Edgar was always sharpening his knives on his whetstones, the sound almost grating to her ears. He did it all the time, like they could possibly be sharper than they already were.
But then, maybe knives had to be sharpened all the time. She didn't know. She didn't know anything, she felt like.
He never spoke to her. He never even so much as looked at her, if he could help it. That didn't stop her from following him around, as subtly as she could, trying to get put on chores with him, trying to get her show set up next to his.
He was stronger than her though, by a lot, and they ended up on opposite ends of the chore wheel most of the time, with him digging the fire pit, or fixing the rides, or whatever, while she was stuck picking up trash or getting the tents ready with the other kids. And they were never set up beside his show, not even once, no matter how hard she tried to angle them. Gail or Chris always moved them away before she could stop them.
“Have you ever done a show with Edgar?” She dared to ask once. “The fire and the knives, that could work, couldn't it?”
Gail and Chris had exchanged a look though, before Gail had smiled at her, in that same stupid way everyone smiled at her whenever her mother came up.
“It's good you're thinking like this, but you're not ready for power combinations yet.” Gail had said, and the subject was clearly closed.
It made her want to scream, because it was so obvious that everyone was keeping her away from him, when all she wanted was to get to talk to him. They just smiled that idiotic smile, and told her to let it go, like she could, like somehow she could just forget her mother lying on the ground, bleeding out. Her tattoos fading to nothing as her eyes went blank. Her chest stilling, her clothes ruined.
Like she could forget picking the hay out of her hair before they buried her. Trying to make her look nice again.
Like she could forget the way Edgar had cried over her.
She was young, she understood that, and she'd been dumb to trust Samuel when her mother had told her not to. But that didn't mean she was a stupid kid. That didn't mean she didn't understand what it meant, the way he'd held her mom's hand, even though she was gone. That maybe he was all she had left.
“You have to leave Edgar alone for now.” Dove told her, one night as she combed Amanda's hair. She was putting red and orange dye in the bottoms of some of the curls, to make her hair look like fire. Gail had clucked at the idea, but told Amanda it was her hair, and she was the one who would have to wear it.
It was the first time anyone had ever said a thing to her about Edgar and her mom, ever really openly acknowledged that they knew what Amanda was after.
“I just want to know her.” Amanda insisted, careful not to move her head. “And he knew her.” More than just that though. Edgar had been with her mom, that was obvious. So maybe, just maybe, Amanda was connected to him too. Maybe.
Dove sighed, as she wrapped another lock of hair in tin foil, to keep it from the rest while the dye sat.
“That's true.” She conceded. “And I understand. We all do. But you have to understand, sweetheart,” She'd never admit how much she loved when Dove called her things like that. No one ever had before. “Edgar and your mom had been here since they were teenagers. Fifteen years spent here.” She started on another lock of hair, fingers gentle in Amanda's hair. “And he loved her so much. He needs to mourn.”
They'd come here at the same time then, she thought, her heart racing even as the pit in her stomach deepened.
“I do too.” Amanda could feel her throat closing up tight as her eyes teared up, and she sniffed, embarrassed to cry in front of Dove. “Why can't we do it together?”
Dove passed her a box of tissues, and then resumed working on her hair.
“Did anyone ever tell you that you look like Lydia? Because you do. Quite a bit, actually.”
“So, imagine what it's like for him, darling.” Her voice was soft and sympathetic, for both of them, Amanda guessed. “To be without her, to know she's gone forever, only to see her staring out of your face, reminding him every single day of his loss. He's only a man, and he can only handle so much.” She sighed, sounding tired. “Edgar lost his whole family, you know. And he was very close to Joseph. Now he's lost Lydia. I'm not sure how much more he can take before he breaks.”
Amanda listened in silence, feeling guilt and anger churning in her stomach. She hadn't known those things, and she felt bad for him now, but at the same time, Lydia was her mom. Edgar had gotten her for so much longer than Amanda had, and it wasn't fair for him to hoard all his memories of her, and keep Amanda out in the cold. He was all she had left of her mom, and he owed her something. He owed her the truth, if nothing else.
Dove said nothing more, as she finished Amanda's hair, then washed it out in the sink of her caravan, towel drying it gently, like Amanda's aunt had done when she was little. She combed oil through it with a wide-tooth comb after, the new red and orange strands standing out like Crayola crayons amongst the blonde.
Looking at the colors made her think of the flames that surrounded her face on her mother's arm, the way they danced to let her mom know she was in trouble. The way Edgar and her mom had tried to save her, the way Edgar had promised to come back for the both of them.
It wasn't fair. Nothing ever went right for her. She couldn't go back to her aunt, her mom was gone before she ever got to even know her, and now she was all alone, because her mom's stupid boyfriend, the man who might be, could maybe be who she thought he might be, couldn't even look at her.
