Fear in a Handful of Dust

“I will show you something different from either/ Your shadow at morning striding behind you/ Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you/ I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” ~T.S. Eliot


She sighs and her blue eyes look at me with desperate sadness.

“I don’t suppose you know how then?”

Her voice has a lilt like nothing I have ever heard. All those books hidden under grandpa’s floor board in the cabin—they never said anything about the voices from before.

Those books were scrawled with thin black letters, and the texture of the pages scratched beneath my fingertips. They held small coloured images, like the one of rainbow spheres dangling on a tall green figure . Grandpa told me it was a Christmas tree, but when I asked what Christmas meant, he only drew me tightly to his chest, his pressed shirt crackling against my ear as the thrum of his heart pounded through my body.

“No,” I reply finally. 

My voice scratches, and it hangs differently in the air than hers. Or maybe it’s that it does not hang in the air, while hers does, like a puff of white smoke leaving lips on a cold day.

She stands, and her wrists jangle with copper bands. Her brown sleeves lay soft on her dark freckled skin, and her bare calf peeks from a slit in the skirt.

“Come,” she says, and her jangling wrist reaches for my hand.

She pulls me with her towards the dingy tent. Dark and light brown stripes adorn it. I wonder if there are colours hidden underneath. It must be older than anything I’ve seen before–maybe even older than grandpa’s books.

When she draws me closer to it, I wipe my finger along it, and it becomes covered in a layer of dark grime.

“Was it colourful one day?” I ask.

She turns towards me with a flash of surprise in her eyes, hesitates.

“Yes, likely.”

I purse my lips shyly because she is looking at me now, and I study the thin material at the opening of the tent.

“It was probably red and white,” she says softly. “A circus tent.”

I look at her and she smiles gently. I am too nervous to ask what circus means.

She turns away and leads me through the opening. There are makeshift walls set up everywhere; tarps and shades and sheets to create rooms. Pillows and blankets litter the floor, and small tin cups and chipped glass plates. The chipped plates remind me of a book in grandpa’s cabin, one with brilliantly coloured pictures of dancing silverware and a talking chipped teacup with a teapot for a mother.

She takes me into one of these small rooms where she pushes me gently into a tangle of blankets. Underneath of them, I can feel a lumpy mattress. Beside the blankets is a small book—it has a blue cover with small gold letters that I can’t read from where I’m sitting. There is also an unfamiliar silver coin on top of the book and next to it is a dried up red rose. I recognize the rose from the same book that had the chipped teacup.

She sits down next to me suddenly, very close, so my breath catches nervously.

“What are we doing here?” I ask, and my voice cracks.

She lifts her gaze slowly to mine, and peers at me from long dark lashes, her blue eyes meeting mine in an intense stare.

“I’m going to show you why you will stay with us,” she whispers.

Her blue eyes flicker, and her breathe like steam comes towards my mouth. Her lips are warm and dry like the wilted rose petals.


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