People put their trust in many things. Their money, their family reputation, the government, which side of the bed they wake up on. Anything to give them security that there is an order to the uncertainty of each day. I found an Ace of spades on the ground once. Emmie saw me pick it up. She’s an interesting person. I can’t tell how old she is. Sometimes I think she is close to my age, sometimes she looks like she’s in her forties, once I swore, she was sixty or seventy.
It’s the way she’s dressed; long flowy rags, layered and bulky. Her hair is wild and thick but then she has it pulled back from her face with a glittery clip or a bright head wrap. I don’t know what her shoes look like because they’re always covered by long skirts or billowy pants. She owns five blocks on Champion avenue. I say ‘owns’ because no one from the neighborhood will tread down that side of the road without being on her good list.
How do you know if you’re on the good list? She doesn’t throw a matchstick at you when you pass by. They’re not lit mind you, but if you get pelted, you better run. Word has it she can set a curse of boils on you in minutes. I don’t really know what boils are and I don’t have the nerve to read up on the subject. Medical books, photos of surgeries, hold no curiosity for me. Give me a book about how a suspension bridge is built or how sound travels and absorbs in certain spaces, that I have spent a day reading about.
Anyway, I’m on Emmie’s good list but that day when I found the Ace and handed it to her as a gift, she dropped it like it was a scorpion.
“That’s the card of death,” she said. “You must burn it then clean your hands with bleach or it will stay with you.”
“Emmie,” I said. “Everyone has this card in their deck.”
“Listen to me Tyler Rowan, you don’t want this card, not today.” She produced a match and instead of throwing it at me, she lit it and handed it over. “Burn it!”
So, I did right there in the middle of the side walk in front of the discount tobacco store. She nodded as a glowing edge burned its way up the paper, curling it, eating the black ace until it was a small piece close to my fingers.
“All of it!” she yelled. She put my hand around the rest as it finished. I wanted to yell and call her a crazy lady since the last of the coal burned my palm, but it was just a small burn and she looked so relieved when all that was left was ashes.
“Now come with me.” She grabbed my hand. Her cold skin soothed the burn. She pulled me down the alley to the back lot where her cart of stuff was hidden. “Put out your hands.” She reached into her cart. I hesitated. “Time is of the essence,” she said drawing out the ‘s’ sound.
Truly I was thinking I really got myself into a situation this time. She sprinkled powdered Ajax on my hands. Damn if that didn’t sting the burn. I knocked it to the ground.
“No, no, no,” she said. She grabbed my hand and poured some water on it then handed me a nail brush. “Scrub. You must get rid of the residue of that card. Do you understand?”
I really just wanted to get out of there, but she was so intent, so I started scrubbing.
“Do a good job. Listen to me. Your life depends on it.”
“Yes ma’am,” I said giving up on anything but complete acquiescence. She watched me for at least two minutes. Then poured water over my hands.
“You’re clean now. Let’s hope we got it in time.”
“I think so,” I said. My palm was bright red and pulsing with pain.
She smiled and for a moment she looked like an angel. The joy in her eyes went clear to her soul. “Just looking out for you,” she said. “Fair thee well young Tyler.”
“Yeah, thanks,” I said.
I avoided Champion street for a good month after that. When I saw her again, she threw a match stick at me. I stopped.
“Emmie, what have I done? Why the match stick?”
“Another Ace but you weren’t here. Another picked it up, but she wouldn’t listen. I saw it happen.”
“You saw her pick up the card?”
“I saw her get hit by a car.” She turned away from me.
I can’t play cards any more and not feel like I killed someone when I see the Ace.
This post is flash fiction based on the back story of a supporting character in a novel in process by Clare Graith.