We Are All the Same in the Dark Page 2

Trumanell used to play games with wildflowers when we hid out in the field behind our house. She’d tell stories to keep me from running back with my pocketknife to kill our dad, who bragged every other day that he had the right to snuff us out like a candle flame.

Trumanell would say bluebonnets were pretty pieces of broken sky. She’d tickle me with Indian paintbrush and tell me that Indian ghost boys painted their petals orange and yellow at sunset. The cornstalks turned into soldiers at night, watching out for us so we could hide. Dumb things like that.

I’ve known since I was ten that fairy tale shit don’t work.

Those pieces of falling blue sky? They aren’t made of pretty flowers. They’re made of glass.

But I have a healthy respect for whatever my arm says. It’s saying, Walk away. Don’t go to prison even though that’s where you probably belong.

This girl, she reminds me of Trumanell. She’d felt things she should never have to feel. I can see it in that big green eye, which has to hold double. She’s still hoping for her little piece of blue sky. Believing in magic circles, just in case it really works.

I stop wavering. This one’s on you, God. I step full into her circle and pick her up. She goes limp in my arms like a child, head bowed, chin dropped to her chest. She is a child. Don’t forget that. My sister is yakking at me even though she’s tucked at home fifteen miles away finishing up the dishes or reading one of her books.

Halfway to the truck, the girl slowly tilts her face up. She opens her red mouth and I see that her tongue is streaked just as red. That’s why I’m not expecting what’s coming. Don’t see what’s in her hand. She puts a dandelion to her lips, and blows its head off right at me, full force. The wish hits my cheek like a sneeze, flies up my nose, sticks in my eyelashes.

I take it as a warning she’s communicating with a higher power.

Sweet breath wasted, honey.

God hears you and me every day, and look where we are.

When I open the truck to lay her in, one of Trumanell’s sayings flies out, a thought from some old Irish lady.

Fate is not an eagle, it creeps like a rat.

The paper flutters in the rearview as I pull away and catches in the barbed wire.


Trumanell is a shadow on the porch, waiting. The girl’s still as a corpse in my arms, the gold scarf glittering around her neck. The sun, at full blare, lights her like she’s on fire. You can’t tell anything’s much wrong with her eyes closed.

Our grandmother’s shadow on the porch was the high sign that danger had passed, and it was safe to run in from the field. Then Mama Pat died, and it was all left up to Trumanell. She was ten.

I can hear Trumanell’s mind tinkering like the inside of a clock while she holds open the screen door for me to pass. Where’d she come from? Why didn’t he call the cops? Trumanell’s peach skin is crinkled with worry, exactly like the first time I remember her face peering at me through the bars of the crib Daddy built. Her face was four days away from being five years old, which made me hardly two, both of us innocents.

Trumanell climbed up that crib and stuck her sweaty, hot hands over my ears just in time. I heard a scream from far away, like it was stuffed in a closet. That’s the day Trumanell says our father killed our mother. She was cremated, no autopsy. From then on, if Trumanell could take a bad thing away with her bare hands, she would.

Her hands snatched me up the ladder to the barn loft, my red sneakers disappearing from the last rung, a second from being seen. They slammed three rounds into an ostrich that got loose on the next farm over, tore our puppy to bits, and then went after me. They stitched secret pockets into the hems of our bedroom curtains so they could hide whatever weapon was available.

A steak knife, a gun, a knitting needle, a can of Lysol. All I knew was, Trumanell never let my curtain go empty. If I reached a hand in, something was there. Daddy hit us sometimes. But mostly, he just played with our minds.

Trumanell’s mind was her third hand. She could outwit Daddy nine times out of ten. My clever girl. That’s what he called her after a bottle of Jack. He named her Trumanell, half-girl, half-boy, to remind her every day that he’d have preferred she was another male to carry his line. In secret, I called her True, because that’s what she was.

