By Wendy Taylor

When I was seven, I decided I would call my daughter Christina. My daughter was not going to have a boring name like mine. I could never understand why my parents called me Julie. Why, when there were so many millions of wonderful names in the world did, they choose Julie? Plus, if you had a chic sophisticated name, as I considered Christina to be, it made you turn out chic and sophisticated. Also, I especially loved the ‘a’ at the end; the upward inflection; how it promised excitement. 

My perception of the name Christina, had not been conjured up randomly in my wildly imaginative, pre-pubescent mind, although books like Pollyanna and Pippi Longstocking, with their wonderfully named, adventurous protagonists, added fuel to the fire. It was based on fact. Christina was a real person. She was my aunt, my mother’s sister. However, although flesh and blood, Christina mostly existed as a two-dimensional image, arriving every few months in scented blue envelopes.

‘Another letter from Aunt Christina,’ my mother would call out, waving it above her head like a miniature victory flag.

I would clamber onto one of our red vinyl dining chairs, elbows on the matching red Formica table top, chin in upturned palms, heart twirling, awaiting another glimpse of life on the other side. When my mother had read the letter and examined the photographs, biting her lower lip, as she did when concentrating, she would hand the photographs over to me. 

Tucked away in my tidy suburban life, behind our prim picket fence Christina looked beautiful, modern and exciting. And cool with a capital C. Arms akimbo on white sand beaches, or posing with a sultry smile on streetscapes, with high rise concrete buildings, behind her, as pre-determined by her name, she was the epitome of early nineteen seventies chic and sophistication. Knee high white boots, oh how I craved a pair, miniskirts and crochet tops, in some, and flowery midi dresses in others, her hair platinum-blonde, long and luscious, hanging loose and kohl lined eyes. She was always smiling, lips parted, glossy. I would sit and gaze at the photographs for ages until my mother snatched them away and placed them on the kitchen dresser. There, they sagged amongst long deceased Granny’s blue willow dinner set and my parent’s crystal, wedding present, vases. 

‘Don’t be fooled by all that glamour and nonsense,’ my mother growled every time. Or something along those lines.

Occasionally the two-dimensional image would screech up in a rusty, red, rumbling saloon car. Christina would explode from the driver’s seat, arms waving, hair flying and envelope my mother in a Charlie perfumed embrace. Not one for shows of unbridled emotion, my mother would pat her on the back, pull back and point to me. 

‘Julie,’ she would say, which I always thought was totally weird, because who else would it be. I was an only child. 

The visits were always brief, a cigarette lit, then stubbed out in a saucer rattled onto the table by my mother with a disapproving glare. During these visits, I watched entranced from one end of the table, itching to join the conversation, but given no chance. The hushed intense interaction between my mother and her sister, their backs turned to me, not only secretive but leaving no pauses for joining in. I caught phrases like, ‘you need to settle down,’ and ‘you can’t live like that for ever,’ from my mother and ‘life is for living,’ and ‘if you’ve got it flaunt it,’ from Christina. Then, her cup of tea swigged, a ruffle of my hair with slender red nail polish tipped fingers and a swing of her hips, Christina disappeared again.

But one visit was extended. When I was thirteen my mother became ill. White-faced and shaky, she was helped into our car by my grim-faced father and driven to a hospital in the city for an operation that was not performed at our local small-town hospital. What it was, not divulged. “Women’s troubles,” was all I was told.

‘Go inside and wait for Christina,’ my father had instructed as he climbed into the driver’s seat.

Christina was going to be looking after me. 

My father did not approve.

Let’s be thankful she has stepped up for once in her life,’ my mother had snapped.

I had been beyond excited when I found out earlier in the week, that Christina was coming to stay. Fourteen whole days, just me and Christina. The things we were going to do; shopping, gossiping, movies, milkshakes at the ice cream parlour. I was her only niece. She would spoil me rotten. I was certain of this. She had no children, no daughter. She had no one to buy cool stuff for. She would buy me those longed-for white knee-high boots. Or some of her signature Charlie perfume. The type of gifts I usually received from my parents, were of a more practical nature; a light for my bicycle, a set of coloured pencils for school and socks, only given on birthdays and at Christmas. I envisioned her flamboyant personality refreshing the house. Her laughing and singing, cleansing the rooms, chasing out the dourness of bored lives and the aura of my mother’s illness that currently hung in the air. She would hug me and reassure me that my mother was going to be fine, a contrast to the stiff-upper-lip attitude, favoured by my parents. All these scenarios had no basis on fact. But that did not stop them blossoming in my mind, unfurling and growing more elaborate by the day.

‘I will have no time to hang out with you for the next fortnight,’ I informed my best friend Jan. ‘I will be with my Aunt Christina. We are as close as this,’ I said crossing my index and forefinger on my right hand, ignoring the hurt that flashed across Jan’s green eyes.

