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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A interesting, somewhat oddball aunt, gives her nephew many lessons in life and death. Triumph and disaster with heavy doses of humor.

Submitted: June 27, 2016

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Submitted: June 27, 2016




A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran


Aunt Sylvia was certainly not a beauty, but she was extremely alluring; someone you felt compelled to talk to; to have a drink with. Her complexion was almost translucent and she wore an off-red lipstick that flattered her face and gave her presentation an air of elegance.

After a minute or two, Aunt Sylvia would be transformed in the beholder’s eyes, into an attractive—even somewhat bewitching woman.

Her clothes were selected by Braxton’s mother, Rachel, who had artistic talents in all fields, including personal clothing and footwear.

Rachel left the millinery side to sister Sylvia and rued the day, as one bizarre headdress gave way to an equaling show-stopping laugher.

However, when hatless, Sylvia was well dressed, well mannered, and—usually—well-intentioned.  

After Rachel perceived the extraordinary manner with which her sister doted on Braxton, beginning with the first day home from the hospital, some inner sense spoke to Rachel and told her that her sister would be an exceptionally good influence on Braxy.

“Í want you to stay, Sylvia. You can have the room next to Braxton’s.”

Sylvia’s eyes had brimmed with tears of joy; and from that moment, she bent all her attention to making her Braxy one of a kind.

Following the nursing period, Sylvia took over and Rachel went back to work as a design consultant.

The major portion of Braxton’s education and social development was delegated to the care—and good judgment—of her sister.

Braxton’s father, Diesel, had never fully recovered from a few of Sylvia’s more elaborate shenanigans—like the time she was very upset with a pugnacious neighbor and arranged to have his Caddy convertible filled with cement while he and the missus were tripping off in New Mexico.

Bradley Tombstone had always suspected Sylvia, but neither he nor his wife Julie could ever reach the conclusion that such a delightful (if odd) mature woman would do such a thing.

They swung their suspicions and their poison darts of their revenge upon one Perry Pringle, an accountant for a waxing parlor.

Nevertheless, the moment that Diesel observed the gentle love with which Sylvia tendered his son; he too left the rearing of Braxton to his sister-in-law.

Aunt Sylvia had thought of Braxton as her white knight from about three minutes after he hit the eject button in Mom’s womb.

She had remained true to her champion for the next twenty-one years, which brought her homage—as well as her girlish glee—right up to the present.

*  *  *

Aunt Sylvia was on her treadmill with the elevation set at the top—fifteen—and the speed at three.

Sweating like a longshoreman, she alternated toweling sweeps of her brow with page turns of Penny Stock Newsletter.

Initially, somewhere through the cobwebs of her skewed mental processes, Aunt Sylvia had acquired an extraordinary ability to pick stock winners from among those companies that specialized handling animal waste, especially pig poop.

It must have been that rap on the noggin she suffered when she thought she could break Braxton’s time for the banister ride down the very ‘long and winding’ handrail that started on the third floor of her sister’s house.

The banister ended with an extremely large hand-carved pineapple, set atop the last post on the first floor.

Braxton’s mother, one of three sisters of the nonstandard Sylvia, simply accepted any aberrant behavior by her goofy sister as par for whatever course people refer to when a par is in the wind for some activity.

With an extraordinary display of guts, the intrepid Sylvia broke Braxton’s record by not slowing down—even a nanosecond—as the final pineapple-topped post loomed before her steely sapphire-blue eyes.

Instead of braking, she maintained her full speed, stretched out both arms, put both hands firmly on top of the pineapple and vaulted herself over the pineapple into free fall.

Nobody had ever accused Sylvia of being a cowardly custard.

Well; there she went; launched into a very high and long arching trajectory over the pineapple, that ended against the far wall next to the foyer and the hat rack.

Those who were anywhere in the house—as well a passing cloud of tourists—heard the thump, and assumed that an elephant had fallen on a matchbox.

The paramedics were there almost before their ambulance.

