was a white fist of flesh. Mama had placed the photograph of the
ultrasound atop her dresser in a sterling silver frame. That night,
when the pain bent her over in the kitchen, I imagined that same
white fist punching her insides black-and-blue. When Daddy called
from the hospital to tell us she'd lost the baby, Silas said I
shouldn't worry. He said the baby didn't feel any pain, that at
nine weeks it wasn't anything but a ball of meat squirming in Mama's
stomach. He said it hadn't even sprouted arms or legs yet, that it
still had a fish brain and gills growing in its neck. That night, I
dreamed of Mama's flesh creaking as the doctor unstitched the
trapdoor in her stomach. Mama's insides looked like crushed red
velvet. The baby's skin was blue as a robin's egg. I imagined the
stitches in her stomach. Tiny black mouths puckering between the
folds of her belly. I remember wondering where the baby's cries had
gone. If they had stayed inside Mama's body after the doctors
stitched the trapdoor shut.
week later, I was sitting in front of Sacred Elementary studying for
my Science test, thinking about the baby again, my fingers tracing
the pink gills of a fish in my Biology textbook. As I stared at the
fish in my textbook, I heard the crackle of gravel and what sounded
like the faint moan of a car horn. I looked over my shoulder and saw
a rusted blue truck with a dented fender idling in the parking lot
behind me. It was Silas.
ago, Daddy had helped him buy an old rusted pickup truck from
Snitch's Scrap Yard. Silas had spent the whole summer souping it up.
It had knobby tires and silver spoked rims. A tanned brunette in a
yellow bikini was airbrushed on the driver's side door. She was
riding a surfboard, her body bent beneath a curling white wave.
As I walked
up to the truck , Silas revved the engine. The inside of the truck
smelled like pot. A voice was crackling on the radio. I climbed
into the passenger's side, and Silas spun the tires. When he did
this, a cloud of brown dust swallowed the truck.
up?" Silas mumbled, fixing his hair in the mirror. "Where you
going? Ferma's?" He had slick black hair that looked like it had
been painted onto his skull. His arms were tanned and muscular. He
had freckled skin and two green eyes swimming in his head.
said, buckling my seatbelt. "Thought Daddy was picking me up."
pulled a Picayunne from his shirt pocket and lit the tip of the
cigarette with his lighter. The lighter had a skinny girl with curly
blonde hair on it. She had egg-white skin and two bright green eyes.
She was wearing a fuzzy pink blouse and shiny black panties. When he
turned the lighter toward the sun, the girl's black panties
disappeared, exposing a yellow mound of hair between her legs.
me to do it." Silas took a drag and blew the smoke out his nose.
the poolhall." He took two quick drags and flicked the Picayunne
into the wind. "Man stays down there much longer, they gonna start
charging him rent."
give me a ride to Meridian's tomorrow?"
do." He took two quick drags and flicked the Picayunne into the
wind. "Gotta go to New Orleans and meet with my parole officer."
been arrested three times. Once for stealing a tractor from a
warehouse in Point a la Hache, another time for snatching car
stereos from the parking lot of the Gun Show in New Orleans. When
he got caught selling a quarter bag of weed to a boy over on Mercy
Street, Mama agreed to bail him out, but only if he promised to
join the church and get saved. Mama said Silas' soul was blacker
than mud, that only the preacher's water could raise up his dead
soul. Me and Mama went down to the church that Sunday to watch
Brother Icks dunk Silas in the baptismal pool. When I asked Silas
what it was like, he said it felt more like being drowned than being
saved. Mama was convinced that the water had cleansed his soul,
though, because two days after he was saved, Silas went down to the
tattoo parlor and had a line from Leviticus tattooed on his bicep.
Wherever he went, he kept a pair of brass knuckles in his back
pocket. He called it The Fist of God. On Saturday nights, he and
his friends rode up and down Liberty Road in their rusted pickups
looking for boys to save. Most of them hung out in an old abandoned
bank at the end of Goverment Street.
you gonna take me and Meridian down to the bank with you"? I asked.
I knew Silas had the hots for Meridian.
young to go down there, Hailey. For Christ's sake, you're not even
in high school yet."
to Meridian, you know. She thinks you're cute."
grinned as he turned into our driveway. "I'll think about it," he
said fixing his hair in the rearview mirror, his eyebrows crawling
He put the
truck in neutral, and I climbed out of the truck. As he pulled off,
I noticed Grandma rocking in the swing on the porch. The yard was
littered with Daddy's clothes. Jeans and workshirts, socks balled
into tight white fists, shoes like empty mouths. A pair of his
leather gloves was dangling from the branches of the crepe myrtle.
