She could feel the music reverberating through the thick concrete walls, rising up the rusting metal stairs to the parking lot outside. Shae sat on the sidewalk curb a few feet from the closed basement doors, the rough cement grating against the swirls of pink cellulite on the backs of her brown thighs and snagging on her cut-off shorts. She planted her hands behind her and leaned back, neck arched to peer up at the sky, her long braids skimming the ground. Too much light pollution, no stars in this city. Though the overhanging meshwork of leaves against the lambent red of the sky gave the illusion that she was somewhere.
The show was in some rented DIY space on the outskirts of New Haven that shared a wall with a church of indeterminate religious affiliations. There were posters in Spanish that she couldn't read, though she knew 'Dios' probably meant God and it was written bold in streaky markers across most of them.
Her cigarettes weren't in her backpack. Well. They were, surely. But she was digging furiously through its contents, pulling out a notebook with papers splayed, the velveteen sack holding her tarot deck, a fragmented granola bar miraculously still encased in its wrapping, uncapped pens and her aluminum water bottle. No cigarettes. She dumped the contents out on the pavement, shaking the pack like a schoolkid at lunch, her frustration getting the better of her. The lighter was in her pocket, she could feel it jutting into her hipbone. But no where in the assortment of possessions were any nicotine products.
Wasn't there a Christmas story for this occasion, rife with irony, something that Bert and Ernie had reenacted in neon puppet parody? She couldn't think of the name, which only added to the frustration rising like a leviathan from the waters of her guts, coalescing into a heartfelt grunt of irritation as she slammed the empty shell of the bag back onto the sidewalk beside herself.
"Got a light?" she jumped, her hands scraping on the rough cement as she turned towards the low voice behind her. She hadn't heard anyone approach, but she had been pretty hellbent in her search. A woman who looked to be about her age stood a couple feet away, an unlit cigarette perched on her lips. She had a farmer's tan and ruffled brown hair styled in a pompadour, a smattering of summer freckles across her wide nose. Shae didn't recognize her from the scene, but after a while all punks start to blur together.
She nodded, digging her hand into her pocket and shifting her hips to dislodge the BIC lighter from its position. The woman sat beside her on the curb, shifting the cigarette to her hand and letting it dangle between them. The click click of the lighter failing to catch seemed exceptionally loud in the empty parking lot. Either the band downstairs was between songs or someone had allowed an acoustic set on the bill. The third click produced flame, the wobbling glow of orange hanging between their faces, lighting the lines of crows feet on the woman's face. There was something wholesome and lonely about an older punk, Shae felt a wary kinship with the woman.
"Thanks," she said after a long drag, the cherry nestling into the hand rolled cigarette. Her voice was husky, the smoke curling past her pink lips. Shae nodded at her, thinking again of the Muppets.
"Can I bum one off you?" she asked, lip rings shifting as she smiled winsomely. The woman glanced at the wreckage of Shae's belongings, grey eyes lingering on the sack of tarot cards.
"Will you give me a reading?" she asked. Shae shrugged, sliding the thick cards from the bag and riffling them in her hands. She proffered the deck in her left hand, cards splayed between her fingers, and wiggled her empty right index and middle finger till the woman slid a sleek roll-up between them. Shae popped it into her mouth, slotting it between her snake bite piercings.
"Pick three," she spoke out of the side of her mouth, busying herself with getting the recalcitrant lighter going again. The woman carefully pulled three cards and held them like a geisha's fan between her fingers. Shae slipped the deck back into the velveteen bag and gestured for the woman to lay her cards on the ground in the small space between them.
"Woof," Shae said, propping her chin in her palm as she leaned over to peer at the spread. The Tower, the ten of Swords and old Death himself stared up at her.
"Is that bad?" the woman asked, her voice convivial and curious. Shae glanced at her then back down to the cards, exhaling grey and spreading her hands.
"Not necessarily," she said, poking one of the flailing figures falling from the Tower, "this guy's chaos and change, some kind of catalyst. This one," she continued, finger now resting on the hilts of the ten swords jutting from an anonymous corpse, "is an ending. Could be the chaos is coming to a close, or maybe the ending is the beginning of chaos. And then Death, who looks a lot scarier than he is," she lifted the skeletal horseman, twisting the card to change the angle of his pitted eyes, "he's really just a harbinger for..." she trailed off as she glanced up to meet the woman's eyes, and finding none.
The cigarette fell from her mouth, falling onto the Tower and singeing the lacquered surface. The parking lot was utterly empty aside from her. Fear snaked through her chest, sending her pulse racing.
She snatched the cigarette and ashed it out on the ground then flicked it into the rain grate at her feet. She was shoving everything back into her bag as the door banged open behind her, clattering against the cement wall opposite. A slow train of sweaty twenty-somethings came stumbling out the door, speaking in the loud tones of those recently deafened by untempered drums.
Her friend Maggie sat down beside her, offered a cigarette as she regaled Shae of what was an apparently life altering guitar solo that she had missed.
Shae took a drag. Held it. Exhaled.