Aunt Bunny Lives in the Country ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Del fumbled with the cigarette lighter and nearly hit a truck coming from the other direction. “I forgot how curvy this damned road is,” she said as she blew a cloud of smoke into the windshield and picked a piece of tobacco off her tongue. She called the brown things she smoked cigarettes but other people called them cigars because they were long and brown instead of white and didn’t have filters. They were part of the image she had created for herself.
Sitting next to Del on the front seat, Weema fanned her hand in front of her face. “Do you want me to drive for a while?” she asked.
“I’d rather get there in one piece if you don’t mind,” Del said.
“I would too,” Weema said, but the irony was lost on Del. “I wouldn’t take these curves nearly as fast as you do.”
“I like to live dangerously.”
“Don’t forget you’re not the only one in the car. Live dangerously all you want when you’re alone.”
“You’d better not complain about my driving,” Del said, “or you might find yourself walking.”
They were first cousins but were nothing alike. Del was big-boned and had the kind of body that didn’t look good in traditional female attire. She always wore pants and loud Hawaiian shirts that came down over her big belly. She kept her hair cut very short with a pompadour over her forehead that she used men’s butch wax on to keep stiff and upright. Weema was small, never weighed more than a hundred pounds, and was rather like a bird. She had a shock of unmanageable red hair, a tiny pointed nose, and no chin to speak of. She had been compared to a chicken many times and had, more than once, received an anonymous small packet of chicken feed as a prank, crying each time it happened. “People can be so cruel!” she liked to say.
In the back seat was ninety-year-old Aunt Floy, wearing her cap-like, champagne-colored wig of tight little curls because her own hair had grown so thin. Since it was a special occasion, she had put on plenty of face powder, with tangerine-colored lipstick on her thin-lipped old mouth. She believed in looking one’s best no matter what the occasion.
“Where is it we’re going again?” She threw the question out to either of her nieces, whichever one would hear her and answer.
“We’re going to Aunt Bunny’s house,” Weema said.
“And who is that again?”
“She’s your little sister.”
“Oh, yes, I remember her,” Aunt Floy said. “Didn’t she die?”
“If she died,” Del said, “why would be going to visit her?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking you.”
Weema turned around in the seat and got up on her knees. She straightened Aunt Floy’s skirt and patted her on the knee. “Why don’t you lay down on the seat, honey, and try to get a little nap? I’ll cover you up with your blanket.”
“I’m not sleepy,” Aunt Floy said. “You’re just trying to get me to shut up. I want to know where you’re taking me.”
“Don’t you want to see Bunny? You haven’t seen her in over five years.”
“Yes, I want to see her but I didn’t know she lived so far away. I thought she lived in town.”
“She’s never lived in town. She’s always lived way out in the country, miles and miles away from everything. That’s the way she and Uncle Aden always wanted it.”
“It’s hell getting down there and back,” Del said. “That’s why we don’t go very often.”
“I don’t remember anything of the sort,” Aunt Floy said. “I think you’re lying to me.”
“Ruth Ellen is going to be there,” Weema said.
“She’s your niece, Aunt Bunny’s daughter. She’s the one that’s had all those operations. I’m sure she’ll want to show you her surgical scars. Won’t that be fun?”
“No! I want to go home!”
“All right,” Del said. “I’ll turn the car around and we’ll go back home. We’ll be back in time to catch the fights on TV.”
“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” Weema said. “We’ve come all this way and we’re going to find Aunt Bunny’s house even if it kills us.”
“Let the good times roll,” Del said.
Every mile of country road was exactly like every other mile. There were the hills, the valleys and curves, and the occasional rusting iron bridge over a tiny creek. After another hour of driving, Del stated the obvious.
“I think we’re lost,” she said. “Nothing looks the same anymore.”
“Do you have a roadmap?” Weema asked.
“What good is a roadmap when you don’t know how to read it?”
“I knew we never should have come!” Aunt Floy said. “I’m scared. I’m always scared in a foreign country.”
Weema turned around in the seat again and took Aunt Floy’s hand in her own. “It’s still the same country,” she said. “This is just a part of it we’re not familiar with. Just close your eyes now and say a little prayer and trust that the Lord will show us the way.”
“I don’t want to! I need to go to the toilet!”
“Can’t you hold it?” Del asked.
“No, I can’t hold it and I don’t intend to!”
“Don’t have an accident, now,” Weema said, “and spoil your lovely clothes.”
“I just might if you don’t find me a toilet!”
