Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Storykeeper (Full Story)

I didn’t know Nana Marin was dead until my seventh birthday.

It wasn’t a great shock, though I realize now that it should have been. I asked my dad when she would arrive and whether or not she’d wear a pointed hat for the party – I had it in my head that nanas were given to wearing pointed hats at parties. Dad gave me a strange look and told me that she’d passed away when I was just a baby, but Mom took me by the hand and said, “Don’t tell stories, Sophie.”

That made a sort of sense to me so I nodded and never mentioned Nana visiting again. It was easier to go to her.

She lived in a slouching old shack in the steep hills behind my house at the end of a little trail that forked off of a bigger one that forked off of an even bigger one. I don’t remember how I found it the first time, but by the time I was eight I could get there in my sleep. Once a month I visited and on every birthday after the seventh.

Nana was always dressed in layers of wool and flannel, her hair was pinned up in a bun that looked like a pastry rested on the top of her head, and she smelled like lemons and honey. Her house was warm despite the way light seeped in around the logs and autumn winds snaked down from holes in the roof. When I visited, we would sit on the dusty ground and weave together ropes of pine needles I’d collected or little bits of yarn she produced from somewhere in the house. She taught me songs I’d never heard and when we sang them together, the wind whistled through the trees in harmony.

When I turned twelve, I brought her a deck of playing cards because I overheard Mom telling Mrs. Gallow how much Nana Marin loved a game called Gin Rummy.

“Ah!” She said, snapping them apart and back together again. “Shall I tell you your future?”

I was suspicious that magic could be done with an ordinary deck of cards, but I nodded and said, “Please, Nana.”

The cards said, sssssnick.

She flipped over the first card and pressed it into the dirt between us. I remember it was the eight of clubs and the corner was bent. She didn’t say anything, but she nodded, took a small breath and laid down every single card in that deck. She piled them in rows, all climbing toward my shins, and then sat back to examine them.

“Mmm,” she said and pressed her fingers together so that they pointed like the tip of her house. “Mmm.”

“What does it say?” I was not feeling patient and not enjoying the fact that these very unmagical cards were doing magical things. “Nana!”

“Oh, Sophie,” she said with a laugh. “You will never have trouble getting the things you want out of life. You are far too stubborn. This is a good thing because the cards are telling me a story. About you. And on your sixteenth birthday, they will tell you, too.”

“But I want to know now.” I protested, careful not to whine.

“Now is not the time.” She swept up the cards and returned them to me. “Cards like these have many stories to tell, but they will not be pressed. They hold tightly to them until the time is right.”

I never brought her cards again.

I asked Mom once, around my fourteenth birthday, if Nana had ever read her future. Mom’s face sort of emptied out until all that was left behind were the pieces of it: eyes, lips, nose, and the same pointy chin I carried on my own face.

Her only response was, “Where do you get such silly questions?” Then she pushed a bag of green beans into my hands and said, “Snap.”

Nana never mentioned the cards again and neither did I, both of us looking ahead to my sixteenth birthday as though it were nothing special. The closest she came to saying anything about it was on my fifteenth birthday.

“Feel any different today?” This question was a tradition and she asked it with playful smile. Or, she usually did. Today her mouth was serious.

“No, Nana,” I said. “I feel like the same old Sophie.”

She pressed her hands to my cheeks; they were no warmer than the cool dirt we sat on, but far more forgiving. “Next year. That’ll be the one. You watch.”

I was used to setting aside the strange things Nana said because when it came down to it, everything she said was strange. She was dead and I knew by now that the dead don’t talk. At least not to most people.

The night before my sixteenth I woke in the middle of the night. I was hopeful that this was the change Nana mentioned and I would feel it. It wasn’t, and I made an indifferent trip to the bathroom.

When I returned to my bedroom, annoyingly awake for so early in the morning, I reached for a book to pull the waking from my eyes and knocked over a small jewelry box. Two green, plastic bracelets and the entire deck of playing cards spilled to the floor. I sat to collect them, but ended up shuffling them.

The cards said sssssnick.

