Archive for February, 2012
The first time it happened was with a button.
It was gold and shaped like an acorn, and snapped loose from a man’s overcoat as he bumped into Valenka on the street. Clattering into the gutter, it came to a stop against her scuffed boot.
Valenka hadn’t experienced much magic in her life—only gray days spent tugging at sleeves for coins. Still she understood that something special happened when she picked up the button. All the walls of her mind fell away, and into her head, accompanied by the chilly Prague breeze, swept the man’s past.
That man is good, she thought, holding the button in her little fist. He has a wife and two daughters whom he kisses goodnight each day. He kissed another woman once, but only once, and he regrets it still. He gives coins to a lame man in Petrin Hill Park on Sundays. And he loves God. Yes, the owner of this button is a good man
After that, it happened more frequently. People’s pasts came to her uncalled as she brushed against shoulders in the market, or when she picked up someone’s forgotten glove in an eatery. When she was seventeen and found employment as a seamstress in Dvorak’s Tailor Shop, it became an unavoidable part of her life. Each piece of silk had a story to tell, and each strip of macrame whispered a past. Valenka learned about grief through black funeral gowns, and understood the meaning of passion as she mended ripped lace blouses. Lives, although she did not live them, passed before her eyes.
Mostly, experiencing memories was effortless and her ability showed her everything there was to know. Other times, the past only seeped into her mind in elusive glimpses. But never had Valenka seen someone’s future.
Not until she touched the hem of a murderer.
The fish were made of silver. So were the terns. The fish swam in the clear blue sky, leaving little ripples as they weaved a course through the heavens. Beside the school of fish, the gleaming birds flapped in formation. All of them moved with singular purpose to a silver half moon that was bright despite the day, a moon that matched the creatures’ ethereal gleam.
Smack! The fish, the terns, the moon, it all unraveled.
Mums was in the shop, rubbing the back of his woolly head, his daydream supplanted by dull pain. Fat Man was giving him that stern look, pointing at him with a long ebony finger.
“You’ll be sixteen in a week, a man by any nation’s measure. You must stop these flights of fancy; those things are for boys and liars.”
Stupid Fat Man, Mums thought. He nodded.
“Keep your eyes about the shop. If someone as much as steals a sausage, you’ll find food missing from your plate tonight.”
There was no one even in the shop. He could argue that but it would likely earn him another smack to the head and a stern lecture about due diligence. So he nodded again.
This was the worst time for diligence and the best time for his mind to wander. It was right after midday, so very few shoppers came into the store looking for dinner meats until later.
Fat Man’s shop was a typical zimba, larger than most but still built of the mortarless granite stones that gave the city of Dzimba-dza-mabwe its name. And while Fat Man had painted the granite walls and ceiling of his zimba with festive blues, yellows and greens “to pull the customer’s eye,” as he put it, it did little to make Mums feel festive. He was not a customer; and any joy he had once gotten from the design was long gone after spending most of his childhood in here looking after rows of various meats.
Mums put his elbows on the counter and propped his face into his brown fists, getting comfortable while he watched over the gazelle steaks that were advertised on sale.
“No no no, boy,” Fat Man said. “That’s how I found you when you earned that smack. Now earn your board and daily bread. Check the temperatures.”
Mums grumbled but did as he was told.