Porch Lights (Continued)
"I know," I said. "You know, in Afghanistan when a child loses his father he's considered an orphan. They're sent to orphanages, where the boys outnumber the girls about ten to one."
Aunt Maureen looked at me, unblinking, while she quickly calculated the whys and wherefores of such a radical policywithout a husband the woman sinks into poverty, without government intervention they would literally starve, little boys are valued more highly than the little girls . . . what happens to all the little girls? Human trafficking? She knew exactly what I wasn't saying.
"Dear Heavenly Father, there's so much wrong with the world."
"You're telling me?"
"You must have seen terrible things."
"Yes. Yes, I have."
"Well, God bless you. And look, Charlie has us, such as we are. At least he doesn't have to worry about being sent to an orphanage."
"I thank God for that."
"Amen," she said. "Amen."
Aunt Maureen, unmarried and in her sixties, was Charlie's secondary caretaker while I was overseas. There's no question that she was cut from the McMullen cloth in terms of understanding and fulfilling obligations, but unfortunately she didn't exude the warmth that seemed to flow endlessly from the rest of Jimmy's clan. Not even a little bit. She wore sensible shoes, no makeup, and was . . . well, in a word, dowdy. And prim. Yes, Aunt Maureen was prim, a throwback from another time when domestic life was governed by a hard-and-fast set of rules. Rules that had consequences when they were not followed to the letter. She'd always been that way, seemingly uninterested in the opposite sex, the same sex, or sex. Or in having her own family. Maybe the idea of a house filled with a gaggle of noisy children frightened her, which even as a parent of only one child was not a concept beyond my grasp. Every woman I knew with a husband and little ones would have said that raising children is as scary as the day is long. But putting aside her appearance, demeanor, and domestic aspirations, she was a good woman. A fine woman, in fact. Each time I was deployed she appeared like clockwork, standing in the hallway of our apartment with her heavy suitcase and a shopping bag of treats for Charlie, comic books and other things, ready to do her duty. And she always brought me a bag of things she knew I'd miss: dried fruit, power bars, Snickers, and two pounds of my favorite kind of coffee, ground for drip.