I shuffled until my hands felt warm and then laid them out on the carpet as Nana had done, in long rows of eight and nine. The first I recognized immediately; the eight of clubs with one corner turned. The second also looked familiar and the third and the fourth.

“They’re exactly the same,” I said, breaking the silence that suddenly felt too close.

Silence rushed in again, holding the house hostage. My breath, too, became thin as I considered the cards before me. I thought of all the words I could use to describe what was happening; eerie, unlikely, coincidence, impossible. And as I stared at the rows of cards, laid exactly as they’d been four years ago, a story began to unfold in my mind.

It started with a young girl who lived at the bottom of a hill who considered things that were not in any way ordinary to be ordinary. She saw things others did not, could do things others could not, and it was all because of one, very unordinary thing.

She was a witch.

Just like Nana.

I wanted to run to the shack and see her but I knew instinctively that she would be gone. The cards said it too, in the way the queen of hearts sat next to the six of spades. I could feel her absence from my life like a hole in a shield I never knew I’d had until now. Nana Marin had protected me all this time, but now power began to swim toward me in waves. It flowed from the earth and the air into my veins.

I was a witch. The strongest in five generations. The world was mine for the taking, and I was ready to take. I remembered Nana’s words. You will never have trouble getting the things you want out of life.

I wished she would ask me one last time if I felt any different today. My chest ached at the thought I would never speak to her again and for a moment I was lost in the sadness of it all.

A soft knock on my bedroom door was followed by Mom’s tentative whisper. “Sophie? Are you up?” She pushed open the door before I had time to even think of hiding the cards. Her eyes fell on them for a long moment, and the paralyzing silence returned. I could only watch her watch me in the faint light of my bedside lamp.

“Oh, Sophie,” she said, as she stepped into the room and pushed the door shut behind her. She leaned against it like it was the only thing holding her up and took a deep breath.

I was suddenly angry in a way I’d never been before. It took me a moment to recognize the feeling behind it. Betrayal. All this time she’d known and pretended she didn’t. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

She shook her head and light glinted off of the tears in her eyes. “I couldn’t. Your grandmother made me promise.”

The slight emphasis she put on the word made filled in details I hadn’t realized were missing. The strange tightness in her mouth whenever I told her I was going out for a walk. The way she sometimes stammered when I asked her about Nana directly. She couldn’t tell me. Nana made her promise.

At once I felt sorry for Mom, and giddy at the thought that such a thing was possible. Did I have this skill too? Did Mom?

I looked up at her with new eyes. She read my expression. “You have to be very careful, Sophie. You can’t use it.”

Careful. I knew the word, but I couldn’t understand it in relation to me. I was literally bursting with power. I couldn’t not use it. I couldn’t keep it locked up inside me like a dirty secret. “Why?”

“Because,” she walked toward me, but stopped when her toes came close to the bent corner of the eight of clubs. She looked down at the cards, taking in each one before moving on to the next. Her bottom lip trembled when she spoke again, “because it’s not safe. Power corrupts.”

The energy flowing inside of me said different. It said I would always be safe. Nothing could hurt me. I didn’t think I could ever be afraid again. “Is that why you never use yours? You’re scared?”

With a sigh, she lifted the long, thin chain she’s always worn around her neck over her head. A tiny, ornate brass key dangled from it. “This is yours now. Use it and make your own decision.” She held it out to me and I saw a hint of something I couldn’t decipher in her eyes, not quite fear, not quite sadness. “Everything has consequences, Sophie. Just remember that.”

As soon as she was gone, I hung the chain around my neck and threw on a pair of jeans. The key hummed against my racing heart. I knew exactly what it unlocked, and I couldn’t wait to find out what was inside. The sun was just peeking over the hill when I slipped out the back door and headed for Nana’s shack.

The shack was the same as it had always been; pointed, sloping roof, crooked little door, and broken windows, but today it felt like a new place entirely. It wasn’t Nana Marin’s shack any longer. It was mine. I stepped through the threshold and breathed in the familiar scent of lemons and honey, mothballs and herbs. A scent that lingered in the cracks of the walls and hung on the wool curtains that Nana had sewn together so many years before.

