The girl kneels on the crimson blanket, gazing at the deck of playing cards before her. The flimsy red rectangles lay facedown in six cautious rows, aligned to form a small pyramid. Reverently, the girl extends her hand and picks up the card in the center of the base of the pyramid.
The water-warped Queen of Diamonds stares back at her.
A gale of memories whips through the dark recesses of the girl’s mind. And suddenly, she is back in their cramped apartment, surrounded by crooked white walls, with Absalom, her father. Balanced on a three-legged folding chair, the girl inspects his pale skin, sparse brown hair, and calloused hands from her precarious perch. Absalom is cross-legged on the faded blue carpet, hunched over his beloved red playing cards, glaring intensely the Queen of Diamonds pressed in his fingers. Suddenly, he lifts his head up, his grey eyes fixed upon his four-year old daughter. “It’s the Queen,” he mutters softly, “Things are gonna be hard for the next few weeks.” Without averting his gaze, he pulls another card from the jumbled deck and shows it to the girl. “But don’t worry. As long as he’s here, I’ll be here. With you.” The girl looks down at the card in his hands. King of Hearts.
The sound of tolling church bells brings reality back into focus. The pyramid of cards urges the girl to continue. Hand trembling with anticipation, she uncovers the rest of the pyramid’s base. Jack of Clubs. Nine of Hearts. Five of Spades. The girl carelessly casts them into a pile, and continues, with a hungry look in her navy blue eyes. The second row also yields nothing, and the girl begins to fear. She is too late. She will not reach Absalom in time.
Reality blurs at this devastating thought and again the girl is thrust into her memories. It is a miserably humid night; the palpable heat overwhelms her senses. Absalom is nowhere to be found. For three fruitless hours, the girl, now twelve, scours all of his usual night haunts: the local coffee shop, the bustling casino, the dilapidated café where he works. Then finally, she sees him. Slumped against a flickering lamppost in a pool of red. Clasping a kitchen knife slick with blood in his left hand.
The girl’s own screams resound in her ears, jolting her from the nightmare. The pyramid materializes once more. Hand quaking uncontrollably, she slips a card from the third row into her hands, not bearing to look. After an eternity of agonizing uncertainty, she unfurls her quivering fingers.
The King of Hearts. Absalom. The girl clutches the face of her dead father close to her heart.