Black Dress by Kenneth Pobo
My Aunt Maggie, whom we called Aunt Saggy, because she sagged and we were mouthy kids, came to birthday parties, Christmas, and Thanksgiving, saying almost nothing, keeping her beige purse close to her legs. Mom only invited her out of pity.
“She’s got no one. And a police record. When she worked for that rich family in Highland Park, she stole a black dress. I don’t think she did time, but who does this?”
I liked her, not that I ever got to know her beyond passing her mashed potatoes or salt. She didn’t join in with our family’s buzzsaw voices sawing off giant logs of conversation. I wanted to know about the black dress. No grown-up I knew had ever stolen anything of note.
I stole a Valentine from Peggy’s basket in fourth grade. She hadn’t made me one and I had a crush on her so I just took it. I felt guilty—but not too guilty. At church the next Sunday I asked Jesus to forgive me. Maybe he did. It was his job, like my dad’s job at the furniture outlet.
Aunt Saggy died before I could pop the question about her thieving. I wanted to know how a police record felt. Was it like a smell of standing water in a drain? Was it like warm sheets on a winter night?I’d never know.
Her thinly attended funeral elicited a few “What a shames” and “She was such a quiet person.” I didn’t buy the quiet bit. Her silence had volcanoes. We sliced cake while she smoldered.
But never erupted, never spilled the beans. In her honor, fall semester of my junior year I stole my college roommate’s briefs. I never wore them. I doubt that he missed them. Hardly a black dress, but I still have them today, twenty-three years later.
Kenneth Pobo has a new book of poems out from Circling Rivers called Loplop in a Red City. In addition to Unbroken Journal, his work has appeared in Hawaii Review, The Queer South Anthology, The Fiddlehead, Eclectica, and elsewhere.