Carlisle Emerson’s Aint Pell didn’t have a grace note to her name. She was a short, squared-off woman, with a little gnome-woman face; her pinkish square teeth protruded in a sort of circle, as if she still took a passy to bed every night, and there was a slim gold wire around an eyetooth, to hold her bridge in place.
She always “spoke her mind” and “said her piece,” no matter whose feelings got hurt. She was definitely a chips-fall- where-they-may sort, with no scruples about inquiring into other folks’ business. She’d make a big brag about her daughter that was married to a chiropractor, and had a son that played for State, and then cut her eyes sly to the side to ask about Mrs. Strong’s youngest, who she knew good and well was in the pen over in
Family gatherings were egg-walking occasions, with everybody leaving as much space as possible between them and her. Wherever she entered, whole rooms of folks funneled out doors like water down a craggy hillside, leaving only a purse on a chair, a wet ring or two from the grabbed-up drinks, and the mingled scents of Emeraude and Old Spice wafting in their wake.
Only the ones nearest her entry-spot were trapped, and even the first moment was enough for her to let fly with a quick opinion of a niece’s hair, an offhand snark regarding her Sister-in-Law’s waistline, and several pointed questions to the host concerning the cost and provenance of the new love seat in the living room.
If Aunt Ossie’s little house had been a boat, it would have listed violently several times each holiday, from all the people fleeing and clustering in any part of the house that Aint Pell wasn’t.
But occasionally, they’d find themselves caught, captured by those steel-blue eyes like a rabbit by a snake, and since she was a little dumpy woman, their own eyes were drawn sorta hypnotically to her scalp, because it was almost always stained a rusty brown from the henna she used on her thin crisp hair. You could see clear through her sparse pate, like looking through a cornfield from one end, and you could just about read the Press Scimitar out the other side. She always seemed to be surrounded by rich colors---royal blue or royal purple---always with stress on the "raw-yul" part, or burgundy or mustardy gold knit or linen or shantung dresses and two-piece suits, and there were always stray wisps of sumpn-nother on her shoulders, with a drift of Coty Natural Shade down her impressive bosom. Her discolored old chunky gold jewelry just summed her up---squarish and hard and sharp-cornered and way tarnished in places.
Her voice was a smokey purple, too, and it always pronounced or pointedly inquired, leaving folks with hurt feelings and anger and tears, and fuming from the probing questions and even sharper uninvited opinions.
Carlisle could never for the life of her
understand why they just kept INVITING her to stuff.
Unca Bunch-who-was-married-to-her-sister-Maude told a big crowd of men at a funeral one time that at any gathering, Aint Pell couldn’t be satisfied unless she could be the bride or the corpse, one.
And the questions remain: Do we all know one of these people, and why do we tolerate them?
Moire non: Part II---A Wedding and a Peabody Brunch