Thieves at Heart Chapter 5
Misconceptions & Miscommunications
“By Her paps, girl, what in the hems are you doing?” Derk placed a hand over his eyes and entered the room, closing the door firmly behind him. Tavera stopped mid motion, looking over her shoulder at her pa, then to the onion in her hand, her face void of shame but instead painted with the annoyance of most adolescents. She took a deep breath and resumed what she was doing, not caring if Derk was in the room or not.
“What’s it look like I’m doing?” she asked. “I’m rubbing an onion on my tits to make ‘em grow bigger.”
Derk half succeeded in stifling a laugh, almost dropping the cigarette he was starting to roll. He finally didn’t bother to hold back but instead let out a highly amused guffaw, crossing the small room they were sharing as he did. “You mean to say to make ‘em grow at all,” he chuckled, avoiding the evil look that Tavera gave him. Her pa laid on the bed and brought the end of the cigarette to his mouth, not bothering to light it but letting it dangle there as he spoke to her, a look of contentment on his face.
Tavera had grown quite a bit since he had taken her under his wing. Her limbs which had once been gangly and too long for her body were now better proportioned and muscled lightly. Her mouth had lost its pathetic drooping and now was pert and full, more apt to be quick with a quip or joke than a sigh or a whimper. Derk had told her she’d be beautiful in a few more years, though more than likely she would lack in the womanly endowments she so desperately wanted. Tavera was doing everything in her limited power to prove him wrong and she continued to rub the onion on her chest, turning her bare back towards him. “That’s as big a load of shit I’ve ever heard,” he offered her at last, and she could see his blond eyebrows raising on his face in her head. “Who told you that?”
“Old Gam did, last time I sawed her,” she said, her voice rich with false wisdom. The sound of Derk’s laughter made her purse her lips in anger and her face grew hot with annoyance at him.
“Old Gam? I’ve seen what she’s got ‘tween her neck and belly and I wouldn’t put any stock in what she’s got to say.” Tavera heard him try not to laugh and she slammed the onion onto the table and hurriedly pulled her blouse back in, fumbling with the ties as she knotted them. She could see he was trying to take her concern seriously but the smile threatening the corners of his mouth just made her angrier. Derk sighed, loudly. “Besides, why’re you so keen on growing before your meant to? You’re still young, I think, you’ve time enough.”
Tavera didn’t say anything but kept her back to him, staring at the wall. She could feel his eyes set on her and all the humor draining from his voice “What, is there some boy you’re looking after?”
Tavera whipped around, her short, dark hair flying and the look on her face betraying her, although she was already protesting loudly. Derk shook his head and made an exasperated sound, looking around the room for something to light his smoke with. “No, no, no, no, no. I don’t want you running round with boys or doing stupid things just so they like you. It’ll end badly, take my word.”
“Take your word?” she half shouted, her voice squeaking as she did. “I ain’t never seen you with any women ever, save ma and Old Gam. What d’you know ‘bout relations?”
“Relations?” Her father found a match in a pocket of his pack an struck it on the table, lighting the lamp first and then his cigarette. Derk took a deep drag, holding the acrid smoke in his lungs as he spoke to Tavera. “This ain’t about relations, this is about young people acting foolish and getting into shit they shouldn’t be.” He exhaled quickly, almost choking on the last bit of smoke and pointed a finger at her, ignoring the face she made at him. “You start liftin’ yer skirts for boys who like big tits, you’ll get into the kind of trouble I won’t be able to help you with. You’ll wind up like Daffy Helk.”
Tavera blinked and leaned back a bit. She didn’t understand what her father was implying. “What d’ya mean? He’s crazy ‘cause he’s old. That’s what the priestess said.”
“She just said that because she thought you was too little to know,” he said taking another drag, laying back in the bed once more. “But obviously, the truth would serve better in this case. He’s like that because he’s plowed too many women.”
Was he telling the truth? Tavera kept her dark eyes narrowed, her arms crossed over her flat chest as she looked over her father’s face, trying to read him. Sometimes he did just say things in jest to her but this time he looked sincere, his blue eyes shining with earnestness. Tavera thought about the old man who wandered the town of Greenmire. He was disgusting and seemed to be wasting away, sores on his fingers and face a clear sign that he was to be avoided. Helk was always mumbling to himself and falling over things, the people in the alleys he frequented staying away from him. How could that be caused by women? She shook her head no. “You’re just saying that to scare me.”
“I ain’t lying. Everybody knows when you sleep with too many people, you give away too much of yerself and you fall apart. His brain ain’t right because he’s got too many women in there and not enough of him to keep himself together.”
