In the pantheon of Aunts Who Plague Me, Aunt Harriet barely merits Honorable Mention. In fact, she’s fairly mellow as Braithwaite Aunts go. She doesn’t yell or threaten to haul platoons of exorcists to my rooms whenever she sees me, she doesn’t raise haughty eyebrows and sniff just because I don’t live in Oak Park or Palm Springs or one of the Lesser Hamptons, she isn’t one of the aunts who tries to dragoon me into Good Works or Making Something of Myself, and best of all, she doesn’t normally show up without calling first.

She is not, to put it in a nutshell, one of the short-tempered, high-and-mighty Dragon Aunts, which is why it came as such a shock to me when I happened to look out the window at just the moment when she was double-parking her beloved but unassuming Turd Fergus in front of the entrance to my apartment building.

She hadn’t told me she was coming and that was a Bad Sign.

Aunt Harriet is not, as I said, a Dragon. She is, however, a bit of a war-horse. She can be very sweet but there are certain…duties she expects a nephew to perform without caviling which are the kinds of duties at which it is impossible not to cavil. In fact it is usually impossible not to shake like jelly in abject terror as she describes them even though she asks these horrific favors in the calmest of voices, as if asking you to dust her angina with nitroglycerin was akin to inquiring if you might be so kind as to open a window so that she might air out her trousseau.

If you dare to suggest, be it ever so gingerly, that squiring an expedition up the Amazon in search of a rare species of flowering burgoyne that only blooms once a decade in the ass of the deadly black mamba might not be a thing you’d care to do for your summer vacation even if John Wesley Hardin had one of his Colt .44’s nestled in your ear and a bright look of childish anticipation in his eye, she has a way of looking at you that makes you think Hardin would be easier to negotiate with and a lot less dangerous to cross.

The only times Aunt Harriet ever showed up without warning was when she’d conceived one of these monumentally cuckoo notions and needed a sucker to carry it out for her. She preferred not to try to lay out the many benefits of her proposal while the object of her persuasive powers was hightailing it for the hills. You can see her point.

But as I was her usual target, I knew her usual routine. When I saw her car stop without warning before my door and heard the screech of the brakes of the taxicab that was behind her when she did it, I knew I was for it again. Shaking like an insecure leaf in a hurricane, I searched frantically for a bolt-hole, cursing my stuffy landlord for refusing to allow me to build a trap-door to the apartment below as an escape route. If only he knew Aunt Harriet, I thought bitterly, he wouldn’t be so damned persnickety about his precious wood floors.

Unfortunately the time I had taken stoking my ire was the time I should have used to build a hidden cabinet behind a false panel in the kitchen wall. Now there was no time left. Her step was on the stair. She was closing in.

There being no viable option, I squared off and faced my fate with what I imagine was the same stalwart stoicism with which George Armstrong Custer faced the hordes of Sitting Bull’s vast army at Little Big Horn as they surrounded and prepared to make mincemeat of his tiny band of cavalry.

In other words, you could have used me to mix your cocktails.

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