They instantly commenced to unpeel Aunt Sylvia from what was left of the foyer wall and quickly asked each other which broken bone they should address first.

Both shrugged and took the first available hard white projection and pushed it back in. Sylvia was unconscious and saved herself a lot of pain and a lot of gruesome nightmare material.

She had whispered a moan occasionally, but otherwise, just let the ETs do their best to bundle her into a movable object that they could lay on a gurney.

Inside the ambulance they strapped her down and began their warp-speed route to the ER, with all lights and sirens cranked up to their max.  Those guys thought it was Christmas, New Years and the Easter Parade all flattened into one skinny thirty-five year-old humanoid.

Then the suspected necrophiliac, Wormton, a night rider intern, hoisted the coverings of the supine Sylvia and seemed to be somewhat surprised at what he saw.

Neither techy even moved their eyes in Wormton’s direction, let alone asked him what he had beheld.

Everyone who had ever spent five minutes with Wormton, left the lights on at night for the next six months.

*  *  *

Sylvia posted the record banister run on her Facebook page along with the surgeon’s photos of the listed breaks in her chest, pelvis and eye sockets along with those in all segments of all four extremities.

Hundreds of anonymous pleas to Zuckerberg to take down these vomit-inducing shots were met with an extremely polite silence.

After completing her ICU, and hospital rehab-center stays, Sylvia was wheeled home by her knight, and Braxton oversaw her home rehab, just to make sure that the PTers were not ripping off either Auntie or the health-care providers.

Braxton had broken both elbows on a too-high parcour jump and had to have both elbows set, casted, and then rehabbed.

Braxton knew breaks, and rehab; and especially PT.

He served his aunt’s interests very well, in addition to the best interests of the PT crew. With all the expert attention poured into strict adherence to every detail of Sylvia’s comeback, the woman roared into superb health and was asking her white knight what was next.

“How about climbing El Capitan—blindfolded . . .”

*  *  *

Braxton had a hell of a time at age thirteen, to dissuade his favorite relative from killing herself along with him on some harebrained endeavor where there were no results, no prizes and people probably wouldn’t know if you lived or died in the attempt to do whatever nutter endeavor was next up on the suicide list.


Then Sylvia changed gears—in more ways than you can imagine; she went from incipient goofball to calculating genius.

Almost two years went by before some medical friend of Braxton’s dad, Diesel, remarked that Aunt Sylvia was exhibiting a number of the symptoms associated with acquired savant syndrome, a condition that sometimes arrives in the brains and nerve patterns of those poor souls who have suffered a brain concussion.

Well, Sylvia sure as hell had that all right; you could still see some dents in the wall beside the foyer that the carpenters had suggested leaving after they took out ninety percent of Sylvia’s landing strip.

*  *  *

Sylvia was now a rainman—rainwoman—when it came to all things pig.

Within a month or so, she could tell you every statistic about porkers and their raising, slaughtering, and pooping without consulting a note or a website.

All the siblings and most of the nieces and nephews were disgusted, but grudgingly admiring of Aunt Sylvia’s new preoccupation—that was rapidly becoming an obsession.

Braxton had lightly wrinkled his nose when his favorite relative began to cite details of the pink and oinky clan; especially when she began to rattle off scatological statistics that would make even swine farmers puke.

Nevertheless, Braxton smiled a sickly number and excused himself for a few moments.


One day, shortly after Braxton had heard the tables that measured the amount of hog waste state by state, Sylvia paused:

I wonder what they do with all that waste . . . hmmmm.

The following week, Sylvia caught Braxton between meals on a Saturday; a time when his breakfast had long settled and no thought of lunch had yet hatched in the hunger incubator.

“And Braxy, they have over four hundred tons to park somewhere, every day.

“Every piggy in the country produces eleven pounds of poop a day.

“It’s like New York City when there were only horses pulling the transportation load; blocks and blocks of it; some as high as three to four stories.

