Auntie Lee has all day parties and Mama says it’s got to be a hundred degrees outside. That’s how I know it’s summer again. Mama says next summer we’ll get air conditioning and next summer we’ll take a big vacation, cross country, with Auntie Lee to California where we’ll go on a game show and win red cars. The she huffs and says, “The big ‘if’ being if your Auntie Lee can sober up.” I want to believe her, but that’s what she said last summer, and this summer we’re not going so I don’t know. She says it’s because our financial flowers haven’t yet bloomed and then she scratches her head and smiles quite unconvincingly I must say. Tomorrow is the Fourth of July and we’re not going to Auntie Lee’s to see the fireworks. Mama says Auntie Lee gets fireworks all year long from her dope. It’s funny though, I didn’t know Auntie Lee had a dope because I never met him and if she lived with someone else I think I’d know.
Sometimes I stay up late and listen to Mama talk on the phone to the friends we got. She says if Lee don’t stop shooting up she’s gonna die soon, even with all the money she made from dealing because money can’t go into your arms and save you. Mama says all she does is deal and shoot up and deal and shoot up over and over again. I’d like to think I know Auntie Lee pretty well, but I never knew she liked shooting guns up in the air. When I ask Mama about Auntie Lee’s shooting up Mama says it’s not what I think, and I’m too young to know it. Mama tells her friends that she should know it’s a hard thing to stop doing, she says one time a long time ago she couldn’t stop either. Mama says it gives you a feeling like nothing else and that she misses it every day. I know lots about my mama, but this shooting up, it makes me wonder. I can’t picture her with a gun.
I might go to Auntie Lee’s while Mama’s not looking. Mama doesn’t like me to be there. I snuck over once before, when Mama was talking about Lee’s angel dust friends. I love angels. At Christmas, Mama and I cut up angels out of paper and tape them all over the house. When I asked Auntie Lee about angel dust, she said it’s a different kind of angel, a better one. Then she gave me something and made me cross my heart and hope to die before I told Mama. She called it angel dust. Angel dust makes me feel very free, like a bird, with all things bright and beautiful and rainbows and unicorns. Mama says Auntie Lee does it to escape reality, like that Uncle Jack is gone and now she runs around with Hell’s Angels. I didn’t know that angels can come from hell but I guess it makes sense if you think about it. Hell and Heaven are both out in the beyond where you don’t have leaky faucets or overalls, you just have what’s you on the inside. Mama says it’s good to escape from everything and we all need to once in a while and that you can’t go around judging people for how they like to escape. You can only worry for them. She also says it’s dangerous and that cops don’t like it and they’ll lock you up for using it. It seems crazy that the police would not want people to be happy because happy people don’t do bad things. I still have a little angel dust left and Auntie Lee says to save it for a time when things get so bad that I want to go away to peace and love. Then all her weird friends with the long hair and the loud leather laugh and laugh about nothing. They say they’re high but I can see that they’re right here near me.
So I wake up early the next morning and I watch the big boy on the corner sell stuff. Maybe he’s selling angel dust, who knows. He once gave me a sticker and told me that holding the sticker would take me on a roller coaster of rainbows. Actually, no. that was the first boy. One night I heard a loud noise like a firecracker and lots of sirens. I never saw that boy again. Then one day there was a new boy, like the old boy, only smaller, with new stuff that Mama said was the same as the old stuff. That was when Lucy and Susan stopped coming over to my house because their moms said it wasn’t safe here because of dealers and crack houses. None of the houses on my street have cracks in them. Some have boards on the windows but no cracks. What crazy mamas Lucy and Susan got.
I walk to my Aunt Lee’s house and knock on the door. She has lots of friends over and they’re all tripping or something. They drink punch that makes them trip but they don’t fall on the floor. My mama’s punch doesn’t make me trip and Auntie Lee must not know how to make punch right. She comes up to me and picks me up and swings me around so that my feet fly. Her eyes are all fuzzy and she must have had lots of punch because she can’t stand good. She’s like a baby learning to walk and I ask her about shooting up because I hear her friends talking about that but the music is louder than I think it’s ever been and she can’t hear me over it.
She puts me down and yells. “What?” And she takes some sugar and puts it in her nose. She calls it coke which is stupid because Coke is brown and comes in a can. She says I might like it and I am thirsty so I say okay and we go into the other room where there are mirrors on all the tables and people sit on the floor. The big Hell’s Angels look funny on the floor, like they have so many muscles that they can’t sit normal Indian style or anything and Auntie Lee tells me to sit down and a guy with a great big mustache gets up as soon as I sit down as if I have cooties and tells Auntie Lee that she’s a sick woman and she says to forget about him and she gives me a straw but I still don’t have a glass of coke but she says the straw goes in my nose. We do this at school sometimes. Well, mainly the boys do it. They stick straws in all the holes on their faces and wave their arms around. Auntie Lee says I’m supposed to breathe in the sugar on the mirror into my nose and it will make me feel really good. Maybe if you bake a can of Coke it’s just sugar and I want to ask her but she’s napping so I do like she said and–
Suddenly the room is everywhere and I cannot stop laughing and I am the best girl in the world and it is almost too good to be true that I get to be me and then it’s gone and the room is black and bad and I am on the ceiling looking at me on the floor. I look dead. Like I’m playing dead in a murder mystery game. I try to pick myself up but I don’t know how and now Auntie Lee is awake because one of the Angels kicked her and she’s trying to wake me up and she’s crying.
“Wake up, baby. Wake up.”
But I am not waking up even though I’m awake on my insides because I know I am. I can see. Nothing looks the same now. It’s like watching a screen and sometimes I am the movie and sometimes I am the audience.
The next thing I see is the graveyard near my school. The weeping willows are all there, swishing. My family is there, swishing. Everyone is swish, swish, shake. Some of my friends from school are there but not all of them. Mama is giving Auntie Lee evil eyes and I don’t understand why they didn’t bring me here. Where am I? Who’s watching me? Mama never lets me stay home alone. Then I remember the last time I can remember feeling something in my body. It was when the big Angel stood up fast, when he was mad at Auntie Lee, and his boot touched my book and he said sorry right before he went.
I stay in the sky now and I wonder and I watch and I wish I had some of that special coke but I know I won’t ever have it because I don’t have my body anymore which means I don’t have my nose. I wallow. I’m lazy bones and if Mama were here she’d yell at me to go out and build something in the backyard. Sometimes I see angels, the ones with wings, all white and delicate. They don’t have angel dust. They don’t make me feel unicorns and rainbows. They’re like the ones you try and make in the snow when school is closed and you’re in your snowsuit outside on your backside looking up. I’d rather have the other kind. I can’t help it. The angel dust, or the Angels from Hell who put you on your lap and let you sit on their bike. My baby sister would think I’m crazy. She’s just a toddler so she still thinks these angels are the best, you know, because they’re good and innocent and all skyward and pure. I wonder who would win in a fight, one of these or one of my angels. It’s pretty boring up here. I have time to think about this stuff. And I guess if I have to stay here forever, well I guess if I could go back I would stick to coke you drink and angels you make in the snow. Not that it matters. If I went back now, Mama would be so mad at me for going that it wouldn’t be much fun anyway.
Caroline Kepnes has been splitting her time between her home in Los Angeles, CA and her parents' home on Cape Cod, MA. Her fiction has been published in or is forthcoming in The Barcelona Review, Calliope, Dogzplot, Eclectica,The Other Room and Word Riot. She spent the past few months writing a young adult novel The Dig that's available on all e‑book platforms. Her YA pen name is Audrey Hart. In her spare time she enjoys reading about meth lab busts, Floridian criminal activity and wild animals.