Kylie has always been able to read people, even those who close themselves up tight. But now that she’s turned thirteen, her meager talent has intensified. All evening she has been seeing colors around people, as though they were illuminated from within, just like fireflies. The green edge of her sister’s jealousy, the black aura of fear when her mother saw that she looked like a woman, not a little girl. These bands of color seem so real to Kylie that she has tried to reach out her hand and touch them, but the colors bleed into the air and disappear. And now, as she stands in her own backyard, she sees that the lilacs, those beautiful things, have an aura all their own, and it’s surprisingly dark. It’s purple, but it seems like a bloodstained relic, and it drifts upward like smoke.
All of a sudden, Kylie doesn’t feel quite so grown-up. She has the desire to be in her own bed, she even finds herself wishing that time could go backward, at least for a bit. But that never happens. Things can’t be undone. It’s ridiculous, but Kylie could swear there was a stranger out here in the yard. She backs up to the door and turns the handle, and just before she goes inside, she looks across the lawn and sees him. Kylie blinks, but sure enough he’s still there, under the arch of the lilacs, and he looks like the sort of man no one in her right mind would want to run into on a night as dark as this. He has a lot of nerve to be on private property, to treat this yard as his own. But, clearly, he doesn’t give a damn about such things as decorum and good behavior. He’s sitting there waiting, and whether Kylie or anyone else approves or disapproves doesn’t much matter. He’s there all right, admiring the night through his gorgeous cold eyes, ready to make somebody pay.
IF a woman is in trouble, she should always wear blue for protection. Blue shoes or a blue dress. A sweater the color of a robin’s egg or a scarf the shade of heaven. A thin satin ribbon, carefully threaded through the white lace hem of a slip. Any of these will do. But if a candle burns blue, that is something else entirely, that’s no luck at all, for it means there’s a spirit in your house. And if the flame should flicker, then grow stronger each time the candle is lit, the spirit is settling in. Its essence is wrapping around the furniture and the floorboards, it’s claiming the cabinets and the closets and will soon be rattling windows and doors.
Sometimes it takes a good while before anyone in a house realizes what has happened. People want to ignore what they can’t understand. They’re looking for logic at any cost. A woman can easily think she’s silly enough to misplace her earrings every single night. She can convince herself that a stray wooden spoon is the reason the dishwasher is constantly jamming, and that the toilet keeps flooding because of faulty pipes. When people snipe at each other, when they slam doors in each other’s faces and call each other names, when they can’t sleep at night because of guilt and bad dreams, and the very act of falling in love makes them sick to their stomach instead of giddy and joyful, then it’s best to consider every possible cause for so much bad fortune.
If Sally and Gillian had been on speaking terms, instead of avoiding each other in the hall and at the supper table, where one would not even ask the other to pass the butter or the rolls or the peas, they would have discovered as July wore on, with white heat and silence, that they were equally unlucky. The sisters could turn on a lamp, leave the room for a second, and return to complete darkness. They could start their cars, drive half a block, and discover they’d run out of gas, even if there’d been nearly a full tank just hours before. When either sister stepped into the shower, the warm water turned to ice, as though someone had played with the faucet. Milk would curdle as it was poured from the container. Toast burned. Letters the postman had carefully delivered were torn in half and their edges turned black, like an old withered rose.
Before long, each sister was losing whatever was most important to her. One morning Sally awoke to find that the photograph of her daughters, which she always kept on her bureau, had disappeared from its silver frame. The diamond earrings the aunts had given to her on her wedding day were no longer in her jewelry box; she searched her entire bedroom and still couldn’t find them anywhere. The bills she was supposed to pay before the end of the month, once in a neat pile on the kitchen counter, seemed to be gone, although she was convinced she’d written out the checks and sealed all the envelopes.
Gillian, who could certainly be accused of forgetfulness and disorder, was missing things that seemed almost impossible to lose, even for her. Her prized red cowboy boots, which she always kept beside the bed, simply weren’t there when she woke up one morning, as though they’d decided to just walk away. Her tarot cards, which she kept tied up in a satin handkerchief—and which had certainly helped her out of a fix or two, especially after her second marriage, when she didn’t have a cent and had to set herself up at a card table in a mall, telling fortunes for $2.95—had evaporated like smoke, all except for the Hanged Man, which can represent either wisdom or selfishness, depending on its position.