They were brand new, still stitched at the wrists. They looked like
two black hands dangling in some sort of upside-down prayer.
When I got
to the porch, I asked her where Mama was. Sleeping, she said. The
veins in her legs looked like red spider webs. The diabetes had
wrapped her right eye in a filmy white shroud.
Silas off to?" she asked, her voice the crackle of dead leaves.
going back to work. Then down to Liberty Road for the races."
devil himself burrowed into that boy's brain?" Grandma snapped, a
glass of iced tea sweating at her feet. "He's gonna get himself
killed in that truck. Gonna end up like that boy with the paper bag
worked for a woman whose son's truck had fishtailed through a rice
field while racing down on Liberty Road. She said the rusted gas
tank on the truck had burst into flames and the boy had been
swallowed in an orange ring of fire. After the accident, she visited
him in the hospital. She said the boy's face looked a brown paper
bag with two holes ripped out for eyes.
gonna pick up Daddy's clothes?" I asked. "They're spead all over
put 'em out there." Grandma flicked her ashes into a folded paper
napkin in her lap and took another drag. The tip of the cigarette
glowed bright orange. "Let your Mama pick 'em up."
to Grandma for a drag of her Marlboro.
around for a moment then handed me the cigarette. "All right. Jut
one quick one though. And make it fast. Your momma and daddy gonna
skin me alive they see me sneaking you drags."
the smoke deep into my lungs as Grandma stared across the muddy
yard, the scatter of blackbirds reflected in her dead eye.
gave the cigarette back to Grandma, I kissed her on the cheek and
went inside. I spent the rest of the day watching TV and studying
for my Biology test.
the moon looked like Grandma's cataract. Stars clung to the
branches of trees. Around two am, I woke to the sound of Daddy's
pickup growling in the driveway. I could hear his keys jingling in
his pocket as he walked along the oyster shell driveway, the
splintered floorboards creaking beneath him as he drifted down the
hallway. As I fell asleep, I listened to the rain-filled gutter
outside my window, the slow drip of water like a wristwatch ticking
in my ear.
The air was
loose. Crows spotted the sky like black drops of blood. Magnolia
blossoms opened their white mouths. Me and Meridian were at Satan's
Bayou sitting on the rusted hood of her father's pickup.
Bayou was located on the east side of Sacred, at the end of Hwy 91.
Originally, the area had been called Bayou Landing, but people
started calling it Satan's Bayou after the sheriff received a phone
call one Halloween that a group of Satan worshippers had conducted a
sacrifice there. Rumor had it, when the sheriff arrived, he found a
pentagram of gasoline burning in the grass and a dead goat dangling
from the branches of a blackgum. The goat had been strung from the
tree by its neck. It had been gutted, and its eyes had been plucked
most part, the area itself was nothing more than an old burned-out
log cabin surrounded by a wall of pine trees. The windows of the
cabin had been punched out. Shards of glass flickered in the dirt
like diamonds. On the porch, a red canoe was propped against the
rusted skeleton of an old washing machine. Weeds sprouted through
cracks in the boards. A nest of sparrows squawked in the black
mouth of a mailbox. A splintered pier with missing planks of wood
overlooked the bayou.
I sat on
the hood of the truck and watched as Meridian scrawled her phone
number on Chase Haydell's forearm in bright red lipstick, her eyes
the brown shells of beetles, a noose of black hair dangling down her
Hollis' second cousin. Me, Meridian, and Hollis were in eigth grade
at Sacred Elementary. Chase had gone to school in Slaughter.
Although he was supposed to be a senior, he'd dropped out in the
tenth grade. He had been in jail twice. Once for beating up a boy
at the A&P and another time for smashing the windshield of his
girlfriend's pink Corvette with a lead pipe.
Meridian said, smirking as she handed the lipstick to Chase. "Put
yours where I won't lose it." She leaned back on the hood of the
truck and lifted her blouse until you could see the edge of her
black lace bra. Her gold waist chain flickered in the sun.
leaned over Meridian with the lipstick in his hand, he looked at
Lonnie and smiled, a strand of blonde hair dangling in his eyes as
he scribbled his phone number across her stomach. He circled a
chocolate brown mole on her hipbone with a number zero. Drew a red
number three that curved around her bellybutton. As he did this, he
glanced over at me.
brother's not Silas Trosclair by chance?"
that's him," Meridian said, sitting up.
out down at the old bank with Moses Watkins and those boys, right."
that's him," I said.
started some kind of gang or something?" Hollis said. "The Sons of
Jesus. Or something like that."
of God." Chase exhaled, his words wreathed in smoke.
grinned. "They're the ones that vandalized that church in Boutee."
went to Sacred High," Chase said. "She had a Math class with Silas,
way back when."
grabbed the lipstick from Chase and stuck it in the back pocket of
her Wranglers. "You got a cigarette for me?" she asked, fiddling
with the pearl dolphin that dangled from her waist chain.
a drag from his cigarette, pulled a pack of Camels from his shirt
pocket, and handed one to Meridian.
of Math, how'd you two do on that Algebra test?" Lonnie asked.
