Start Reading The Grift

. . . . .
Marina Marks had been sweating for weeks. Constant, skin-crawling perspiration ran in tiny rivers across her body. Sweat started at the base of her skull and ran down her neck and back, traveling the length of her zodiac tattoo, sliding over the ram’s head symbol for Aries between her shoulder blades and finishing with the swimming fish symbol for Pisces at the very base of her spine.

In front, the moisture condensed on her chest, disappeared in droplets between her breasts and pooled in the marsh between her legs. It didn’t matter how many showers she took in a day or how long she stood under the water. By noon, she was wrung out and flattened.

They said the body was better equipped to deal with the dry bake of a desert than with the wet heat of a swamp. Meteorologists pointed to this fact when they talked about the heat index. It might be only eighty-five degrees outside, but when the air scorched wet and heavy it felt as if it were over a hundred. Babies, the elderly and the infirm were all at risk in this kind of heat, they said. Weak bodies might just give up and give out; even the healthy ones would struggle with discomfort. And they were right, Marina thought. She was one of the strong ones, but this relentless steam-box humidity was killing her.

This morning had been the worst yet in a season that had already offered more than its share of bad days. She’d slept hard but badly, as if she were being slowly suffocated. At dawn, she’d startled into full consciousness, hot and gritty and thinking about her mother, a clear indicator of just how uncomfortable a night she’d spent. Marina never thought about her mother voluntarily, and when visions of that woman — always the horrible way she’d looked the last time Marina had seen her — managed to press their way to the surface from deep in her subconscious, Marina knew that she was stressed and uneasy.

Marina lifted her heavy hair away from her neck and angled herself toward the standing fan next to her table, even though it helped very little and served mostly to just move the heat around. Three weeks earlier, her air conditioner had groaned as if it were in pain, spat ice for the length of an afternoon and then died. Living without an air conditioner in South Florida at the height of summer was ridiculous, even crazy, but Marina hadn’t fixed hers or replaced it. Either option would have required much more money than she was willing to spend for a couple months’ worth of relief.

She had calculated that two months — three at the very outside — was all the time she needed to clear out and get herself set up in California, and there was no room in her budget for any expenses that weren’t strictly necessary. But it wasn’t just the money, because Marina could have found that if she’d really wanted to. Fixing the air conditioner would have made it too easy to stay longer, might even have implied a kind of permanence. The constant sticky discomfort was an ongoing reminder and incentive to leave as soon as possible.

Marina bent closer to the warm stream of air. What small relief the breeze provided was canceled out by the thought that she’d have to turn off the fan and move it before Mrs. Golden arrived, which would be within the next fifteen minutes. Appearances counted for so much more than people ever imagined. Marina could not have a plastic fan on display in her house, where it would clash badly with her crystals, tarot cards and delicate silk scarves. Nor could she be seen as a person who suffered the effects of heat, humidity or any other physical indignity. She needed to be perceived as above and beyond the pains and ills of the flesh.

This was the package her clients were buying and the likely reason why nobody had yet complained about how hot it was in her house. She could have played it straight — just your average work-at-home woman dressed in casual cottons who also happened to be a psychic — but Marina knew how well most minds responded to subliminal advertising. Looking the part without going over the top into some kind of caricature was one of her key selling points.

This was why Marina wore darker makeup on her green eyes than she would have liked (“Witches’ Brew” eye shadow and “Voodoo” eyeliner, no less), dressed in a collection of flowing skirts and gauzy blouses vaguely reminiscent of Stevie Nicks in her “Gypsy” heyday and had dyed her hair “Midnight Black” for so long that she couldn’t remember its natural color. Marina would have cut that long, thick, hot hair short long ago had it not been such an important element of her image.

But for this godforsaken place, Marina thought, none of it would matter. Florida, especially this piece of it, felt to her like hell on earth.

Excerpted from The Grift by Debra Ginsberg. Copyright © 2009 by Debra Ginsberg. Excerpted by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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