Aunt Maggie and Aunt Saray no longer knew how old they were. Asking them was sure to was a sure way to win a cold cup of coffee and even colder reception during those obligatory visits younger relatives make to old relatives who have no need and no desire to see them. It had been so long since anyone had dared asked them that they themselves had forgotten decades ago. There were a lot of younger nieces and nephews and grandnephews, two aging sisters whose married siblings were long dead and quickly forgotten. These two had lived on by cleverly refusing to share their life force with any children, and spent their time mysteriously–no one remembered if the two aunts ever worked, spent time at the opera, or had any vices. When either of them failed to open their door upon a visit, it was never certain if they were out, simply refusing to come to the door, or had fallen in the tub. The younger relative would linger and wonder briefly about breaking down the door, but would invariably play it safe and decide to come back in a few days rather than risk the wrath of either of them.
They were formidable women, at times downright vicious, but certainly imperious in their old age, stacking up their years to tower over their opponent, as if to say “I’ve lived this long, and I’m about out live you, if it comes to it.”
Aunt Maggie and Aunt Saray also hated each other. Along with their age, the origin of their fight was a great family mystery. Some uncles argued that it was a fight over a lover, while some of the younger cousins snickered that it was never clear who was the prettier of the two. The source of their fight became, nonsensically, a way to scold younger children in our family. If a child was misbehaving his mother would say, “it’s behavior like this that made your two Aunts stop speaking!” It was a subject of great debate, and came up at least once at smaller family gathering where the presence of the two was not obligatory.
Family reunions and events were severely problematic with the two indomitable women, and the latest generation of our family was forced to hold each wedding, funeral, and birthday twice, so as to enable both women to attend, but separately. This became common practice after an uncle, a middle-aged man who went prematurely bald and was forever taking an assortment of vitamins to keep the rest of his body young, died of indignation when he was demoted and a younger employee became his superior. It took him five years to die, but when he did, he had become so lovably irritating that everyone was in a most somber mood at his funeral, refraining from even the most basic of morbid jokes.
This was until Aunt Saray shouted out “whore!” in the middle of the female priest’s speech and before anyone had time to gasp, reached out a bony hand and calmly slapped Aunt Maggie, who responded just as calmly with a shout of “bitch!” and punched Aunt Saray with such force in her chest that she went stumbling backwards into the already fainting priest. It took half an hour for them to finish fighting, exhausted and with white stockings ripped and grass stained. Some aunts began to step in, but hesitated, believing it impolite. After this, there was two of every family event, with the Aunt in attendance always making some comment about her nasty siter never being at social functions.
Never seeing each other had an unintended result: They began writing each other letters, usually an insult, but it was really a way to see if the other one was still alive. These letters volleyed across town, borne by reluctant and embarassed cousins. Maggie and Saray continued to attend family functions separately, and check in to see if the other was still breathing.
Eventually, however, Maggie died, and at the funeral, Saray stood up, said that Maggie always was a “stubborn old bitch” and promptly died on the spot for lack of anything to do.