Splintered Page 9

“Who was right, hon?” Dad asks, smoothing back the loose hairs framing her temples. Even after all the years of disappointment, he still can’t resist touching her.

“The grasshopper . . .” Alison’s blue eyes glitter with a mix of anxiety and excitement as she points to a thick web in the parasol’s ribs. A silver-dollar-size garden spider scuttles across it, securing a white cocoon against the gusting wind—dinner, no doubt. “Before the spider wrapped him up, the grasshopper shouted something.” Alison’s hands clench together in front of her waist. “The grasshopper said you’d been hurt, Allie. He saw you outside the skating place.”

I stare at the mummified lump in the spider’s web. There was that insect that kept climbing my leg at Underland. What, did it hitch a ride on the car?

My stomach turns over. No way. No possible way it’s the same bug. Alison must’ve overheard me and Dad talking to the nurse about my fall. Sometimes I think she pretends to be oblivious because it’s easier than facing what’s happened to her, or what she’s done to our family.

She grips her hands so hard, the knuckles bulge white. Ever since the day she hurt me, she avoids any physical contact between us. She thinks I’ll break. That’s one of the reasons I wear gloves, so she won’t see the scars and be reminded.

Dad pries her hands apart and laces his fingers through hers. Alison’s attention settles on him, and the chaotic intensity melts away.

“Hi, Tommy-toes,” she says, her voice soft and steady.

“Hi, Ali-bear.”

“You brought ice cream. Is this a date?”

“Yeah.” He kisses her knuckles, flashing his best Elvis smirk. “And Alyssa’s here to help us celebrate.”

“Perfect.” She smiles back, her eyes dancing. No wonder Dad’s helplessly in love with her. She’s pretty enough to be a fairy.

Dad helps her back to her chair. He lays a cloth napkin in her lap, then slops some drippy ice cream into a teacup. Placing the cup on a saucer, he eases it in front of her along with a plastic spoon.

“Il tuo gelato, signora bella,” he says.

“Grazie meatball!” she blurts, in a rare moment of levity.

Dad laughs and she giggles, a tinkling sound that makes me think of the silver chimes we have over our back door at home. For the first time in a while, she feels like home. I start to think this is going to be one of our good visits. With everything going on in my life lately, it would sure be nice to have a moment of stability.

I sit, and Dad takes my crutches, laying them on the ground, then helps me prop my ankle on an empty chair between Alison and me. He pats my shoulder and takes a seat on the opposite side.

For several minutes, we laugh and sip sticky cheesecake soup from our teacups. We talk about normal things: the end of the school year, tonight’s prom, last night’s graduation, and Tom’s Sporting Goods. It’s like I’m in a regular family.

Then Dad ruins it. He takes out his wallet to show Alison snapshots of my mosaics that won ribbons at the county fair. The three photos are stuck in the plastic sleeves along with an assortment of credit cards and receipts.

First is Murderess Moonlight, all in blues: blue butterflies, blue flowers, and bits of blue glass. Then Autumn’s Last Breath—a whirlwind of fall colors made up of brown moths and orange, yellow, and red flower petals. Winter’s Heartbeat, my pride, is a chaotic tangle of baby’s breath and silvery glass beads arranged in the image of a tree. Dried winterberries dot the end of each branch, as if the tree is bleeding. Jet-black crickets form the backdrop. As morbid as it sounds, the mixing of bizarre and natural somehow creates beauty.

Alison wriggles in her chair as if disturbed. “What about her music? Is she still practicing her cello?”

Dad squints my way. Alison’s had very little to do with my education. But one thing she’s always insisted on is my participation in orchestra, maybe because she used to play the cello herself. I dropped out this year when I only had time for one elective. We haven’t mentioned it because it seems so important to her that I continue.

“We can talk about that later,” Dad says, squeezing her hand. “I wanted you to see her eye for detail. Just like you with your photographs.”

“Photographs tell a story,” Alison mutters. “But people forget to read between the lines.” Breaking her hand out of Dad’s, she becomes deathly quiet.

Eyes filled with sadness, Dad’s about to close the wallet when Alison spots the air freshener with the moth’s picture . . . the one he hasn’t yet hung in his truck.

With trembling hands, she grabs it. “Why are you carrying this with you?”

“Mom . . .” My tongue strains with the effort to form the word, unnatural and stiff, like trying to twist a cherry’s stem into a knot. “I had it made for him. It’s a way to keep a part of you with us.”

Jaw clenched, she turns to Dad. “I told you to keep that album hidden. Didn’t I? She was never supposed to see this. It’s only a matter of time now . . .”

It’s only a matter of time till what? I end up here where she is? Does she think the photographs made her crazy?

Frowning, she tosses the air freshener across the table. Her tongue clucks a steady rhythm. The sound snaps inside me, as if someone is plucking my intestines with a guitar pick. Her most violent outbursts always start with the tongue cluck.

Dad stiffens his fingers around the air freshener, wary.

A fly lights on my neck, tickling me. When I swat it away, it lands beside Alison’s fingers. It rubs its tiny legs together. “He’s here. He’s here.”

Its whispers rise above the wind and the rest of the white noise, above Alison’s clucking tongue and Dad’s cautious breaths.

Alison leans toward the bug. “No, he can’t be here.”

“Who can’t be here, Ali-bear?” Dad asks.

I stare, wondering if it’s possible. Do crazy people share delusions? Because that’s the only explanation for Alison and me hearing the exact same thing.

Unless the fly really did talk.

“He rides the wind,” it whispers once more, then flits off into the courtyard.

Alison locks me in her frantic gaze.

I tense, stunned.

“Hon, what’s wrong?” Dad stands next to her now, his hand on her shoulder.

“What does that mean, ‘He rides the wind’? Who?” I ask Alison, no longer caring about giving my secret away to her.

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