It was after eight and dark by the time Christina arrived. By seven o’clock I was starving and as I was used to cooking, having pretty much taken over all culinary duties when my mother became ill, it was no problem rustling up dinner. I made some for Christina too, putting it the oven warming drawer. I envisioned how grateful she would be when she arrived, travel weary and hungry. 

‘Oh, what a sweetie,’ she would say. ‘Thank you so much. It’s just what I need.’ 

Christina did arrive travel-weary, but not hungry. 

‘Oh, I ate earlier,’ she said followed by, ‘shouldn’t you be in bed.’ 

With a flip of her hand and tartan mini skirt she disappeared into the guest room lugging her bulging suitcase behind her. 

‘She is just tired,’ I told myself. ‘Our adventure will start tomorrow.’ 

Silence shrouded the house when I woke the next morning. No sign of Christina. At school I told Jan we had made pancakes for breakfast and were going shopping after school. She looked at me, her eyes bright and hopeful.

‘No, you can’t come. I can’t impose on Christina. She is making time in her busy schedule to look after me and an extra person tagging along would be unfair.’

Again, I ignored the look of hurt that flashed across Jan’s eyes. 

I skipped home. My fantasy had taken flight. Christina would be up, rested, bubbly, hair glowing, make-up refreshed. There would be baking, hugs and then a shopping trip.

Christina was up. Sort-of. Prone on the sofa, ‘I Love Lucy,’ blaring from the television, cigarette in dangling hand, hair tangled, face puce, she glanced my way.

‘A cuppa would be great,’ she drawled. 

Desi Arnaz’s dark, brooding features, eyed me from the screen. 

‘Coming right up.’

I cooked again that night and for the next twelve. 

‘We are having the best time,’ I told Jan. 

I did not elaborate further. 

My father rang from the hospital. 

‘The operation has gone well,’ he said. ‘Your mother is recovering. We will be home next Tuesday as planned. How are you? How are things at home? ‘


‘Can I speak to Christina?’

I wound the phone cord around my fingers.

‘She is at the shops grabbing some milk.’ 

Christina was in the guest room. Again. With a friend. Again. A different one from the last time. But, same unshaven chin, same puffy belly and nervous hands.

‘Turn the TV, up there’s a doll,’ Christina said both times, as she shut the door behind her. 

‘No, you can’t come over,’ I said sharply to Jan, each day at school. ‘We are way too busy with aunt, niece stuff.’ 

Again, I did not elaborate. Even my wild imagination could not come up with a convincing lie. I cooked, cleaned and kept my head and eyes down. Christina ate, smoked, watched TV and entertained. 

Tuesday came. Christina went. My parents arrived back. 

‘How was it?’ my mother asked. 

‘It was great.’ 

I smiled.

My mother frowned.

I never saw Christina again. She went overseas and never returned to her country of birth. My parents visited her in France a couple of times.

Now, decades later, my mother was saying Christina was dead. No preamble, but that was my mother’s way. When I took her call, all I got was, ‘Christina’s dead’ 

‘Oh,’ I replied then hurriedly added, ‘so sorry.’

News of Christina, was infrequent 

‘She is in Germany,’ my mother had informed me a year or so ago. 

I assumed she was still there.

‘The funeral is going to be held in Germany,’ my mother said. 

My assumption had been correct. 

‘The current husband,’ I snorted under my breath at her condescending tone,’ ‘is dealing with it. We won’t be going.’ 

Silently I wondered if the other two or was it three husbands would be there too. Or were they dead. I had long given up on keeping up with Christina. On whether she was divorced, widowed, rich, or destitute. 

‘So sorry,’ I said again. 

And I was. For my mother. After all she was my mother’s only sibling. 

Then she hung up. No, how? why? or when? 

I glanced at my watch. Six o’clock. My adult daughter would be driving home from work, to her apartment and we always had a daily check-in, her phone on bluetooth, traffic rumbling and tooting in the background. Would I tell her about Christina? Probably not. She had never met her and I’m not sure if I ever talked about her to my daughter. I had certainly not told her about that time she had come to stay. I already had things to chat about. I wanted to tell her there was a sale on at her favourite sportswear store and discuss what we were going to do at Christmas.

I scrolled down to “Mary” and pushed dial.

Wendy Taylor lives in rural New Zealand with her family and a variety of animals .She has worked as a Librarian, Teaching Assistant and Horse riding Therapy Coach. As a child she filled notebooks with her stories and poems. Two years ago when her family commitments eased she revisited her passion and has been published or is forthcoming in Potato Soup Journal, Spillwords, Down in the Dirt, 5minutelit and a few others.


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