"Thibodeaux's a witch," Meridian wheezed, her voice the soft swarm
of bees. "She never even covered that crap in class."
miss that shit," Chase slurred, taking a sip from the beer in his
hand, then squeezing the can until it crackled in his fist.
what?" I asked.
Geometry. That whole mess." Chase flicked his cigarette into the
wind, then pulled a beer from the six pack at his feet.
her husband?" Hollis asked. "At the pep rally?"
there?" I asked. "Which one was he?"
"The one in
the dark blue suit with the yellow tie. With the blonde hair. And
that followed her around like a dog the whole time," Meridian
snapped. She took a drag, blew smoke out her nose. "Woman makes me
mouth twisted into a smile. "Man, you got it in for that woman." He
took a sip from his beer, then wiped his mouth on the green sleeve
of his shirt.
got it in for everybody" Hollis said, smiling as he opened a can of
took a quick drag from her cigarette, staring at Hollis as she
spoke. "Not everybody can be a stinking teacher's pet, Hollis." She
turned to me, grabbed the cigarette I was smoking from between my
fingers and took a drag. "Shouldn't you be at work by now anyhow?"
Hollis yelled. "Shit. Shit. Shit. "I gotta go. Right now."
smiled at Meridian, exposing his small teeth.
Hollis said, tossing his beer can into a patch of weeds. "I mean it.
I gotta go."
rolled his eyes. "I just opened my beer Hollis."
"I mean it,
Chase. If I'm late again, Lois's gonna fire my ass for sure."
dammit. Gimme a minute." Chase walked over to Meridian and took the
cigarette from between her fingers. He took a drag, then handed the
cigarette back to her. "Don't you forget to call me now, girl."
Hollis walked over to the weedy edge of the bayou where Chase's car
was parked. It was a sky-blue Trans-Am with a sun roof and silver
huh?" Meridian said.
said. "He's cute."
talking about the Trans-Am, Hailey." Meridian took a drag, bit her
lip, then blew the smoke out the corner of her mouth. "He's ugly as
dirt." She smirked. "Gotta nice ass, though." She took another drag
and smiled. "Maybe I could teach him to walk backwards."
and took the cigarette from Meridian.
pulled off, Meridian was staring at a white egret floating against
the sky. Her eyes followed the egret across the sky until it landed
on a cypress stump. It looked like a white flag fluttering in the
wind. Meridian raised her right hand as if it was a gun, took a drag
from her cigarette, then pointed the tip of her finger at the egret,
her left eye squinted. I leaned back on the hood of the truck and
stared at the empty sky as sunlight ricocheted through the trees.
A small halo
of sunlight blinked through the clouds when I heard a car creeping
down the oyster-shell driveway. I sat up in the lounge chair and saw
Chase's sky blue Trans-Am flickering in the sun. I stared at him
from behind the black lenses of my Ray-Bans as he drifted across the
yard. When he walked up, I was rubbing tanning lotion on my
he said, reaching into his pocket for a cigarette. "They got tanning
beds for that now you know." He reached into his pocket and pulled
out a silver Zippo lighter, the unlit cigarette dangling from his
I smiled as
I put the cap on the tanning lotion, then propped my Ray-Bans on my
head. "Meridian's not here."
He cupped his hands as he lit the cigarette. "She asked me stop by
and pick you up on my way. She wants to go over to the arcade. You
up for it?"
said. I stood up and wrapped a purple towel around my waist. "Lemme
grab my flipflops. And my purse."
