7.00pm, forty-six hours in

Dee walked slowly around the room, cell appended to her ear, waiting for someone on the receiving end.

“Diana! Goodness! Diana! How great! Hold a second, my dear.” Her mother shouted downstairs to her father without moving the cell phone from her mouth, “Sweetheart, pick up the phone. It’s Diana,” Dee moving her cell away from her ear

Her father picked up an extension saying, “Diana, my darling. Is that you? How are you? We miss you very much. We love you so much, my darling,” Michael James Mirabile, forty-one years old, and Lorraine Hagedorn Mirabile, thirty-nine years old, Dee’s parents, parents also of Fritz, age nine. A good-looking couple people say, met as students at Boston Architectural College, married nineteen years ago after an eighteen-month courtship. Michael and Lorraine, both architects, the principals in a successful boutique architectural firm, Creations, LLC, seed money for the firm from Michael’s sister, Clara, principal offices on Newbury St. in Boston, just three blocks from their alma mater, additional workspace in their home in Tyngsborough, Ma.

Cell phone to her ear, Dee continued her slow pacing. “And I love you and miss you, too. I’m so sorry to be such a project.” Her parents’ voices soothed and comforted Dee – she’d forgotten how much, as she’d forgotten that everything she did pleased them.

Father, “Silly girl. How are you? When can we see you?”

“Not long. Two or three days, at most. I’m okay but still hurting: my stomach, my head, muscles, bones – all over. The worst hangover on earth. My eyes are sunken. I’m so skinny a broomstick is two of me; and every day brings some new physical crisis. Drug addiction? Cold turkey? Definitely take them off your bucket list.”

“Poor baby,” mother.

“But the whole truth? I do feel better, now; a lot, lot better than a couple of days ago.

Mother, “Can we help!”

“But you do help, mom. I feel your love and support in the space you give me to stay here. I want you to know that I am well cared for – Ivy tends me twenty-four/seven. A local physician has been here twice in two days to examine me. I’m good. There’s nothing anyone can do for me now but watch. I’ll just have to take it easy for a while.”

Michael, “We met Ivy Tuesday, late morning – when we delivered your clothes. You were asleep. She does seem protective.”

“Sorry. I know she rushed you out. She only did what she thought I wanted.”

“No, no. We didn’t expect to see you. But Ivy was something else. Amazing, really. Smooth. She met us in the driveway and said ‘Hello,’ into the driver’s window, and without breaking stride, opened the rear door, took your suitcase, gave us directions to the café that you go to in the morning – a great café by the way; and she said, ‘Goodbye,’ so courteously that we drove away from the house feeling as though we had just spent the weekend instead of less than one minute.”

“He’s teasing you, my dear. Don’t pay any attention to him,” Lorraine. “Diana, she has a certain timelessness about her. She walks and talks like she’s part of a dream. But she does seem very nice.”

“She’s beyond nice. I’ll give you all the details when we catch up. Meanwhile, I need another day or two alone to focus on my recovery. We’ll be together very soon. Oh! Thanks for bringing the clothes. I’m wearing the beige pajamas now. I really needed them, although they’re all much too big for me now.”

“Sweetheart, they’re your clothes,” mother.

“A hundred pounds ago. Don’t worry. I’ll grow back into them. Thank you.”

Father, “You’re welcome, my dear. We’re very glad you’re feeling better. But if you are getting stronger, we do have some sad news that we’d prefer to tell you before we hang up. We don’t want you to hear about it from a newspaper or television.”

“Tell me,” Dee stopped walking, her left-hand fingers delicately touching the cell phone still held by her right.

“There’s no gentle way to say this. Aunt Clara has passed.”

“Uuhhh?” Dee sucked in through her mouth, stopped walking, and grabbed the top of her bureau for support. “My aunt? Gone?”  

Still holding the cell, Dee’s right hand dropped to her thigh as images of her aunt rushed her, she remembering: “Dear Aunt Clara. The only auxiliary member of the girlfriends’ closed circle. Not a looker, but could she dress – every day she looking like a special occasion. She breathed life into any outfit: wearing a hat on the bias, adding a piece of jewelry on her lapel, a flower in her hair.

“Not a mother, Auntie Clara, but a textbook aunt – never permitting the word No! to be used in my presence.

“An artist. ‘Not one that dabs on brick or wood,’ she would say, but an artist working with fabric, texture, color, and pattern; with needle and thread. A master of couture, creating and fabricating clothes for the wealthy, sold in upscale stores, either under her own label or permitted department store labels, those stores paying extra for the boast.”

