Home > White Smoke

White Smoke
Author: Tiffany D. Jackson

 


Preface


AH. THERE YOU are. They said you would be coming soon. All these years they left me to rot and ruin . . . to die. And now here you come. A family trying to replace me. To erase me. Us.

But that will never happen. Because this is my house. Doesn’t matter how many new coats of paint or how many floorboards they replace . . . this will always be my house. You’ll never take it from me. It’s mine. Paid for with my family’s blood. It will always be mine. Mine. Mine. Mine. All mine. They can’t take it from me.

You’ll learn soon enough: my house, my rules. Everything that is yours is now mine. And you will obey my rules until the day you leave. That’s right, you won’t be staying here long. I’ll make very sure of that.

Oh, and look. You brought me a little friend.

 

 

One


ALARM: TIME FOR your pills!

I miss the warmth of the sun.

I miss cloudless blue skies, rocky beaches, mountain views, palm trees, and cactus thorns. The moist plant soil in my hands, the prickle of aloe leaves . . . the memories are sharp, fresh broken pieces of glass cutting through me.

Change is good. Change is necessary. Change is needed.

For the past three days, I’ve seen nothing but endless cement highways from the back row of our minivan, the sky growing grayer with every passing state. And dude, I’d give my right tit just to lay eyes on anything other than suspect motels, greasy diners, and gas station bathrooms.

“Daddy, are we there yet?” Piper asks from the middle row, a book in her lap.

“Almost, sweetheart,” Alec says from the driver’s seat. “See that city skyline? We’re about five miles away.”

“Our new home,” Mom says with a hopeful smile, threading her golden-brown fingers through Alec’s pale ones.

Piper watches them, her jaw clenching.

“I need to go to the bathroom. Now,” she says, with an air of haughtiness that makes it impossible to breathe easy in the packed van.

“Seriously, again?” Sammy mumbles under his breath, straining not to take his frustration out on a comic book. Buddy, our German shepherd mix, nudges Sammy’s arm, demanding he continue to rub behind his ears.

“But we’re almost there, sweetie,” Mom says to her, beaming sunshine. “Do you think you can hold it a bit longer?”

“No,” she snaps. “It’s not good to hold your pee. Grandma said.”

Mom winces a smile and faces forward. She tries her damnedest to defrost her, but Piper remains a block of ice no matter what you do.

Sammy, gnawing on an organic fruit roll-up, pops out an earphone, and leans over to whisper.

“This playlist should’ve lasted us the length of the trip according to Google Maps and I’ve already been through it twice. Should’ve added an extra day for Ms. Weak Bladder.”

Piper stills, her neck straightening, pretending not to hear. But she’s listening. She’s always listening. That’s what I’ve learned about her over the past ten months. She listens, stores information, and plots. Piper’s a strawberry blond with copper freckles and pink lips that rarely form the semblance of a smile. From most angles, she is ghostly white. Enough for me to think that maybe we should’ve stayed in California, if for no other reason than so that the sun could powder her cheekbones.

“We’ll get off at the next exit and find a gas station,” Alec says to Mom. “No big deal, right?”

“Um, right,” Mom replies, releasing his hand to wrap her long dreads into a high bun. She fidgets with her hair whenever she’s uncomfortable. I wonder if Alec has picked up on that yet.

Change is good. Change is necessary. Change is needed.

I’ve repeated this mantra at least a million times as we’ve driven farther from the past toward an uncertain future. Uncertainty isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just makes you feel cramped in a prison of your own making. But my guru told me whenever I start drowning in thoughts, I should hold tight to my mantra, a life preserver, and wait for the universe to send rescue, which has really worked over these last three months without my anxiety meds.

But then I see it. A black speck on my tan sundress.

“No, no no no . . . ,” I whimper, convulsing, as the memorized fact washes over me.

FACT: Female bedbugs may lay hundreds of eggs, each about the size of a speck of dust, over a lifetime.

 

All the cars on the freeway collide and my body bursts into flames.

Hundreds of eggs, maybe thousands, are being laid on my dress, on my skin, every passing second. Hatching, mating, hatching all over my body, can’t breathe, need air, no, need hot water, heat, sun, fire, burn the car, get it off get it off get it off!

I snatch the speck with my nails, holding it up to the light, rubbing the soft fibers.

Not a bedbug. Just lint. It’s okay. You’re okay. Okay okayokayokay okay . . .

I flick it out the window and grip the glass terrarium on my lap before my bouncing knee can knock it off. I need a blunt, a brownie, a gummy . . . hell, I’d take a contact high right about now, I’m so desperate for numbness. Jittery nerves try to claw their way out from under the heavy skin suffocating them. I can’t explode in here. Not in front of Sammy and especially not in front of Mom.

Grounding. Yeah, need to ground myself. You got this, Mari. Ready? Go. Five things I can see:

1) A blue city skyline, up ahead.

2) Burned-down church shaded by trees.

3) An old clock tower, the time wrong.

4) To the left, far in the distance, four white-gray windowless buildings that look like giant cinder blocks.

5) Closer to the freeway, some kind of abandoned factory. You can tell it hasn’t been touched in years by the thickness of the weeds growing out the cracks in the parking lot and the art deco neon sign—Motor Sport—dangling off the roof. The air whistling through all the broken windows must sound like whale chants.

 

Wonder what it’s like inside. Probably some spooky decrepit shell of old America, hella dirty with World War II–era posters of women in jumpsuits, holding rivet guns. I hold my phone up to frame a shot before a text buzzes in from Tamara.

T-Money: Dude, u made it yet?

Me: No. We’re driving nowhere fast. Think Alec’s kidnapping us.

T-Money: Well, put on your locator so I can find your body.

Me: And I’m out of that gift you blessed me with.

T-Money: Damn!!! Already?

Me: Didn’t even make it two states.

T-Money: On 2nd thought, tuck and roll out that bitch ASAP.

 

I miss Tamara. And that’s about it. Everyone else back home can die a slow death. Aggressive, right? See why I could use a blunt?

“Daddy, is there something wrong with me?”

Piper’s high-pitched voice can slice cracks in porcelain.

Alec eyes the rearview mirror at his daughter, her angelic glow blinding him to reality.

“Of course not! What made you think that?”

“Sammy says I have a weak bladder. What does that mean?”

“What!”

That’s Piper. She’s all about the long game, waiting for the right moments to drop bombs. It’s chess, not checkers.

As my little brother argues with the parental unit about name-calling, Piper sits with a satisfied grin, staring out at the city she’ll undoubtedly take over.

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