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 to come up with enough for my purposes. The countertop was cold. I recounted all my money three times, so I knew I had more than enough. Nobody was going to scam me. Then, the first bell rang. My hands shook a little and 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 little eddies of smoke. Aunt Nina wanted to cook dinner for once, and 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, Aunt Nina said. But she brought the baby out to the patio and after that, of course, we didn’t listen to her. We were curious. The second bell rang, and I buttoned my coat. A cold wind blew down the street outside the funeral home.
I walked inside from the patio. Cold air rushed in behind me 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. The lights were off and I ate a baby carrot. As I walked, pennies rattled and rang in my pocket like little sleigh bells. Christmas was only a few weeks away. Over the hum of the refrigerator, I heard someone pull a chair out from the table and sit down. 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; to tell you the truth, she looked annoyed. I hate my aunt with a passion. I wanted to cry too, there being no baby anymore. Poor girls, all three of them. She was gone too, Aunt Nina. Not dead in a physical sense, but mentally she wasn’t with us. She knew what she’d done to the baby. I heard the third bell ring, and I knew 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 and ate it.
Not so much as an apology, and 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 terrible brakes. Another terrible accident for the price of an arm and a leg. Ninety dollars, and twenty-three cents, and not a soul would be any wiser.