The key around my neck felt alive, pulsing with anticipation as if it were a part of my soul. I knew what it wanted.

In the back corner of the shack sat a four poster brass bed, and at the foot of the bed, a heavy trunk with a small rusted keyhole. I’d seen Nana eye the trunk longingly each time I’d visited, but she’d never opened it in front of me. Was it because Mom had the only key? A witch as powerful as Nana could’ve opened it with magic, I was sure, but I couldn’t begin to know how to do that myself. I slipped the chain over my head and slid the key in.

I held my breath as I lifted the heavy lid. The hinges groaned, shattering the quiet of the empty shack. Inside I found Nana’s robes. It wasn’t what I’d expected, but my heart still skipped a beat when I pulled the fabric from its resting place, and slid it over my shoulders. The wool scratched against my skin, the weight of it tugging my arms down at my sides. In the left pocket I found Nana’s hair pins and smiled as I twisted my long hair into a bun. Nana wasn’t gone. She was inside me. I could feel her there, just inside the shield of magic, whispering in my ear, You’ll never have trouble getting the things you want, Sophie.

I wanted to make the wind in the trees sing along with my rhymes. I wanted the earth to move at my touch. I wanted to call the birds in a tongue they’d understand. I wanted to know the future.

I wanted the magic.

At the bottom of the trunk, beneath a heavy aged book, I found a deck of cards. Not regular playing cards like I had back in my bedroom. These were Nana’s magic cards. Something tickled in my stomach, a mix of elation and fear. My cards had told my story, things I’d already known, but they were ordinary playing cards. Could Nana’s tell me more? I sat on the cold dirt floor, willed a fire to life in the hearth and smiled when the flames licked the charred logs. The woods outside fell silent.

The cards said sssssnick.

I shuffled the cards until I felt the warmth in my hands that said they were ready to speak. “Okay,” I said. “Tell me my story.”

I laid the cards out in front of me. The story they told was a familiar one; the witch woman in the pointed shack who keeps the stories of others. They told of how, without even trying, she’d used her magic to make things grow, how she belonged to the woods as much as they belonged to her.

Until her sixteenth year when she made a choice. A choice to know more, a desire for more power and more knowledge than she had already been given. The magic consumed her and bound her to the shack in the woods, in life and in death, never set free until another witch of the same line would make the same choice.

I looked around the empty shack, some small part of me hoping to see Nana sitting in her rocker by the fire watching me with curious eyes, but I was alone. I shuffled again.

The cards said sssssnick.

“What choice had she made?” I asked them, as I lay them out before me in long rows that seemed to stretch on for miles.

The Ace of Swords sat at the top of the first pile, just touching the head of the High Priestess. They told me the story of how the witch’s desire for more brought her to read the cards of the ancients. Cards that held so many answers, so many stories, and so, so much magic. Too much for one witch alone. Cards that had been locked away for years in a trunk that only a small brass key could unlock. The magic of the cards would confine the witch, making her the keeper of stories, never having one of her own.

Power corrupts, Sophie, My mother had warned. Everything has consequences. I thought it impossible that Nana, with her cool but gentle hands, could have been corrupted by anything, let alone her own magic. Was she a prisoner here?

Somewhere in my mind, I knew the answer. It was like a whisper through the trees, just soft enough that I had to strain to hear it. The key lay next to the cards as if it were a part of the deck. Nana was gone, on the sixteenth year of my birth. I looked down at my hands resting in my lap, atop Nana’s robes. I had to clench them together to keep from shuffling again. The desire to know more was there, pulling me toward the cards, making me want to listen to all the stories they had to tell.

Make your own decision. I remembered the tightness to my mother’s mouth as she spoke those words to me. As if she had more to say, but the words wouldn’t leave her lips.

I fell back, kicking the cards away from me. The cold earth pressed against me, but it wasn’t what made my body shiver and my hands shake. The story in front of me wasn’t Nana Marin’s.

It was mine.


Photo by Striking Photography by Bo via Flickr Creative Commons

  © Blogger template Shush by Ourblogtemplates.com 2009

Back to TOP