Chris Tusa, Louisiana writer, Dirty Little Angels, Haunted Bones, southern fiction writer, southern gothic fiction writer
Chris Tusa, Louisiana writer, Dirty Little Angels, Haunted Bones, southern fiction writer, southern gothic fiction writer
     
 

Chris Tusa, Louisiana writer, Dirty Little Angels, Haunted Bones, southern fiction writer, southern gothic fiction writer

Chapter 20 from DIRTY LITTLE ANGELS, a Novel by Chris Tusa

    
      
     When Mama worked at the hospital, she'd told me about all the suicide patients she'd seen over the years, all the hangings gone wrong, the man whose throat looked like swiss cheese after he drank a bottle of Drano, the woman who shattered all her bones, who had to wear a steel halo on her head after jumping off an overpass.  
     Two weeks had gone by, and I was still sad about Mr. Guidry. I couldn't stop thinking about the boy with the glass bones. His sad, cornflower blue eyes. His shiny black hair parted down the middle by a crooked line of white scalp. The blood clot like a tiny red flower blossoming in his brain.
     Chase hadn't returned any of my calls. I'd seen him once or twice picking up Meridian from school, but he acted different.
     "Hey Hailey," he'd say, his candied yam arm wrapped around Meridian's neck. His eyes staring through me, the way Mama and Daddy stared through me, the way the whole world stared through me, like I was made of glass. I couldn't get his face outta my mind. Even his name had become a black stone in my throat.
      For months now, the roaches had been crawling around in my head, even worse than before. Sometimes I'd even hear  voices ringing in my ears. At first, I thought that it was God speaking to me. But when I listened closely, the words started to sound like my own. I'd started to think more and more about swallowing a bottle of Mama's sleeping pills. I imagined a long white sleep. A tidy, clean death. No blood or bullets. Just a long, deep, pale white sleep.  
     The next morning, I waited for Daddy and
Silas to leave the house.  While Mama was asleep, I went into her room and grabbed the bottle of sleeping pills from atop her dresser. When I got back to my room, I took the cap off the brown prescription bottle and poured the bottle into my palm. The pills looked so holy in my hand, as if the bones of angels had been crushed into each perfect round pill. I closed my eyes and started to recite the same prayer I'd prayed with Mr. Guidry. "Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name." As I recited the prayer, I could hear the words like the buzzing of yellow jackets in my ear. Then, a wave of heat rolling over me. A stabbing pain blossoming in my toes and in the roots of my teeth. Then, a kind of short circuit in the wires of my brain. Until the inside of my skull felt like a black sky exploding with stars.
   
                            

     The next thing I remember was waking up on a gurney at Jupiter Memorial Hospital, my wrists strapped to the metal arm rails, a desert in my mouth. The room smelled like a mixture of rotten piss and baby powder.  Daddy was asleep on a green cot next to my bed, his yellow bird's nest of hair dangling in his face.  Mama was sitting on a chair at the foot of my bed, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, her cheeks smeared with mascara. Silas was standing near the door.
     "How ya feeling, Honey?" Daddy yawned, covering his mouth with a pale hand. He picked up a white styrofoam cup of  coffee and blew on it.
     "You saw the tube they put up her nose," Silas said. Probably feels like somebody farted in her mouth." Silas smiled. I'm gone smoke. I'll be back." As Silas le
ft, Daddy stood up and stretched, exposing a mouth-full of grey fillings as he arched his back. When he was done stretching, he sat down next to the bed and stroked my knuckles, his hand drifting just below the IV taped to the purple vein in my left hand. "You doing alright, Baby Girl?"