“Good Christ!” Del said. “I knew this was a bad idea!”
“If you’re going to swear that way,” Weema said, “you can just let me out here.”
“As much as I’d like to,” Del said, “you’d probably be killed and I’d get the blame.”
Knowing they were a long way from any toilet, Del pulled off the road onto the shoulder at the top of a hill and pointed off into the brush and trees. Weema sniffled into a handkerchief at how the day was turning out, got out of the car and helped Aunt Floy out of the back seat.
Del spread the map out across the steering wheel as Weema and Aunt Floy retreated into the trees. “If you need any help,” she hollered after them, “don’t call me!”
She squinted at the map, turning it one way and then another, smoked one of her cigars down to the nub and lit another one. Finally, after what seemed a very long time, Weema appeared first as if emerging from a cave, turned and pulled Aunt Floy out by the hand.
“I thought maybe you were eaten by a bear,” Del said as they got back into the car.
“I had to practically undress her,” Weema said, “to keep her from getting her clothes dirty. Then I leaned her back against a tree and held onto her hands while she squatted down.”
“I don’t need to hear all the details of that,” Del said.
“You feel better now, don’t you, honey!” Weema cooed.
“No!” Aunt Floy said. “I want to go home. I’m hungry and I want to take a nap.”
“Aunt Bunny will have all kinds of good things for us to eat at her house.”
“I want something to eat now!”
“We’ll find a place to stop just as soon as we can, honey!”
Del was about to start the car again when a police car came up behind them, pulled around in front and stopped.
“I haven’t done anything,” Del said, watching in the rearview mirror as the officer got out of his car and came toward them.
“Car trouble?” the officer asked.
“No,” Del said with a strained smile. “Just taking a little rest stop.”
“Shouldn’t be stopped here if it’s not an emergency.”
“We were just leaving.”
“See this man, contact the police.” He unfolded a flyer and handed it through the window to Del.
“Is he missing?” she asked.
“Escapee. Last seen in these parts. Armed and dangerous. Alerting all citizens.”
“Can I keep this?” Del asked.
Weema leaned forward so she could see the officer’s face and flashed him her brightest chicken smile. “We’re kind of lost,” she said. “We’re looking for our aunt’s place. We haven’t been there since we were children, so nothing looks the same.”
“What address?” he asked.
“Old Mines Road is all we know,” she said. “Bell County.”
“Forty miles from Bell County,” he said. “West of here. That direction.” He pointed with his thumb and spit on the ground. He took a good look at Aunt Floy in the back seat as if she might be the man they were looking for in disguise, and then he was gone.
“Missed by forty miles,” Del said. “Couldn’t find ass with both hands.”
Weema took the flyer from her and studied it. “Odd-looking man,” she said. “Flat nose. Name Herman Sherman. Funny name.”
“Long gone by now,” Del said.
“Stop soon,” Weema said. “Must eat.”
Del swung the car around and began driving roughly in the direction the officer had indicated. Soon they were heartened by a sign telling them that Bell City, the town close to where Aunt Bunny lived, was twenty-eight miles ahead of them.
They had spareribs and Chinese beer at a roadside diner called “Nellie’s Welcome Inn.” After they had eaten, they felt better and were of the opinion that the day had turned out pretty well after all. Weema called Aunt Bunny on the pay phone and told her why they had been delayed and that they would be there soon.
When they left the diner, Weema was helping Aunt Floy get situated again in the back seat while Del was having an after-dinner smoke, looking at the sky. Both of them were occupied for the moment so they didn’t see the strange man approach. He came up behind Del without making a sound and touched her on the arm. She jumped and gave out with a little scream.
“Could you give me a ride?” he asked.
“No!” she said, looking him up and down and not liking what she saw. “We’re on our way to visit relatives!”
“Looks like you’ve got plenty of room,” he said, pointing toward the back seat.
“That’s my aunt,” Del said. “She’s not well. We don’t want to upset her.”
“I won’t upset her,” he said. He reached into his pocket and gave Del a glimpse of the gun he was carrying. “I don’t want to get rough, now,” he said, “but this is just to let you know I can if I have to.”
“You’re Herman Sherman with the flat nose, aren’t you?” Weema said with a smile, as though welcoming a friend for tea.
“You’ve heard of me!” he said with a touch of pride.
She handed him the flyer. He looked at it and laughed. “Yeah, that’s me all right! That’s a terrible picture, though! I don’t think it does me any justice at all.”
“Just exactly where is it you want to go?” Del asked.
