Aunt Meterling had been an amazing woman. She stood six feet ten, a giantess, a tree.
From her limbs came her large hands that always held a shower of snacks for us children.
We could place two of our feet in one of her shoes, and her outside cape made for
a blanket to cover our play forts. They loved Meterling, because she was so devotedly
freakish, because she rained everyone with affection, and because they felt that anyone
that tall had to be supernaturally gifted. No one actually said she was a ghost, or
a saint, or a witch, but the children watched for signs nevertheless. Mina thought
she knew they suspected her of tricks, for she often smiled at them, and displayed
sleight of hand.
That, said Rasi, didn't prove a thing, because she had read up on the Puffin Book
of Magic Tricks and pretty much knew them all. And wasn't her name peculiar? (What
about yours, Mina retorted hotly, at ten, a defender of her aunt.)
Meterling's father was a linguist, who died a few days after she was born. Looking
at her, he declared her "My Meterling," which sent her grandmother scurrying to the
dictionary. As far as she could tell, it was close to the word "metalinguist, a language
and cultural specialist," although it also sounded suspiciously like a German form
of endearment. As if India isn't good enough, she harrumphed, but she could not disagree
with his choice, nor could Meterling's mother, although both tried to amend the name
to Chandra without success.
What was interesting, and possibly even expected was that Aunt Meterling married the
littlest man she knew. He was four feet seven, diminutive, dapper, and jolly. The
family was embarrassed and affronted, for like Aunt Nalani said, it was bad enough
having a freakishly tall woman own the family. Yet they were all relieved that Aunt
Meterling found Uncle Archer, or he, her. The wedding was a small affair, and there
were three bad omens, but most everyone had enough to eat and drink and toasted the
What happened next was that Uncle Archer died. One minute he was laughing and dancing
with the littlest cousins, and then he took Aunt Meterling out to the dance floor.
She had gone to western dance classes, whispered an aunt, just for this moment. No
one doubted Uncle could dance—he was born to wear a suit and tie; in fact, he bore
more than a striking resemblance to the Monopoly man, with a full white mustache and
striped trousers. The Blue Danube waltz was struck up, and everyone left the dance
floor. Some of the elders frowned and turned away because touch dancing was severely
frowned upon, even though they lived near a city. Touching was meant for procreation,
nothing else; the children looked up procreation in the Encyclopedia but didn't learn
much except the mating habits of the stickleback fish. But to get back to Aunt Meterling:
There she was, swathed in gold tissue silk, and there was he, monocled and marvelous,
and the music from the hired band began. Was it a waltz? He beamed up at her, she
smiled benignly at him. One turn, two, three, and then, astonishingly, he was down.
A flurry of activity then, a scream, and the children were pushed aside. The youngest
didn't understand but started to cry anyway. When it was all over, no one had any
appetite for the plates of round halvah and sugared grapes.
There was not even a chance to see where exactly he came to measure up to her, to
her knee ("That's silly," said Rasi) her elbow, her chin. But their love was palpable,
like a color that was visible, seen, almost heard. Their arms reached for each other
with the sweetest kiss. Fingertips touching, swish of gold, monocle flash. One step,
two step, three, stop, lost.
Meterling sobbed in a corner. She sat right down, four feet of her against the wall,
three feet and more stretched on the floor. Her crying was loud and messy, and no
one seemed to know what to do. No one had ever seen her cry, because her height made
her seem protected from whatever ill might befall an ordinary woman. Mina's grandmother,
no slouch, sharply spoke to anyone who said, "it was too bad," and roughly patted
her daughter's shoulders. The other aunts crowded around; some you know were waiting
for a moment like this, because Meterling, that awkward fish, landed a man before
them. But some like Nalani just burst into tears for the loss and grief.