The Immanent Will
by Larry Smith
Aunt Susie could be implacable in ways that were good and useful. Two salient instances of this still loom in my consciousness, both instances during great difficult transitions for me. The first was when Bill and I split up. Now, Bill wasn’t a bad guy, I never thought he was, not even during our worst adversities. He was often sweet and his instincts about people and the world were typically humane. But he had this irrational streak. He would get something into his head and would not relent, no matter how unreasonable or indefensible he must have realized it was. I’m thinking of when Aunt Susie came to my rescue in a dispute with Bill involving a CD. Any divorce lawyer would have agreed that I was entitled to half of it. Bill insisted the whole thing belonged to him, always had and always would. It was more stubbornness than greed on his part. He wouldn’t listen to reason and averred he’d ignore any court order requiring him to pay. Didn’t make sense, and I was distraught because I needed the money then and there, not after some protracted adjudication and subsequent garnisheeing of his paycheck or whatever remedy was applicable.
“I’ll go see him,” said Aunt Susie.
“I doubt it will help,” I said.
“It can’t hurt,” said Aunt Susie.
So Aunt Susie put on her shawl and went downtown where Bill and I had been living before I moved in with my mother. He let her in and, as I’ve fairly reconstructed the scene from what she and, in later more amicable days, Bill himself briefly recounted, Aunt Susie said to him, “I’ve come about the money.”
Bill understood at once and said, “Susie, it’s really none of your business.”
Aunt Susie said, “It is my business and I’ve come about my business.”
“No,” said Bill, “you’ve got it all wrong.”
“When can she expect the money?” asked Aunt Susie.
“You have to leave now, Susie,” said Bill.
Aunt Susie did leave but what she did next was astonishing. She went home and got a lawn chair and camped out in front of the building. She had a book with her too, which she began to read. The sun set and Bill came out a little later, to grab some dinner as he recalls.
“Susie, what in the world are you doing here?”
“When can she expect the money?” asked Aunt Susie.
Bill just shook his head and walked away. When he returned, she was gone. I mean, she wasn’t going to sit there in the middle of downtown all day and all night. I said she was implacable, not crazy. Even in that relatively safe neighborhood, she might get messed with sitting there, mugged or something, especially after dark. So she left, but the next day she was there again. From then on Bill had no choice but to see her every time he’d come in or go out.
“It’s not going to work, Susie,” said Bill.
“It’s going to have to,” said Aunt Susie.
Bill called me to make sure I knew what my “wacky aunt” was doing. I hardly knew what to say. I thought, for Aunt Susie’s sake, for the sake of her well-being, I’d drop by myself and persuade her to abandon the vigil. But I didn’t. I was a little worried but not really that much. Besides, this was what she wanted to do. Importantly, the weather held out. It was really very pleasant the whole week, which was about how long she sat there. Had it turned cold or started to rain, I would certainly have rushed over and begged her to relent. Bill later admitted that he thought of simply waiting for the weather to get bad, that would end this nonsense. But he also realized that she’d resume the siege later on. Besides, like I say, Bill’s instincts were humane and he wanted no harm to befall her.
It was two days after Bill had called me on the phone. He left for work that morning and Aunt Susie was already there. “When can she expect the money?” she asked again. Two days after that, the funds were deposited to my account.
The second instance of Aunt Susie’s implacability was during the sad time when my mother lay on her deathbed. Aunt Susie was with us for the last three days. I slept in the old bedroom that I had used years earlier after Bill and I split up while Aunt Susie slept in the guestroom, but I doubt she slept more than a few hours each night. The rest of the time she was sitting by my mother’s bed. I sat too, of course, but there were also stretches when the two sisters were alone.
I was in the front room when I heard my mother cry out. I went in to her, her eyes were wide open and full of fear. “You must be brave,” said Aunt Susie from the chair by the bed. My mother’s eyes circled around their sockets, the terror, and terror it seemed, unabated.
“You must be brave,” said Aunt Susie.
“Susie…” my mother rasped.
“This business must have a good ending,” said Aunt Susie, the old implacability alive in the sound of her.
“Oh mother!” I said, leaning against the half-open door until the force of my back closed it.
“Susie….” She rasped again.
“You must regret nothing,” said Aunt Susie, her voice sterner and ever more resolute.
