Eight of Spades
This has been a time of dripping umbrellas, weird skeletons, and small old houses in the surrounding streets suddenly for sale. I walked around the corner to take a photo of the now for sale green house, a flat box painted pond green, set far back behind a grass green lawn, a concrete path leading up the middle to the front door. Not so long ago I’d walked past and looked over the pine green fence to see a thin old lady at the front door. This made me happy, imagining that she had lived there for many decades. Last week I passed by and saw the sign on the fence: “Deceased Estate”. My memory image of her, in a pink and white dress surrounded by all that green, became that of a ghost.
As I approached the fence with my camera, I noticed the gate was open. In the doorway was the unmistakeable figure of a real estate agent. The sunlight made his greased black hair gleam as he talked to the couple inspecting the house. I kept walking, not wanting to draw attention to myself. My suspicious character would be immediately obvious if I paused. Often I forget that I look unthreatening; at worst I would be seen as an eccentric. Walking around in the world I feel so unusual, so inadequately prepared to deal with the detail of everything around me, so overcome by the strangeness of being alive, I imagine that to everyone else I must look like a dragon, or something very far from human. When I get a glimpse of myself in car windows I am surprised that I am a regular person, roughly the same size and shape as most other human beings, my thoughts locked away and unreadable.
I paused at the bench on the corner, where I often see the postman sitting and taking a break before embarking on mail delivery in my street. Although not a very long street, it is lined with big apartment buildings. Each one has a bank of letterboxes outside, and a bin overflowing with junk mail. Sometimes I pluck out some of this junk mail to read in the bath, things like Target catalogues, although I would feel too guilty to purchase most of the items inside. From the bench I watch the real estate agent and the people who had been viewing the house walk out and shut the gate behind them. They disperse to their cars and drive away. I wait for a minute or so, and then the house is mine.
The two boys in front of me have matching Spiderman backpacks, and carry paper Easter baskets in their hands. Their father walks alongside them, having just picked them up from school. It was almost 5pm but the school playground was still full of kids. A group of girls were doing a synchronised dance under a tree, and another two were near the fence. They had a snap lock bag filled with mud with a straw poking through it dangling from a branch, and were digging out a hollow in the ground below. The purpose of this set up was not obvious. I smiled at them and they smiled back, and I felt like I’d entered their game just for a moment, that I too was part of their contraption.
In the park I’d come across a piece of A4 paper folded into quarters. It being my birthday, messages were important, so I picked it up. Expecting it to be a printout of a google map (as such pieces of paper often are) I discovered it was the next most common thing, a school worksheet, a recipe for Honey Rice Bubble Slice. Why children are taught to cook such repulsive things I’m not sure, but this recipe or a variation thereof is in every kids cookbook. The student, Evan, had filled in the required words in the Press into a greased ______. Cool in the ________. (Answers according to Evan: dish, fidge.) At the bottom of the page he’d drawn in a picture of two stick figures with a mixing bowl in between them, and another picture of a stick figure sleeping. It had taken me a while to work out the sleeping figure, which has a cloud of Z’s floating above it. First I thought it was some kind of machine emitting sparks.
I deliberated before putting the drawing into my pocket. Kid drawings are a bit like kids, cute if you know them, but hard to feel too attached to otherwise. There are lots of their drawings floating around these parts. When my suburb is mentioned in the newspaper it comes with the prefix “family friendly”. It is a disappointing label, it makes me think of my suburb as a big, safe playground, with soft, cushioning ground underneath it and all the dangerous things locked away in high cupboards. As much as I try, I can’t hurt myself here. (Untrue!)
Once I’d put this into my pocket I kept a lookout for other messages. Further along the street I found a playing card, lying face down on the pavement. It was the Eight of Spades. At home I sung: The Eight of Spades! Eight of Spades! to Simon as he looked up in “The Complete Book of Fortune”. He paused on the page, and I pressed him for the significance of my card. “You don’t want to know it,” he said, but then read out “impediments, misfortunes, danger, temptation”. Later, when checking the book on my own, I saw that the first two were from the card lying face up, and the latter two from the card lying face down. My card on the street had been lying face down. What dangers will face me, what temptations?
Scored into the pavement concrete is the word TEA? This seems like one of the temptations that I should avoid. I carefully place my foot over it and stand there. The sun is setting and it will be night within the hour. I have just walked down an alleyway past strange trash – one abandoned rollerblade, a plastic bag marked with the name DENNIS – attaching stories to each thing. Once each story is told, it floats away. It is only important for a moment.
As I stand there the family in the four wheel drive parked by the kerb stares at me. The mum and two kids, safe in their bubble, watch as I grow, my skin turning into scales, red and orange like the deepest colours of the sunset, my claws long and sharp. My eyes are large and golden and when I blink, the undersides of my eyelids are patterned with symbols.
Their car engine purrs into life and it pulls away from the kerb quickly. The car takes the family away, to go off and eat them, perhaps. I am bigger than the car now, with a long tail spiked with bony plates. I have wings, too. Why walk when you can fly home? I circle over the suburb a few times. From the air it looks so small and neat, like nothing very bad or very real could ever happen underneath the rows of red roofs. Down below my friends are walking their dogs and feeding their babies and sitting on buses and looking at the time wondering where the day went. The light is draining from the sky and the streetlights flicker on, first sickly violet and then a strong, white light. Trace them and you have the city.