“That don’t make no sense,” she said. “Why don’t faithful folk go mad then? Wouldn’t they be giving themselves too?”
“They give themselves to the same person though, so themselves is already there. They’re just changing it back and forth and coming home to it every night.”
“What are they giving?” she asked, her voice more filled with curiosity than disbelief. Derk took another drag, his face tranquil and looking rather pleased with himself.
“Their humors, their personality, themselves. Why d’yah think children look and act like their parents? Even if they’ve never been around them, they always act like them, or at least one of them.”
“Why ain’t the brass crazy, then? They sleep with men all the time and most of them have more sense than most.” At this, she saw Derk stiffen, sitting up in his chair more; whenever she mentioned prostitutes he behaved this way, growing graver and always speaking poorly of their profession and behaviors.
“They don’t give themselves to anyone,” he said quickly, flicking the cigarette with such agitation, the bit holding the flame popped out, rolling across the table with its menacing glow. He reached over for the pitcher, pouring more than enough water on it to put it out, the excess dripping off the table and onto the floor. “They don’t put any emotions into it, only desire for gain. But I’ve seen men driven mad by them.”
“Well, maybe I can do the same,” she shot, flouncing her way to her pack, kneeling down to look for the long, blue ribbon Derk had bought her for her hair. She tied it carefully, feeling the top of her head to be sure it was in the right place. “Maybe you got me too late and I’m like them after all.”
He laughed out loud and Tavera cringed inwardly. She heard the melancholy in his laugh and finally she felt ashamed, having made her father think on something sad and maybe causing him grief with his words. She walked over to Derk and sat on his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck and laying her smooth cheek on his rough one.
“You’re like me, Tavi,” he said finally, kissing her on the forehead like he always did. “You feel things, though you hide it well. You must mind your humors or they may lead you astray. They’re good things to have, as they make life richer but you must temper them with prudence. Do you understand?”
“It’s bad enough when you’re all serious, now you go using big words and such. I hate it!” She grinned at him, her dark face filled with light. Derk’s eyes lit up and he stood up quickly, pushing her off of him.
“Tits, Kiff, you sidetracked me so, I forgot. Shamsee’s outside, a block towards the temple and needing you for a take. By Her ivory tits, seeing you and that onion made me forget! Go to it, now, it’s the one on the left!”
Tavera ran out the door of the room and down the hall, making it to the stairs and jetting down into the tavern proper. The tender raised an eyebrow as she zipped past the bar and darted through the door, almost running into two large guards as she did. They paid no mind to the scraggly girl who shot past them into the busy streets outside.
It was crowded on the street but it was easy to find who she was looking for. The tall, hawk-nosed man called Shamsee was right where Derk had said, a block away from the bar, his small table set up on the tiny sidewalk. Tavera breathed a sigh of relief, seeing she wasn’t too late for the take. The man shifted his brown eyes towards her ever so briefly before focusing on the crowd and in a loud, nasal voice he began his tirade.
It went as planned. He broke out the walnut cups and the pea, placing the pea under one of them and shifting them as he spoke in his hypnotizing voice, the crowd gathering around for a look and a chance to play. To prove his legitimacy and the game’s simplicity he would ask Tavera, a simple child, to play. He would give the cups a few turns, she would say she couldn’t play, as she only had a half piece that her father had given her for an offering at the temple. He would entice the girl, telling her she could make a much bigger offering if she played and won. Tavera would pretend to feign disinterest but play the naughty, poor child and take part in the game.
First she would guess incorrectly. This would cause the crowd to feel bad for her so that when Shamsee offered to double her money if she guessed right the second time, the crowd would become endeared to him for having pity on the poor girl. She would then guess correctly, much to her feigned delight and the pleasure of the crowd. Shamsee will have saved the day and presented himself as a man of honor when in reality he was neither a savior nor an honorable person. She would take the coin and get a bit more of the take later in the day, when he had played what he thought was enough or until a disgruntled and taken patron would turn over his table and try to beat the shit out of him. It was an easy way to help someone out and make a bit on the side.
Tavera laughed out loud, rocking back and forth on the old crate she decided to sit on, pointing at the man who staggered towards her. Apparently the game had been taken too far today and a patron decided to appease his embarrassment by punching Shamsee in the face. He had the beginnings of a black eye and was holding up a dirty handkerchief to his bleeding nose, his hat skewed on his head and making him look even more bedraggled than he already was. He sat down next to the girl and plopped a small pouch on her lap.
“Sure I couldn’t pay you in dollies and sweets?” he asked, his voice muffled by the injury and the pain. Tavera snorted at him as she tucked the small pouch of coins away, still wondering how someone who had been doing the walnut bit for so long could still not tell when he was about to get his jaw kicked in.
