For ten years after her mother’s death Jennifer looked after Aunty Winnie. Unlike Jennifer’s mother, who had been generous, cheerful and accommodating, Auntie Winnie was irascible and demanding. She was a martyr to her own digestion and a tyrant to everybody else. She sucked strong mints and gave no quarter.
Jennifer’s mother was all too accommodating to pancreatic cancer and died suddenly, leaving Jennifer a small seafront home and an inveterate invalid.
Winnie retired to the top bedroom of the tiny house and refused to respond charitably to any overtures, not even her nightly glass of warm brandy in milk. She would listen grimly to the radio at full volume, scowling at the seagulls circling above her dormer window. Throughout the night she would hobble heavy footed to the bathroom, slamming the door so that Jennifer would be fully aware of her indisposition.
Jennifer, never overly social, watched both her life and her health dwindle as she scrabbled exhaustedly up and down the narrow stairs to minister to Aunty Winnie’s remorseless requirements. She worked mornings in a greeting cards shop, returning home each day in dread of accusations of neglect and demands for fresh sheets, ironed nighties and fillets of sole in milk. She persisted for her mother’s sake. Even though on some nights she surprised herself with visions of Aunty Winnie’s spite-filled face disappearing once and for all beneath a smothering duck down pillow.
One unusually calm morning, Jennifer crept upstairs to face whatever onslaught Aunty Winnie was silently preparing for her, and discovered her lying dead beneath the dormer window, some crumbs of bread in her hand, waiting for the seagulls for all eternity.
Probate proved a problem; for when Jennifer sat down with the family solicitor, she discovered Aunty Winnie wasn’t related to her mother at all.