Braxton blanched and raised one eyebrow in the signal of a question as to why any of this connected; and why he should have any interest in it; whatever it was.

“Don’t you see Braxy; disposal; that’s where all the money can be made.

“Look dear, piggys do it; they have to move it to give the piggys some kind of life away from their filth.

“Then Farmer Bob has to dispose of what he has temporarily only parked.

Don’t you see, Braxy; don’t you see my boy; disposal!


The next week, when Braxton miscalculated the time for missing his Auntie, there she was with a wide smile of discovery and joy.

“Braxy ! We’ve done it.”

Cautiously; very; “done what, Auntie?”

“Made our fortune; yours and mine!

 “Of course I’ll give some to my sister; she is, after all, your mother; not that I couldn’t have been.”

Even though Braxton was only fifteen, he knew enough to let that one alone.

“Well, great Auntie . . . how?”

Aunt Sylvia drew in a large breath, and began.

Only half-an hour later, Braxton Vinn Marlin realized that the chance of him becoming a very wealthy recipient of his favorite relative’s tree of largess, budded, blossomed and fruited in rapid succession.

Aunt Sylvia immediately invested her meager—but virtually intact inheritance, in a string of companies who were addressing the porker poop problem on all fronts—even into research being conducted at MIT.

All this part of the chain of pig poop, Braxton could relate to, if only because the nasty details lurking below the stock certificates of Auntie’s investments weren’t relevant any more because the stock of the companies would rise or fall on what was in or emerging from, the pipeline of research and clinical tests; as well as all the high-tech disposal ideas. These were all very septic and extremely undisgusting.


Right now, Braxton, five-ten, with black hair and a fairly good sense that the rest of the world was mad, mused on the extraordinarily improbable, but irrefutable fact, that his favorite relative had made almost two billion dollars in the stock market.

Pig poop stats and disposal ideas had been flushed and replaced by Sylvia’s progressive rainwoman abilities: to spot, quantify and qualify those certain stocks that she had expertly calculated and then chosen to become runaway winners.

She spent most of her five stock-market hours a day, (and usually three of these on her treadmill) reading penny stock newsletters and scanning company statements, all of which were vacuumed into her brain and available on call at any time.

Braxton had not been a religious kid; at least not for long, but at age eighteen he saw no harm in praying: first, for his beloved aunt no matter where or what she might be doing, and second; a serious prayer that she wouldn’t lose her acquired savant powers; at least not for a while.

. *  *  *

The homestead continued to be the amazing house of surprises and delights that had girdled his youth; and he had Aunt Sylvia. Still.

Thank God.

Sylvia began addressing Braxy as Braxton on his eighteenth birthday and asked him to address her as Sylvia. She saw him as her equal and wanted to dispense with the Auntie/relative horseshit (her word) as much as he did.

Auntie Sylvia and Braxy were put in the children’s toy chest along with all the other indicia of carefree days; padlocked; removed from his room, and stored somewhere in the basement, in a secret place behind the wine cellar.

They were now partners in every enterprise and every charitable donation.

They had recently formed their own charity and were scanning the net for worthy causes to begin vetting.

Sylvia had insisted that Braxton join her in the accumulation of billions in the stock market and he, much to his happy surprise, enjoyed working with figures; in fact, he liked to do the accounting of their transactions, just behind the joy he received in working with Sylvia to pluck the rose from among the thorns and then to watch those roses bloom and bloom and bloom.

Partly because of his banister racing days, Braxton took on a love of the more unusual sports for a husky American boy.

With the situation developing where money would be no object for Braxton’s future, he took up polo, cricket, field hockey, lacrosse and croquet.

The last, he played endlessly with Sylvia while they discussed their—her—blindingly clear choices of the penny stocks that would grow up into large cap industrial, chemical or medical giants.

He sometimes wondered why he even bothered; she was always ten to a hundred jumps ahead of him in all but one category: cancer treatment drugs.

