“Come see what your aunt brought you!” Mom calls.
My aunt has given me some pretty neat gifts: A shirt with iron-on letters that say Bookworm and a Partridge Family album. She’s a fun person, sometimes, like when she records us singing Olivia Newton-John songs on her tape recorder and says we sound professional, or lets me try on her wigs.
I can hardly wait to see what she’s brought this time. I fly down the hall from my bedroom to the living room.
My aunt is smiling wide. She hands me something wrapped in brown paper, saying: “Be careful -it’s breakable.”
I unroll the wrapping, pull out the breakable thing.
It’s a statue. A little bald man with a big belly and no shirt, wearing only a skirt, with his hands up in the air. He is laughing – at me, I think, because I don’t know what in the heck he is.
He’s also solid pink. A little darker than Pepto-Bismol.
I am confused.
“I made him in ceramics class,” my aunt says, looking pleased with herself.
Every grown-up female I know is making ceramics or macrame or decoupage. But I’ve never seen anything like this fat little pink man.
“What is he?” I ask, feeling disgusted, while he laughs at me silently.
I think about dropping him.
My mother glares at me.
“He’s Hotei. If you rub his belly, he’ll bring you good luck,” says my aunt.
I want to say he needs it for himself, but my mother speaks up:
“Look at what’s underneath.”
I turn Hotei head down. Under the base on which he stands is an inscription:
Made for Fran with love. Aunt E.
I look up at my aunt and see the earnestness in her eyes.
She never married, never had children of her own. When I went to high school, she attended my plays, convinced that I’d make it on the stage in New York City. She directed my wedding, bought dozens of outfits for my first child. When I started trying to write short stories, she asked to read my work.
“You should send this to magazines!” she said, genuine excitement in her voice. “You could be published!”
She didn’t live to see my second child.
Hotei sat on my bedroom shelf for many years, and yes, I rubbed his belly. Some days more than others.
But I didn’t need him for good fortune, not really.
I had my aunt.