Let’s be honest. I hit him on purpose. I was driving and half-listening to her once again yammering on and on and on about how I should apply myself more in school and how I should try harder with my dad and how—I don’t know—I hadn’t mentioned how cute her new skirt was or some stupid shit like that. And there he was, some old Cuban guy, walking along the edge of the road in the middle of the night. Eight ball, corner pocket. I found myself wondering if that would shut her up. Spur of the moment but that’s how some of my best decisions have always been made. I barely had to swerve to hit him.
One satisfying thump, a squishy bump as the back tire went over him, and that was it. I kept driving, but she didn’t shut up at all. Instead she started screaming. He hadn’t even screamed, and he was the one who’d been hit.
“Oh my God, oh my God! You just hit that guy! You have to stop! Turn around! Oh my God! Do you think he’s okay?”
I slowed down and looked in the rear view mirror. It was dark, but the moon was out. He wasn’t even twitching. “Pretty sure he’s dead,” I said and stepped on the gas again. “No reason to stop.”
That actually shut her up. For about a minute. “We can’t just leave him there. We have to tell someone. We should call the police.”
“Why?” I asked. “They can’t do anything for him.” I was regretting it now. Not the hitting him part, that had actually been the biggest rush I’d had in ages. I could still feel the adrenalin running through my body. I felt more alive than I had in months. I shouldn’t have done it with her in the car, though. Now she was never going to shut up.
She was quiet for a few peaceful moments, huddled over against the passenger’s side door. Staring at me.
“You hit him on purpose, didn’t you?”
Who cares what the question is
“Who Cares What the Question Is?” by The Bees
The problem with prophecy is that someone has to actually ask the right question at the right time for me to produce the answer to it. Otherwise, I’m as adrift in the world as anyone else. Maybe more. The day that changed my life and the lives of everyone around me started the same as any other day, though technically things had been set in motion the night before. I just didn’t know it then.
It was a typical morning with Granddad Porter reading the paper or, more likely, studying the dog pages for the track. I sat down at the old wooden table in our tiny dining room and poured myself a glass of juice from the carafe. I took a sip and grimaced. Granddad gave me a knowing grin and tapped the side of his coffee mug, even though he knew I couldn’t stand coffee. I might have to develop a liking for it, though, if I had any hope of keeping my taste buds. Grandma Ellie’s juice concoction was far too heavy on the grapefruit that morning. She always said it was good to start the day with something sour, so every- thing else would seem sweet after. But if the truth were told, I think her taste buds gave up in disgust years ago.
“I’m thinking I might try getting the Powerball numbers out of you again,” Granddad said. I rolled my eyes. He’d been working on that ever since I’d moved in with them when I was thirteen, but my prophetic “gift” appar- ently didn’t want us to be independently wealthy. It didn’t seem to matter how he asked, the answer always came out as a cryptic riddle he could never figure out until after the numbers were picked. It wasn’t my fault, though. I’d tell him the numbers if I could. He knew I had no control over my answers. I think he enjoyed the challenge. It was like a running family joke between us.
“You leave the girl alone, Porter, you hear me?” Gran called from the kitchen. “She doesn’t need any of your foolishness before school.” She poked her head in the doorway and waved a wooden spoon threateningly in his direction. “Pancakes and sausage in three minutes, Aria. Don’t fill yourself up on juice.” She disappeared back into the kitchen.
Granddad leaned forward and whispered to me, glancing at the kitchen as he did. There was little enough privacy in our house, but after the door between the kitchen and dining room had rotted off its hinges a few months ago, it was even worse. I could see the swish of Gran’s skirt as she whisked back and forth between the stove and the counter. “So, Aria . . . we could use a spot of help this month, even if it isn’t the Lotto. Don’t want to worry Ellie about it.” He gave another furtive look toward the kitchen. What that really meant was that he was going to ask me for something that she wouldn’t want to partici- pate in. She didn’t believe in divination for personal gain, even when we were flat broke. Gran had lost her ability to prophesize years ago when she turned seventeen. She still cast the stones, but the only answers you could find that way were far more general than specific. Not the kind of help Granddad was looking for.
I nodded, and he scooted his chair a little closer to the table.
“So, could you tell me who’s going to win the third race?” He leaned over to put the tip sheet in front of me. I waved it away. It wasn’t necessary.
I let myself go loose so I wouldn’t interfere with the answer. Usually I’m trying to hold it back, and it felt strange and freeing to let it all go. “Your gambling away may bring loss easily. Question it,” I said, then paused to gather myself. “Sorry, Granddad. I guess that won’t help much.”
I sighed. It was times like these I wished I had any amount of control over what came out of my mouth. Gran may not approve, but giving tips to Granddad was the only way I had found to contribute. Money had been tight since I had moved in, and it wasn’t like mom or dad ever sent any funds our way to help out with things. It had been months since I’d heard anything from either one of them and that had only been a birthday card signed by Janice, Dad’s second wife. He hadn’t even bothered to scribble his own name on it. No money in it either, just a generic card with a teddy bear on the front. Apparently, they still thought I was seven instead of seventeen.
