Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lupe's Christmas, Part 1: The Four of Clubs

The hat scurried across the card table chased by a growl. It pinwheeled across the scarred, stained surface, and caught on a tear near the edge, white polyester fuzz grabbing onto cracked vinyl in an ancient oleaginous liplock (hot polymer on polymer action), unlikely to be broken without tearing off a piece of one or the other. Wolfman eyed the hat, sighed, and slumped into his rickety folding chair.

"This is no way for a man to live."

He dropped from the chair to his knees and dug through the little fridge parked crookedly beneath the table, and pried the last beer bottle off the sticky surface. His red shirt hiked up to reveal his lean, hairy back. Lupe giggled.

"Not funny," he said. "Bullshit." He popped the beer and then sat back up, patting his pocketless shirt.

"It's called 'work,' Wolfman. I know you've done it before."

"Not even work. I can handle work--well, for a little while. No, this is more like 'bullshit.'"

Lupe lowered her book and looked at him with lidded eyes, said nothing.

"I mean, Jesus! One kid threw gum at me, it caught in my beard!"

"Where is your beard?"

"The white one? Who knows."

"Damn kids, huh?"

"You should talk."

"He probably pronounced it Hey-zoos, you know."


"Not Jesus. He-e-ey-zoo-oos."

"Huh? Who's Heyzoos?"

"And you say I should go to school."

"I'd never say that. That was your aunt. Your last one, or maybe the one before that."

"Yeah. She didn't really get me."

"Who does?"

"Or you."

Wolfman made a face. "Yeah, well, the alternative is living like this--" He waved his hand around the den, stopping at the leather jacket piled into a corner. He put down his beer and dove at the coat, began rifling through the pockets. A deck of cards appeared in his hands, or maybe half a deck. Red bicycle backs.

"Or work?"

"Yeah, or work."

It's worth it, maybe, to expand the scene a little at this point, let the camera zoom out and examine the tableau from a second-person present tense that separates ourselves nicely from the action, such as it is. We now see Wolfman hunched over the grimy table, shoulders arched high as he fiddles with the cards. The Santa hat still clings to its filthy crag on the corner, ignored by everyone. Wolfman has his chin thrust out, and long brown hair spills out over the back of the hated red shirt. He's grinning lascivously at nothing in particular. Immediately to his right is an ill-fitting door, which, when the string holding it baack is released, opens outward into the dark and the cold. We can follow the extension cord from the crack beneath the door to the fridge and to the bare light fixture screwed into the plywood wall and fitted with a yellow bulb. Its soft light makes the interior feel more homely, and warmer, than circumstances would otherwise suggest.

With its back to the card table sits an old, formerly blue couch. From its stains and tatters, you might assume that its a roadside rescue, and you would probably be right. The short couch--more of a loveseat, really, or maybe a fat chair--is wedged in between wheelwells, and at its foot, at the rear of the trailer, are a couple of milk crates filled neatly with books, two battered suitcases, and an unkempt pile of blankets. (The blankets are Wolfman's responsiblity; Lupe is small enough to curl up on the couch, of course, and that section is relatively tidy.) The books might also be salvaged, or maybe someone has a library card, taken out bashfully, or with rolled eyes, under an assumed name. In any case, both books and luggage belong to Lupe, a scruffy but attractive girl of about twelve, who is doing her level best to exude a womanly calm. She does this not because she's good at it (although she's getting better), nor because the situation calls for it. No, it's an expression that she's picked up from an aunt (not a real aunt--the closest thing she had to one of those is now bolted up in a Canadian country club), and it has a remote possibility of annoying Wolfman, who can become comically irate those rare times that Lupe can break through. It's not working now.

All right then, let's bring the camera back in.

Lupe sighed and released her aloof vigil. "Did you really mean it about school?"

Wolfman gestured at the crates of books. "I think we've got that covered."

"How long do you think we'll be here."

Wolfman grimaced. "Wish I knew, Frankenstein. But I can tell you that something usually comes up." He tugged at the hat, which was indeed stuck.

"How about a card?"

Wolfman whimpered. "Aw, man."

"Maybe it'll tell us something?"

"Nah, it just tells us where we are, not where we're going to be. They, uh, respond to the present circumstances. It's not magic or anything."

"Then let's see."

"All right. Fine." Wolfman whipped off the top card from his partial deck and slapped it on the table.

"The four of clubs," said Lupe. "Boring and strong."

"Sure," said Wolfman. "It's telling us we're here. The four points, they trace out a door, right? With darkness behind it. Like that door" He gestured to his right. "It's just this bullshit little trailer, and this bullshit job."

"Maybe tomorrow will be better."


Now, it could be noted that a door isn't just a place, but more like an exit, an observation that was not quite lost on Wolfman, who licked his lips when he thought about the flipped card, and possibly it wasn't lost on Lupe either, although neither mentioned it. A four is also a double pair, a dark twosome with its shadow close by. Could it mean an evolution of the first two into some different two? Is the shadow pair something external to the first one, trailing it? It's not as though Wolfman's astrology is an exact science. Indeed, divination is no science at all, even if some people are gifted in making the symbols look true.

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