Today's Reading

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.

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