Travels with my Aunt
I only learnt that Uncle Bert was a bachelor after he died.
I had returned to England, after ten years, just to say my last farewell to him.
His wake was attended by relatives and friends but Aunt Vera wasn't there and when I asked where she was I was met with blank stares. No one seemed to know who I was talking about or where she was and everyone said that my memory was playing tricks and was thinking of someone else.
It was puzzling because I remember meeting her the first time when I was a child of 10.
I used to call on my uncle on my way home from school and, knowing that he lived alone, to ask him if he needed any shopping done.
He always declined but said he appreciated the thought and would reward me with a cup of delicious chocolate and bring out a tin of cookies to thank me.
Although he had recently retired, he was a busy man, so he would disappear to his study making obvious that it was time for me to leave.
I would, as I was taught by my parents, wash and dry the cup; put in the cupboard and, shouting a goodbye at my uncle in the study, I would shut the front door behind me.
This was the usual routine and one day I was surprised that a woman I had not seen before opened the door to let me in.
"Hello, I'm your Aunt Vera", she told me adding that Uncle Bert was busy in the cellar and she would be looking after me.
I was relieved to see that the welcoming chocolate and cookies were still on the menu, the only exception being that they were served to me in the study instead of the kitchen.
"Don't tell your uncle", she confided affectionately.
The leather pouffe on which I sat was the right height for my little legs allowing my feet to touch the carpet that Aunt Vera said was from Persia, a country she had visited during her travels.
I made sure that I didn't drop any crumbs.
The visits and auntie's hospitality became a regular thing.
Sometimes I wished that we could go travelling together to the exotic places she described but the only travel she now did - she told me - was to the supermarket or the library and occasionally the cemetery where she put fresh flowers on her granny's grave.
I saw very little of Uncle Bert who spent a lot of time rearranging his wine racks in the cellar. I wasn't even able to see him prior to my departure as my father, who was an army officer had been posted overseas and we had to leave right away.
At the time I took it for granted that Vera was Bert's wife but now, years later, after the funeral, having learnt that he never married and that no one seemed to know of her existence, I began to suspect that she was his secret mistress, probably a married woman otherwise why all the secrecy?
I wondered how Uncle Bert had managed to keep his relationship under wraps.
I could not stop thinking about her fate or whereabouts.
Had she had gone back to her husband or emigrated to one of those places she spoke to me about?
I had a horrible, uneasy feeling that he may have killed her and her body was buried in the cellar where he spent a lot of time.
The mystery was solved much later, after the probate and reading of the will that revealed that I was the fortunate recipient of Bert's inheritance.
I was handed a sealed envelope addressed to me with an explanatory letter.
first of all my sincere apologies for the deceit I perpetrated, but without any malice, when you were a young child.
There never was an aunt Vera. I confess to being a cross-dresser and she always was my alter ego.
I thought you may be more comfortable with a woman than a grumpy old man.
Affectionately yours, Bert/Vera"
© Luigi Pagano 2021