When I came
back, Chase was waiting for me in the truck. He said he had to stop
off at his place on the way. He lived in a lime-green trailer at
the end of Evangeline Road. The windows of the trailer were covered
with aluminum foil. A pink Corvette with a cracked windshield and a
rusted front fender was parked in the tall grass. On the edge of the
yard, near a weedy ditch, a Rottweiler drifted in the shade of a
sycamore tree, barking from a silver chain.
of the trailer smelled like vanilla incense. On the coffee table, a
cigarette butt with lipstick on the end had been snuffed out on a
blue poker chip. Two contact lenses floated in a pair of shot
wandered into the kitchen, and I sat down in a maroon vinyl sofa
facing the TV.
beer?" he said, fixing his hair in the bronze reflection of the
pulled a compact and a tube of lipstick from the mouth of my
walked over and handed me a long neck. "Here ya go." He sat down in
a barstool by the window, lit a cigarette, then took a drag.
and Meridian, huh? You two go to school together, right?"
opened my compact to check my lipstick. "Met her in Ms.
Thibodeaux's class." As I stared into the compact, I could feel
Chase watching me. "You and Hollis close," I asked, capping the
lipstick and putting it back in my purse.
close as second cousins can be I guess." He flicked his ashes in a
moldy glass of Coke.
As I took a
sip of my beer, I heard a faint rumbling noise. When I looked down,
I noticed a beeper vibrating across the coffee table.
walked over to the table and grabbed the beeper, hissing through his
teeth as he reached down for it. "Damn back's killing me." He stood
there for a moment, waiting for the beeper to display the number.
hurt it," I asked, taking another sip of my beer.
scoliosis." He was scrolling through the digitial display of the
picked up the phone. "Give me one minute." He dialed a number and
stood there for a moment, smoking his cigarette. He took another
drag of his cigarette, waited for a moment, then hung up the phone.
"Bastards beep ya. Then they don't answer the damn phone." He
clipped the beeper to his belt, and grabbed his cigarette from the
edge of the bar. "So, you got it to, huh?."
ain't as bad as mine?" He took a drag of his cigarette and put it
back on the edge of the bar, then turned around and lifted his
shirt. He had a purple-yellow bruise in the middle of his back.
When he lifted his arm, a thin pink scar puckered between his ribs.
"Pretty bad, huh?" he asked.
pretty bad," I said, my eyes following the ripple of muscles flexing
in his back.
He held his shirt up and reached for his cigarette. He took a drag,
put the cigarette back on the bar, then turned around, lowering his
shirt. "Yours can't be as bad as mine."
know," he said. He paused for a moment. "Yours is pretty bad."
I felt him
get closer. He didn't say anything for a moment. Then, I felt the
tip of his finger touch the small of my back, tracing the curve of
over my shoulder and saw him in the corner of my eye. He wasn't
looking at my spine. He was looking up, the way a doctor looks up
while his fingers search for a lump of cancer.
spine's as crooked as a politician, girl." His voice felt like a
hummingbird fluttering against my neck.
feel his right hand untiing the yellow bow of my bikini top. His
other hand drifted around my waist, then across my stomach. When I
felt his hand moving toward the bra of my bikini top, I pulled away
quickly and slapped him.
girl," he snarled, licking his lips. I looked up and noticed a thin
line of blood on his lip. His two front teeth were stained red.
"You cut my
lip with your ring."
I raised my
hand and touched his lip with the tip of my finger. He flinched.
sorry," I said. "Wait. You can kiss me." I reached behind my back
and tied the yellow bow of my bikini top. "Really. I want you to."
down at the gold Mother of pearl ring flickering on my finger.
gonna hit me again, are you?"
said. "I'm sorry. You can kiss me. Really. I want you to."
at me for a moment, then leaned down and kissed me. His mouth was
hard, his lips cracked and chapped. I coud taste the blood from his
lip, mixed with beer and cigarette smoke.
kissed me, a strand of his hair tickled my face. His beeper
vibrated against my hip, and I felt his hand groping for it. He
raised the beeper into the light and cupped his hand around the
digital display so he could read the number. "That's Meridian," he
said, clipping the beeper to his belt.
walked over to the phone, he looked at me for a moment, touching his
lip with the tip of his finger. He grabbed his cigarette from the
end of the bar and dropped it into the glass of moldy Coke. The air
almost three o'clock when we got to Meridian's house. As Chase
pulled into the gravel driveway. Chase blew the horn, killed the
engine, and we climbed out of the car and waited for Meridian. A few
minutes later, Meridian came out. She was wearing pink overalls with
a black halter top and silver hoop earrings.
she winked, pulling a Capri from her purse and lighting the tip. She
opened the passenger side door, and I climbed into the backseat of
turned to Chase. "So, you miss me?" She took a drag from her
cigarette, resting her hand on Chase's shoulder. "Oh, by the way,"
she said, reaching into her purse. "I got some change for us. Here,
hold onto it for me Hailey. You know me. I'll lose it."
reached over the seat. I held out my palm, and she spilled a
fist-full of coins into my hand.