“No, no, I think that might do it,” said Granddad, chewing on his stub of a pencil. “The long odds are on a dog called Y Gamble? Clever. The odds-on favorite is Bonnie Ballyhoo, but I think I’ll put my money on the other fellow.” He grinned and winked as he leaned back in his chair. “Just don’t tell Ellie.”
“Don’t tell Ellie what, you old dog?” Gran came in with a platter full of pancakes and sausage.
“Nothing!” said Granddad loudly. I mumbled something under my breath about fools and money that probably neither one of them would have wanted to hear. That was a trick I used all the time. People were always asking questions, and the only way I could leave the house and go out in public without attracting too much attention was to go ahead and answer as quietly as I could. One of the names the kids at school called me was The Mumbler. It was one of the nicer ones.
Not answering a question I overheard wasn’t possible. The longest I’d ever made it without answering had been ten minutes, and that had been on a small, inconsequential question. Those minutes had been the most uncomfort- able moments of my life. Well, physically painful, anyway. If we wanted to talk emotional pain, I had lots of stories to tell, stretching back years, back to when I’d first been cursed with the “gift” of prophecy at age twelve.
“Hmmmphf,” said Gran. She set down the plate and picked up the paper, pretending not to notice as the dog pages fell out onto the table. Granddad swept them onto the floor and kicked them under the table where chances were he’d forget them.
I took two pancakes and poured some honey over them, grateful Gran hadn’t tried to pass off one of her homemade orange marmalades on us this morning. She never used enough sugar. The fact that the few tourists who came through Lake Mariah bought them never failed to amaze me. I supposed “quaint” counted for something. Either that or they were charity purchases. Probably the latter. It was pretty obvious to anyone that came by our roadside stand that we were terminally broke.
“Oh,” said Gran. She put the paper down on the table.
“What?” I asked. There was something about the way she’d said it that made me think of how she sounded when she talked about my mom, her absentee daughter.
“A hit and run.” She slid the newspaper even farther away on the table, like she could push death away. “One of those farm workers of Dale Walker’s. Happened near Laurel Creek last night . . .”
“An illegal, I bet,” said Granddad. He wasn’t a big fan of Dale’s or his business practices. He had a reputation for being cheap and cruel to his workers, at least according to Granddad. We heard about it a lot at the breakfast table. Living in a small town meant everything was everyone’s business. Besides, Granddad had worked on a farm when he was young, and he still complained about the blisters. I think it morally offended him that Dale never actually broke a sweat himself. Slave labor, he called it.
“There’s nothing here that says he was,” Gran said, waving at the paper.
“What was his name?” Granddad replied.
“Armando Huerta,” said Gran and I at the same time.
“But I don’t see how that matters anyway,” continued Gran sharply. “Same result. A man is dead, and he’s left behind his wife, Gabriella, along with three young kids. It’s a shame, is what it is.” Gran bent her grey head down to say a quick prayer. I ducked mine as well, though I really didn’t have anything to say.
“Yeah.” Granddad was quiet a moment, though he didn’t bow his head down like Gran. “Still, I’d bet good money it’s Dale’s fault somehow. Probably had the poor guy out working late or something. Wouldn’t be surprised if he ran him over himself.”
Gran raised her head. “Drop it, Porter,” she said sternly. “You’re like a dog with a bone.”
“I’m just saying,” continued Granddad, worrying his pancake into shreds. “You think Dale even noticed the guy didn’t show up for work today?”
“No,” I answered unwillingly. “Not until the police showed up.” Gran threw Granddad a menacing look, but he was on a roll and didn’t even notice he’d asked a question.
“You see,” he said, waving his fork in the air, stabbing at nothing to make his point. “Who do you think even found the poor guy? Not Dale, I’d bet you that.”
Everyday kind of questions didn’t really have much effect on me, other than causing me to spew out some kind of answer. They were nuisances, like mosquitoes buzzing around my head, and were gone as soon as I spoke my answer. But big questions, life or death kind of questions or questions deeply felt, those had a way of hitting me directly in the middle. This one sailed right through me, leaving a dull burning sensation in my stomach. “Guts and blood—red is everywhere.” I spit out. “Love lost. Anger fills her.” I felt my face flush and then grow pale. “Useless . . . except rage takes away . . .” A small moan escaped my lips. Oh, God, the pain. For a moment I felt like the wife, staring down at her husband in a puddle of blood on a dirty road.
I fumbled for my glass and took a big sip, trying to ignore the way my hand shook until I dropped it, my pancakes cushioning the blow and saving the glass. Juice spread across the table in a sickly orange film. Gran jumped up to grab a towel from the kitchen.
“Sorry about that,” said Granddad, dropping his fork into the sticky mess as he grabbed his own napkin to staunch the flow. “Always forgetting and running my fool mouth, aren’t I?”
“Yes. It’s okay,” I said, breathing through my mouth, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to drink juice again for a while, not that it would be a big loss. A metallic taste filled my mouth, like blood. “I need to get to school anyway. Sorry about the mess, Gran.”
“No worries,” she said, hurrying in with the towel. “You go on. Take another pancake with you. You need to eat, especially after that. Get something in your stomach.” She whacked Granddad in the back of the head, and he nodded meekly.
I took a fresh pancake from the platter, knowing I would throw it away as soon as I was far enough down the road they couldn’t see me.