Dee released the bureau and resumed her slow pacing, remembering, “The dresses. Every Christmas. Memories of Aunt Clara forever and inextricably joined with the white silk dresses she designed and made for the four of us to wear to the annual ‘Mirabile Christmas Eve Party.’ The tradition started when Aunt Clara came to visit on our first day home after my birth bearing four beautifully wrapped packages, themselves works of art. The girlfriends were all there, each of us getting one of the packages, the first rendition of the Christmas Eve dresses. They were identical, even the sizes, all of us born practically in the same season: Laini, September, Lori-Baby, October, Stella, November, and me, the last, in December. So glad to have those great year-to-year pictures of the four of us modelling the dresses. I liked the pipsqueak pictures the best: we were so tiny, seeing our faces was a problem.”

Dee spoke into the cell. “You know what I’m thinking of? December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.”

“When she brought over her new creations for the four of you,” Lorraine.

“For a fitting. You always made a great dinner for us. We were always having holidays, weren’t we? Four girlfriends, their parents, Grandfather, Aunt Clara. I remember us opening the boxes.”

“And we all ‘Ooohhed’ and ‘Aaawwed’” Michael.

Lorraine, “The four of you stampeded upstairs to your room to try them on, Auntie Clara, giddy with teenage vivacity, tried hard to pin you down to pin you up, feebly protesting your lack of cooperation, wallowing in your enthusiasm.”

Dee, “Finally giving us leave to show the dresses off to the rest of you.”

Michael, “Of course the adults all repeated their earlier praises. She barely acknowledged us. She took the bored professional posture, ‘Been there; done that.’ But she lived for your praise and I’m proud to say that you and the girls heaped it on.”

“We hated that she took the dresses away. We wouldn’t see them again until, alterations complete, she returned them at 4.00pm on Christmas Eve, just in time for the party.”

Lorraine, “And she stayed with you for however long it took to make adjustments, producing accessories miraculously perfect for each girl. How proud Aunt Clara on that day.”

Dee, “And now she’s gone? Taking her life-force from us? Her dresses? Some of my joy? When? How? Daddy, your sister? When’s the funeral? Can you wait for me?”

“She died three weeks ago. I’m sorry, my dear. We waited the service a week.” She heard her father’s eyes fill with tears.

“No, daddy. I’m sorry for you. But please don’t you be too sad. Remember, only her body’s passed on. She lives on, of course. That concept you have got to own right now. Aunt Clara lives. Not with us, that’s true. But she’s fine. You know I’ve been there, with God.”

“Thank you, my dear. I do know. Your words will help.”

“Of course, selfishly, we have lost the personal, physical presence of your sister! Aunt Clara! Died? Oh! My goodness. But how, Daddy? She wasn’t sick.” Dee didn’t remember Aunt Clara ever sick. Not a day.

“No, my dear, someone killed her.”

Diana froze in place. “Killed? Like an automobile?”

“My dear, if you don’t mind, I’d like to save the details until we’re together.”

“No, of course not, daddy. I don’t mind. I’m sorry. Keep my love with you and take care of yourselves. And my dear baby brother? Is he upset? How terrible for him, especially, on top of my going missing as well.”

Mother, “Fritz is okay, my dear. Before we knew you were safe, he looked at the driveway ten times a day to see if you might be coming home. He’s happy now, knowing you’re well. Very much looking forward to your return home.”

“Home!” The thought stabbed Dee with a pang of sadness; but definitely not the moment to talk to her parents about her plans, saying instead, “And my girlfriends?”

“You know them. They call us every day. Twice; each.”

“Be sure to tell them I’ll see them very soon. I miss them. Tell them everything we’ve talked about.”

Father, “Of course, my dear. As if we could hold anything back from them.”

Dee laughed, “Certainly my mindreading-Stella would catch the lie as you thought it.”

“Just one more thing, sweetheart. I'm sorry to burden you. There's just so much to talk about. Three weeks ago, we got a call from the attorney who's handling Aunt Clara’s estate. She didn’t know you weren’t at home. But she needs to talk to you about some important legal and financial matters. With your permission, I’ll call and give her your number.”

“If you think it’s necessary…”

“Yes, my dear. What she must tell you is like a personal message from Aunt Clara, from the grave.”

“Wow! The Twilight Zone.” Dee dried her eyes with a fingertip. “Okay, then. Give her my number. By the time she reaches me I’ll be home, anyway. Oh! Do either of you have contact information for the doctor, a psychiatrist, who was good friends with Grandfather? I remember how he made me laugh the times he visited Grandfather.”

“Dr. Mike,” father.

“Yes, that’s him. I’d like to talk to him now, professionally. Can you find him and ask if he can take me on as a patient? Ask if he can visit me right away, like in the next twenty-four hours, while I’m still down here. I can use some professional help besides the love I get from my family and friends.”

“As soon as we hang up, my dear. It’s so wonderful hearing from you. We’re so relieved. We love you, Diana.”

“I love you, too. I’ll call you tomorrow. Bye,” disconnecting, thinking, “Aunt Clara?” Not thinking, lying on top of the bed covers, staring off into space while puddles grew in her eyes, the overflow sliding down the sides of her face, tickling her ears.