I had forgotten
I'd touched Chase's bloody lip. While he drove down Liberty Road, I
picked through the pile of change in my palm, staring at the blur of
pine trees passing outside the window, glancing occasionally at the
drop of dried blood--like a perfect red period at the end of my
flicked the Picayunne into the cool black air, the ashes from the
cigarette sprinkling his lap as he shifted the truck into second
gear. It was Saturday night, and me and Meridian and SIlas were on
our way to the old bank. Silas had agreed to bring us to meet some
of the members of The Sons of God, as long as we didn't tell
anyone. Of course, me and Meridian agreed.
When we got
there, Silas killed the engine and we climbed out of the truck. The
building had once been occupied by Sacred Commerce Bank and Trust.
It looked the same for the most part, except the large glass
drive-up window had been spray painted black. Some of the letters
of the name SACRED COMMERCE BANK AND TRUST had fallen down during
Hurricane Camille. A large black letter C still dangled from the
side of the building like a broken halo.
the inside of the bank to be dark, lit with candles maybe, or
flashlights. But Silas said someone had rigged the meter outside,
so the electricity was still on. The lobby of the bank was empty,
except for twenty-or so lawn chairs and a stained matress with
rusted springs sticking out the side. The teller counter had been
draped with a white sheet and lined with candles. It looked like an
altar. On the wall above the teller counter, someone had spray
painted the words SONS OF GOD in red.
introducing us to a few people, Silas walked us over to the teller
counter and introduced us to the founder of The Sons of God, Moses
Watkins. He was a wiry black man with an afro. He had a gold tooth
with a star etched into it. He was wearing a white robe with the
arms cut off and black jeans with missing knees. SIlas had said that
a year ago he'd been hit by a car while crossing Government Street.
He had a thick purple scar on his head where his afro wouldn't grow.
It was the shape of a question mark. When he spoke, he looked like
he was reading from flash cards pinned on the wall of his skull.
Meridian talked with the other guys who made up The Sons of God, I
talked with Moses. As I spoke with him, he told me how shortly after
the accident he'd seen the face of Jesus in the mirror of a men's
bathroom. A few months later, he started The Sons of God. At this
point, they only had nine members, but Moses was sure that over time
the membership would grow. He said that Satan was loose in Sacred.
And that the devil wanted to "plant himself like a seed, deep in the
purple cow meat of our brain." He also taked about something he
called Bad Religion. He said it was the duty of The Sons of God to
expose any church that practiced bad religion. "People think we're
vandals, thugs," he said. "But we're not. We're messengers of
o'clock, Silas motioned to me that he needed to leave. Moses told
me he had something for me, so I walked with him to his car. He had
a green Omni with whitewalls and a broken taillight. The driver's
side fender was dented. The windshield was a spiderweb of cracks.
When we got
to his car, he reached into the back seat and handed me a pink
brochure. The words THE SONS OF GOD: A FAMILY FOR CHANGE were typed
on the front in large, black letters.
Moses invited me
to come back whenever I wanted and then walked me over to Silas'
truck. When he got to Silas' truck, he told Silas they needed to
get some bibles and maybe even some plywood so they could build
pews. "Later, maybe a chalice, a statue or two, a tabernacle."
Moses lit a cigarette and blew the smoke out the corner of his
mouth. "Before we know it, the place'll look like a goddamn
The sky was
blood-shot, the air ripe with dust. It was Saturday, and Daddy was
in the yard shoveling a mound of black dirt, his T-shirt a circle of
sweat, a hose trickling at his feet. The screen door creaked when I
opened it, and Daddy looked up.
Girl. You hungry?" He wiped the sweat from from his eyes. "How
about scrambled eggs from Badeaux's?" He stood the shovel against
the tree and walked toward me. "Lemme change my shirt and we'll
When we got
to Badeaux's, we sat down in a red vinyl booth. The cook behind me
was mumbling in Spanish. I watched him crack two eggs into a frying
pan. They hissed like yellow eyes. Daddy combed his bird's nest of
brown hair as he read the menu.
waitress, Hittie, was a strawberry blonde with freckled skin. She
had thin brown lines for eyebrows and two green eyes that drifted
beneath crescent moons of silver-blue eye shadow. Her cheeks were
crabapples. Her voice was soft and low. When she wasn't speaking,
her eyes blinked incessantly as if a word was lodged in the silver
gears of her brain.
