Alma's Angels | Teen Ink

Alma's Angels

June 22, 2015
By viven SILVER, Brookline, Massachusetts
viven SILVER, Brookline, Massachusetts
8 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Favorite Quote:
"I take my champagne pink and my love with reckless abandon."

It was one of those real hot days, ya know when you could peel the air off of you like tots do with with glue on their fingers? Real f***in hot, is what im saying. Anyways, Tom was coming over since it was Saturdy and he had time off work. He works down at the lumber yard and doesn’t get paid much, but his Daddy bought him his own truck so he could get there, so I guess that makes up for it. I never really know when he’s gonna come, but sometime around noon every Saturday, he usually shows up lookin’ for food and company. I should have known it was one of his bad days when I heard him come through the kitchen. Usually he comes around the edge where the garden is, since that corner of the house has gone all cattywampus over the years so I can’t see him coming and he’ll give me a fright for a lark. But today, he came through the house out onto the back porch hollerin for me. I put down the washing and knelt in front of him where he perched on the rocker, jittery as a junebug. “Tom, what’s goin on?” I asked, cuz his eyes looked all out of kilter. And although he’s had his flashes many a time, I’ll remember how he looked at me ‘til they put me in the ground. The blue from the porch roof made him cornflower pale, and behind his eyes that boy was somewhere else entirely. “Lizanne,” he said. “I saw her.” This took me aback a bit, since usually when he got into his funny voodoo trance, he locked himself in his head real tight and didn’t speak ‘til supper time. “Who’d ya see Tommy?” I asked. He said it real quiet, so that for a second I thought it had been the cicada song and he hadn’t spoken at all. But under his breath he whispered her name, with the all the weight of a priest sayin’ lucifer, “Big Alma. I saw Big Alma in the pond”.
Everything got real silent right then. Even the cicadas and cattle in the yonder field seemed to pause, seein’ what I would do. A little bit of bile washed up against my mouth, and the beads of sweat on my neck got hot and itchy, like liquid radio static all up and down my skin. Nobody talked about Big Alma, other than the dumb school kids who told stories, but even they knew not to mention it in above a whisper. Big Alma had lived between town and the mill, tucked under the hill right up on the road. Kids driving past her house always sped up a little and didn’t slow down until they were well clear of her trailer.  Around town she got talked up so much, that you would’ve thought she was a witch or satan worshipping or something. And to a certain extent, I reckon she played that up when she needed. But when I remember the woman behind the myth, she was just one of God’s lost sheep. Big Alma never could walk normal, one of her hips caught higher than the other so that she swung down the street like a gate with a broken hinge. Her face was almost always skittish, swollen eyes darting like a cotton mouth, her attempt at doing her hair proper coming down at angle onto her weathered forehead. Sometimes when she watched school kids in the street her trance seemed to lift a little, she’d get a little smile and her muttering would stop for a bit, leaving only her forcible breath in the surprised quiet. But then nervous parents would drag their kids away with reproachful glances, or the little boys would taunt her. “Look, she’s speaking in tongues - crazy lady crazy lady!” They’d chant. F***in’ kids. One time Gill Mather threw a pebble at her and it landed plum in the middle of her forehead, causing ripples out from the spot through her body, like breaking the surface of a still lake, with a pointed thud. He had the good sense to be remorseful, but the deed was done. I reckon that she’s gotten so talked up now cuz folks feel guilty for the way they were treatin her, and if they can change everyone else’s memory of what happened maybe God’s will too, but I think that’s a mighty cheap way to forgiveness. Daddy always says these are good, god fearin’ people, But mama’s right when she says these folks are people-fearin’ too. But last May on a Sundy, right in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer, we heard most awful yellin’ and Big Alma came barrellin’ across the church yard. I guess some of the dumb boys at my school, the kind who skip class to to shoot at stray cats and the like, had been showin’ off to eachother in front of her house, and some goddamned idiot lit a match and the next thing ya know, the whole little building was up in flames. So as Big Alma--wait, ya know what, I reckon I’ll just call her Miss Alma. So as Miss Alma collapsed on the lawn, tongue waggin out nonsense between her sobs, I ran towards the smoke at the end of the road, while mama ran to call the firemen. When I got there standing in the kudzu behind the other boys, I saw that there was Tom. It’s odd, how when he ran onto my porch a year later, the blue ceiling highlighted the same thing in his face as the cackling flames that Sundy; fear and shame pushing out of him so hard I was surprised he was still standing. The damn fool had wanted to be cool, so he skipped service with the delinquent boys, and ended up in the biggest mess this town has seen since Robert drove his tractor into the convenience store, drunk as skunk, ten years before. But that’s another story. After her house burned down, Miss Alma lost it for real. Mama and I tried to guide her past the ashen bones of her house to our place, but she dug in her heels. Standing in front of the of the twisted lincoln log wreck, she looked at mama with tears streaming down her face. But she looked right through her, like a ghost, and for the first time, her hands were still. “My quilts.” she croaked. “They burned my quilts for the angels. I was gonna keep them warm. They burned my quilts.” And then slow as molasses and crooked as a willow switch, she wandered into the kudzu.

A few days later, some of the men brought her body out of the woods. We never knew who found her, someone just called up the police station all mysterious like and told them she was in the back pond. That’s about when Tommy started having his spells, and we all just figured the fire and her kickin’ the bucket got him all mixed up inside, no one really talked about her after that so I didn’t ask him. Come to think of it, I think mama and I made up about half the folks that came to her funeral. Now on my porch, I looked at Tom in shock. Why hadn’t he told me he was the one who found her? I felt a sleeve of nausea pushing up in my throat. He kept talking.
“I was just goin’ for a wander like I do, ya know. Clearin’ my head, trying to get that damn burning house out from under my eyelids. I wasn’t really lookin’ where I was headed, just kinda trippin around in the brush towards the pond. And then there she was.”
His breath was rattlin’ his ribs, and he started rocking the chair back and forth a little faster with the heel of his boot. The sweat on my body had gone cold.
“Stop it Tom, you don’t have to tell me. I don’t wanna hear.”
I don’t even think he remembered I was there.
“She looked like one of the frogs we cut up in biology, all pale and bloated. Those eyes too, bulging hollow pearls. One of her ratty pink slippers had washed up onto the silt, all covered in lake grass. I just kept staring at it, every loose string and knotty seam, trying not to look at her eyes. Like big ol’ fish eggs they were.”
I couldn’t look at him, an’ he just kept rockin’.
“Big ol’ fish egg eyes on a formaldehyde angel.”
Tom started crying then, those big hot salty tears that make your nose ache. I finally looked up and he was not how I was scared he would be, blue and drained. It was just Tom, flushed pink and alive, tryin’ to repent.  I grabbed his hand and pulled him off the porch into the kitchen, the transition to air conditionin’ sendin’ shivers through our tightly gripped fingers. "Come on," I said, "I’m gonna teach you how to make a quilt for Alma’s angels.”

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