She was miserable, sitting on a rock in her sweat. Every time she moved, the wind shifted to blow the smoke right into her eyes. Elena folded her arms across her chest as Bishop moved around the circle, laughing and sharing his bottle with all his new friends.
“I heard you had a good night,” an approaching voice said.
Elena smiled and nearly laughed when she saw who it was.
“You’re the popcorn person, right?”
“That’s right,” the young woman said, extending her hand. “I’m Nan.”
They shook. Elena slid over so Nan could sit on the rock too.
“Opening night was good. Exhausting, but good.”
“We had a good crowd tonight. Last year on theses grounds, we opened to rain and the week never recovered. It’s funny how opening night seems to dictate the whole stay in a place.”
“Huh,” Elena said.
Her boyfriend was approaching.
“Nan, this is Bishop. Have you met?”
She watched closely as the two shook hands. Not that it mattered, but it seemed like they were genuinely meeting for the first time.
“Did you toss in yet?” Bishop asked.
Elena didn’t answer right away. She was trying to figure out what he was asking.
“Because I wanted to remind you that tips count too. That extra from the lady with the hat—you have to account for that.”
Bishop didn’t hang around long enough for her to get clarification. Someone called, “Hammer,” from nearby and Bishop went over to exchange a laugh with another of their new co-workers. There was a time when Bishop actually seemed to care about socializing with her, but it had been a while.
“He seems nice,” Nan said.
“He can be—to other people, at least,” Elena said with a quick laugh. “Sometimes I wonder if his attitude towards me is merely contempt or if it has grown to hatred.”
Nan glanced away, looking for an escape route, probably. Elena caught her with a finger on her arm.
“Hey, do you know what he meant by throwing in?”
“Sure,” Nan said. “You toss your four cents in the fire, for the pinch. Just make sure you get it towards the middle. You don’t want there to be anything left and on a windy night like this, you have to crumple the bills so they don’t blow away.”
“Bills? You said four cents, right?”
“No,” Nan said. “That’s just an expression. The pinch is four cents of every dollar. Four percent, you know? If you shift dollars to pennies and then double it and double…”
“I can do the math,” Elena said, “but you can’t be serious. We’re supposed to burn up four percent of our money? Who would do that? Why not give it to charity or something? Feed the needy?”
Nan was frowning and looking at Elena with wide eyes. “No. Of all customs and superstitions here, this one is the most important. A pinch of the money goes up in smoke for the Deuce, or the debt increases exponentially tomorrow.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. You’re serious?”
Nan only nodded in response.
Elena watched an older man in overalls counting his money as he approached the fire on the other side of the circle. He shuffled through a big stack, every now and then moving one of the bills to the bottom. When he was done, standing right at the edge of the fire pit, he crumpled some of the bills into a tight ball and leaned over into the heat to drop them in the center of the fire. Nobody made comment of the act. This was, apparently, normal behavior.
Elena stuffed her hands in her pockets, feeling her wad of bills. Nan made some excuse and drifted away.
When Bishop came back, he stank of liquor.
“Are you going to throw in a pinch?” he asked.
“Just did,” she said.
After standing next to him for another minute or two, she said, “I’m going to take my shower now.”
She left him there.