Trosclair! Decided to come back for more, huh?" While she spoke, she
stared at the red heart tattoo beating on Daddy's shoulder blade.
"You ain't had enough of me yet?"
grinned. "I'm here for eggs, Hittie."
eggs," she smirked, her long red fingernail tapping the formica
Daddy lit a
Picayune. "Heard you got yourself a roommate, huh?" He took a drag
from the cigarette and smiled at me, clicking his jaw and breathing
three round circles of smoke. His mouth was the perfect shape of an
warthog girlfriend of Bookie's moved in."
Daddy took another drag from his cigarette. "When she move in?"
weeks now. And lemme tell ya, I've had it up to my eyes with Miss
Cherice. Girl sits around the house all day, hogging up all the
bath water, shoveling through bags of chips with those frying pan
hands of hers. Not to mention sunbathing on the patio. Spends half
the morning in the bathroom greasing herself up like a sausage."
"Sunbathing? Cherice? You've got to be kidding."
Every morning she shoehorns that fat ass of hers into this pathetic
little polka dot bikini. Then takes to strutting around the patio
out front. You got to see this bikini, Bigg. Every God-foresaken
fiber of that thing struggling to keep that woman's
nightmare-of-a-body from full view."
she do this?"
Like clockwork. Just this morning I woke up and looked out the
window, ya know, hoping to catch a glimpse of a blackbird or a
butterfly or something. And like a damn cancer, there she was, as
if Death had gone and dressed itself in spots and parked itself on
my front lawn. I can't even stomach going outside anymore."
grabbed a pen from behind her ear. "Went out in the yard last
Saturday to plant some tulips, and there she was again. Spent what
coulda been a perfectly fine Saturday watching obesity have a picnic
on my front lawn. Anyway, look at me." She grabbed a pad from her
apron pocket. "Yapping my guts out. I'm sure you heard enough about
Miss Cherice to last you a lifetime." She tapped her pad with the
tip of the pen. "You two must be starving. What can I get for ya?"
ordered scrambled eggs with cheese, two strips of bacon, sausage,
grits, and coffee. I ordered a caraffe of orange juice and
blueberry pancakes with butter and maple syrup. When Hittie left,
Daddy reached across the table and put his hand on top of mine. The
skin on his fingers was cracked and callused.
say, Sweetie? Wanna shoot some pool with your Daddy after we eat?"
He snuffed his cigarette out in the gold tin ashtray.
were done eating, Daddy pulled out a wad of bills and stuffed a
twenty in Hittie's apron pocket. She kissed him on the cheek. The
kiss left a smear of red lipstick on his face.
Poolhall was at the end of Liberty Road. It was a pink building
surrounded by a patch of dead grass. The front of the building was
cluttered with rusty engine blocks, chrome rims, and chicken coops.
In the gravel driveway, a yellow Chevy speckled with grey primer was
propped up on cinder blocks. A weedy ditch filled with muddy
rain-water and trash snaked between two pecan trees.
went inside, I ordered Daddy a mug of beer while he grabbed a
table. A few minutes later, I found Daddy on the back corner table
racking the balls. A black man with an afro was staring into a
smudged mirror, picking his teeth. A fat man in overalls was leaning
against the jukebox.
"They was at
the Fair Grounds in New Orleans," the black man said, pointing the
toothpick at Daddy.
was the dog races in Mobile," Daddy argued, rubbing his hands
together in a white cloud of chalk. "I heard it straight from
Leander's mouth." Daddy took a sip from the frosted mug of beer. He
put the mug down and wiped a white foam moustache on his red
handkerchief. "Leander said it was the biggest, meanest boy he'd
ever seen. Said he had a chest like a damn accordion. Arms like
was drifting around the pooltable, a stick in one hand, the beer in
the other. "Said he told Leander he was gonna split his lip, spill
those gold teeth of his all over the floor." Daddy lit a Picayune,
his words rising like a ghost. "In one quick lick, Leander balled
up his fist and socked that boy with all he had. Caught him flat on
the lip, turned the air red."
squinted and leaned over a rainbow of poolballs, a cigarette
twitching between his lips as he spoke. "Must have knocked his
vision loose too, because that boy's eyes went North and South like
his thoughts were crooked, like his brain was squirming in his
head." Daddy squinted again and tapped the cue ball with the tip of
his stick. When he did this, the nine ball disappeared in the
corner pocket. "Then, right when that boy's arms went drunk, Leander
leaned in and laid another one square in his gut. Bent that boy over
like he was praying."
walked back to the table, he glanced over his shoulder and winked at
me. After leaning his poolstick against the jukebox, he walked over
to me, the frosted mug of beer in his hand. He bent down and kissed
me on my forehead. When he did, the beer tilted in his hand and
drops of white foam sprinkled my knee. He moved a strand of hair
from my ear, and I felt his words on my neck.
