The Black Jack of Clubs
Tonight the sky is splashed with shades of pink and gold like watercolors from an artist’s brush. A cool breeze from the north greets me along with the coyotes’ howls as I walk along my familiar path through the desert. The scent of desert lavender with a hint of sage tingle my nose.
As I walk, images flash through my mind. First the threats, then the disappearance, then the deaths. That’s how my life came crashing down around me, now a pile of ash and rubble at my feet. There was nothing I could have done to stop it, and at this point, there is nothing I can do anymore. I am exiled to stay in this desert forever. But it was my choice, I had to get away, I just couldn’t stay anymore.
My footsteps become so weary I have to stop, so I sit on top of a nearby boulder, about three feet off the ground. I fiddle with the small old-fashioned silver key around my neck, and I am so deeply buried in my thoughts, that at first, I don’t see a fox poke her head out of a hole in the ground. After a few wary glances left and right, she steps out of the den. Five little kits tumble out after her. The kits resemble their mother almost exactly, with the mother’s coat a darker more mature tan and the kits lighter, almost white.
The sight of the fox with her kits brings tears to my eyes. As I watch the mother fox carefully nudge her kits back into the safety of the den, I’m reminded of my own mother. She always took care of me and protected me from the darkness of the world.
Little that does me now, I think almost wistfully. I hate to admit it, but I’m jealous of these kits’ life. So simple, so sweet, and they are unknowing of the danger that lay beyond their den.
I watch the mother and kits a bit longer, then decide that I’d better get back before night arrives completely. Just as I start to slide off the boulder, I hear a loud howl. The mother fox raises her head and looks around. Another fox approaches the den, and I see he’s carrying a fluffy mass in his mouth. The kits start yipping and running toward the fox. The fox drops his burden, which I now see is a rabbit, in front of the kits before touching noses with the mother.
Another pang of sadness hits my heart. The fox carries himself just like my father did. The fox is proud and stands straight and tall even when the kits tumble around him. He nudges them playfully then runs in circles around them. I think he’s playing with the kits, and I want to laugh and cry at the same time at their game of can’t-catch-me.
I watch the fox family’s antics for a few more minutes until the kits curl up together one by one and fall to sleep. Then I decide to go back to the cottage, even though I may not sleep much tonight.
By the time I reach home, the last of the sun has disappeared behind the blue snow-capped mountains that surround my desert valley.
The floorboards creak softly as I quietly walk through the hall in the old farmhouse to my bedroom. I hear a faint whine and a warm body pressed against my leg. “Be quiet, Moxie,” I say to the old sheepdog. “We don’t want to wake up Viv.”
I switch on the lamp and a faint yellow glow is cast onto my bedroom walls. I change out of my dusty clothes, then I sit on my bed and try to sort through my thoughts and make sense of my life. Moxie seems to sense my discomfort and jumps on my bed and tries to lick my face, but I don’t let her. After failing to raise my spirits, she gives up and curls up on my bed for a nap.
I lay down, with little hopes of good dreams, and sleep claims me. . .
I awake with a start to the sound of Viv’s telephone ringing. Glancing at the clock, I realize it’s only 9:00 at night. But who would call at this hour?
I hauled myself out of bed and stumbled sleepily to the telephone in the hall.
“Shire residence,” I answered.
“Is this Alexandra Emmanuel?” A deep voice asked. I nearly dropped the receiver. That voice, I’d heard it before. Tinged with Russian, and unmistakable. I would never forget it.
“What do you want,” I asked coldly, managing to hide the sudden fear I felt.
“Look under your doormat.” My knuckles turned white from gripping the phone.
“W-why?” I managed to say. No answer. I slammed the phone onto the desk and ran to the door.
I cautiously lifted the doormat and snatched up the white envelope under it. Then I slammed the door behind me and bolted it. Turning, with my back against the door, I sunk to the ground. I knew what was inside the envelope, I didn’t have to open it.
But deep down I knew I had to.
The envelope was sealed with deep scarlet wax and stamped with an elaborate J. My hands shook as I pried off the wax.
Inside the envelope was a single playing card.
My heart stopped.
A black jack of clubs.