Ninety Dollars

Ninety dollars and twenty-three cents. Five dollars of it was pennies, kept in a glass jar. For a sixth grader, that’s a lot of money. I spent all morning rummaging under sofa cushions and behind the kitchen appliances. The counter was cold. I counted all my money three times, so I knew I had enough. Nobody was gonna scam me. And then the first bell rang. My hands shook a little. I curled them into angry fists. I felt sick to my stomach. 

Mamma had a big fire pit in the backyard. From inside, we heard the flames crackle and stretch towards the sky like rubber bands. Black wood popped into eddies of smoke. Aunt Nina wanted to cook dinner for once. We weren’t allowed anywhere near the fire pit until it cooled off, until all the smoke cleared. Didn’t want us to burn our hands, she said. But Aunt Nina brought the baby out to the patio. Of course, we didn’t listen to her. We were curious. There were bones in the fire pit. I felt nauseated just thinking about it. The second bell rang, and I buttoned my coat. It was cold outside. 

I walked inside from the patio. Cold air rushed inside and sucked the breath from my lungs. In the kitchen, there was an array of food on the counters from our loving friends and extended family. I ate a baby carrot. The pennies rattled and rang in my pocket like little sleigh bells. What a sad Christmas this will be. Over the hum of the refrigerator, I heard someone pull a chair out from the table. It dragged across the wood floor with a loud screech. Someone sat down, and the chair creaked underneath her weight. 

Aunt Nina sat cross-legged and tapped her foot on the kitchen floor. She wore a frilly black dress. My mamma wailed and cried upstairs. Aunt Nina offered no consolation; she looked annoyed. I hate my aunt with a passion. I wanted to cry too; no baby anymore. Poor girls; all three of them. She was gone, Aunt Nina. Not dead in a physical sense, but mentally, she wasn’t with us. She knew what she’d done to the baby. The third bell rang. It was almost time for the funeral. 

“It was a terrible accident,” Aunt Nina told me.

“What happened?” I asked.

“She tripped. She hit her head, and the fire pit tipped over. A terrible accident, for sure,” The fourth bell rang.

“Do you feel guilty?” I asked her.

“For what?” she said, “It was a terrible accident.” She picked a baby carrot off of her plate. 

Not so much as an apology. Well, that wasn’t good enough for me. The boys on the corner know their way around a car. For all the police know, it’ll be her brakes’ fault. Poor Aunt Nina and her shitty car. Another terrible accident, for the price of an arm and a leg. Ninety dollars, and no one would be any wiser.

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