This time, we lived in a cold town known for the granite gone from its gutted quarry. We'd never lived so far north. I loved the clear light there. The mornings felt fresh, like the world was new to us, and I wanted to stay. We lived in my mother's great aunt's old attic apartment; she lived downstairs, but kept to herself.
I told my brother there were angels in the attic. I'd seen evidence of their haloes in the light spilling through the old fashioned windows. He said they looked like dust motes. These angels are small, I explained, small as fairies. Who knows? One might alight on the back of your hand some day, like a butterfly. If she does, be extra gentle.
Angels don't die, he said.
Well, that's true, I agreed.
I was ten years old, almost eleven. Old enough to watch my brother on my own. We spent most days swimming in the quarry. Although it was summer, the late afternoons were breezy and sprinkled with rain showers. The quarry water was the coolest, deepest green I'd ever seen; deeper than the jade I liked to take out of my mother's jewelry box. Some girl who lived down the street—I didn't bother to learn her name by heart—had told me what could be found at the bottom of quarries. Limbs, treasures, the cars of murdered criminals. My brother shuddered as I went down to touch the bottom.
Did you touch it? he asked.
No, I said, but I saw something when I opened my eyes. Something shimmering. It looked like the lights of a city, I said, from far away. In the night.
When we came home the attic was empty. My mother had left a dirty coffee mug on the counter. It was sticky with sugar. Back down south, this would have attracted ants, but here it didn't matter. I rinsed the mug and wiped off its lipstick imprint. I opened all the windows. Outside the sky was cobalt blue. I poured us tall glasses of iced milk and spread chocolate frosting on crackers.
Maybe they left a note, my brother said.
They might be downstairs, I told him. But we knew that wasn't true. We had only seen the aunt once. She was so old she seemed to come from some other world. The day we met her, she gave us spearmint gum and then turned to go back inside. I wondered if it was polite to turn away before she shut the door, so I held my brother's hand and we stood silently until she'd climbed her stoop, slowly, slowly, and closed the screen door.
I told my brother to brush his teeth and instead he ate the toothpaste. I want to wait for them, he said. We need our sleep, I told him. Besides, I'm going to bed too, I lied. I set the alarm buzzer to go off at ten. My mother had probably left a note somewhere. She always said if there was an emergency, to go downstairs and get the aunt.
I have something to show you, I told my brother, leaning over his mattress. I showed him a small white feather. From the angels, I explained.
That's from a pillow, he said.
Hear that hum? I said. The house did hum, I wasn't making it up. We listened to the angels whirring beneath our feet. That's the angel's breathing.
Do you really think it's angels? he asked me.
I do, I said.
I know what it is, he said. It's ghosts.
You think so.
Yeah, and they move really slow, and can't see very well. And they are very dusty.
Yeah, there is a lot of dust here, I agreed.
I let my fingers do waterfalls along his back until he fell asleep. That night I woke to hear them coming in, and the alarm was off. I must have turned it off in my sleep. The clock glowed green midnight.
Hurt me, my father was hissing, you heard me.
Stop it, my mother said, our babies.
You were pathetic, you know that? With your ass all over the place.
There was something shattering, maybe glass, and then a wet sob. Don't wake her, my father said after awhile.
We can't do this. That was my mother's hoarse whisper.
She came into the room and sat beside me. I could smell her breath, crushed mint. She kissed my forehead, the way she did sometimes when she was checking for a fever.
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