For some reason he really didn’t want to know, he had, over the years of living among the extended family—as well as all the friends and business associates of the extended family—observed the quiet killer take away at least two dozen.

Something in his DNA was wired to be disgusted by this failure of intelligent design to the extent that when Sylvia barely mentioned medical stocks—even when they were one or two cents a share and showing little promise—Braxton ‘adopted’ that part of the portfolio and followed up with every single one.

He visited; took tours; read the scientific papers; followed the clinical trials—often in person—and generally parsed the entire field to the Nth. degree.

Sylvia would pick the choices for their portfolio because he had been too emotionally involved with the cruel truths of this barbaric disease. He agreed.

Sylvia made the buys and Braxton made his character.

Both were extremely happy with their companionship and then, when Braxton turned twenty-one, Sylvia wanted to make him an equal partner.

He declined. He had just graduated from MIT in microbiology and planned to go to medical school.

However, somewhere within these days of discussing stocks and money and cancer and charity, Braxton had an epiphany.

Of course, as Jess Walter wrote, there are no epiphanies; life all comes down to doing all you can do: “Creeks flow and run dry, and the last free board teeters and all you can do is reach for it—all you can do is all you can do.”


Braxton thought that ‘he could do all he could do’ better if he cut the money supply; not the source or the income, but just the flow.

Therefore, with Sylvia’s help, Braxton put himself in the position of a penniless person with limitless credit.

This way he could get into situations, companies, charities, and all the areas where money can make a visible difference.

Then, as the situations called for, he could deliver.

However, being on his own, driving a Jeep Wrangler and wearing only comfortable clothes, he could slip into any scene, without turning any heads—almost invisibly; and certainly anonymously, where he could scope and record, understand and review, all the factors that would allow him to make a decision about whether or not to assist the particular project or drop it and press on to the next.

Sylvia sensed exactly what Braxton, was becoming: A good person with a clear mind and a willingness to do the work to discover entities that could benefit from Braxton’s time and a lot of money.

This cozy arrangement persisted.

Braxton had his own apartment.

Sylvia would argue at length that he should buy a house and Braxton always had the last winning debate point.

“I may want to live in Spain for six months helping a Basque Elementary School system and my house is empty and accumulating expenses, security and landscaping fees—all the trappings of house ownership. Nope, Sylvia, I’m a ‘pay as you play’ person.”

His aunt had not argued these points—again; and both retreated to their previous positions on the subject and then raised topics of mutual interest and concern.

Braxton gave his first large donation to a home for runaway teens.

“Auntie,” he was so excited, “I mean, Sylvia, I was so excited; I had the bank do a cashier’s check, and I signed all the papers and other things.

“Then I went to the front door and knocked—they have a good security system—and I told them I was delivering for the bank.

“I had on my best suit and tie. I really looked like a guy from the bank, and I’d really worked on my hair so I wouldn’t look half crazy, like I usually do with that haircut,”

Sylvia raised an eyebrow and nodded her agreement.

Braxton knew she would, and was happy to see that they could communicate on the wordless level. “So: I put on my really serious face and just repeated the name of the bank and that I had a delivery for the Chairman.  

“The woman—young lady—Brooke Allen, told me that chairmen of boards don’t hang around the places they are chairing to which I quickly replied that they should; then they’ll know what’s really going on.

“The eye of the owner fattens the herd,” I told her; an old Spanish proverb; she should tell them .

“I asked who he was. I got his name and phone number from her.”

Sylvia went over to her nephew and put her arm around his waist and hugged him; he had grown to five ten while Sylvia appeared to shrink slightly with every passing month; almost as though she was on a schedule.

Then Sylvia’s schedule tightened and very soon she began to wither—noticeably. 

 “I’m just so proud of you Braxton; tell me more; what happened next?” She squeezed him tighter.

“Well, after the girl—sorry—young woman, Brooke, got all my information, she buzzed me in.