“Someplace away from here,” he said. A police car went slowly by in front of the diner; he ducked down behind the car until it was gone.
“We’re going to Bell City,” Weema said. “We turn off the road there. We’ll take you that far.”
“That’ll be fine,” he said.
“If you bother that old lady,” Del said, “I’ll drive straight to the nearest police station and turn you in.”
“I believe you would, too!” he said.
“Who are you?” Aunt Floy asked as he got into the back seat beside her.
“His name is Herman,” Weema said. “We’re just giving him a ride for a few miles and then he’ll be leaving us.”
“Hello, granny!” he said.
“I don’t like you,” Aunt Floy said. “You’re not a good man.”
“That’s too bad, granny,” he said, “because I like you!”
Del eyed him suspiciously in the mirror. Weema turned around and smiled at him. “You must be exhausted,” she said, “running from the police that way.”
“I was a little winded when I found you,” he said.
“Where exactly did you escape from?”
“I don’t think you want to hear about that,” he said. “It wasn’t a place for a lady to have to know about.”
“You wouldn’t hurt us, would you?”
“Not as long as you do as I say.”
“Look,” Del said. “We’ll give you a ride as far as Bell City and then you’re on your way, understand?”
“Sure, sure,” he said.
“I’ll bet you’d like a cigarette, wouldn’t you?” Weema asked. “Escaped convicts in the movies always want a cigarette.”
“Sure. Do you have any?”
“Give him one of your little cigars, Del,” she said.
“He’s not a guest!” Del said, handing over her pack. “Quit treating him like one!”
“Well, he’s scared and lonely, the way all of us are. I don’t think it hurts to offer him a little comfort, no matter what he’s done.”
“Spoken like a true Christian, ma’am,” he said. “I’ll bet you go to church regular, don’t you?”
“I’ve been a Methodist since the day I was born!”
He lit the little cigar and sighed with satisfaction, making himself comfortable on the seat. “I was lucky to have come across the three of you,” he said. “Did you ever feel like God is showing you the way when you least expect it and probably don’t even deserve it?”
“All the time,” Weema said.
When they were just a few miles from Bell City, he said, “I’ve been thinking.”
“About what?” Weema asked, turning around and smiling at him.
“Why should I get out at Bell City? What is there for me in Bell City?”
“It’s a real small town,” Weema said, “but it is the county seat.”
“I don’t particularly want to go to Bell City,” he said.
“We’re taking you to Bell City and no farther!” Del said.
“I just had a wonderful idea!”
“What is it?” Weema asked. “Tell us!”
“In an ideal world, Las Vegas is where I would want to be. If I can just get there, everything will be all right with me.”
“Nobody’s looking for you there!” Weema said.
“We’ll let you out in Bell City and you can make your way to Las Vegas any damn way you please,” Del said, “but it’ll be without our participation!”
“Not so fast!” he said. “This is the perfect cover for me. A man traveling with three ladies. Just like a little family. Nobody would suspect a thing. We’re just on our way to Las Vegas to play some slots, have a few laughs, and see Hoover Dam.”
“Nobody’s going to Las Vegas,” Del said. “Our aunt and her daughter, Ruth Ellen, are expecting us at her place in Bell County. If we don’t show up, she’ll call the police. She’ll give them a description of this car and they’ll find us.”
“I didn’t say it had to be in this car, did I?” he said.
“What do you mean?” Weema asked excitedly.
“We can ditch this car and pick up another one along the way!”
“Absolutely not!” Del said. “Nothing doing!”
He took his gun out, brandishing it dramatically in the air. Aunt Floy screamed when she saw it. “I don’t want to have to use this,” he said, “but this is just to let you know I can.” He rolled down the window and shot at a fence post thirty feet from the car, knocking it over.
“Where’d you learn to shoot like that?” Weema asked.
“I’m not afraid of you!” Del said. “Big man with a gun! I’ve seen your kind before and you’re all chicken shit.”
He ran the barrel of the still-warm gun along the side of her face and laughed when she flinched. “Do you believe me now?” he asked.
“I think we’d better do what he says,” Weema said.
“What about Aunt Floy’s medicine?”
“I’ve got the bottles in my purse!”
“You see the sun up there?” he said. “You keep the car headed in that direction. When the sun goes down, I’ll drive.”
“Oh!” Weema said. “I’ve always wanted to see Las Vegas! How long do you think it’ll be before we get there?”
“I have to go to the toilet!” Aunt Floy said.
Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp