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by Brian Evenson


          Part I.

Dear Aunt,

      Though I am quite glad to discover that you are still alive, that I will not be charged with your murder along with the others, I am dismayed by the severity of your injuries. Thank God for catheters and electric wheelchairs. Nevertheless, your tongue, transcribed on paper though it be, has lost none of its sharpness, and you seem to have retained your longstanding and unjustified distaste for me. Your accusations are, quite frankly, even making allowances for your condition and my unintentional role in creating it, slanderous.
       I feel greatly alone and forsaken in this place, among the guilty--though I myself am not guilty. There are a great many clever people here, but no intelligent ones, and I find myself with no one to converse with. Admittedly, I have experienced this before and I suppose I should resign myself, yet I find it less bearable this second time, now that I know exactly what to expect.
       I will tell you again I did nothing to my sisters. I loved my sisters. Had you any love left for the one remaining member of your sister's family, you would work to rectify this miscarriage of justice.

       Always Yours,
Dear Aunt,

       I have read your reply twice over to assure myself of its contents. I regret that I find the letter even more insulting on a second reading.
       I have promised myself not to dignify your letter with a full reply, but I cannot resist permitting myself a clarification on one score: namely, a matter of wording which, once corrected, throws your so-called evidence into a new light.
       My sisters were startled to see me (not, as you say, terrified). Considering the propaganda my parents and yourself always uttered against me in their presence, this was to be expected. It proves nothing against me.
       I often tried make my parents realize how unnatural and perverse their treatment of me was, how it damaged my sisters as well as myself. Indeed, I was a ceaseless advocate for the interests of my sisters: just hours before my parents' death I pleaded with my parents to allow us to become reacquainted. It would, I insisted, do my sisters a tremendous good to see me, considering how close we had once been. I had changed, I told them, which was the truth. My parents could monitor our meeting if they liked, I offered. Nobody had anything to fear.
       These were the soundest of arguments, and would have operated quickly on more rational minds. Even my parents expressed a willingness to reconsider, but they were unfortunately murdered before their reconsideration was complete. Convinced as I was that they eventually would have accepted my arguments, allowing me to be reunited with my sisters, I felt the restraining order was not as binding as it had once been.

Dear Aunt,

       How I came to be there, I can explain. I was driving around, nowhere in particular, trying to calm myself after having met with my parents, when suddenly I found myself on their street. I had unconsciously driven there. I would have kept driving but my parents' car was not in the drive, which made me concerned that my sisters had again been left without proper adult supervision.
       I stopped the car to note this in the filebook which, before the police confiscated it, I kept in the glove compartment. I suggest you ask the police to allow you to examine this filebook. You will find it enlightening: clear proof, in over three thousand documented instances, of my parents' alternating abuse and neglect of my sisters. Perhaps seeing it would change your opinion of them, and of me.
       I am a fair man. Therefore, before making a notation against my parents, I felt I had to assure myself that my sisters were actually in the house. For this reason alone, I removed the binoculars from beneath the seat and pressed them against the tinted glass.
       In a few seconds, I caught sight of my sisters, dim and shiftless behind the windows, clear victims of parental neglect. One of my sisters opened the door and looked out onto the porch. She was as beautiful as ever, and I was sure the same was true for the other. What can it hurt? I thought. Just to climb from my car and wave to them? Just to speak with them through the door?
       Yet, please note, Aunt, I did not contact them. I could not bring myself to violate the restraining order. I am first and foremost a law abiding citizen.
Dear Aunt,

       You accuse me of knowing of my parents' murder before that information was released to the general public. In fact, this the only accusation which has some substance to support it. Had you not been too thoroughly damaged to attend my trial, you would have heard me freely admit this and offer an explanation.
       After driving away from my parents' house, leaving my sisters unmolested, I drove toward home. On a whim, I chose to follow the frontage road rather than the highway, thinking that the former would be quicker at that hour of the day. The road was at first clear, but rapidly became congested. Soon I saw the road ahead blocked by a policeman standing before a barricade, waving cars to pass onto the shoulder.
       "What happened?" I asked, driving slowly past.
       "Accident," he said. "Move along."
       The policeman said exactly this to me, and then, later, in court, had the nerve to claim never to have seen me. Had he come forward and admitted to recognizing me, no jury would have dared to convict me.
       I pulled onto the shoulder and edged slowly forward. In the road ahead was a car of the same make as that of my parents. My tires crunched through pebbled glass. Examining the license plate, I realized it was in fact my parent's car. Shocked, I passed two stretchers, each covered with a sheet, a hand hanging over the side of one which, as I passed, an orderly tucked out of sight.
       This, my dear Aunt, was the first indication I had that my parents were dead. I was distraught, perhaps not thinking as clearly as I should have, and thus believed that if I stopped and assumed management of my parents' bodies it would only complicate matters. So I drove on.
       P.S. In hindsight, it is clear to me that not stopping was an error in judgment.


       There is no contradiction: I was only obeying a higher law. I was concerned for the welfare of my sisters, stripped as they were of parents. I asked myself what Christ Jesus would do. I answered myself that the only thing a brother could do, parole or no, was to provide his sisters with his love.
       Thus, I drove to my parents' house a second time. When I arrived I found you and my sisters carrying suitcases hurriedly out. I attempted to reason with you, to convince you that it was natural for me to comfort my sisters at such a time, restraining order or no. At first, you seemed to have difficulty following what I was saying, and then you refused to listen to me at all. You will recall that in the middle of our conversation, much to my surprise, you suddenly rushed screaming toward the car.
       Your behavior, I hope you now see, was completely inappropriate. It was that which upset my sisters further, not anything I did. With their mental well being in mind, I took your arm to try to calm you, not, as you claim, to restrain you. Unfortunately there was a struggle, and you fell and were hurt.
       Injured, you were clearly in no position to care for my sisters, and thus I felt obliged to take my sisters from your car and place them in my own.
       They were crying, perhaps finally beginning to feel the impact of my parents' death. I asked them not to cry, and, reaching my arm around both of them, squeezed them close to me. Still, they kept crying. You had upset them that much, you see. I squeezed them closer and let them know in a reassuring voice, that there was no reason to cry. When they still would not stop, I pulled them very close indeed until finally, touched by the strength of my concern, they did stop.
       I am embarrassed to admit that I had been so caught up in comforting my sisters that I forgot entirely about you. In pulling the car out I was conscious of clunking over something, but several hours passed before I realize that it must have been you. Had I realized any sooner, I swear I would not have left you in that condition, but I simply didn't realize.
       If they still insist on punishing me, let them punish me for running over you. For what I did rather than for what I didn't.
       But remember, it was an accident, Aunt. Anyone could have done it.
       Forgive me,
       Part II.

Dear Aunt,

       I have spent the day sitting in my room trying to understand why your letters have stopped. Perhaps you are sending them but they are not reaching me? We were making such progress. It seems inconceivable that you would terminate our correspondence.
       Please, tell me how I have offended you. If you will, I promise to make everything up to you.

Dear Aunt,

       I want to be open. I want to hear your point of view as well. I want to understand discuss my case until we have reached an understanding. But how can we discuss it when you will not return my letters?
       The days move slowly here. I do not think I am liked by the others--they sense I am different. Perhaps they can feel that I am innocent. Men who should be here, clever men who are guilty, receive letters quite often. Yet I have no letters at all.
       Looking forward to hearing from you.

Dear Aunt,

       I think, considering
Dear Aunt,

       All other things being equal, I see no reason why I should not explain the
Dear Aunt,

       For all I care you can just
Dear Aunt,

       My guess is you would like to hear about my motivations as well as the truth about the night of the murders. Indeed, you cannot discard me without knowing that. You cannot judge me without it.
       Write to me and I'll tell you everything.

Dear Aunt,

       Your silence is hard to interpret. Nonetheless, I think I know what you want. I'll tell you a little bit and then, if you want to hear more, I want a letter from you first.
       That night, after leaving you in the driveway, I knew the best thing for my sisters would be to distract them, to allow the gain of a brother to offset the loss of the parents. With that in mind, I drove them toward a little motel outside the city, the sort of place that would allow them the repose and privacy they would need to recover.
       I drove past the motel several times, considering what the best course of action would be. Driving a little way along, down the back roads until we were among trees, I stopped the car. Helping my sisters out, I led them around to the trunk, inviting them to climb inside. Perhaps this strikes you as odd, Aunt, but that is only because you do not yet understand my motivation: I didn't have the money to pay for a room for three.
       At the hotel, the manager sat in his undershirt, the television blaring, fat spilling out onto his belt.
       "Excuse me," I said. "I'm interested in a room, please."
       "Twenty bucks," he said, without looking up from the T.V.
       I put a twenty dollar bill on the counter. He took it up slowly and put it under the counter somewhere, his other hand groping the wall for a key. He found the key and, pushing it across the desk, looked at me for the first time.
       "Behind the building, third door," he said. "You look familiar."
       "Me?" I asked. "Impossible."
       "Sure," he said. "You been here before."
       "I've never been here," I said. "You are mistaken."
       His eyes slowly flicking back to the television screen, he nodded.
       I went outside. Around the back of the motel, I pulled my sisters out of the trunk. They stood pale and holding hands, blinking in the sunlight until I shepherded them into our room.
       The room itself was mildly unpleasant, the air stale, the furnishings done in a third or fourth-rate style. It was not what I had hoped for. Perhaps my sisters could feel the unpleasantness of the surroundings as well for they struck me as anxious, unsettled.
       I attempted to reassure them, but instead of accepting my comfort they burst into tears. I went into the bathroom and brought out handfuls of Kleenex, held them close to me and whispered to them. In a little time, I had distracted them sufficiently that they had forgotten about the death of our parents.
       It was not until near morning, however, that they fell asleep. By then, I had had a difficult night and despite my exhaustion was unable to sleep myself. I needed something to calm my nerves.
       Climbing off the bed and pulling on my clothes, I left the room. The sky was still dark, the air fraught with a predawn silence. I climbed into the car and drove until I reached a all-night convenience store. At the drive-thru window, I ordered a coffee. I had planned to drink it in the store's parking lot but the coffee was scalding, so instead drove back to the motel. Worried that opening and closing the room's door might awaken my sisters from their precarious sleep, I did not go in but rather stayed in the car, reclined a little, and drank the coffee.
       I had nearly finished the cup when the hotel manager's door opened and he stumbled out, a length of pipe in his hand. He went to my room's window and looked in, his hands cupped around the side of his face. He was like that for most of the time it took for me to finish my coffee, then he walked back to his room.
       Getting out of the car, I walked down to his office. He had left the door ajar, so I went in. He was behind the desk, one hand holding the telephone receiver to his ear, the other hand dialing. When he saw me, he slowly recradled the receiver.
       "Who are you calling?" I asked.
       "Nobody," he said.
       "Come on," I said, smiling. "You must have been calling somebody."
       "Time and temperature," he said. "I couldn't sleep."
       "Are you sure it was time and temperature?"
       "Please," he said. "I don't want any trouble."
       I came around behind the desk. "Why were you looking through my window?" I asked. "What did you hope to see?"
       It was about that time that he got down on the slabs of fat that were his knees and started blubbering. He told me that he wouldn't say anything to the police, that I could count on him. Shortly thereafter we reached an understanding of sorts.
       Perhaps if you write to me and ask nicely, I'll tell you all about it, about what really happened.
Dear Aunt,

       You seem to have lost your ability to write. Still, though abandoned, I won't abandon you. I'll leave the crucial details out, Aunt, but I'll tell you the rest. The crucial details, parts, too, the parts that nobody but me knows, will be yours for the asking. All I ask for are a few of your words to warm myself by.
       So, where were we?
       After the agreement was reached, the lateness of the hour was catching up with me. When I went back into the room, it was too dark to see. I groped my way to the bed and felt along my portion of it to assure myself that I was not going to lie down on top of one of my sisters. Removing my clothes, I reclined on the bed and closed my eyes.
       It was only a few seconds before I realized something was wrong. Things were too quiet. I rolled onto my side and reached out to touch my sisters. They were not in the bed. I called out to them. Getting out of bed, I turned on the lights.
       The bedroom was empty, the furniture in mild disarray. They were not there. I searched under the beds and in the closet, but my sisters were nowhere in the room.
       I admit at first I thought they had woken up and escaped, but it turned out to be much worse. Opening the door to the bathroom, I found the shower curtain had been pulled shut. I parted the curtain and found them.
       I swear that this was the first moment I knew about their deaths. I am innocent of their murder.
       As to the motel manager, I gather from the press reports that he is dead as well, killed in the same fashion as my sisters, though for some reason I was never charged with his murder. Suspicious no? Doesn't it sound like someone is covering up something? If they were murdered in the same way, why wouldn't I be charged with both crimes?
       I've thought a great deal about who the real killer is. Write to me. I'm willing to share.

Dear Aunt,

       I do not know what else I can offer to prod you into resuming your correspondence with me. Aren't you interested in the truth? Wouldn't you like to hear what I've kept from everyone else?
       I will say this. If you want to find the real killer, I am the only one with enough information to lead you in the right direction. I can say no more until I hear from you.
       As for the blood found upon my clothing, that can easily be explained. Write, and I will explain it. Not the blood only, but the substance, apparently from their eyes, that had gathered under my thumbnails. I can explain everything. Aren't you even the least bit curious?
Dear Aunt,

       Happy day! They have been questioning me again, and from the questions they ask it is clear they have read my letters to you. Either they have intercepted them or you have chosen to show the letters to them yourself. I prefer to think the latter: it proves you are still interested in me.
       I will tell you, as I told them earlier today, I am innocent not only of murder but of all lesser crimes as well. I never touched my sisters other than in the spirit of brotherly affection. Both this time and all the others our intercourse was entirely wholesome.
       Besides, whatever we did do my parents must take the blame, for I learned everything I know from my parents. My sisters were starved for affection. If things got out of hand, my parents were responsible. I and my sisters are blameless.
       Besides, what's the matter with a little brotherly love?
       I've always held my sisters' bodies in the highest esteem. Any assault on their bodies was done not by me, but by the real killer. Don't you want to know who the real killer is?
       I can tell you, Aunt, I can tell you. But what I need first is to feel an aunt's love. I need an aunt who cares enough to send me a few letters. I need an aunt who has enough courage to coax the truth out of me. If you prove to be that sort of aunt, I'll tell you.
       You had brothers of your own. You must once have understood how pure a brother's love is. Try to remember that. Once you remember, I'll be able to count on you.
       Counting on you already,

       Love Always,

      © Brian Evenson 1997