Sunday, December 30, 2012

The opening of A Simple Charm

Since I posted cover art for it yesterday, I thought I'd post the opening of A Simple Charm today.

There wasn’t a spot in the whole of Brookburn, Indiana where the tiny colored flags on top of the tents pitched outside of town weren’t visible. The red and yellow wisps fluttered whether Levi could feel a breeze or not, captured in a world of their own making, someplace separate and magical where the wind didn’t whip up the dust to get trapped in places it had no business being. He even caught them dancing at night, when he climbed out his window to sneak down to the gulley that cut the carnies off from the rest of town. He’d stretched out on his stomach, as flat to the packed earth as he could get, and drunk it all in until the last light had been extinguished.

Everywhere he looked was an explosion to his senses. Colors rainbows would’ve been jealous of. Laughter and music and hushed whispers as shadows emerged from one tent only to meld into a single entity before disappearing into another. Roasting meat and strong whiskey that made his stomach rumble even though he’d had his fill at suppertime. His fingers curled into the dry grass, because he needed to stay put, not make a run for it like everything inside screamed at him to do.

He crept back home before the night relinquished its hold on the sky. His dreams for the few hours he got before Pap pounded on the door for him to get to his chores left Levi with a hollow longing in his chest.

“Mr. Trumbull’s closing the store tomorrow,” he commented at the supper table, staring at the beef he sawed away at on his plate rather than anyone else at the table.

“Now why would he go and do a fool thing like that? Saturday’s your busiest day of the week.”

Levi had been working at the general store since ’27, when he was twelve and it became increasingly obvious to his burly father that his only son was built more like his wispy mother. He wasn’t short, but he’d always been too scrawny for most of the labor out on Granddad’s farm. Pete Beckerman talked Artie Trumbull into giving Levi a job, in hopes the hours helping with inventory and making deliveries around Brookburn would put some meat on his bones.

It hadn’t, not really, though Levi had always wondered why Mr. Trumbull had kept him on when there were plenty of men in town who could’ve used the extra wages to take care of their families. Money was tight, jobs hard to come by, and yet, the store became his second home, his haven when everywhere else felt wrong.

“He says everyone will be at the carnival tomorrow anyway,” Levi said in response to his mother’s surprised question.

Pap snorted. “And then at church on Sunday like they didn’t throw good money after bad just the day before.”

“You never know, Pete.” Levi and his sister Annie might have cringed a little at the harshness of Pap’s tone, but Mom was unfazed as always. She reached for the mashed potatoes to scoop another spoonful onto Pap’s plate. “I heard someone over in Jagerstown won a brand-new stove in that grand raffle of theirs.”

“A stove.”

“That’s what I heard.”

“Those people don’t even have homes. How would they find the money for a stove?”

“Mr. Trumbull’s going.” Nobody in town really trusted the carnies, so Pap’s reactions were hardly unusual, but Levi wished he could see what else they offered, the dreams they held out with both hands to anybody who wanted them. Those fantasies were all Levi had thought about from the moment the first flyer showed up on the post outside the newspaper office, though his were buried so deep, they’d need more magic than a few pretty flags and some fast words to be set free.

“Well, with the store shut, he doesn’t have much else to keep out of trouble, now does he? Some of us have real work to do.”

Levi stopped trying then. Pap was just like the soil he tilled, practical, unchanging, ultimately immovable.

The night was cooler than its predecessor, the rustle of air coming in through his open bedroom window as bewitching as the not-so-far-away carnival. Levi leaned through the opening, stretching to peer around the Joslin house next door. Common sense said he shouldn’t be able to smell or hear anything, not from this distance, but he would’ve sworn on every Bible in Brookburn that it was right there. All he had to do was reach out and close his eyes and he was back at the edge of the gulley, the ground cold beneath his belly, his blood hot to make up for the chill everywhere else.

A soft rap came at his closed door. He jolted back, barely in the room when Mom let herself in.

Her gaze drifted to the window behind him. She knew. He didn’t have to say a word because she always knew, and that frightened him more than anything else. Some things should remain a secret. Some things had the power to hurt more than he would wish onto his greatest enemy, and the only way to make sure they didn’t was to lock them away from her omniscient eyes.

“Did you have plans tomorrow?” she asked.

Levi shrugged. Anything he’d hoped to do was built on fancies, as implausible as catching a cloud to make it rain when they most needed it at the height of summer. “Read, maybe.”

“Annie wants to go to the carnival. You should take her.”

The sudden lurch inside his chest made it hard to breathe, harder even when his heart took to racing like Scott Joslin’s best horse within the passage of the next moment. “What about Pap?”

She smiled. “I’m not telling you to take him.”

“What’ll you say?”

“You don’t worry about that. Just keep an eye on Annie, get back in time for supper, and if you manage to win me a new stove, well, that certainly wouldn’t hurt.”

She left him to spend the night too excited to sleep, hours lost to imaginings as he tossed and turned until dawn.