“Chew Her hems,” she cursed, cocking her head to the side and looking over his face. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been and he was most certainly acting as if it was worse, his mouth twisted in pain and one eye tearing as it swelled before her eyes. “You’re gonna have to go to a bleeder for that, Sham. He’s gonna put a nice, fat blood worm on your eye for the swelling. Maybe he’ll pick one that’s starving and the sucker’ll pop your eye clean out your white box.”
“Do shut up,” he said, his face changing colors from a worked over pink to a sickened green, his eyes wincing at her words. “All this and you were late to boot? What’s that? I sent that fapper of a pa of yours after you? You too busy puttin’ on frocks to keep yer word?”
Tavera turned her head and glared at Shamsee, her one pointed ear twitching slightly under her hair with anger. She hated when the thugs, the common street hustlers called her father that. She had thrown herself at a man twice her size in Westbrook for saying as much and only her father’s forbidding kept her from trying to give Shamsee a black eye to match the other. “I don’t come when you call. I’s busy doing something when he told me and I came when I was ready.”
“Well, it’s bogged to keep a partner waiting. Yer pa knows it and I don’t think he’d a left you dodging ‘round the room if he knew you were ‘spected somewheres. If I told him to get you straightaway, I know he’d a done it.” Shamsee paused for a second, his one good eye narrowing for a moment, a trickle of blood shining under his nostril as he did. “He caught you doin’ somefin, didn’t he?”
Tavera’s pride drained from her face as he asked, her eyes looking to the end of the alley for a split second, wishing something would happen so she could leave. That was the problem with some of the streetsmen she worked with. Even if they lacked common sense, they generally weren’t idiots. She didn’t have to answer his stupid questions, even if they had worked together. This subject matter was unrelated.
“Wait a minute,” he said, frowning slightly, eying her once again. “My nose may be busted but I believe I smell…onions.” He reached over as if to pull back her blouse but Tavera fell back, screaming as she swung out at him, her closed fist connecting with his cheek. He grabbed her wrist with his free hand, somehow able to laugh and he pulled her back onto the crate. “Hold on now,” he said, his smile revealing a few missing teeth and a half decent smile. “I’ve sisters enough to know what you were doin’ and I have to tell yeh, it don’t work.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she shot, her arms covering her chest protectively and giving herself away. Shamsee laughed out loud, almost falling off the crate.
“Oh, this is lovely,” he said, clapping his hands and slapping his knee, finally straightening his hat on his head. “I can’t believe people still believe that it works. I’ve got no less than four flat chested sisters prove it don’t.”
Tavera pressed her lips together, feeling a little embarrassed but somehow less so, knowing that multiple women before her had also tried the fruitless remedy. “Well,” she said, hopping off the crate and holding the purse up, the coins jingling merrily. If she changed the subject and left, maybe she could still save face. “Thanks for the work. I’ll maybe see you later.”
“Hold up,” he said, hopping off the crate and walking towards her. “Donchu want to know how you can get ‘em to grow?”
Tavera stopped in her tracks. She tried not to care, she really did, but she spun around faster than she knew she should, walking back to the beaten man. “You better not be tellin’ me lies, Shamsee.”
“Honest to the goddess, and I’ve proof as well. Listen to me Kiff, the way to get yer tits to grow is by…touching.”
“Oh, well that’s just lying and you swore!” she said, pushing him with her hands and only managing to move him an inch. He shook his head and swatted her hands away.
“It’s true, touching ‘em makes ‘em bigger. And I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout touchin’ em yerself. I’m talkin’ ‘bout havin’ other folks touchin’ em. Think on this, what types of womens got the biggest ones?”
Tavera thought about this. The woman she knew with the biggest breasts had been Prisca; they had been large and milky white because she kept them covered when the sun was out. When Tavera had been living with her, she tried to pick one up and had needed both hands to do so. The other woman was a mother with five children, all of them young and still nursing for food. What was he getting at?
“Mams and the brass, I suppose,” she offered, trying to guess what his logic was. He nodded, blowing his nose and looking into the grimy handkerchief, grimacing as he did.
“Aye, and who gets their goods touched more than those ladies? Brass by their men and mothers by their children, day and night.”
“What’re you telling me to do, that I should go out and have people touching me so as to make ‘em grow?” she asked incredulously. Even if what he said was true, she didn’t see how the plan could be carried out, especially because her father had just said she should stay away from men. It seemed ridiculous and like she would be flat chested all her life.