     "I'm sorry," I said, my voice cracking as I spoke.    
     "Yeah, well," Mama hissed. "It's a little late to be sorry, Hailey."
     "Cut it out, Lena," Daddy snarled, staring across the room at Mama. "I mean it."
     "I just hope you're happy, Hailey" Mama said, wiping the mascara from her eyes with a balled up Kleenex.
     "Happy?" I asked Mama. "Happy about what?"
     Daddy stood up. "I mean it, Lena. Cut it out."
     "What? That's what she wanted, Bigg." Mama turned her eyes on me. "Wasn't that what you wanted, Hailey? For all of Jupiter to finally know what a miserable family we are."
     "No one's gonna find out anything, Lena. I dunno why you're so damned worried about what people think anyhow."
     "That ambulance driver. That was Basil's stepson, Bigg."
     "I know who it was. So what?"
     "So what? How long you think it's gonna take fore Basil finds out? You know the mouth she's got on her."
     "So what if people find out, Lena. Who cares what they think."
     "I care, Bigg." Mama wiped her eyes with the balled up Kleenex. The room grew quiet. Mama looked at Daddy then at me, then got up and walked out the room.
     "Don't worry about your Mama," Daddy said, still stroking my knuckles. "She's not in her right mind."
     A few minutes later, a nurse came in and brought me dinner. Silas had been gone for a while. I figured he probably went looking for a doctor to see if he could get one of them to look at the lump in his neck. Eventually, though, after I finished dinner, he did come back. 
     "Look what I got at the gift shop?" he said, holding up a deck of cards. "You guys wanna play?"
     Daddy yawned, scratching his pink head. "Sure. I'll play a few hands."
     Silas grabbed the nightstand and put it between him and Daddy. "Whatcha say?" he asked Daddy, shuffling the cards. "Poker? Aces Wild?"
     Daddy grabbed his cup of coffee and took a sip. "Sounds good to me." He pressed his finger against the dry red scab in the corner of his mouth.
     Silas glanced up at him, still shuffling the cards. "It still hurts?"
     "Yeah," Daddy said, blowing on his coffee. "Just when I open my mouth wide."
     "Look. Daddy . . . About what I did."
     "You don't need to apologize, Silas." Daddy held the cards like a fan. "I had it coming, Son."
     Silas put his fan of cards face down on the table. "Well," he said, biting at a hangnail, "even if you did, it wasn't right of me to go and sock you like I did."
     Daddy smiled, rearranging his cards. "Did I ever tell ya about the time I socked your Grandaddy?"
     "Nah. Really?" Silas combed his hand through his painted black hair. "How old were you?"
     Daddy licked his finger, still rearranging the cards in his hand. "Bout nineteen I guess." He slapped two cards down on the table. "Gimme two."
     Silas dealed Daddy two cards, peeking at Daddy from behind his poker hand. "Wasn't Grandaddy a boxer when he was young?"
     "Yep. And he was meaner than dirt back then." Daddy grabbed his cup of coffee from the table, blowing on it as he spoke. "You know that punching bag you always hitting on? That was your Grand Daddy's."
     "Really?" Silas pulled a pack of gum from his shirt pocket, bit off a piece, crumbled the wrapper into his fist.
     "Yep. He used to knock that thing around like it was stuffed with feathers."
     "What did he do?" Silas asked, arranging the cards in his hand. "When you hit 'em I mean?"
     "Nothing." Daddy licked his fingers, still rearranging the cards in his hand. "Didn't even flinch." He laid the fan of cards down on the table. "I fold." Daddy grabbed the cards and started shuffling them. "Man had a goddamn iron jaw."
     Silas was biting at the hangnail again. "Did he hit you back?"
     "See this?" Daddy pointed a finger at a tiny scar above his yellow eyebrow.
     Silas leaned in. "Yeah. I see it."
     "Gave me that." Daddy took a sip of coffee. "And a pair of black eyes to go with it." He put the coffee down and shuffled the cards again. "So." He dealt five cards to Silas. "Just so you know. You ain't the only son ever hit their father."
     Silas glanced up at Daddy and smiled. I watched them for a while, joking back and forth, swapping stories. When they were done, Silas left. Mama spent most of the afternoon saying rosaries. Daddy brought a copy of Shakespeare's sonnets from home.  He spent most of the day sitting next to my bed reading to me.  
    
                             

