There is a certain auntie. Not a blood-aunt; no longer a marriage-aunt. I seldom see her. When we meet—lazing on the cushions in her sitting room, sipping tea on a gloomy afternoon, her triangular sandwiches melt on my tongue—we chatter away the hours. Trifles blend with matters of great import; stories of long ago weave into one another. Candles dance in their holders. Rain-needles might tap on the windows. The sandwiches slowly vanish. More tea is poured in the cups. The rain will cease in a moment; we then move from tea to mulled wine.
The other aunts, their plastic smiles keep slipping off their lips, their questions I cannot answer as I shift in expensive sofas in their bookless living rooms. Their sugary cakes burn my mouth; I sneak a glance at the clock, and politely refuse a second helping. And each year the smiles further fade, and the questions are fewer and farther between; no replies are expected, really.
And other relatives are floating in the room. Chitchatting about this and that, furnishing smiles at this one and that. Engaging in acts of kindness such as offering napkins or a glass of water. Like a rehearsal to a family gathering that never takes place, we each play our part. And depart.