“I ain’t tellin’ you to do nuffin,” he said, sitting back on the crate. “As an observer, a brother and a man who has actually had quite a few tits in hand, I’m just offerin’ a bit of knowledge. You’re prolly too young fer men anyways.”
“Too young? I’m prolly 13, I’ll have you know!” She turned her chin up at him, her fists resting where her hips should have been. Shamsee put up both hands in mock supplication. It made her mad and so she punched him anyway, a sharp, tight blow that made him wince and rub his shoulder as he frowned at her.
“The ripe age of 13? Pardon me, I ain’t used to yer kind, little Miss One Ear. You’re lucky your pa is who he is, I bet I could make a bit, selling you to someone who wants to be around your kind. Also, well, I don’t really dislike you. And I don’t know where to find any of those people.” He narrowed his eyes at her and the look she gave him made him take a half step back. “Anyways, I’m sure yer pa is waitin’ on you back at the Silver. You was a big help to me today, though Kiff…wouldja be willin’ to have another go? As a fave? I did give you some good advice, after all?”
Tavera narrowed her eyes. Shamsee was a bit of an idiot and not completely trustworthy but this was more due to his lack of common sense, not actual malice. She could make a few coins for just a few minutes work. And as much as she didn’t want to believe what he had said about touching, it did make a bit of sense. If what Derk wished for her happened, she would never have the bosom she hoped for. Tavera shrugged, nodding soon after.
“Fine, yeah…you know where I am. Though you call my pa names again, and I’ll make you regret it.” And with that, she turned around, her skirts swishing, her straight frame disappearing around the corner, not bothering to look back at Shamsee once as she left the alley.
Touching…she thought about what Shamsee said the whole way back. Could it be true? Why would he lie to her about this? And though Shamsee wasn’t smart as thieves come, she did see him around women frequently. Derk hadn’t offered any help, just made her feel stupid and gotten on her about boys. Boys. She didn’t even really like this particular one that much anyway. Tavera had seen him carrying something in a basket into a shop and thought he was handsome, though not as handsome as her pa. He had curly hair and freckles and apparently liked girls with big tits, since after his shift all he did was stand around some bosomy girl and talk about stuff that made them put their hands over their mouths and laugh. She couldn’t make out what he was saying, but she could see him staring at the girl’s chest when he thought she wasn’t looking.
It wasn’t fair. Why did some girls get to be pretty and have big tits while others looked strange and were flat chested and had over-protective fathers? She sighed and let herself into the room where Derk was laying on the bed once more.
“How’d it go?” he asked warmly, sitting up in the bed. Tavera shrugged and pulled her boots off, climbing into the small bed with her dad, snuggling close to him. He smelled like tobacco and sweat and the oil he used for his skin. It comforted her and she looked down towards the foot of the bed, wiggling her toes.
“Sham called you a fapper and ran the bit too long. But I might run it again with him, just for something to do.”
“You didn’t hit him, did you?”
“I did, but not for what he called you.” They laid there for a moment, her father’s body shaking as he chuckled, playing with her short hair.
“I talked to someone I know who’s opening a tea mercantile. Said he can use some help, someone with quick hands. Interested?”
Help at a store? If Tavera was helping at a business, it meant they would be staying a while. Her one good ear perked up slightly. “Tea? That bitter shit you try to get me to drink when my nose is plugged up?”
“Language, Tavi,” he said, wagging his finger. “Yes, tea. I’m thinking you’re getting a bit older and it might be good for us to sit for a bit. Winter’ll be here soon. It’d be good to learn something new and there ain’t shame in work for pay, long as you do keep doing what you do best. What d’you say?”
If they stayed in town, the boy with the curly hair might notice her. She pretended to think it over for a few seconds and then shrugged, hugging her father. “If you think it’s a good idea, it might be nice to stick around for a bit.”
“Good then, it’s settled. Though I suggest you don’t do too many jobs with Sham, he’s an idiot.”
“Yeah,” she said, laughing, rolling out of the bed with a thump. Tavera sighed as she sat down by the window, staring out onto the busy streets that she would get to know better, thinking about what Shamsee the idiot had said. Touching. Maybe she could have a beautiful body, or at least something to fill out her blouse a little. Derk would disapprove if he knew what she wanted, even if it did mean that she could have a bit more happiness. It was too early to go to bed but Derk would nap before supper so he could stay up all night, leaving the next few hours free for the girl. Tavi set her chin on her hand and watched the men and women go by, wondering who they were and if any of the women had ever done something so silly as rub an onion on their chest. Tavera smiled at the thought of seeing the boy again. Maybe he would be willing to test Shamsee’s trick with her.