Writer’s Note: These works were jumpstarted in an asynchronous workshop ‘Less is More’ run by Sarah Freligh, a master teacher of micro prose writing. Mostly, both arose from my desire to throw things away, metaphorically as well in actuality. This is especially the case in “Letters from Loved Ones.” (If you are worried about the letters, they are still in moving boxes in my garage.) The second work, “Grasshoppers” is related to the first because it is the same aunt. I believe the prompt was to write about landscapes; however, I cannot write about settings devoid of people and their emotional layers. I wrote these two flashes fast and furiously, revising deep into an October night. Less is hopefully more in my work here. Though part of me thinks I should have included the exact recipe for a Grasshopper. Read on.
Letters to Loved Ones
My mother wrote to her only sister that she had named me after their mother, and after her. Caroline Anna. She asked if she could visit with me. It was a long drive (from the Bronx to western Massachusetts) but if her sister agreed, she’d make the trip in one day and not burden anybody. My mother was even creative in begging her older sister for recognition of her baby, of her marriage outside her faith, writing part of the letter in my newborn voice. I’d love to meet you, Aunt Anna…. We must have gone since the letter was never sent. The sheer, onionskin typing paper with my mother’s handwritten pleadings was folded into the back of a dictionary. From the date on the letter, she was already pregnant with my brother. He’d be born thirteen months after me, and then my sister and another brother, and three months later, she’d have her stroke.
My only sister writes me a letter. We are both in our teens, though I’m escaping with a scholarship to college upstate, leaving her with Pop and our brothers. Years later, I find her letter, which must have been torn out of her three-ring binder, in a moving box I was shipping intact from one house to another. I should have re-read her letter but I knew the gist of it as well as I knew anything I had ever read: Dear Caroline, I hate you.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s time to gather all the letters up, the one from my mother, the one from my sister, the pile from my Pop who loved writing me on his letterhead newsy goings-on, including one in which he said he felt so alone he was ready to kill himself (he never did). Gather them up and burn them all. I don’t want my daughter to find them; I don’t want her ever to write me a letter.
Our aunt agreed to take us for two weeks every summer to give her brother-in-law, our Pop, a break from raising the four of us. Our aunt with Elizabeth Taylor hair and the Kent cigarette with black coffee every morning before anyone could talk to her was a city girl from Queens living out in western Massachusetts with a Southie from Boston, a cousin twice or three times removed. Their fathers had immigrated from the same hill town in Sicily. No one in the family discussed the past, especially with us.
Our aunt let us play in the cemetery down the road with the loose headstones and the dates fading back to the 1600s. At the pond, when we captured a tadpole and cupped it in our hands, she told us to release the poor thing. Some days, she crammed us into her Corvette, tearing down country roads buttressed by hardwoods—no destination in sight, only a deep sense of dislocation. She never spoke about our mother, except to say that she was always the wild one, their father’s favorite. We loved our aunt, clinging to her with a fierceness that only comes with loss. She called us all Angel.
When I was thirteen, our aunt and uncle hosted a big get-together. Served Grasshoppers. Crème de menthe, crème de cacao, and vanilla ice cream in an industrial blender. Out on the fields surrounding her house, the fireflies were brighter than I’d ever seen them. The entire family was there. I danced with dozens of cousins. Frogs croaked. Out of the stereo speakers, Sinatra sang, and we all chorused, New York, New York. When I found my aunt hiding out and smoking over the kitchen sink, I giddily confessed I had kissed an older cousin. She exhaled and said it must run in the family. I swung around her. I had three, maybe four Grasshoppers in me and was aiming for another, so sweet, so green. After a moment or two, my aunt stopped smoking. You remind me too much of my sister, Angel, she said, crushing out her cigarette. I can’t stand looking at you, happy like that, when she should be here.
Caroline Bock is the author of Carry Her Home, winner of the Fiction Award from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House, and LIE and Before My Eyes, young adult novels from St. Martin’s Press. The winner of the Writer magazine story award and the Adrift story award from Driftwood Press, her creative work has also appeared in SmokeLong, Brevity, Vestal Review, jmww, Gargoyle, Grace & Gravity: DC Women Writers, Jarnal and more. She is the co-president and fiction editor at the Washington Writers’ Publishing House, a nonprofit independent literary press based in Washington DC. Find her often on Twitter at cabockwrites.