What do you do when someone else’s past forces itself on your own life? Sorting through the piles left behind by a grandmother who was both a stage magician and a hoarder, Persephone Aim finds a magical artifact from World War II that has shaped her family history. Faced with her mother’s desperate attempt to take the artifact for herself, Persephone must decide whether to hold onto the past — or use it to reshape her future.
CARPE GLITTER by Cat Rambo
RELEASE DATE: 10/29/19
GENRE: Fantasy / Paranormal
Carpe glitter, my grandmother Gloria always said. Seize the glitter.
And that was what I remembered best about her, the glitter: a dazzle of rhinestone, a waft of Patou Joy, lipstick like a red banner across her mouth. Underneath all that, a wiry little old lady with silver hair and vampire-pale skin.
Not that she was a vampire, of course. But Gloria Aim hung with everyone who was anyone during her days in the Vegas crowd. Celebrities, presidents, journalists, they all came to her show at the Sparkle Dome, watched her strut her stuff in a black top hat and fishnet stockings, conjuring flames and doves (never card tricks, which she hated), making ghosts speak to loved ones in the audience. And when she stepped off the stage, she left in a scintillating dazzle, like a fairy queen stepping off her throne.
All that shine. And at home?
She was a grubby hoarder.
I mopped sweat off my forehead with the hem of my T-shirt and attacked another pile of magazines. Dust wafted up to fill my nostrils and make me sneeze, drifted down to coat the hairs on my forearms with grit. Something had rotted in the corner; I was doing that side once I’d cleared a path to it and breathing through my mouth in the meantime.
This had once been intended as a guest room, but it had been taken over by a troupe of china-headed dolls, stacked atop piles of brittle newspapers and magazines. No cat pee—I’d been spared that in these back rooms, closed off for at least a couple of decades.
Grandmother had bought the house when she was at the height of her first fortune. She’d just burst onto the stage magician scene, a woman from Brooklyn who’d trained herself in sleight of hand and studied under the most famous female stage magician of her time, Susan Day.
The nearest heap of magazines, in fact, flaking away at my touch, showed Grandmother and her mentor on the uppermost cover, a poster from their brief tour together, just after World War II. Glamorous older Day, blonde hair worn in a sleek chignon and eyes blue as turquoise. Grandmother bright and shiny not just from the rhinestones glittering across her chest, but starry-eyed—her grin so wide it stretched her mouth.
The stack held dozens of copies of the same issue, no matter how far down I went. A swarm of silverfish scurried away as I lifted the last one. I’d get the room cleared before bringing out my arsenal of bug spray for an onslaught.
Yellowed confetti bits fell away as I put the stack on the heap to be bagged up and trashed. By now I’d learned that paper flaking that badly meant the appraiser’s regretful headshake and the murmur, “Too badly eroded, Miss Aim.”
As with each of the seven rooms I’d managed so far, I sorted the contents into piles. Throw away was by far the largest. To be appraised had interesting things in it beyond the scads of dolls Grandmother had collected. Keep was actually two subpiles, one for Mother and one for me.
Object after object to be evaluated and sorted. Old magazines and flutters of candy wrappers. So much clothing, most of it absurdly formal, scratchy with ancient starch. Theater props piled on top of grab bags she’d picked up at church rummage sales, still unopened. Half-filled perfume bottles and compacts full of sweet dust.
And then there were oddities: a picture stitched of human hair, showing a castle on a cliff; an enormous crystal ball, a good foot and a half wide; a mechanical banjo trio that played itself, complete with a library of antebellum songs to choose from; a basket stuffed with sandalwood fans.
The “rotting thing” turned out to be a heap of furs that, when stirred, sent up a stench reminiscent of old sauerkraut that sent me out into the hallway for a while to lean against the yellowing wallpaper and breathe in fresher air.
The doll collection was worth a good bit, perhaps, I’d been told. But nothing on the scale of financial windfall I had hoped for. Grandmother had been wealthy, even though she kept her spending discreet, aside from this strange mishmash of a house. Where had all that money gone?
And why had she saved everything? I thought that it was perhaps a return to her childhood days, which had been uncertain and full of moves. My great-grandfather had been a con man, always on the edge of getting run out of town, according to her stories. They’d had to leave in the middle of the night more than once, abandoning anything that couldn’t go into a suitcase. This could be a reaction to that.
There was no point psychoanalyzing my dead grandmother, though. Once the furs were bagged up and taken out, the room was much more bearable. I kept on searching, working through the last of the piles before examining the desiccated rug underneath, so dry I was worried it might crumble away if I tried to vacuum it.
My cell vibrated against my hip. I slid it out of my shorts pocket and glanced at the screen. My mother.
I took a breath before thumbing the phone on. “Yes?” I said.
“I wish you hadn’t chosen this,” Mother said, launching right back into the same argument we’d been having all week, ever since I’d said, “Actually, I’ll take the second option” at the reading of the will. “It’s ridiculous. You could probably tell them that you’ve changed your mind, that you want the money instead.”
“You never know, I might turn up something wonderful,” I said, trying a new tack. Maybe if I could convince her that there might be treasure buried in the piles and heaps lining this massive amalgamation of three houses, she’d support me in this.
She hissed impatience. At least that’s what that strangled sound had always meant for both her and Grandmother. Mother liked to pretend she was Grandmother’s antithesis, but the truth was, they were more alike than either would have admitted. I had even found a mannerism or two I didn’t think of as mine, but theirs, creeping into my own speech. “Have you found anything?” she demanded.
“Not yet,” I said. “But I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. You have no idea how much stuff she managed to cram into this place. It’s a little mind-blowing.” I toed at the pile I’d been sorting, and it slid sideways with a waft of cedar and old socks that almost made me gag.
“Why are you being so stubborn about this, Persephone?”
“I’m thirty years old. I get to make my own choices. Grandmother offered them to me.” I hesitated before adding, “It’s not your call,” feeling the words slide distance between us when my mother was already so far away.
She hung up without a word. I stared at “Connection terminated” before wiping at my face again, tasting salt on my lips. I was sweating up a storm in this fierce heat. That’s all it was.
Creative magic. A possibility of discovering more than what meets the eye. One person treasures can be another person secret to unlock.
Persephone is left the responsibility of sorting her late grandmother's house. Her grandmother was a hoarder and the house is full of wonders. There is a reason she was given the task and everyone seems a little too interested in helping.
If you like outside the box mysteries with a touch of magic this book is for you.
3 stars out of 5.
*I received an arc in exchange for an honest review.
Nebula, World Fantasy, and Endeavour award nominee Cat Rambo's published work includes 200+ stories, two novels, five collections, a cookbook, a travel guide, and two books for writers, Moving from Idea to Draft and Creating an Online Presence for Writers. She runs The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, which offers live and on-demand online writing classes aimed at speculative fiction writers. She is a two-term President of the The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Find links and more information at www.kittyrumpus.net
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