Sunday, June 26, 2011

14. "Aunt Caroline"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo *

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

*Ass’t Professor of Classics and Geography, instructor in Home Ec., Olney Community College; editor of Hitting It Hard: The Memoirs of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. 3.

click here for previous episode, here to begin at the beginning

Conrad Collinson was not quite sure exactly when it dawned upon him that his Aunt Caroline Charlton (actually his great aunt) was certifiably insane.

Was it really not until that time she came to visit him at the end of his second year at Andover, on Boat Race Day? Arriving in her burgundy red 1922 Duesenberg Model A Phaeton convertible? (A car she still to this day took out on the odd excursion to Coney Island or Atlantic City or even all the way down to Cape May to visit Mrs. Biddle.)

Not that she was the one driving the Duesenberg. Conrad wasn’t quite sure if she even knew how to drive or if she had a driver’s license. No, she always got one of her cronies to drive, and on Boat Race Day it had been that Lord Wolverington fellow, another resident of the St Crispian, although Conrad had serious doubts about whether the man really was a Lord.

Aunt Caroline had worn a flaming red scarf and she had flirted shamelessly and drunkenly with all of Conrad’s pals and just about all of his teachers too, and the headmaster and the chaplain to boot. To make matters worse this Wolverington character flirted just as shamelessly if not more so with the boys and faculty and anyone else there not wearing a skirt. How hideous it had been to watch these two aged and painted scarecrows clawing at and drooling over his cringing friends, his soon-to-be ex-friends.

There wasn’t even supposed to be any booze around on Boat Race Day, not even for the faculty, but no worries for Aunt Caroline and Lord Wolverington; besides whatever they had guzzled on the drive up they both carried large silver flasks of God knows what, somebody said it was absinthe, and they didn’t shy away from offering it to the boys, either, some of whom accepted, one of whom immediately threw up all over Chaplain Smith’s cassock.

What a dreadful day, capped off by Wolverington and Aunt Caroline ramming her Duesenberg through the side of the boat house and crushing Groton's quad scull. The police came and took them away, and it had been Conrad’s sad lot to telephone home at once to his mother with the disgraceful news.

Mother had merely sighed and said that she would ring up Perkins and he would deal with it, he had had to deal with far worse in his time from Aunt Caroline.

Conrad had been so mortified that he was tempted to run away to sea as a cabin boy or to join a traveling circus, perhaps as an apprentice elephant trainer, but he was at bottom a timid soul, and so he stayed at school and took his punishment, which was two long years of continual raillery and humiliation.

All he had ever wanted was to be accepted, to be liked. Was that asking so much? Was it his fault that his Aunt Caroline was insane?

Even at Yale the first thing he heard from every new person to whom he told his name was, “Collinson? You the guy with the crazy Aunt Caroline? The one that tried to grab Chub Williamson's private parts?”

And yet still Conrad was fond of Aunt Caroline. She was the only relation he had who had ever shown to him what seemed like sincere affection, who didn’t act bored or roll their eyes as soon as he entered a room.

And it was she, Aunt Caroline, one afternoon as Conrad and Caroline were having tea in the Prince Hal Room, it was she who had introduced Conrad to Angie, who had asked Angie to join them at their table, who had told Angie what a nice upstanding young man Conrad was. Aunt Caroline had done that. Introduced Conrad to the only girl he had ever loved.

Conrad walked over to the elevator. He had the package under his arm, containing what he had made damned well certain this time actually contained the blue box with great-grandmother Harrison's brooch in it, and not a brown box containing heroin.

Delivering the brooch was the ostensible reason for his visit. But the real reason was to ask Aunt Caroline about Angie. Aunt Caroline knew that Angie existed, Aunt Caroline knew --

“Goin’ to visit Miss Charlton, Mr. Collinson?” said Mortimer the elevator operator.

“Yes, thank you, Mortimer,” said Conrad, and he stepped into the cage.

The End of Chapter 14

Click here for Chapter 15: "the detectives".


Letitia Coyne said...

I like Aunt Caroline.

Dan Leo said...

Aunt Caroline is a goddess.