“I’ve never been to one of these places before; there’s a certain smell, or rather a scent . . . of hope, maybe; something like that; something positive and worthwhile. I began to think that I should have made the check for more, but I can always give them another one, right?” and he hugged Sylvia around her thinning shoulders.

“Of course my darling; that’s our deal. I only say no in two cases: we’re broke, or you’re getting close to your limit. However, as of today there’s over two and a half billion dollars floating around in various enterprises and our long hours blinding ourselves reading the penny stock newsletters, have been paying off like slot machines.

“By the way, I read about a new company that makes immunotherapy-drug spinners; they’ll separate and concentrate the killer bees and let them attack faster and with greater power. I’ll email it to you.

“So, now, tell me; what happened after that; after you were let in?”

Braxton juggled and filed all the recent conversation and returned to his memories.

“The woman showed me around the facilities and gave me a few brochures.

“I asked her what the immediate needs were and she had them written down for people who called with the same question. It’s teaching. Paying really good teachers to come and help these kids.

“I told her I’d help; I’d find her some teachers and that I would even maybe do some teaching there myself. About what, I hadn’t thought; but it was a way to get her attention and a way back in, and,” sighing, “a way to get a date with Brooke.

“I think a lot of the buzz also comes from realizing that I can make a difference—almost immediately—with any project.

“For example, I saw that the Season of Sharing Campaign had only brought in around seven million dollars.

That’s embarrassing; you and I know a certain guy who could match—or even triple that amount and not miss a meal—or a symphony rehearsal.

“So I tripled it and took the check down to the headquarters—anonymously of course; like the Teenagers Home.

“I pretended I was from Wells Fargo; suit, tie; everything the same, except that I asked a lot of questions before handing over the check.

“I wanted to know how short they were; and the woman on duty told me they really needed about two to three times ‘that’ to make a lasting difference.

“I couldn’t wait any longer:

“Oh,” removing the envelope, “then this should help out,” and I removed the check and gave it to her.

“I only waited until her eyes became mostly eyeball; bulging eyeball, and then I left.

Man ! what a rush.”

Sylvia had been listening very carefully to everything Braxton was saying.

Her heart was so warm that she believed she must have been perspiring; the inner winds of goodness-heat were drenching her entire being.

All her suspicions and her expectations of her nephew were happening in real time, right in her presence.

She began to cry, but instantly assured Braxton that they were indeed only tears of pure joy; joy about so many facets of their lives together that clearly made them able to sleep the sleep of the good.

*  *  *

Sylvia’s ‘shrinking’ accelerated. Diagnosis: cancer.

Braxton began to panic.

Sylvia had become more than simply a part of his life; she was the most important person in his life.

When alone, he would nod as he told himself that Sylvia was in fact the only person he truly loved.

While Sylvia continued to slip, Braxton spent hundreds of hours calling experts; visiting research labs; reading the latest literature; attending oncology seminars.

He went everywhere and researched everything that could possibly lead to a correction of his beloved aunt’s condition.

Every moment when he was not occupied with determining the nature and vulnerability of the disease, he spent with Sylvia.

Finally, she was unable to play croquet with her darling nephew.

Not long after that dreadful milestone, Sylvia was restricted to sitting and lying down.

Then she became bedridden.

During all these times Braxton would give her all the details of the ‘in person’ donations that he had made as well as a list of upcoming bequeaths in Sylvia’s will.

Apart from his medical pursuits for something to save his aunt, Braxton would sit beside Sylvia and go over the findings and conclusions that she had accumulated from her continuing readings of the penny stock newsletters and reports about some future economic giants.

They hugged a lot and in spite of her weakened condition, the two of them made a point of laughing almost every few minutes.


Despite the best medical care in the world, that included all the latest immunotherapy drugs, a pancreatic cancer death conquered the gallant life of Sylvia Sanders.


Braxy cried unbridled torrents. His sorrow gagged his breathing while he clung to her shriveled body and kissed her forehead, near the dent delivered by the wall following her record banister slide.







© Copyright 2018 Nicholas Cochran. All rights reserved.

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