Uncle Stan by Mary Baader Kaley

My uncle came to stay at our house last year when I was eight and Jake was six. He wanted everyone to call him “Dean" even though his real name was Stan.

ÂÂI heard my dad on the phone with him that night.

“Stan, you don’t want to do nothin’ like that. Okay, Dean then. That’s what I meant.

-- No, leave the match in the box.

ÂÂ-- How long? The gas running on the stove? Turn it of !

ÂÂ-- Just wait 10 minutes. I’ll be there in 10 minutes.

Dad told Mom that Uncle Dean’s wife just left him. Took their kids and told him to never contact them, never try to find them. Dad said Dean was on the juice and really needed family. Mom bit her lip and put her hands over her face.
It was late when Dad got back, and Uncle Dean looked pale and sick. Dad told him to sleep on the floor in Jake’s room, I think because Jake is a boy. Dean got up in the middle of the night and puked on the floor and then peed in Jake’s closet. Jake was so upset he came into my room to sleep.

ÂÂIn the morning, Mom made French toast. When Uncle Dean came into the kitchen, he poured himself a cup of cof ee, looked around real weird like we weren’t all sitting there in front of him, and walked out.

ÂÂMom gave Dad a look, but Dad said, “He’ ll snap out of it." She hufed and shook her head, but I don’t think she wanted to talk in front of me and Jake, so she didn’t say anything.

ÂÂWhen I passed by Jake’s room to get dressed, I saw Uncle Dean pour something in his cof ee from a clear bottle. He started coughing so loud I wanted to hide, so I ran past the doorway pretending I was going to my room, but then hugged the wall to sneak another quick peek. Uncle Dean took a sip of the cof ee and sighed real big like he forgot to breathe until just then. He opened the window. The stale smell of vomit and urine hit me, so I covered my nose and went to my room.

ÂÂAfter dressing, I wanted to find Jake to play video games. Smash Brothers is his favorite. Maybe I would let him win today to make him feel better. But Uncle Dean stopped in the hallway calling me into Jake’s room.

“You spying on me?"


“I don’t like nobody spying on me, you hear?" He looked at me a minute and nodded. “You ever try Judo?"


“Judo! Ever hear of it? Sorta like karate but better. Self-defense is good for girls. I’ll teach you some day."

I nodded but I was watching the flies gathering at the window screen. Uncle Dean took out a pack of cigarettes. I was thinking how Mom’ d be steaming mad if she knew about the smoking. I blocked the smell by pretending to rub my nose.

“You don’t gotta stay here. Scoot! He scoffed.

I found Jake sitting on the front porch with his head hung down on his arms. I petted his hair, warm from the sun. I sat there with him for a few minutes in silence. I stepped on an ant that got too close to my foot. I started to sweat, so I wiped my forehead then touched my finger to my tongue to taste the salt.

“You’ re gonna get burned on the back of your ears if you sit like that too long.I said. “I don’t care."

“Maybe he’ll leave soon."

Jake looked up at me, one eye closed. “He ruined my room. I told him to go. Don’t tell Mom or Dad, okay?"

“You what? What d’ he say?"

Jake put his head back down. “He squeezed my arm so hard I thought it was gonna come of . He rubbed his arm like it was still sore. “Called me a spineless shit. Please don’t tell!" Tears spotted the porch step below his face.

ÂI nodded and patted his back. I imagined judo-kicking Uncle Dean in his privates, and swallowed hard so I wouldn’t cry. “C’ mon, let’s go find a four-leaf clover and make a wish."

We only found three-leafers, so we used the biggest one we could find and split one of the leaves in two. I promised to sleep on the floor and let Jake stay in my bed for now.


At 6:30 a.m. the doorbell rang. Dad was still snoring, but I heard Mom getting up to answer so I quietly followed her. She didn’t see me sitting at the bottom of the stairs. It was two policemen. The one asked her if she owned a brown Honda, and he rattled of a plate number.

“Yes, that’s my car. It’s in our garage. Something wrong?"

“Is your husband home, ma’ am?"

“He’s sleeping, why?"

The cops looked at each other. “You sure?"

“I just came from our bedroom. He’s there. I’m sure."Then Mom turned around with this look on her face like she just saw a vampire. She didn’t care that I was sitting there. She screamed for Dad. I held my breath and ran back to my room.


Dad bought Mom a new car. They told Jake that Uncle Dean died in a car accident. I figured out that Uncle Dean had the Judo talk with my brother too because Jake didn’t stop crying until Mom promised he could take a Judo class.

My nightmares started that night, the day the cops came. I dreamt I was in the car with him at the forest preserve where he shot himself. He was holding my arm kinda tight and wouldn’t let go. I woke up screaming each time, crying as Mom hugged me. I was glad he wasn’t coming back, scared I might go to hell for feeling better after he died.

The dreams stopped after the wake a few days later. I was never at a wake before but I thought more people shoulda been there. A stranger whispered about the closed casket. Aunt Judy kept my cousins, his kids, away. "It’s for their protection," someone said. I picked up a prayer card that said, Stanley 'Dean' Hawkins and put it in my pocket. When I looked up I saw Jake walking up to the cof in. He stood on his toes and put the wilted almost-four leaf clover on top.

C-2009-Baader Kaley

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