It was raining when Auntie Pearl took Granny to Johnson’s. Granny didn’t want to go. Ruby had just come over the day before and given her a new perm. Granny said her hair was still too fragile for the rain, but Auntie Pearl insisted and Auntie Pearl always got her way. Besides, Johnson’s was having a one day sale, rain or shine, and Auntie did not want to miss it.
“You like the green or the pink, Mama?” Auntie Pearl yelled from under the awning as the rain poured down around her. She held up two long silk nightgowns for Granny to see.
Auntie Pearl had left Granny in the car because she was afraid Granny might slip and fall in the rain. Auntie had rushed inside Johnson’s to have a look around, and when she found two gowns in Granny’s size she asked if she could take them outside for Granny to see.
“What?” Granny yelled, but the car windows were rolled up so Auntie could not hear her.
“Pink or green, Mama?” Auntie Pearl yelled again, trying to get her attention, shaking the dresses up and down like an old cheerleader.
Hank Williams came on the radio so Granny turned it up and ignored Auntie Pearl. The thick rivets of rain sliding down over the windshield and her cataracts made it impossible for her to see clearly anyway. Closing her eyes, she leaned her head back on the headrest for a quick nap.
Auntie Pearl stamped her foot and ran back inside.
“Can we return the one she doesn’t like? Mama’s eighty-years-old and doesn’t hear very well,” Auntie said to the cashier.
The cashier wasn’t sure what hearing well had to do with a nightgown, but she agreed and reminded Auntie to keep the receipt.
“I got a pink one and a green one. They was just thirty-two dollars a piece. You should come over and see ‘em,” Auntie yelled to Ruby that afternoon on the telephone. Auntie never had an inside voice.
“I might take the one she don’t want,” Ruby said, holding the phone a few inches away from her ear.
“See you in a few,” Auntie said, slamming the phone down on the ringer.
There was a knock at the door and Auntie yelled for them to come on in. She thought it was Ruby, but Ruby never knocks.
“Leroy! What are you knocking for?” Auntie yelled. Leroy was Auntie’s young brother.
“Just wanted to make sure you hens was decent in here,” Leroy said, wiping his muddy boots on the doormat before he stepped in.
“You been huntin’?” Granny asked as Leroy bent to kiss her cheek.
“Naw, Mama. Just come to see how you doing.”
Leroy was squat in height and had a greasy mullet that was thinning on top. Despite no hunting today, he was almost always dressed in dark green and brown camouflage.
“Come see Mama’s new night gowns! Just bought them this morning,” Auntie yelled.
“Them sure is purty,” Leroy said, reaching out his fingers to twiddle the soft lady-like fabric. Auntie smacked his hand away because she knew it was dirty.
“You like the pink or the green better?”
“I think the pink’un,” Leroy said, sneaking another feel as Auntie held the green one up to her body and admired herself in the long mirror on the back of the door. “Where’d you get ‘em?”
“Johnson’s had a sale this morning,” Auntie said, lost in her reflection.
“Johnson’s? You mean the funeral home?” Leroy asked.
“Yes, Leroy, that’s right.”
“Why would you buy a night gown from a funeral home?”
“Mama wants to be buried in a purty night gown,” Auntie said.
“You mean she is gonna die in one of these?” Leroy whispered.
“Not die, silly,” Auntie said, slapping him on the shoulder. “She won’t put it on until after she’s dead.”
“What?” Leroy yelled.
“You know what I mean,” Auntie said, giving him an impatient smirk.
Leroy still thought it was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard. Why would anyone put so much thought into what they were going to wear to their funeral?
“Pink or green, Mama?” Auntie yelled across the room.
“Is This Is Your Life on?” Granny answered.
“You should get up and try them gowns on,” Leroy said, walking over to Granny.
“I’m not trying them gowns on till I’m dead,” Granny said, handing Leroy the TV remote. “Turn This Is Your Life on for me.”
“What if they don’t fit?”
“They’ll fit. If they don’t, the funeral parlor just cuts them up the back,” Auntie whispered.
“Cuts who up the back?” Leroy yelled.
“Shhh,”Auntie said, giving him another slap on the shoulder. “The gown. They cut the dead person’s clothes up the back so they can pull them in tight and make them fit.”
“Wouldn’t they already be tight if they didn’t fit?” Leroy asked.
Just then, the door opened and Ruby walked in.
“Where’s these pretty night gowns at?” Ruby said, walking over to her mother and giving her a peck on the cheek. Mama was too engrossed in the television to notice. Ruby gave Leroy a hug.
“You mean dead gowns?” Leroy asked, being funny.
“Hush, brother,” Auntie said.
“Ooooh, these sure is pretty,” Ruby said, taking the pink one from her sister. “I’m gonna go try it on. If it will fit me, it’ll fit Mama.”
“If it fits her, they’ll definitely have to tighten it up for Mama,” Leroy whispered to Auntie.
“What do you think?” Ruby said, coming out of the bathroom a few minutes later. She sashayed in front of them, with her hands on her hips, acting like a runway model.
“You gonna wear it when you are dead or when you are sleeping?” Leroy said.
“Silly!” Ruby said.
“Looks good, sister,” Auntie said, looking at her up and down. “May be a bit too big for Mama now that I think about it.”
“I got a pocket knife,” Leroy said.
Auntie ignored him.
“How much do I owe you?” Ruby asked.
Mama spoke up, “I done seen this episode of This Is Your Life. Turn it to Truth or Consequences.”