"I need my
good stick if I'm gonna beat these wise asses." He took a sip from
his beer. "Whatcha say, Sweetie? Wanna go home and get it for
was only a few blocks from the poolhall. When I got home, I opened
the latch on the shed and the rusty door swung open. Whenever Daddy
stayed at the poolhall too long, Mama hid his poolstick in the
shed. The shed was cluttered with stacks of books and boxes of
clothes. I looked around for the Daddy's poolstick, but I didn't see
it anywhere. Toward the back, I saw a large black trunk wedged
between a mattress and a rusted blue bicycle. It was long and
slender like a coffin. The top was chipped and peeling, caked with
dust and rat droppings. I wiped the lid off with an old tube sock
and popped open the latch with a rusty screwdriver. Inside, I found
stacks of construction paper--mostly cards I'd made for Mama when I
was in middle school. At the bottom, I found a Christmas tree angel
with a bent halo and a black comb with three missing teeth. I even
found a drawing I'd made for Mama while I was in Ms. Scully's third
grade class. I'd given it to her after our trip to New Orleans for
Mardi Gras. In the picture, Mama was standing under an orange sky,
her fingers mangled, her mouth a crack growing beneath her nose. Two
dimples opened like holes in her cheeks. A pink ear dangled from her
chin. Her smile was crooked. Her arms were waving in the wind. She
looked like she was drowning.
opposite corner of the shed, I could see what looked like a white
tarp draped over some boxes. I stepped over a pile of cinder blocks
and a tractor engine. Under the tarp, I found a pile of white
statues stacked on top of each other. It reminded me of the
pictures I seen from the Holocaust. There was a statue of a nun with
a missing right hand, a little girl with fat cheeks and wings
sprouting from her back, a soldier with a sword strapped to his
chest, a boy bent on one knee clutching a rosary. While I was
staring at the rosary in the little boy's hand, I noticed a silver
flicker in the reflection of an aquarium. As I glanced over my
shoulder, I saw Silas standing in the doorway.
the statues with the tarp, then turned around. "I'm looking for
Daddy's pool stick," I answered. "Mama hid it on him again."
there for a moment without saying anything. "You shouldn't be
messing around in here."
the stack of cinder blocks at my feet, I began to make my way toward
the shed door--until Silas' voice stopped me.
edge," he said, his words drifting in the air like smoke.
he said. He snuffed the cigarette out against a rusted screendoor
that was propped against the wall. "Of the tarp."
glanced over my shoulder, I noticed the nun's left hand sticking out
from under the tarp. I tugged on the edge so that it covered her
fingers, then stepped over the tractor engine and the stack of
cinder blocks, making my way out of the shed. As I got to the
doorway, Silas reached behind a stack of fishing polls and handed me
sat in his truck revving the engine, I closed the shed door. He
backed the truck up and swerved onto a patch of brown dirt
surrounding the swingset then yelled to me across the yard.
I'm going to the cockfights in Slaughter. Be back later tonight."
He put the truck in drive and spun the tires. I watched the pickup
and the red sky behind it disappear in a brown cloud of dust.
nearly noon when I got back to the poolhall with Daddy's lucky
poolstick. When I returned home, I found a pewter vase of purple
carnations on the kitchen table. Next to the vase was a torn piece
of brown cardboard scrawled with the words: TO MAMA LOVE SILAS.
Around three o'clock, Mama woke up and found the vase of
carnations. She put them on the dresser in her bedroom and slept
most of the day. I spent the day washing clothes and dishes. Pitch,
a black mutt Daddy found at the dump kept me company. We played
catch in the yard with a tattered old baseball I'd found in the
shed. I pinned clothes to the line while Pitch yawned on the porch,
his tail swatting a blue cloud of flies, his pink tongue licking the
around midnight, I woke to the sound of Mama's voice in my ear.
Hailey." She turned the lamp on and I saw the pewter vase
flickering in her hand. "These flowers Silas bought for me. They
not bought at all."
I heard the
front door open and slam shut. It was Silas, home from the
cockfights. Mama yelled to him as he drifted into the kitchen.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF CLAUDETTE MANGOLD."
