Squirrels in the Attic, fiction by CL Bledsoe

Every­one in the house knew they were squir­rels, except KT, who was sure with the con­vic­tion of an irra­tional mind fur­ther taint­ed from years of heavy drug use, that there were peo­ple – lit­tle peo­ple – liv­ing in the attic. They start­ed com­ing in after Tom­my, KT’s boyfriend, hired some bud­dies to repair the fire dam­age to the roof and pock­et­ed the left­over cash from KT’s moth­er. The bud­dies did about as good a job as one would expect a cou­ple meth freaks to do: metic­u­lous and unfin­ished, which meant there were chinks the squir­rels start­ed exploit­ing.

KT fig­ured they were lit­tle peo­ple after she got high and watched a movie the kids had rent­ed about lit­tle peo­ple that lived in the walls of an old house and stole things. It was a log­i­cal con­nec­tion for her: lots of KT’s things came up miss­ing all the time. Jew­el­ry. Mon­ey. Cig­a­rettes. That, plus the noise of them scur­ry­ing around, and the voic­es she was sure she heard was just about all the proof she need­ed.

Just about. KT had the sense not to tell any­body about her the­o­ry until she had proof – except Tom­my, whose response was his usu­al grunt – so she trad­ed for a video cam­era from a tweak­er and set it up in the attic. She left the house, sure she was going to be vin­di­cat­ed. Tom­my wait­ed until she was gone, went up to the attic and got the cam­era, and took it to a pawn­shop in town. He used the cash to go on a ben­der. When KT got back to the house and found the cam­era miss­ing, she ran out­side and refused to return.

When Joey, KT’s youngest, and his big sis­ter Chy­na got home from school, their moth­er was wait­ing m at the bus stop, chain smok­ing and shak­ing.

You seen any­thing in the attic?” she asked.

Squir­rels?” Joey said.

No,” she shook her head vehe­ment­ly. “Ain’t god damned squir­rels.”

Chy­na grabbed Joey’s hand and pulled him towards home.

What is it?” Joey asked, pulling against his sis­ter to hear his moth­er out.

KT looked around and leaned in towards her son. “These lit­tle fuck­ers. Don’t know how big they are. Tried to film ‘em, but they stole the cam­era.”

Joey laughed, but Chy­na jerked him away, hard. They could hear KT, still talk­ing, as they walked down the road.

It’s not fun­ny,” Chy­na said, when they couldn’t hear her any­more. “We nev­er should’ve let them back in the house after that fire. Grand­moth­er said it was our deci­sion, but you want­ed her back.”

Joey was qui­et. “Maybe she’s just con­fused,” he said.

Yeah,” Chy­na said. “May-be.”

 

KT didn’t come home for sup­per, so Joey took a bowl of mac & cheese and head­ed for the door.

Be care­ful,” Chy­na said, mak­ing him jump – he’d thought she was in the bath­room and wouldn’t see him leave. “She’s not right.” Joey nod­ded, and Chy­na point­ed to her head. “She’s not right in the head.”

Joey went out­side and called, but his moth­er didn’t respond. He walked up the road and found her still at the bus stop. She was lying on the ground near the entrance gate and the sign that said Hunter’s Rest. He start­ed to nudge her to wake her, but thought maybe she need­ed the sleep, so he set the bowl down beside her. He watched her sleep for a moment, but she didn’t move or any­thing. He was pret­ty sure she was breath­ing, so he went back home and played cards with his sis­ter.

The kids saw KT still sleep­ing on their way to the bus stop. When the bus came, Chy­na got on quick, but Joey saw his moth­er sit up and wave at him. He point­ed at the bowl beside her, and she dug her fin­gers in and ate some. He watched through the bus win­dow as she gummed it, sit­ting cross-legged, until the bus pulled away.

When they got off the bus that after­noon, she wasn’t there.

Thank God,” Chy­na said.

When they got home, she wasn’t there, either.

Should we look for her?” Joey asked.

Hell no.”

What if something’s wrong with her?”

Chy­na turned furi­ous eyes on her broth­er. “She’s a grown ass woman afraid to come in the house because there’s lit­tle peo­ple in the attic. Of course something’s wrong with her.”

