Asmall carnival had come to our town.
Under the same tent five or six acts were grouped together. There
were strong men, gypsies, a tame bear, twin dwarves less than two
feet tall, and a man without a mouth. I wandered from booth to booth
and finally made my way to the corner where many tables had been
set up for the gypsies to read palms. Every table but one was taken,
but that one appealed to me and I sat down there. At the table was
an old woman with a scarf on her head, and beside her a young girl
whose fresh appearance had made me trust the old woman in the first
place. Without a word the old woman took my right palm and wiped
on with a small, soft brush a substance like honey. After brushing
in this manner for a while she told me it was time to exchange a
minor spirit for the spirit of a dead woman that could fuse with
my own. This spirit could be of great assistance to me, but should
she become dangerous I could always wash my hands of her—by
washing the substance from my palm. Then she and the girl got up
and left the table and I turned to leave the tent.
On the way out a strong man at the entrance held out a bamboo pole and announced that this pole was his power over me. That provoked me, and I took hold of the pole, expecting him to fight for sole possession. But as soon as I took hold he lifted the pole off the ground and swung it high above his head. In an instant the pole stretched to a great length and I found myself swinging over a huge abyss, clinging for life. Both land and sea were lost behind me, receding into the distance like a sunstain rowing faint, then all at once he reached the upswing, and I was standing in his place. Now I swung him, and within one or two turns set motion in the even rhythm of a wheel, and only then did I realize that something inside me understood this rhythm very well, and knew that I must sustain this circle or else cling to the other end, over the abyss. But once the strong rhythm was established it was easy, even natural to sustain; it would come back by itself.
This is Howard Schwartz’s first short story. His second collection of parables, Lilith's Cave, is published by Isthmus Press. A Blessing Over Ashes is in its second printing, from Tree Books, and his Dream Journal, 1965-1974, will soon appear from the same publisher. (Spring 1975)