     Later that night, I woke to the crackle of thunder, imagining the black rain falling outside my window. All the lights were off. In the corner of the room, I could see the bright orange tip of a cigarette glowing in the dark. Above the cigarette, two white eyes floated in the black air.  "Silas?" I called out. "That you?"
     The lights flicked on. It was Moses.
     "It's me, Miss Hailey," he said, rubbing his pot belly. "I didn't scare ya, did I?"
     "No," I told him.  "Not at all. I thought you were Silas. What time is it?"
     Moses turned his wrist over and tapped the face of the watch. "Almost eleven." He took a drag off his Kool, blew the smoke out his nose, stood up, and walked over to the sink, turned the water on and put the cigarette under the trickle of water. "How you feeling?"
     "All right I guess." I watched the white smoke from Moses' cigarette hover in the air like a ghost. "Just bored."
     "I'll bet." Moses wiped the ashes from his pants. "Anything I can do?"
     "Actually, I have an itch on my nose. Can you undo the strap on my wrist so I can scratch it?"
     Moses paused for a moment. "Tell you what . . . how about if I scratch it for ya. How's that?"
     He walked over to the side of my bed. "Where's it at?" he asked, staring down at my stomach while he spoke, his mildewed breath drifting in the air.
     He rested a dirty fingernail on my stomach. His finger wormed its way toward my silver belly ring, his shrivelled black hand creeping over my skin like a tarantula. "Didn't know you had a belly ring." He grinned, his gold tooth flickering as he spoke, his rotten breath drifting in the air. His finger crept toward my nose and scratched the tip, his eyes still crawling over my stomach. "How's that? Better?"
     I pulled up the sheet. "Thanks"
     "My pleasure." He sat back down in the chair. "So," he asked me, "who all's been to see ya?" As he spoke, he stared at me, his eyes tracing the blue veins in my neck. 
     "Just my mom and dad. And Silas." I smiled. "And you."
     "Silas, huh?" he said, smiling with the same yellow teeth. "Silas came by here?"
      "Yep." 
     "Did he say where he was going?"
     "Home I guess."
     "Really?" He paused for a moment. "Cops ain't been by to see you, Miss Hailey, have they?" He stared around the room as he spoke, his words floating in the air, his voice a hand on my shoulder.
     "Nope."
     "Good." He rubbed his cheek with an ashy brown hand. "Good," he mumbled again, with a faraway look, as if he was talking to himself, the words sprouting like weeds in his head. "They bound to come sniffing around sooner or later, though."
     He sat back in his chair, his pot belly poking out of his shirt as he bit at a toothpick between his lips. "Look, this ain't a personal visit, Miss Hailey. I'm here on business." He moved the toothpick around in his mouth while he spoke. "I got a few questions need answering. And I'm hoping you can help me with a few answers."  He took the toothpick out of his mouth, picking at a piece of food between his teeth. 
     "What kind of questions?" I asked.
    "Well." He wiped the toothpick on the tail of his shirt and began picking his teeth again, staring at me through the worm holes of his eyes. "Seems that brother of yours has been squealing to the cops."
     "Silas? Are you sure?"
    "Yep." He wiped the toothpick on the tail of his shirt again. "My friend Smiley works over at the police station. Seems Silas has been telling them pigs a batch of lies about me. Claiming I was the one beat up that faggot boy in Lafayette." He pointed the toothpick at me as he spoke, turning it between his fingers as he pointed it at me. "That brother of yours needs to know. There's consequences for what he does. You tell Silas and them other boys too."  He was staring at me now, his tiny eyes black and empty. "If any of 'em mentions my name, there's gonna be Hell to pay. I'll root every last one of 'em out personally. And I won't stop till I squeeze every last ounce of Jesus outta they rotten little souls." He took the toothpick out of his mouth, dropped it in the glass ashtray on the table. He was staring out the window now, at a pair of clouds drifting against the pewter sky. 
     As I stared at Moses, I wanted to tell him to leave Silas alone. That if he hurt my brother, I'd go straight to the cops. I wanted to scare him the way he was scaring me. But I didn't say a word. Instead, I just sat there, the words melting like a peppermint in my mouth.
     As Moses scratched an itch under his stained red t-shirt, a nurse in a white uniform walked into the room.
     "Visiting hours are over, Sir," she told Moses, her eyes ice, a metal clipboard clutched against her chest. 
     Moses got up from the chair. "Guess they kicking me out, Miss Hailey."
     The nurse walked to the side of the bed.  While she fiddled with my IV, Moses poked his head over her shoulder and  drew an imaginary line across his throat. The nurse leaned over me and Moses disappeared behind her. After she had changed the IV, I looked up, and Moses was gone.
    
                            

     That night, for some reason, I dreamed that all my teeth had fallen out. Nobody had punched them out. They'd simply fallen out, by themselves. Just before the dream ended, I was standing in the front of a mirror, grinning with a toothless smile, my tongue sucking on the bloody holes where the teeth had been. 
    
        

 

 
Chris Tusa, Louisiana writer, Dirty Little Angels, Haunted Bones, southern fiction writer, southern gothic fiction writer Chris Tusa, Louisiana writer, Dirty Little Angels, Haunted Bones, southern fiction writer, southern gothic fiction writer
Chris Tusa, Louisiana writer, Dirty Little Angels, Haunted Bones, southern fiction writer, southern gothic fiction writer
Chris Tusa, Louisiana writer, Dirty Little Angels, Haunted Bones, southern fiction writer, southern gothic fiction writer Chris Tusa, Louisiana writer, Dirty Little Angels, Haunted Bones, southern fiction writer, southern gothic fiction writerChris Tusa, Louisiana writer, Dirty Little Angels, Haunted Bones, southern fiction writer, southern gothic fiction writer Chris Tusa, Louisiana writer, Dirty Little Angels, Haunted Bones, southern fiction writer, southern gothic fiction writer Chris Tusa, Louisiana writer, Dirty Little Angels, Haunted Bones, southern fiction writer, southern gothic fiction writer Chris Tusa, Louisiana writer, Dirty Little Angels, Haunted Bones, southern fiction writer, southern gothic fiction writer Chris Tusa, Louisiana writer, Dirty Little Angels, Haunted Bones, southern fiction writer, southern gothic fiction writer