach clench. Was I sweating? I thought I was going to be sick. Couldn’t anyone see? Couldn’t anyone help me? Everything was pouring out of me, my thoughts, my memories, everything I had ever dreamed or planned.
Aunt Ruth pushed herself upright. She winked at me and she turned away.
Well, what could I do? I was dead.