Joey went qui­et, and Chy­na let him sulk for a good hour until she grabbed him and went look­ing.

They found KT sit­ting by the lake, watch­ing the water. She smiled when they came up. There was grass and plant stems that might once have been flow­ers, if you were kind, in her hair. They didn’t know what to do so they sat beside her.

Mom used to bring me fish­ing out here all the time when I was lit­tle,” KT said, final­ly. “We’d sit in a boat with a lit­tle umbrel­la like we was in some movie. We couldn’t talk – mom­ma would slap me right in the mouth if I made any noise at all. So we’d just sit there.” She smiled and Joey smiled to see it.

Your dad­dy used to take you fish­ing out here, Chy­na. You remem­ber?”

Yes ma’am,” Chy­na said. “He was always drunk.”

He was.” KT laughed. “He’d get mad and cuss the fish for not bit­ing. Noth­ing was going to bite, though. The water’s too pol­lut­ed. He’d bring his gun and threat­en to shoot any­thing he saw, but he nev­er saw noth­ing.” She laughed again and Chy­na laughed too, despite her­self. They lapsed into silence until Joey spoke.

They’re just squir­rels, mom,” he said.

Hmm?” she said, still lost in rever­ie.

In the attic. It’s just squir­rels com­ing in.”

KT nod­ded and Joey and Chy­na exchanged relieved looks.

KT put her left arm around Joey and her right around Chy­na and pulled them close. “That’s what they want you to think,” she said.

Once he real­ized she wasn’t going to get eat­en by a bear or any­thing, Joey actu­al­ly thought it was kind of nice. Over the course of the next few days, Tom­my was gone, which eased up the ten­sion around the house. Every morn­ing, KT was there to greet him as he got on the bus. He’d bring her food, and when he got off the bus after school, she’d greet him and give him the dirty dish so he could take it home and wash it. In the evenings, he’d find her wher­ev­er she’d wan­dered off to. She refused to come near the house, but she wouldn’t actu­al­ly leave the Hunter’s Rest neigh­bor­hood.

Chy­na was embar­rassed, of course, but even she had to admit it was nice in the evenings, just the two of them. Until a neigh­bor showed up to knock timid­ly at the door and com­plain.

She’s just walk­ing around,” Chy­na said.

She slept on my doorstep last night,” the woman said. She was a heavy­set, squat women Chy­na had always thought had kind eyes.

She thinks—“ Joey start­ed to say, but Chy­na nudged him.

I’m real­ly sor­ry,” Chy­na said. “She’s been sleep­walk­ing late­ly.”

I just opened the door, and she was lying there like a…like a cat…” The woman played with the hem of her tee-shirt with ner­vous eyes.

I’ll talk to her.” Chy­na smiled. “Thank you,” she added.

The woman looked from Chy­na to her broth­er and back. “Are you kids doing okay?” she asked in a seri­ous voice.

Yes ma’am,” Chy­na said. “Joey’s on the Hon­or Roll this term.”

Well con­grat­u­la­tions, young man.” She smiled at him. She looked at each of the kids again and then turned to go, but paused. “I don’t mind her vis­it­ing, you under­stand, I’m just con­cerned.”

We under­stand,” Chy­na said. “Thank you.”

And you kids, if you ever want to vis­it, come on by.”

Thank you,” the kids said in uni­son.

The woman left and Chy­na closed the door.

Tom­my came back after the third or fourth day. He went straight to bed and didn’t emerge until the next day. “The hell is KT?” he asked when he saw the kids.

Joey explained.

Shit,” Tom­my said. “Well go get her. I need some­thing.”

She won’t come inside the house,” Chy­na said. “The neigh­bors are com­plain­ing about it.”

Hell with the neigh­bors,” Tom­my said. “They call the law?”

Not yet,” Chy­na said. “But one of them came to the door about it.”

Shit,” he said again.

When the kids got home from school, Tom­my was there along with a dif­fer­ent car in the yard. Inside, they heard pound­ing and all sorts of rack­et com­ing from the roof. Lat­er, Tom­my came in with one of his bud­dies and went back into Tom­my and KT’s bed­room. The kids heard them laugh­ing and lis­ten­ing to music late into the night. The next morn­ing, as the kids were eat­ing break­fast, Tom­my came out.

Tell your mom­ma I got rid of the squir­rels.”

She doesn’t believe they’re squir­rels,” Joey said.

Well what­ev­er the shit she thinks, I got rid of ‘em,” Tom­my said. He stomped out. They heard his El Camino thun­der to life and the tires squeal. A lit­tle while lat­er, Tommy’s friend emerged from Tom­my and KT’s bed­room. He stood in the hall­way for a long time while Chy­na and Joey fin­ished their cere­al and washed their dish­es, and then he came and sat at the table.

Would you like some cere­al?” Chy­na asked.

He waved the offer away, obvi­ous­ly dis­gust­ed at the thought of food. Chy­na put their dish­es away, grabbed Joey’s hand, and led him out­side while Joey watched the man stare at the coun­ter­top as though he saw some­thing oth­er than green Formi­ca.

 

At the bus stop, KT was wait­ing with a crooked smile. Her clothes were mud­dy and damp. She smelled like the trash at the bot­tom of the can.

We’re almost out of cere­al,” Chy­na said to her.

"Well go get some,” KT said. “You got a job.”

Chy­na was qui­et and wouldn’t look at KT any­more.

Tom­my got rid of the peo­ple,” Joey said.

KT turned her weird smile on him. “How’d he do that?”

Joey glanced at Chy­na, but he was on his own. “He hired a guy to help him clear them up. And he fixed the roof so they can’t get back in. He’s still there, the guy.”

Is he?” KT said. She looked towards the house. The bus pulled up and Chy­na took Joey’s hand and led him on board. KT winked at him as the bus pulled away.

When they got off after school, KT wasn’t there. Joey felt a lit­tle tight­ness in his bel­ly that only got worse as they walked down the dri­ve to their house. Inside, they could hear music from the mas­ter bed­room. After a while, KT came out. She was wear­ing clean clothes and didn’t smell any­more. They both watched her, but she just went to the fridge and got some­thing out. Tom­my came behind her and rubbed him­self against her. She turned to kiss him. The kids looked away.

This place is a pigsty,” Tom­my said to Chy­na. “Y’all kids get busy and clean up.”

Joey put away his home­work and he and Chy­na start­ed clean­ing. When Tom­my and KT went back into their bed­room, Joey watched his sis­ter for a reac­tion.

Nice while it last­ed,” was all she said.

 

CL Bled­soe is the author of the young adult nov­el Sun­light; three poet­ry col­lec­tions, _____(Want/Need), Anthem, and Leap Year; and a short sto­ry col­lec­tion called Nam­ing the Ani­mals. A poet­ry chap­book, Good­bye to Noise, is avail­able online at www​.righthand​point​ing​.com/​b​l​e​d​soe. Anoth­er, The Man Who Killed Him­self in My Bath­room, is avail­able at http://​ten​page​spress​.word​press​.com/​2​0​1​1​/​0​8​/​0​1​/​t​h​e​-​m​a​n​-​w​h​o​-​k​i​l​l​e​d​-​h​i​m​s​e​l​f​-​i​n​-​m​y​-​b​a​t​h​r​o​o​m​-​b​y​-​c​l​-​b​l​e​d​s​oe/. His sto­ry, "Leav­ing the Gar­den," was select­ed as a Notable Sto­ry of 2008 for Sto­ry South's Mil­lion Writer's Award. His sto­ry “The Scream” was select­ed as a Notable Sto­ry of 2011. He’s been nom­i­nat­ed for the Push­cart Prize 5 times. He blogs at Mur­der Your Dar­lings, http://​clbled​soe​.blogspot​.com Bled­soe has writ­ten reviews for The Hollins Crit­ic, The Arkansas Review, Amer­i­can Book Review, Prick of the Spin­dle, The Pedestal Mag­a­zine, and else­where. Bled­soe lives with his wife and daugh­ter in Mary­land.

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