Winter Wonderland
Chris Tusa

 

The man who kidnapped me cries all the time. Sometimes at night, I can hear him from the basement, his tears crawling beneath the silver sound of Christmas music. In the afternoon, when he comes downstairs, he puts the tray of food on the floor and sits down next to me. He’s prepared a T-bone with the three stalks of asparagus, a piece of lemon cheesecake with brown sugar almond crust, and a glass of iced tea with a lemon wedge and a sprig of mint. He tucks a napkin in the neck of my t-shirt, asks me if the shackles on my wrists are too tight. I tell him they’re fine, ask him for a sip of iced tea. He puts the glass to my lips, and the sprig of mint tickles my nose. While he feeds me bites of meat from a fork, he tells me about his daughter, how she died of cancer two years before, how the doctors found a tumor lodged in her brain, how the radiation burned off all her hair, left little pink ulcers in her throat. He says I remind him of her, that my lips remind him of her lips, that my hair reminds him of her hair. When he speaks, I can hear the sadness buried beneath his words. He wipes my mouth with the napkin after each bite.

When I’m done eating, he brings down boxes of his dead daughter’s things. There’s a teddy bear with a ripped mouth and a missing left eye, a picture the dead girl drew of her mother scrawled on a piece of construction paper—a stick figure with swollen red lips, yellow hair and mangled blue fingers. In another box, there’s a small green balloon with the dead girl’s breath still trapped inside, a turtleneck sweater, a comb with strands of long blonde hair tangled around the teeth. When he shows me a picture of her, I imagine I’m looking at myself, that the bright blue eyes buried in her head are my own bright blue eyes staring back at me.

In the morning, he unlocks the shackles from my wrists and invites me upstairs to eat breakfast at the big wooden table where he eats every morning. I wear his dead daughter’s turtleneck sweater. I even use her comb to part my hair to the left side, the same way she did when she was alive. When I get upstairs, he’s made eggs sunny-side up, just the way his daughter liked them. The sweater smells like dust and mothballs. He says I look lovely, that the sweater brings out my blue eyes. I poke the yellow yolk with my fork and smile. Outside, snow smothers trees and rooftops in a milky white breath.

Later that evening, while he sits in a La-Z-Boy chair sipping from a glass of wine, I kneel on the floor in the living room, the heat from the fireplace blushing my cheeks while I pick through cardboard boxes cluttered with tangled nests of Christmas lights, Ziploc bags filled with rusty hooks, stockings sprinkled with tinsel, plastic poinsettias with wrinkled red leaves. While I hang ornaments from the tree, tinsel sprinkles the floor like silver strands of hair. The man takes off his glasses, leans back in the chair and sighs. Christmas lights blink in the reflection of the window like little white eyes. I move my lips to the sound of Winter Wonderland, but my rusty voice is filled with holes. While snowplows snore outside, I sit by the fire, as silent as the angel staring down at us from the top of the tree with her hollow blue eyes, her mouth a perfect O, her lips stretched so wide it’s almost impossible to tell if she’s singing or screaming.

 

Chris Tusa was born and raised in New Orleans. He holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Florida. His debut novel, Dirty Little Angels, was published by The University of West Alabama in March of 2009. His debut collection of poems, Haunted Bones, was published by Louisiana Literature Press in 2006. His second novel, In the City of Falling Stars, will be released by the University of West Alabama in 2015. His work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Connecticut Review, New South, Texas Review, and elsewhere. He is Managing Editor of Fiction Southeast, and divides his time between teaching full-time in the English Department at LSU and acting as Writer-in-Residence at Southeastern Louisiana University.