The aunt drank more wine. A mosquito swirled in her cup. The spaghetti stuck to itself. A nut fell off a tree onto the table.

Barney stole my SUV so I stuck a shotgun up his nose repeated in her head.

Her niece was back, whispering in her ear, smelling like mint and dirt, “Come into the house.”

The aunt climbed off the picnic bench without excusing herself to the parents and followed her niece into the house, through the scuffed, cluttered hall, into the boy’s bedroom, where the kids were standing next to the littlest girl who was wearing a mask they’d made from a paper plate, tied to the back of her head with a string.

The mask she was wearing was a boy, with brown magic marker eyes, red eyelashes, pink smile.

“This is your son, Matthew,” her niece said, pushing the little girl in the mask toward her. “He was late to the party.”

The little girl in the Matthew mask ran her fingers over her smiling paper plate face.

“Hello, Matthew,” the aunt said to the plate face.

“Tell the grown-ups Matthew wants a popsicle,” said the boy.

“Okay,” said the aunt.

“Grape,” he said.

“Okay,” she said.

From the kitchen came a screened door bang and the sound of parents talking.

The boy led the aunt out, with her “son,” Matthew. The other kids followed.

“What did you find out from the grown-ups?” the boy asked, holding her arm.

“Nothing,” the aunt said. “They didn’t say anything interesting,” she said.

He nodded.


They went into the kitchen where the parents were helping the hostess clean up.

The aunt held her arm around “Matthew’s” shoulders. Matthew adjusted his paper face with its fixed pink smile.

“This is my son,” the aunt said to the hostess. “Matthew. He’s sorry he was late and he wondered if he could have a popsicle.”

The adults stopped talking and kept helping.

“Grape,” said the boy.

The hostesses’ eyes flickered over the aunt.

“I’m sorry, Matthew,” the hostess said, banging spaghetti into the garbage can. “We’re done with the popsicles for tonight.”

“Matthew was at the zoo,” one of the girls said.

The children laughed.

The aunt said, “He meant to come earlier, but he was detained at the reptile house.”

The children laughed again.

The hostess said, more sharply, “I’m sorry, Matthew. We’re not having popsicles now.”

The parents were wrapping things in plastic and throwing things away. None of them were talking, and none of them looked at her.

The aunt bent and held her son’s shoulders. She looked into his paper plate face.

“I’m sorry, Matthew,” she said. “You came too late.”

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