As I brush by, Trumanell presses one of her magic hands to Angel’s forehead. She’s checking to see if Angel’s dead. I feel a sigh run through me, Angel’s or my own. That’s because Trumanell’s hand on your forehead is like the Virgin Mary’s. Cool as a river, smoothing out the pain in every other part of your body. Her hand makes you float, water lapping up on all sides, the fish tickling your feet, your face to the sun.

I settle Angel’s body on the couch. Eyes still shut. There’s an old bloody stain on the flip side of the left cushion where her head now rests, turning six pink flowers brown, like winter came for just a few. Trumanell keeps this house sparkling, but that cushion, it stays put, unseen but a bad day remembered.

“I’m calling her Angel,” I announce.

“This isn’t a good idea,” Trumanell whispers.

The girl flicks her eyes open, and shuts them about as fast. Her fear is suddenly a live wire slapping around the room. She’s right not to trust me, the son of a liar, as good as my daddy if not better.

Earth and dandelion fluff are still stuck to her scalp. The crooked part in her hair is pinked up by the sun. The purple polish on her nails is almost worn off.

A glimpse of Trumanell should have calmed Angel down. The girl may think I’m the devil but Trumanell is a brown-eyed, brown-haired woman, 117 pounds, five foot five, who can take your breath away, a real angel in this room.

Trumanell is tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. A sign of how nervous she is.

I haven’t even told her that Angel is one-eyed like Daddy, or about the dandelions all laid out in a circle, or what my arm bone was saying out in the field, or how the girl blew the seeds of her bad luck into me as cool as puffing a cigarette.

Lila, with her black corn silk bangs and solemn mouth, is watching the three of us from her picture on the wall. Daddy always told us that one of Lila’s eyes could see everything. We saw it move. I still do.

It doesn’t matter that I’m old enough to know how fixed points and light and shadow bring Lila to life, or how hard Daddy worked to fool us. The way he told it, Lila was a seventeen-year-old cousin of ours who hanged herself from a tree with a red ribbon on the grounds of an old asylum out near Wichita Falls on Christmas Eve.

Every December 24, Daddy used to drive us out to that tree. At his instruction, Trumanell always tied a red ribbon in her hair from a package he wrapped and set at her place on the kitchen table. That package always held something good. A pink cashmere sweater, a gold bottle of Gucci Guilty, a cellphone.

While Trumanell watched, he ordered me to climb the tree and tie the red ribbon to a high branch like a noose. Your life is just a thin ribbon, he’d say, that I could snap.

Trumanell has dropped to the floor, cross-legged like a kid, twirling that invisible strand of hair until it is a tightrope. Daddy always insisted Trumanell wear her hair in a skin-tight bun on her head. Once, when she was in fourth grade, he stuck a loose strand back up with a finger full of peanut butter and made her go to school that way.

Peanut Butter and Nelly, with a bun on her head, we all want her dead, ’cause she won’t let us add some grape jelly. That’s what the boys on the playground chanted. In middle school, they shortened her name to Jelly for the round parts of her she’d never let them touch.

It’s not like Trumanell didn’t eventually win. Boys liked Trumanell.

That bun, it made Trumanell prettier. She’d stick flowers in it and the fake jewels she inherited from Mama Pat. Every girl in school started wearing a bun even when no one on TV did. That’s how much everybody wanted to be like True, how popular she was.

Trumanell looks real pretty now, worrying over Angel, with her hair falling down. Free. I wish the rest of her could feel free, too. I wish I didn’t have to bring the world in to her. She’d be good company in the truck. She’d keep me from picking up things I shouldn’t. But, no, my big sister says she’ll be here waiting for me when I get back. We both know she’s really waiting for Daddy. Ten years now since things went wrong. That makes her twenty-nine. She still looks nineteen.

Six to eight, that’s her rhythm now. Up at dawn cleaning things that don’t need to be cleaned, wandering the garden, picking peaches, humming Patsy Cline one minute and Beyoncé the next, still telling me everything will be OK.

Trumanell is the only one who believes my soul is still available to save. One hundred and ten percent, it’s not. God and I have an understanding. Our talks, His tests—that’s just us passing the time. This big white house, my purgatory.

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