Again, her face went hot, as the tears reappeared.
“Shh,” Dove crouched down in front of her chair, cupping her face in her hands. “Shh, darling. It will be okay, eventually. I know it hurts so badly now, I do, but after awhile, you'll be able to move forward, I promise.”
Amanda couldn't help how she sobbed, as Dove brought her forward in a hug, let her rest her head against Dove's shoulder. Dove stroked her back, not saying a word as Amanda cried like she hadn't since the funeral, when Edgar had stood there in his leather jacket, looking, for just a second, like he was going to come over to Amanda, say something.
But he hadn't, because he was a jackass who didn't care about anyone but himself, who didn't understand that Amanda needed him to tell her who it was she had lost.
The trailer door suddenly opened, and someone walked up the steps. “Dove, do you think you could,” The voice trailed off, as Amanda drew away to see Edgar standing there, running his hand over the too-long hair on the sides of his mohawk. “Right. I'll just leave then,”
“That's what you're good at, isn't it?” She asked, standing up, her wet hair cold on the back of her neck. “Leaving?”
“Amanda,” Dove warned, touching her arm, but she shook her off.
Edgar's face darkened into something mean. “You don't know what you're talking about.”
“Maybe I would, if you weren't such an asshole!” It felt good to say, as she wiped at her eyes, running her sleeve across her nose to stop it from running.
“Drop the attitude,” He said, pointing at her.
“You can't tell me what to do!” She shouted. “You can't just ignore me for weeks, and then come in and act like you're the boss of me!”
“Both of you, stop it,” Dove said, but it fell on deaf ears.
“Then don't run your mouth off about things you don't understand!” He raised his voice too, like he had any right to, and Amanda felt her hands heating up, felt the fire within manifest. In response, his hand went to his belt, to the knives, but there was no flash of silver, the movement purely instinctive. He wouldn't attack her, she thought, he wouldn't dare, and she knew why.
Before anything else could happen though, she realized how still Dove had gone beside her.
Dove's eyes were on the fire, her body completely still, dark skin sickeningly pale as she stared at the fire.
Amanda put it out, scared suddenly, as Edgar swore. Feet pounded up the steps, and Gail appeared, with Evan at her heels.
“What is going on in here- oh my god, Dove!” She rushed forward, Edgar and Amanda both moving out of the way as Gail grabbed Dove by the shoulders. “Dovey, look at me, look at me, listen, you are not there anymore, I swear. You are right here with the family, you are safe.”
Dove didn't seem to hear her, as Gail kept talking. Evan grabbed Amanda by the arm and shooed her out, Edgar too. Tarot was already running towards them, holding her top hat down on her head as she rushed into the trailer, Evan moving aside for her.
Edgar swore again, digging the heels of his hands into his eyes.
“What's wrong with her?” Amanda demanded, frightened that she had hurt Dove somehow.
Edgar swung his arm out in a violent gesture, his face angry again. “She's sick! Everyone knows that! Getting close to fire like that makes her do that! Fuck, you don't know anything, do you?”
“Well maybe I would know more if you weren't so selfish!” She was still angry with him too, underneath her fear, her nerves on fire as she tried to keep herself under control.
“Do I really look so much like her that you have to hate me?” She stomped her foot to keep herself from making something burst into flame. “You loved her, and I'm just like her! She said so! Everyone does!”
“You need to get over yourself,” He said, dismissing her.
“She was my mother!” She shouted, loud enough that no one could pretend they couldn't hear them.
Edgar just shook his head, but before he could leave, she had one last thing to accuse him of, the one thing that bothered her the most about all of this.
“You two must have been soul mates!” She could hardly speak anymore, her stomach and throat hurt so much. “You're both so fucking good at leaving me! Did either of you want me at all?”
He actually stopped, his face stricken, and for just a second, she thought she had gotten through to him. But then he was gone in a blur of black, leaving her standing there like an idiot, with her hair dripping down her back in the cold air.
“Alright now,” Mrs. Comey came forward, wrapping her arms around Amanda. “That's enough for tonight.” Amanda went with her, unable to think of anything else to do, and let her put Amanda to bed, like she was a little girl. She even tucked her in.
The next morning, everyone seemed set on pretending it never happened, as Chris set her to work painting their new placard.
Around noon, Dove wandered over, her braids bound up under her scarf. She had on one of her bulky wool sweaters that were missing all the buttons, tied at her waist with a long swath of gauzy material, the threads at the wrists unraveling from her anxious pulling.
“Hey, sweetheart. The hair looks good.” She looked exhausted, her eyes red-rimmed with dark circles beneath them.
Amanda couldn't look at her, ashamed of what she had done. “I'm sorry.” She said, focusing on the placard.
