Monday, November 1, 2010

In The Cards (Part 1 of 3)

The caravan sat up against an old wooden fence, covered in rust and moss like it had been puked out by the earth. Vintage, her older brother Lem had called it, but Nim knew better. Vintage meant trash.

She pulled her shawl around her shoulders, but the wind still bit her skin. She couldn’t go inside yet. Lem hadn’t given the signal. Tonight’s girl was blonde, her skin bronzed by the sun. Nim looked down at her own milky white hands. She’d never have tan skin. She’d never have anything the girl in the caravan had—money, friends. It wasn’t in the cards for her.

Dusky pink clouds swept the sky, and by now Lem would be flipping over the fourth card—past. No matter what the card actually said, he’d be reading her some generic spiel about how she had a friend of the opposite sex whom she thought she could trust, only to have her heart ripped out. Then the fifth card on the cross—conscious. He’d tell her to trust her heart when a new person entered her life, and he’d be giving her his most charming smile.

Even as his little sister, Nim could see the beauty in Lem. His deep blue eyes could melt the heart of any girl, even the rich ones that wandered into the carnival on Thanksgiving break from school. Lem’s black hair always seemed to fall over one eye at just the right time, like he’d trained it that way. It softened him. Made him look sweet. But Nim knew him better.

Nim perched on the tow hitch at the front of the caravan, the cold on the steel worming its way through her jeans. She tucked her hands under her arms to try and warm them. Her head fell back against the caravan and she listened. She could hear the muffled giggling of the girl and Lem’s deep voice, coaxing her along, making her believe his every word.

He’d be reading the sixth card, Nim’s favorite part. On the sixth card, near future, Lem would drop a subtle hint about what was going to happen once he read the tenth and final card. And they never caught on. Not one of them. Nim’s lips pulled up into a small smile. There was nobody better at the game than Lem.

A rustling sound caught Nim’s attention and she watched a flea-bitten dog wander away from the brush. It stopped in front of her and sniffed the ground in her direction. She looked around for an owner, but she knew she wouldn’t find one. There were so many wild dogs roaming the outlands around this city, there should be a law. Maybe there was a law. Nim didn’t know. The caravan moved so often, she couldn’t possibly keep track of all the laws.

The dog was an ugly grayish-brown color. Its fur was matted and full of mange. It had a fresh cut across its muzzle and a few old scars criss-crossed here and there. But there was something about it that made her want to touch it.

“Hey,” she whispered. “Come ‘ere.” The dog whined. “I ain’t gonna hurt ya.” She reached into her jeans pocket and pulled out a chicken bone she’d picked up off the street. “Here.” She held it out to the dog. They had enough chicken bones. She could spare one.

The dog crept closer, its nose in the air. Nim smiled and cooed at it. Maybe Lem would let her keep this one. The last one they’d taken over to the chop wagon and traded it for coffee, eggs, and flour.

The dog stretched its neck and a black tongue slipped out of its mouth and touched Nim’s hand. She grabbed it by the scruff and pulled it closer. The dog whined and struggled. “Shhh!” Nim whispered. She pulled the animal to her and held it tight to soothe it. “It’s okay.” The dog calmed and took the bone.

Nim listened to the voices inside the caravan, hoping Lem hadn’t heard the scuffle. He’d be mad if Nim blew it before he got to the tenth card.

Laughter rose up from behind the tin wall and Nim breathed a sigh of relief. She looked down into the dog’s mud-colored eyes. “Sorry I don’t have meat for ya.” She stroked the smooth patch of fur, untouched by mange, on the dog’s ear, and she felt a bump underneath. She turned the ear inside out. There was a small tattoo, done in black or blue ink. It didn’t look like any letter she’d ever seen, or a number, but some kind of symbol. The sky had grown dark and she couldn’t make it out. She leaned the dog’s head back a little and tried to catch the tattoo in the light seeping through the curtain on window above them.

Focusing on the tattoo, Nim didn’t catch the annoyance in the dog’s eyes. It flipped his head and bit her hand. “Gah!” She jumped up, letting go of the dog. It disappeared into the brush, its tail between its legs. “Go ‘head. Run away, ya bastard!” she yelled after it. Nim squeezed her hand and blood oozed out between her fingers. “Stupid mutt.” She sat back down on the tow hitch and watched a cloud of breath form in front of her face. Her hand throbbed. She needed to clean it but everything was inside.

Nim strained to hear, but the voices inside the trailer were silent. Had they heard her? Nim cursed herself under her breath. She hoped that Lem had gotten to the tenth card already and that she hadn’t spoiled anything. Maybe she’d missed her cue because she was distracted with the dog, and Lem was inside patiently waiting for her.

She stood, brushed the hair back from her shoulders and adjusted her shawl. It wasn’t ideal to pop in with blood dripping from her palm, but there was no time to find a wash bucket. Nim reached for the handle, stopped only for a moment to utter, “Showtime” and pulled the door open.

Check back this Wednesday for Part 2 by Natalie!

Photo by Paolo Camera via flickr Creative Commons

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