A rose of
blood blossomed in his cheeks. "What are you squawking about, Mama?"
you gave me, Silas. These flowers. They say IN LOVING MEMORY OF
CLAUDETTE MANGOLD." Mama had taken the flowers out of the vase. She
turned the vase upside-down and pointed to the words IN LOVING
MEMORY OF CLAUDETTE MANGOLD engraved in the pewter bottom of the
vase. "Right here," she said, following each word with her finger as
she read it. "In Loving Memory. Of Claudette Mangold. It's right
here, Silas. Plain as day."
stared at the pewter words. He didn't look up.
the kind of Christian I raised you to be, Silas? Stealing flowers
from a grave?" Her words hissed like butter in a skillet. She handed
the vase of flowers to Silas. "These flowers ain't for me. They
for a dead woman," she said, shoving the vase against his stomach.
"Go on. Take 'em."
looked up at her, grabbed the vase out of her hand, and stormed out
of the house. Mama went into her bedroom and came back with the
bouquet of purple carnations in her hand. As she stomped through
the kitchen, purple petals sprinkled the floor behind her. She
opened the screen door and threw the flowers on the lawn, then
slammed the door and returned to her room. I left the trail of
purple petals sprinkled across the kitchen floor hoping that Daddy
would think Mama was being romantic.
morning, I woke up expecting to find Daddy in bed with Mama, but he
wasn't. I looked outside for his pickup, but it was gone. The
bouquet of dead carnations was still on the lawn. The sky was empty,
except for a grackle fluttering above the oyster shell driveway,
swooping down occasionally to peck at the dead petals.
was empty except for a single black cloud drifting like a hole in
the sky. For nearly an hour, I'd sat in front on Sacred Elementary
waiting for Daddy to pick me up. When he didn't show up, I called
the house. Mama answered and told me to come home. She said that
Daddy and Silas had gotten into an argument. She said they were out
in the yard marking their territory like a pair of dogs.
When I got
to the house, I found Daddy sitting in the oyster shell driveway,
his tortoise shell glasses cracked, a map of dirt on his forehead.
Silas' truck was gone.
Daddy's red handkerchief from his coat pocket and pressed it against
the line of blood in the corner of his mouth. He held the
handkerchief against his lip with one hand as he pulled a Picayune
from his shirt pocket.
I asked him
what happened, cupping the cigarette with my hands as he lit it.
"Are you all right?"
the Picayune, took a drag, then blew the smoke out the corner of his
mouth. "That brother of yours can pack a punch."
I took his
cracked eyeglasses and put them in my pocket. "Did Silas do this?" I
brushed the dusted bits of gravel off the leather collar of Daddy's
blaming your brother for what happened, Hailey."
ridiculous," I said, combing his thin brown hair with my hand.
Don't make excuses for him." I tucked a long curled strand behind
his ear. "There isn't a reason in the world for anybody to go
slugging their own father."
squirmed in the corner of Daddy's mouth. "Come on, Hailey. You
know I ain't been the perfect father. Not to you. Certainly not to
Silas." He pressed his tongue against his cheek, his finger tracing
a line of blood in the corner of his mouth. "Hell, I spent most of
my life giving you kids reasons to slug me." He wet his finger with
his tongue and wiped a smear of blood from his two front teeth.
"Tell you truth, I'm surprised this ain't happened sooner." His
bones creaked as I helped him to his feet. "Naw, this ass kicking,
this ass kicking was a long-time coming."
As I walked
Daddy toward the porch, I saw Grandma standing in the doorway.
finished beating the hell outta one another or what?" She was
holding a brown bottle of peroxide and a bag of cottonballs. She
handed Daddy the cotton balls and the peroxide. "All that spitting
and crotch grabbing's enough to make me puke."
the cotton ball and peroxide from Mama. "Sit down, Daddy."
Hailey." Daddy sat down on the couch. Grandma walked back to her
left, I blotted Daddy's lip with the peroxide-soaked cotton ball and
kissed him on the cheek. I put a frozen dinner in the microwave for
grabbed a Coke from the refrigerator, I could hear Mama calling to
me from her room.
Sweetie. That you? Would you get me a asprin for my head."
On my way
to Mama's room, I grabbed the aspirin bottle from the bathroom
cabinet. Her room was dark. Mama was buried up to her neck in a
white afghan, her face glowing in the blue light of the television.
me what had happened and I told her that Silas had punched Daddy.
She said she wasn't surprised, that ever since Silas was a kid, he
didn't know any reasonable way to solve a problem, other than to
beat it to a bloody pulp.
the aspirin bottle. Mama opened her mouth and closed her eyes. I
placed the aspirin on her tongue. I felt like the priest at