© Olivia Tejeda
Hee hee hee. She breathed. Hoo hoo hoo.
Her vocal warm-ups usually settled her nerves, but this was a bad case and they weren’t helping.
Hee hee hee. Hoo hoo hoo.
Knowing her courage could slip at any moment, Catherine stepped into action, standing straighter, and striding toward the living room.
“Aunt Dee,” she said focusing in the dark room. “Do you have a minute?”
“Hi dear,” Aunt Dee absently waved Catherine in. “Come watch Wheel with me.”
The light from the TV cast blue shadows around the room. Aunt Dee never used the lamp when she watched TV. “I’d rather not support the power company,” she’d say when Catherine used to ask if she could turn on a light.
“I-I’d like to talk to you,” Catherine steadied her voice. “It’s kind of important. Would you mind if we lowered the TV?”
Aunt Dee sighed, irritated by the imposition.
Catherine clenched her fists, her nails digging tiny crescents into her palms. She had been living at Aunt Dee’s since being discharged from Sunnyvale ten years ago, and it still didn’t feel like it home.
After Catherine’s parents died in a car crash, she tried finishing her senior year at Juilliard. She wanted to honor her parents by getting the degree in voice they had all worked for since Catherine was a child, but during her senior recital, Catherine froze on stage, unable to sing, speak, or move. She was admitted to Sunnyvale after a botched a suicide and stayed for a year.
“I’m sorry,” Catherine said, her courage slipping. “I’m interrupting your show.”
“Yes, dear, Wheel of Fortune is on.”
“Yes. Right. Sorry. We’ll talk later.”
“No,” Aunt Dee grumbled, waving again. “I’m already missing this round. May as well keep going.” Her comment hit the mark as always, evoking in her subtle yet piercing way, the constant sacrifices she made for her niece.
Catherine looked for the remote to mute the TV, but Aunt Dee had it tucked between the seat cushions next to her. She tried to reach for it without Catherine seeing, and Catherine played along, pretending to notice something beyond the dark window.
“Well, out with it. Are you in trouble?” Aunt Dee asked lowering the volume one level.
“Oh, nothing like that,” Catherine said sitting opposite. “Everything’s fine. I-I just wanted to let you know that I’ve decided to sing at the Jeffersonville Talent Show next month.
Aunt Dee’s face turned stony. Her ears pulled back, tightening the skin across her cheeks. She looked furious, but stayed silent.
Catherine’s excitement boosted her courage again. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while. My voice teacher thinks I’m ready, and I think so, too.” Her smile beamed.
“I know you’re worried. I’m nervous, too, but I’m finally ready, and I have to try.”
Aunt Dee nodded, allowing herself time to form an argument.
“Catherine … Dear … I really thought we were done with all this foolishness. You’re not a child anymore. I thought we let that silly dream go a long time ago.”
“No,” Catherine whispered. “I never let it go. You remember how much singing meant to you. It’s the same for me, and now I’m ready to try again. My voice teacher says …”
“Your voice teacher!” Aunt Dee snapped. “Your voice teacher doesn’t know you were a mental case.”
Catherine nodded. “She does, actually. I told her.”
“Catherine! Why? She couldn’t possibly understand.”
“But she does. She does understand. She’s taught me so much, and she’s been so helpful.”
“Is that so?” Aunt Dee sneered. “Will she be so helpful you when go batty up on stage again?”
Catherine sighed. “I’m not going to have another breakdown.”
“Well if history is any indication …”
“That was a long time ago,” Catherine pleaded.
“Maybe for you, but it seems like just yesterday for me. What I went through. Every week, I had to drive to that hospital! I only thank God your parents weren’t alive to suffer through it like I did.”
“No, it’s true. It was terrible. I’m sorry to say this, but they had you so drugged you don’t remember anything, but I do.”
“But I’m much older now, and stronger,” Catherine said. “That was right after Mom and Dad died, and …”
“May God rest their tormented souls,” Aunt Dee interrupted. She bowed her head and made the sign of the cross, a move that always worked to deflate Catherine, until this time.
“It’s just one song at one show. I have to do this, and I’d like to have your blessing.”
“Dear,” Aunt Dee’s face softened. “You know I only want what’s best for you.”
Catherine realized at that moment that those words, “I only want what’s best for you” were the lynch pin for years of manipulation. She looked at her aunt and tried not to believe what she knew was true.
Aunt Dee looked away as if she’d been caught. “Oh, dear!” she said, changing the subject. “We almost missed the end.”
The two of them sat together in the blue shadowed room watching the bonus round. They guessed the answer at the same time, just before the contestant got it.
♦ ♦ ♦
When the talent show was over, Catherine was exhilarated. She did it, and was awarded an honorable mention certificate, which surprised and thrilled her. She was backstage congratulating the other winners when Aunt Dee found her.
“Poor dear,” Aunt Dee said. “You did your best, but I guess that ship has sailed.”
“Didn’t you see?” Catherine said, holding up her certificate.
“That’s nice, dear, but you didn’t win.”
Catherine smiled and shook her head. Aunt Dee continued. “We’ll meet outside, dear. Why don’t you go say goodbye to your friends.”
“Actually, Aunt Dee, I’ll see you at home. I’m going to go to the after-show party,” Catherine said. “With my friends.”