“Susie,” my mother said, but this time she spoke a quieter sound, still fearful but intimate now. That’s what it was, intimate.
“The universe is black and endless,” said Aunt Susie, more gently.
“Susie,” said my mother. The intimacy, even deeper now, was somehow disquieting.
“We were children once,” said Aunt Susie.
“Yes, I remember,” said my mother. She closed her eyes and never spoke again. There were tears in Aunt Susie’s eyes fastened unblinking on my mother as I by the door began to cry. I wasn’t sure who to call to make arrangements.
Life after that went on for another fifteen years. Lately, Aunt Susie has become weaker. Her mental quickness is gone. The strength of personality is quite blunted, Aunt Susie seems resigned to some inevitable enfeeblement, she seems quiescent if not exactly tranquil. I wouldn’t say that Aunt Susie has lost her strength, I’d say instead that, amid her wandering and occasionally incoherent thoughts, she appears to have been subsumed in a larger strength, no longer specifically hers. I hope that makes sense, I can’t express it any better. I see her once a week or every ten days or so. Then there’s also Thanksgiving and Christmas. She lives now in an Assisted Living facility.
I do have something else I need to tell about Aunt Susie.
For the last few years I’ve had a fine relationship with a man also named Bill. He is older than I am and quite willing to let me live my life and share as much of it with him as I need to or care to. He is, to be sure, much different from my ex-husband, to whom I do still talk from time to time.
Last Thursday I went to see Aunt Susie. She seemed fine physically. She had a robust way of walking around her apartment or going to the refrigerator or making tea. But she did also seem a trifle more confused than usual. She asked about Bill and when I told her that he was fine, she asked if he was all paid up.
“No, no, sweetheart,” I said. “That was a different Bill, the one I was married to. This is very different. This Bill is more like a companion.”
“Do you love him?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I love him like a dear friend.”
“Love is odd,” said Aunt Susie.
“It is indeed!” I said, laughing.
“Passion…passion is the strangest thing of all,” said Aunt Susie.
“How so?” I asked.
“You never know where it comes from,” said Aunt Susie.
“That’s an interesting observation,” I said.
“I have only known one man,” said Aunt Susie.
“Oh!” I said, nonplussed. It certainly never occurred to me that Aunt Susie had ever known any man.
“One man, one time,” she said, looking downward as if the memory or the imagery of that experience was implanted in the floorboards.
“Oh!” I said, even more flummoxed by this revealing turn in the conversation.
“Yes,” said Aunt Susie. “It was the president.”
“The president?” I asked. “The president of what?”
“The president of the United States,” said Aunt Susie, matter-of-factly.
“Which one?” I asked stupidly. It was all I could manage to say.
“Lyndon Johnson,” said Aunt Susie. Her eyes met mine, unembarrassed. “I went downtown to see him campaign. He loomed over the crowd. He looked like a force. It was 1964.”
“And you met him?” I asked, a little stung by alarm though I can’t pinpoint what exactly was alarming me..
“His men fetched me,” said Aunt Susie. “After the speech was over. They fetched me to him.”
“What did you say to each other?” I asked, trying to decipher my own reactions to this almost other-worldly reminiscence.
“Say? I told him I was honored,” said Aunt Susie. “And he told me that he sensed me while he was giving his speech. He said he sensed me in the crowd. And so did Mister Jumbo.”
“Mister?…Oh, I see!”
Then there was a silence. I did not want to lose the skein of this conversation, this nonpareil recollection of hers. If any of it were true, I’d have a lot to think about. If none of it were true, I’d have a lot to think about. I fumbled around for something to say. All I could come up with was, “It must have been difficult to find the right man after an encounter like that.”
“Well, I never thought to look.” With that, befogged in her quiet insistence, Aunt Susie passed into a world that was hers and not hers.
Larry Smith’s story collections, A Shield of Paris and Floodlands, were published by Adelaide Books. His novella, Patrick Fitzmike and Mike Fitzpatrick, was published by Outpost 19. A Pushcart-nominated writer, Smith’s stories have appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Serving House Journal, Sequestrum, Exquisite Corpse, The Collagist, and [PANK], among numerous others. His poetry has appeared in Descant (Canada) and elimae, among others. Smith lives in New Jersey.
Original image: Martti Leetsar/Unsplash