“Oh honey,” Dove sighed in that tired way of hers. “It wasn't your fault. I didn't want to tell you, make you anxious.” She wrapped an arm around Amanda's shoulders reassuringly, kissing her on the forehead with all the warmth of an aunt.
“When I was in Iraq, I ended up in the middle of a really bad standoff. We were pinned down for about a week. There was fire everywhere, by the end. A lot of awful things happened during that time, and something came a little loose up here.” She tapped her temple. “I have some problems now. I forget where I am. That's why Tarot had to come in. She goes into my mind and brings me back.” She squeezed Amanda's shoulders. “It's happened pretty often, honey. It's going to happen a lot more. So don't worry about it.”
Amanda nodded, even though she still felt awful for it. “You were in the Army?” She couldn't picture Dove in the Army, wearing a uniform. Carrying a gun.
“Air Force. Makes me an airman. But yeah, I flew helicopters when I was over there.” She smiled, but there was no joy in it. “Baby, I know you want answers. I would too, if I were in your shoes. But calling Edgar an asshole is not the way to go about it. Okay?”
“I just want to know.” She put the paintbrush down, her hands shaking too badly to keep the lines smooth. “I deserve to know.”
“Not arguing with you one little bit. Still, you have to let it happen in its own time.” She released Amanda to pick the paintbrush up, twirling it in the blue paint to add a streak of the bold color to the red and orange flames. It gave the fire depth, implying more heat. “I know he's acting the part, but he isn't really an asshole. Your mom wouldn't have loved him if he was.”
Amanda gazed down at the placard, at the image of her, standing among the flames, untouched.
“Will you show me how you got the colors on Tarot's to look like they were swirling?”
Later that night, she saw Edgar among the rest for dinner, but he didn't say a word to her. He didn't even look at her.
She decided to let it go, for the time being, choosing to trust Dove. To trust Edgar.
To trust her mom.
Two weeks later, when she was sitting in her mother's swinging chair, her knees drawn to her chest, Edgar appeared in a blur, twirling a knife. She had noticed the holes in the post of her mother's patio, the ones that had to have been made by him throwing the knives at it. She had counted at least two hundred of them.
“I'm not your father.” He said, right off the bat, looking up at her, though he seemed to have trouble holding her eyes. “I didn't meet your mum until after you were born, when she came here. I didn't even know about you until your face appeared on her arm.”
She felt something in her break into a thousand little pieces, the I'm not your father snatching away any hope she had left.
“She didn't tell you about me?” She asked, letting one leg drop so she could trace the ground with her foot.
He shook his head. “It hurt her. To leave you behind. So she kept it locked up, where no one could see it, where she didn't have to think about it.” He put the knife away, but then seemed at a loss about what to do with his hands. “It's not that I didn't want kids with her. We'd talked about it. She thought it was a bad idea though, and she had good reasons. I didn't know it was because she already had you.”
He swallowed, and looked at the ground.
“But you were going to come back for both of us.” She said. “That's what the message you left for my mom said.” She swung a little in the chair, using her foot to push herself side to side. “She kept listening to it. Every day.” Amanda thought it had been to reassure herself, as much as it had been just to hear his voice. It had been obvious to everyone how much her mother had missed Edgar when he had to run away. She could only imagine what it had been like for him.
Edgar looked like he was going to start crying again when she said it, but he didn't. He blinked, and turned his face up to the fabric that made up the ceiling of the enclosure, rubbing his forehead now as he squeezed his eyes shut.
“Like I would leave you here.” He turned back to her, smiling like his heart was breaking. “You were hers, and I loved her. So I love you by default.”
She pulled her knee back in, as she started to cry, not trying to hide it. It wasn't the same kind of crying she had done on Dove's shoulder, or in Mrs. Comey's arms, when she felt like she was falling. This time, she couldn't fall. Edgar would never let it happen, she knew. Never.
“Tell me about her.” She said. “Please. I need to know.”
He bit his lip, as he sat down in the chair beside the hanging one. The way he slouched down in it so automatically told her exactly how many times he had been there, right beside her mother, throwing knives at the post.
“She hated tea.”
He opened a box on the table, one of the many her mother had lying around. In this one, were tools, including a set of whetstones that he removed. He laid his knives out on the table, and then started to sharpen one.
“Never met anyone who hated tea.” The stone slid over the blade, the sound actually soothing instead of grating as she closed her eyes and rested her head against the side of the basket. “I liked her enough it didn't matter.” Had her mother found the sound restful too? Had this been their nights, her mom sitting in this chair while Edgar sharpened his knives?
“I hate tea, too.” She said, as she wondered what else she had in common with her.
“Yeah well, you're lucky I like you enough too.”
“You love me,” She teased, though it sounded choked through her tightened throat.