That first night at GrammyJo’s, I feared I should of gone into foster care in Santo Francisco after Ma’s funeral in stead of getting shipped to Docket’s Diggings.
GrammyJo’s dark gaze had pinned me down, hard, worse than the bugs from my last year’s science project. Her pinching fingers left red marks on my cheek. “Cassy Mae, I see a long dark tunnel before you. You think you got the gumption to get through to the other side safely?” Her hollow voice and flat eyes scared me more than the gunshots, pushers and pimps I’d ditched in the City.
“Duh, no.” I said, sounding stupid even to myself. Thinking her crazy, I shrugged and dug my fists into my pockets, not daring to look her in the eye once I noticed they’d turned all glassy and shiny-like.
GrammyJo had learned herbs and stuff from her ma way back in the Arkansas hills. My ma had run away from Docket’s Diggings and my grandmother’s juju as fast as she could run after school. She feared the juju and had taken the strap to me whenever I said I saw something weird, like my colors. Now I was smart enough to keep what I saw a secret, but I noticed a lot. The brace on my leg made me different enough. I didn’t need more grief than I had. Anyways, I only had to live with the old bat for a bit more than a year until my senior year was over.
Ma had loathed the old mining town of Docket’s Diggings, but the place looked pretty good to me even if I had to sleep on the couch. The late spring sun lit the sky and hills unlike the cloudy streets of Santo Francisco. School wasn’t so bad either. Only a few smart-asses gave me a hard time because of my gimpy leg, but I’d learned how to hide in plain sight so they didn’t bother me too much.
GrammyJo’s house smelt of incense and the fresh, pine-scented mountain air. I was sick of flitting from one bug-infested motel to a cheaper one cuz Ma was so sick at the end she couldn’t work steady. At our last motel, Ma and I had lived next to the dumpsters and syringes because we got the cheapest weekly rate. She fixed real food, too, from the large garden in back of her house. No more cold canned beans when money was tight. She even owned her own washer and dryer that no other people had ever used.
Nights in the Diggings were blessedly quiet except for the cricket chorus from the garden. You knew the people who smiled and waved at you from across the street. No dark, ominous colors flitted around peoples’ heads or engulfed their bodies. Helping GrammyJo around her beauty shop made me feel useful in spite of how my leg dragged.
The only bad thing--GrammyJo kept yakking at me about juju, herbs, and stuff. For someone so frail her voice was powerful, forcing ideas into my head I didn’t want to hear.
“You know, Cassy Mae, most people ain’t much good at noticing what goes on in front of their nose. You think you can you step aside from danger when it finds you? For stalk you it will, child.”
A snort escaped me, along with a hint of moisture. I tried to be respectful like Ma would of wanted me, but the words popped out. “In the Diggings? Where could be safer than this?”
Her worried frown should of bothered me. But I brushed her off. Ignored her repeated tries to interest me in learning about her herbs and stuff. Danger? I’d left the screams and slamming doors and gunshots behind in the City.
GrammyJo’s bright colors, mixed with streaks of gold, made me feel safe. I dismissed her telling fortunes and looking into her crystal ball as amusement for her customers. When she burned homemade incense and, I told myself she did it to get rid of the smells from the perm chemicals. I ignored the ways her eyes changed.
At the beginning of summer vacation, I was pulling clean towels out of the dryer the day old Mrs. Hendricks sashayed into the shop with the news that changed the Diggings forever. Her son, who dabbled in selling vacation lots to the summer folk, had just sold the abandoned mine workings on the bluff to a subdivider. The developer planned to sell lots to rich folk who’d use President Eisenhower’s new interstate to commute down into the Valley to Trebridge.
“That’s not all.” Old Mrs. Hendricks small eyes gleamed in her puffy face. “Some rich woman from Santo Francisco paid cash up front for that ol’ tumble-down owner’s mansion. Didn’t even dicker the price, and the check’s cleared the bank.”
The ladies cooed like a chorus of doves, but GrammyJo stood stock still, her face turning paler than the ice in the drug store. Her trembling hands clutched her hips, and she stared out onto the street as if she expected something nasty to burst through the door. The ladies didn’t notice her acting so strange, but I did.
Young Mrs. Hendricks flashed her huge, new diamond ring in the ladies’ envious faces. “Sam says the lady’s going to hire locals to build a brick wall around the place. All that money’s going to change our town for the better. You mark my words--we’ll be on the map again, like back in the Gold Rush days.”
The ladies murmured about what they’d do with more money, their soft voices rising and falling like a flock of birds. Their guesses swirled around the shop. I wished I could shut my ears. The silly biddies sounded just like Ma she thought she’d have more money next week...or next month…or whenever.
GrammyJo’s hollow harrumph jarred the hopeful twitters and sent pin picks through me. “Be careful what you wish for.”
With her expression turning as sour as an unripe persimmon, GrammyJo’s stare pierced me as if she wanted me to heed what she said. I dropped my own gaze and went back to folding towels, but not before I noticed the crease between her bushy eyebrows deepening. Her eyes turned all blank like they did when she told a fortune, not shiny like they did when she saw the future.
Yeah, GrammyJo saw more than she let on to her customers. We were a pair, even if I refused to study her herbs and stuff.
The progress of the new development enthralled the town. The ladies gossiped in the shop about the happenings on the hill. They sounded like a flock of squabbling finches as each one tried to out-shock the other. Locals did make some bucks building Lydia Markem’s wall--eight feet high with glass shards and electrified razor wire strung across the top. She must of thought the people of the Diggings were robbers or worse.
After the first cat got fried, no one talked about climbing the wall to spy out her secrets. None of the hotshots at the Hardscrabble high school dared try. Not even high-strutting Brian Hendricks, the a-hole who kept picking at me because of my limping. “Zombie girl” was the kindest name he called me. I’d hoped to leave that name back in Santo Francisco.“The Markem,” as the gossips called her, caused one hell of a commotion the day she strutted into GrammyJo’s shop. Wearing stiletto heels, tight leather pants, and a half-unbuttoned shirt, Lydia Markem surveyed the shop. Her lip curled slightly. She fingered the three teeth hanging from a thick gold chain. The woman flustered more feathers than a hooker at a church social.A
(c) 2014, M. K. Theodoratus. All Rights Reserved.
Noticing Jamilla: A Tale of Andor
M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer