My great-aunt Eva had patience as if she could wait for eternity; that was why, when she died, mean and ugly and absorbed by her pain, and we buried her in the family plot in an August heat wave, everyone was surprised. No one ever expected her to die, or to change in any way. With both of our parents working when we were children, my four brothers and I spent most of our days growing up at great-aunt Eva’s. She was a spinster and looking back, I feel certain, a virgin. Indeed, she seemed a fortress of virginity, but, perhaps because she was proud, taciturn, and ultimately strange, an archive of family rumors surrounded her.
According to legend, she had fallen in love with a man named Jake when she was eighteen. He lived on the outskirts of town, near the rural districts, and Eva and her family lived to the the north, some miles away in the heart of the city. Every Sunday Jake rode from the south where the rural districts began to the north to pick up Eva in his buggie. Eva dressed in her finest taffeta with a muff and a veil regardless of the weather and, at one o’clock sharp, his buggie arrived out front. He never phoned because they had no phone, and he never wrote. He never came inside, except once, the first time he picked her up, but never again after that time. It was simply the arrangement as everyone understood it and it continued for nine years, almost driving Eva’s father into the grave. Until one Sunday Jake didn’t arrive. Eva went into her room and shut the door. Every Sunday thereafter until just before she died, she’d go into her room and shut the door for the entire afternoon, emerging just when the sun began to go down, because that was the hour when Jake’s carriage had always brought her home. Occasionally, she called my grandmother into the room and she asked my grandmother how she looked. Because Eva was always dressed each Sunday in her muff and veil, prepared to depart. When I was born and growing up mostly at Eva’s house, I never once went there a Sunday because that was her day with Jake.