The Jinx Fragment, Chapter 3

An excerpt from Chapter 3 of ‘The Jinx Fragment’

Follow the link at the end if you want more…


Chapter 3:  The Jinx Fragment

Carmilla struggled past the screen door of the drafty old house on Auden, holding it open by wedging her foot against the weathered sweep and forcing the Costco-sized Bisquick box through it.  She had no one to help her—Bunică was the only other person in the house and sat by the window in the upstairs dormer, her ice-blue eyes focused on the dark and distant autumn tableau.

Outside, the gusts of diesel fume and the spank of the rickety door shutting behind Carmilla were deadly and mundane—but for the Bisquick box, it might prove to be a day like every other day; she’d go to school, sit quietly in school, come home from school and sing old Romanian poems to Bunică.  Life for them was prosaic and familiar.

But for the Bisquick box.

Not so familiar today was the sight of the boy across the street waiting grimly behind his chain link gate—that had not happened before. It was Bex, the leave-me-alone kid who lived with his dad and the Chinese hermit. He looked frail and small, but defiant, and he looked like he wanted to say something but he didn’t. Nor did he offer to help her navigate the beat-up porch steps with her Bisquick box.

So she hollered out to him instead: “You bringing anything for Show and Tell today?”

Now, granted, Show and Tell was a pretty lame concept for ninth graders, but you were dealing with teachers who had pretty much tossed in the motivation towel by the end of their first semester, and during one meaningless science class with kids fighting, dancing in the aisles, hustling, rolling on the floor and pretending it was group work, the teacher had revved up enough positive energy to ask them what they could do as a class that would be ‘fun’. Beyond the hoots and obscenities, some kid with a bright memory had said, ‘Show and Tell!’

So, the following week, Show and Tell it was. The problem was, most of the kids had forgotten about it and Bex was one of them. Now he found himself confronted with the awkward need to respond to a question he hadn’t expected without looking like a basic fool, so he glanced quickly around the yard, lit on the orange bucket by his father’s shopping cart, and said, ‘Sure’.

She scrunched up her face. “What’s that?” Her voice was rich and lilting and there was a slight accent.

He shrugged. “Mudpuppy from the river. Wha’s in the box?”

“Show you in class,” she answered with a toss of her head.

Her face was impasive but her eyes were lively. Or so Bex thought. He might have thought she was beautiful, and he thought that he might have thought so, but he didn’t quite know what the word was all about. There were too many versions of it and he was just starting to care. And that flustered him. So he came behind her, bucket water sloshing, kicks scuffing, watching her walk and wondering if it was a pretty walk.

Carmilla was even smaller for her age than he was, and she had no pretense about filling out her limp shoulder-to-thigh jumper. All the kids in the district wore uniforms—white shirts, blue pants and grey plaid skirts, navy sweaters—to discourage theft of designer clothes and gang-color flashing, but plenty of the students managed to find ways to flaunt what they had anyway—idiotically short skirts on girls, hooded sweaters on boys, and for the most part, nobody in charge was willing to push it beyond the basic uniform. Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries had paid for a lot of them, including Bex’s.

Normally, Bex left for school a bit later than Carmilla did, because for breakfast, Grasshopper would eat nothing but poha made with frozen peas and Serrano chilies and peanuts and that took some work.  So by the time that Bex had him fed and was out the door, Carmilla was already nearly to school, a bobbing speck beneath the streetlight, lost among cold and acrid fogs. Today, considering that he hadn’t slept anyway, he had made the poha early, and since then he’d been scouting outside for any sign of the wasted child he thought he’d seen lingering around in his yard. He’d wandered the vacant lots next door, nudged beneath the half-Chrysler where people sometimes crashed, tried to peer through the bars on the free-standing cinderblock structure up on Delacroix—an odd, out-of-place house with a modernist folded plate roof, haunches tagged with sumptuously ugly street art.

He’d found nothing in any of those places, but all the while he was finding nothing, he’d been aware of Carmilla’s house, the lights all blazing. It seemed to him a kind of beacon in the dark street and if he wanted something from it—which he thought he might—he did not have the slightest idea what it was.

And now, confronting the tiny girl and her flippant scowl, he was a castaway on the shores of teen confusion, so he fell in behind her and it took him nearly a block before he screwed up the stones to speak to her again…


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