I am only nineteen. I had a life ahead of me, and I had to go ahead and ruin it. I try to imagine last night going differently. I come up with dozens of scenarios in which Vola lives, and Little Mo is taken somewhere safe. All I needed to do was run to Judah’s house to call the police. But then what? Mo would have come after me. Not because he didn’t believe it was true, but because that’s just what you did. If someone upset your family dynamic, you made them pay. I could have shown him video of Vola beating his son, and he still would have punished me for being the messenger. And what if the police hadn’t taken Little Mo? What if Vola convinced them that he had fallen or he was sick? Would she have taken her anger out on him when they left? And if they did believe me, and they took the baby to a foster home, would they have been better to him than his own crack-cooking, psychotic parents? No matter how hard I try, and no matter how afraid I am, I cannot convince myself that I did the wrong thing. That’s the part that makes me like the others: Wuornos and Dahmer and Manson. I do not regret my choice; I stand by it.
There had barely been any questions after they found Vola, limp and cooling on Mo’s bedroom floor, her eyes open and staring off into a corner. The police had come and gone, their flashing blue lights bringing the neighbors to their windows and lawns. All ten inhabitants of the bad people house, smoking cigarettes in their wife beaters, making the small lot look like a prison yard. And then, when the paramedics declared her dead, the morgue van had come—old and white, rolling down Wessex like a stately, timeworn gentleman. Had the scene staged in the bedroom been that convincing?
I heard people talking around the neighborhood and in the Rag. The spider turned into a rat, the rat turned into a possum, but there was no alteration to the story in regard to Vola. She had tried to kill whatever vermin was in her bedroom in an effort to protect her baby, and in the process had hit her head and died. What was there for the police to investigate? My little setup had worked. That both mortified me and delivered a sick sense of power. I could do something like that in a place like the Bone and get away with it. Had Vola been someone else, somewhere else, there might have been an investigation. But, here in the Bone, where fathers cooked crack in their basements, someone could hit their head on the corner of a dresser, in an attempt to kill a spider, and die.
Before he called the police, where had he hidden the drugs, his cooking equipment? Had he thrown them away? He had an alibi for the time Vola died. He was listening to music in the basement with two of his buddies, smoking pot and drinking vodka and Red Bull. None of them heard the thud Vola’s body made when it hit the ground because the music was too loud.
He found her when he came upstairs for another bottle of vodka, and called down to his friends to call the police. The police searched the house, I saw them do it, but by that time, Mo had already gotten rid of anything that could incriminate him. Slimy bastard. But I was glad he hadn’t gotten caught. If he had known what Vola was capable of, he might have killed her himself.
At eight o’ clock I lock up the Rag and walk home. I am too sick to grab my usual cup of coffee, so I bite my nails instead. I expect to see a gaggle of police cars outside the eating house, but when I turn down Wessex the only thing different is Vola’s car is missing from Mo’s driveway. I stop by the crack house, my hand hesitating for a moment before I knock.
Mo opens the door. His eyes are puffy, and it looks like he’s been drinking.
“I don’t have nothing today,” he says. “Had to get rid of that shit before the police came.
“I’m not here for that,” I say quickly. “I wanted to see if you needed some help with the baby. I can take him for a bit if you need some time.”
Mo’s expression softens. “Yeah, thanks,” he says. “He’s sleeping now, but maybe in the morning. He was messed up today. I think he misses Vola.”
“Yeah,” I say flatly. “That’s expected.” I can hear music pounding from the basement, and I wonder how many people are down there while the baby is upstairs alone.
“I’ll come back in the morning,” I say.
As soon as Mo closes the door, I sneak around the side of the house to peek in the bedroom window. The lights are off, but I imagine the baby curled up. Asleep. Safe. And, for a little moment, I feel sated. I did the right thing.
WHEN I KNOCK ON MO’S DOOR THE NEXT MORNING, a woman answers. She is heavily perfumed and wearing gold bangles all the way up to her elbows. Little Mo is perched on her hip, his mouth open and emitting wails of discomfort as he tries to pull away from the jewelry digging into his side.
“Yeah?” she says, running her eyes over my jeans and tank top. “Who you is?”
I draw back at her use, actually misuse, of English, wondering if this is Mo’s side pony. Vola had been very well spoken, rarely using contractions, even when screaming swear words across the front lawn. YOU ARE A FUCKING LAZY ASS NOBODY. WHAT YOU NEED TO DO IS GET A REAL JOB, YOU DRUG-DEALING LOSER, AND TAKE CARE OF YOUR SON THE HONEST WAY!
“I’m here to take Mo for a few hours. Mo the baby,” I add. She hands him over without further question and calls over her shoulder. “Your babysitter is here.” Mo yells something back about a diaper bag. She reaches into the kitchen and hands me a paper sack with a diaper and two sweaty bottles. I take it from her without a word. She seems relieved to be free of the baby, dusting off her shirt, and pants like she regrets touching him.
The baby stops fussing once he’s in my arms. I feel a strange satisfaction that he feels comfortable with me. I walk him down the driveway and over to Judah’s house. Once in Judah’s living room, I lay him on the couch and start stripping off his clothes.
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