Water and bare walls, reluctant bread and butter when I was hungry, entire conversations that failed to admit my existence. A visit to my aunt Tilly was the worst punishment I could think of.
My other aunts and uncles existed purely to entertain me, to bake me cakes and experiment with ice cream flavours, to wow me with attention, tricks, games and gifts.
Aunt Tilly talked to my mother, not to me, I was just that inconvenience my mother brought along with her.
One time we visited Tilly and she talked non-stop for two hours about an art exhibition she had been to, in which the artist had painted dead people. Not people she'd known who had died, but fresh corpses, from nursing homes, hospitals and mortuaries. I was entranced. It was the most extraordinary thing I'd ever listened to.
From that moment on I couldn't wait for the next visit to aunt Tilly's. She was my insight into the secret adult world. Not the fake entertainment I encountered elsewhere, the uncensored, bizarre reality of adulthood. This is what I needed to hear if I was ever going to grow up.
The next time we visited I took a notebook along to keep a record.
"You remember that time I killed a piglet," she said to my mother, apropos of nothing. My mother merely nodded, words operate in a pure one-way system at Aunt Tilly's house.
"The farmer I was dating, Clive. Two red flags there," aunt Tilly laughed to herself, "A farmer and called Clive. Anyway, he wanted to show me his way of life, the blood of it, so he placed a knife in my right hand, a piglet in my left, took hold of both my arms and puppeteered me through savage execution."
She went on to describe in gory detail the execution of the piglet and the bloody passionate sex they had in the execution's immediate aftermath.
I was eleven. Old enough to visit Tilly on my own. I remember her surprise the first time I'd called on her. She stared at me as if I was a naked postman or unicycling milkman.
"I suppose," she said eventually, squeaking the door just far enough ajar for me to squeeze through.
We sat on hard chairs a few feet from each other and she talk in graphic detail about all the carpets in her house, when she had bought them, the colour, the feel. It was the first time in my entire life I'd done anything but take carpets for granted. To this very day I'm now aware of that below my feet is a story, very carpet has been selected, chosen, it has a history, a reason to be.
Mum stopped going to see Tilly not long after that. Tilly said something to offend, or did something to offend.
I continued to see her in secret. I don't think Tilly realised mum had stopped seeing her. When Tilly took offense she told people, loudly, silence and boycotts meant nothing to her. She helped me through me teenage years, by putting me all-consuming teenage woes in perspective. She was my contact with an alternative reality.
Tilly died suddenly. There were four of us at her funeral, I dragged my mother along, there were a couple of neighbours, but no other relatives, she had obviously offended them at some point. Tilly left everything to me in her will, which read: "I leave the house and everything in it to that girl as comes to the house with June." She had never learnt my name, apparently, or even my relationship to my mother. I was just some child that happened along.
My other aunt and uncle, the jolly ones who gave me ice cream and cake, contested the will as they'd been left everything in an earlier will. They won of course, her last will and testament was dismissed as nonsense.
But the gesture meant more to me than the money. She had singled me out. True, she'd never bothered finding out who I was, but I had become the person in the world she most valued. Maybe she is in heaven now, telling some helpless angel a two-hour story about me. Or maybe she's back talking about the carpets.