by Herb Guggenheim

Remember Aunt Bessie?—your great aunt?—

how she lived in your parents' guestroom after she retired from her job selling draperies at Melnick's Department Store

(a job she held for over forty years)?


When she thought your parents weren't looking,

she'd slip you gold-covered chocolate coins and hard candies in little metal tins.

She never forgot your birthday—

showered you with gifts.

She was,

your mother said,

the kindest woman who ever walked the face of the Earth.

And she never asked for anything for herself.


Never ate very much either—

tiny meals—

things like soft-boiled eggs and smidgeons of meat—

dry toast—

maybe some borscht from a jar.



though she ate little,

she feared much—

aggression, influenza, television.

Curiously, one of her biggest fears was grease—

that somehow grease would get into her food.


When your father thought you were too young to be paying attention to such things,

he'd say to your mother that, if anybody ever even said the word grease around Aunt Bessie,

she'd get sick.


One night your mother and father took the you and your aunt to a seafood restaurant.

Your mother ordered shrimp; your father, crab.

Aunt Bessie ordered baked fillet of flounder

and your mother told the waiter that you'd like flounder too.


When you got your fish, you ate it thoughtfully,

trying to decide whether it tasted good or not

and just then you hit upon an interesting idea.


As you chewed your fish, you said with mouth half full:

"Mom, this flounder tastes sort of— greasy." 

"How could it taste greasy?" your mother said.

"It's just a nice mild piece of flounder."


"I don't know," you said, shaking your head.

"It sure tastes greasy to me."


In the car on the way home,

Aunt Bessie sat silently beside you,

licking her lips and swallowing repeatedly.


"Wow, Aunt Bessie, didn't you think that fish was greasy?

I can't believe how greasy it was," you said.


Once home you went to bed


in the middle of the night,

you heard voices in the bathroom down the hall.


"You're going to be fine," your mother was saying.

"Just let it all come up."


"It's her imagination," your father bellowed from their bedroom.

"For Christ's sake, get back to sleep."


You always loved Aunt Bessie and you're not sure why you did what you did.

An experiment perhaps.

One of many in your life.


    Herb Guggenheim's poems and short stories have appeared in a number of zines both on and offline, including Gargoyle, Poetry Quarterly, the Beloit Poetry Journal, Kalkion, the Main Street Rag, Gutter Eloquence, Schlock, and Chrome Baby. In 2013, his poem "Coats" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and, in 2014, his poem "Fall" was nominated for a Best of the Net award. Guggenheim has done a lot of other shit but that stuff isn't worth talking about here. He has a chip on his shoulder and feels he's been widely misunderstood for most of his life.