The Andrea Doria sank without a trace. All hands were lost – but one, floating on a spike of spar. “But what about the dog? How am I supposed to get past the dog you said is guarding it?”

“Aha!” She beamed triumphantly and reached into that Chamber of Horrors pretending to be a handbag. From it emerged a small vial filled with a thick, noxious green liquid that looked just like the alien blood in Martian Monsters From the Forgotten Pool of the Black Lagoon.

I recoiled in shock. “Poison! I won’t do it, Aunt Harriet, I won’t poison a dumb animal no matter how big his teeth are. You’ve gone too far!”

“Get a grip, you nincompoop,” she snapped. “This isn’t poison, it’s a sleeping draught. A teaspoonful of this,” she cooed, rubbing its cap and patting its label as if it were an infant of unbounded cuteness, “sprinkled on a nice hunk of steak, and Brutus – that’s his name – will sleep like the dead for hours. You’ll be safe as houses.” And just how safe are they? one wanted to ask, and one might have had her purse been a few more feet from her fingertips and several dozen tons lighter than it was.

The single spar cracked, broke in two, and the last crewman slipped beneath the waves. My fate was in the hands of an aunt who had proved, in the final analysis, to be as ruthless as a bargain-hunter at Filene’s and as loopy as a sunstruck viper. I was chilled to the m of my b’s and I must have looked it because she asked the most superfluous question of the decade.

The Most Superfluous Question of the Decade: “You’re not afraid, are you, Ponsie?”