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Jumble

Janet Yung

The computer is a mystery to her. "I learned to type on a manual typewriter. Can you imagine that?"

"No." He doesn't want to be there. She'll tell the same old stories over and over. How hard it was to push the keys, forcing the letters to make contact with the paper rolled up inside. Only Gutenberg had it worse.

"No margin for error." Her hair has been completely gray for the last two years and he wishes she'd do something with it. He's dropped hints but they've either been too oblique or she's chosen to ignore them. He wants to tell her how old she looks and ask when she gave up trying to be young and does she know how difficult it is for him to look at her much less spend any serious time at her house.

The house is something else -- newspapers piled up on every surface. "I never seem to have the time to go through all of them. And, most of the news is so bad." She's tried to discontinue the service but they're so nice when she calls for that purpose, managing to give her a better deal if she doesn't and wouldn't she miss daily delivery. "They seem so eager to be helpful and I always enjoy my chats with them and then feel bad if I don't accept the offer. Besides, I'd miss the puzzle." The crossword puzzle -- the only thing other than the obituaries she looks at in the paper.

"Wouldn't it be cheaper to buy a book of puzzles?" he asks whenever the subject comes up. She dismisses that idea completely and promises the next time he comes over, the place will be straightened up.

He wonders what'll happen when she dies and he's left with cleaning out the place. Not that her death is imminent, but some days when he's there and she's off in the kitchen fixing a snack he closes his eyes, imagining the house without her and what things he'll uncover in the jumble of drawers, cupboards, the basement and the attic.

"It was a big day when I got my electric typewriter at work." She laughs. "I asked if I could keep the old manual."

"I bet."

Beads of sweat are popping on his forehead and he wants to scream, "this would go a lot faster if you'd go in the other room," but she's his maiden aunt and only living relative.

"Can I get you something?"

He wants to ask for a beer, but she doesn't approve of his drinking and besides she'd bring up the fact he has to drive home and she wouldn't want to contribute to his drinking and driving. "Any soda will be fine."

She runs through the list of what she has on hand and he only hopes the one he picks isn't in a two liter bottle, its contents completely flat from being stored in the back of the refrigerator for the last six months. "I don't drink much soda," she tells him, "usually juice or milk, mostly water."

"Ginger ale?" she asks and he says fine. It was his favorite when he was a kid and she makes a point of keeping it on hand for him. She whistles softly leaving the room and he wishes he could solve the problem before she returns, splashing soda on the keyboard.

The system keeps locking up and she swears she followed instructions loading the software. "I thought about waiting to do it till you came over, but you said it was simple so I figured why not?" She'd repeated that when she tried to explain she couldn't get back to the home page of the internet provider she'd signed up for. She showed him the letter that arrived with the disk and he studies it now.

The chair at the old desk where the computer is set up is incredibly uncomfortable and his back is beginning to ache. He tries to straighten up and feels something soft against his leg. Looking down, he sees the mangy cat his aunt keeps.

She's always had a cat. She'd had a particularly mean one when he was a kid. The thing would hiss at him when he walked in the front door and then lay in wait till he attempted to move across the living room to the dining room where he'd pounce on Paul. This one is different and seems to like him. Or, maybe she's starved for company, tired of listening to the old lady repeat herself. He pats her head and after a moment, she jumps in his lap. "Great," he tells her. She rubs her face on his hand. The additional distraction he needs.

"Here you go, dear." Aunt Penny is in the doorway, plastic cup filled with soda. Her hand seems steady today.

"Thanks," he takes the glass from her and immediately wonders where he can put it once he's taken a couple sips. There's an under taste to it resembling some strong vegetable he doesn't like. Broccoli.

"Oh, is Missy bothering you," she shoos the cat off his lap as he clutches the cup.

"You can set your glass down here," she pushes catalogues onto the floor.

"Thanks." He pecks away at the keyboard some more.

"How's it going." He smells the stale aroma of her sweater -- an old standard she's had as long as he can remember.

"Not good." He doesn't know why she thinks he's a computer expert. He hooked up the equipment when she bought it and she marveled at his ability to figure out which plug went into which socket.

"I'm sorry. Maybe I should call the company, but it's so confusing and they put you on hold and then you wind up trying to explain something you don't begin to understand."

He clears his throat. "Are you sure you put in the right password?"

"Let me see." She studies the instructions on the letter again, reading aloud. "I'm sure I did."

"Let's try again." She rereads the log on information while he enters it.

"Okay. It still doesn't work." He feels a headache coming on and is determined to stop for a six pack on his way home. He resists the temptation to check his watch. "And your password was all upper case?"

She looks perplexed. "I think so." Missy rests in her lap now and she holds onto the cat as if this is her last hope.

"Well, let me try lower." He types in the cat's name in small letters and suddenly, the screen pops up. "Aha," he grins while she looks over his shoulder to see it's fixed.

"Oh, my goodness, I didn't think it mattered if it was upper or lower case," she says once the puzzle is solved. "Sometimes, I guess the solution is simple."

"Yeah," he says, anxious to leave, knowing she'll linger in the doorway, chatting as he inches towards his car.

"Well, I guess I'd better get going," he tells her after a bit and stretches, the expression in her face longing for a way to extend the visit.

"Be careful," Aunt Polly tells him as he jiggles his car keys.

"I will." She looks forlorn, waving good-bye. "I'll see you next weekend," he calls, and pulls away from the curb wondering if it's possible to avoid being involved in the next crises in her life, knowing that it isn't.

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