Something For Everyone
by Sue Ann Connaughton
The last time I saw Uncle Tony, he was running down the back staircase of our apartment building, with my mother chasing him.
He’s my mother’s only sibling, five years younger. She calls him the irresponsible baby of the family, partly because he wanders from state to state foraging for carnival jobs that sound more like fun than work to me: ferris wheel operator, dart game manager, fortune-teller, snake-pit wrestler. During the carnival off-season, he picks up odd jobs.
Uncle Tony is also my godfather, but the only time we ever hear from him is on his birthday. Every year, on December 30th, he calls my mother, collect. Every year, he makes the same joke, “It’s the only date I can remember.”
One year, en-route to an off-season job, Uncle Tony rang our bell and invited himself to stay for a week.
Tall and muscly, he Tony looked like a giant next to my mother, but his handsome face resembled hers, with dark wavy hair, thick eyebrows, and a wide white smile. After he finished bearhugging my mother about three feet off the ground, he turned his attention to me.
“Look at you!” he said, handing me a fistful of pink roses. “How old are you now, Princess? Sixteen, seventeen?”
I fell in love with him, instantly.
My mother quickly replied. “She’s twelve and doesn’t need any incentive to reach eighteen sooner than necessary.”
Uncle Tony winked at me. “Uh oh, I bet Mommy thought the flowers were for her.”
He lifted my mother’s hair and whipped his hand behind her ear. “What’s this?”
He produced a red-stoned ring.
My mother grabbed it from him. “Auntie’s ruby ring that I inherited! So, you took it. I wondered why we never found it after her funeral. Thief!”
“You weren’t using it and I needed an engagement ring for my lovely fiancée.”
“Where’s the lovely fiancée, now?”
“Oh, that relationship’s been over for awhile. But I recovered the ring for you, my favorite sister.”
When my father came home from work, he found Uncle Tony teaching me how to cheat at Gin Rummy.
“Showing her carnie scams?” he asked.
Uncle Tony jumped up and shook my father’s hand. “Hey, Sport. I’m teaching her life skills, how to outsmart the competition. Valuable knowledge if she goes into the investment field like you.”
The day before he was to move out, Uncle Tony disappeared for the whole day, without telling anyone. Around midnight, we were awakened by a racket. He had knocked over the umbrella stand, while trying to sneak out with his suitcase.
My mother was furious. “We’ve been worried sick about you. Where’ve you been, in a bar?”
“I bought a gift for Princess.”
He dug in his pocket and pulled out a small velvet box that contained a heart-shaped locket with two photos inside: one of a long-haired woman, another of a dog.
“They always come with fake pictures,” he said. “You slip those out and put your own in.”
My mother asked who he stole it from.
“Nobody. I picked up a day’s work down at the docks.”
My mother ran into her bedroom and came out waving her jewelry box.
“You stole Auntie’s ring, again, and sold it for a locket, a day of drinking, and who-knows-what-else.”
“I didn’t sell it.” He gave her a wrinkled piece of paper. “Here’s the pawnshop ticket.”
She was shaking mad and screaming. “Now, I have to buy back the ring!”
I closed my fist around the locket.
“Oh, don’t worry,” she said. “You can keep the stupid locket.”
“Taxi’s waiting, gotta go.” Uncle Tony kissed the top of my head. “Be good, Princess.”
He dashed out the back door, down the stairs.
My mother ran down after him, yelling, as pajama-clad neighbors gathered on various staircase landings to investigate the commotion.
“Yeh, well I hope you can tell time by the sun, moon, and stars,” she hollered, “because I stole Dad’s Rolex out of your suitcase, last night!”
It’s been ten years and Uncle Tony hasn’t been back to visit, but he still calls my mother collect, every year on December 30th.
Sue Ann Connaughton writes compact pieces from a drafty old house in New England. Her most recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in GlassFire Magazine; Fabula Argentea; You are here: The Journal of Creative Geography; The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts; Barnwood Poetry Magazine; The Linnet’s Wings; The Meadowland Review; thickjam; and Boston Literary Magazine.
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