the pearl

Drunk On Dust

Dust gets into everything nowadays. Dust in the bus, dust in the truck, dust in her boxes of clothing, dust in her food. The dust mixes with the water she uses to wash herself and becomes mud, staining the thin cotton slip she wears in the shower. Her mother has become nearly impossible to keep completely clean — after each bath, there's instantly dust on her, turning her hair a mottled grey-brown, dull eyes watering slightly from reflex alone.

That goddamned dust is everywhere now. But when Sofie talks to Libby, she never needs a drink to clear her throat.


When Gabe got big enough to be in his own show and Ruthie didn't want to continue doing her snake act, the Management hired the Dreifuss family for the cootch show act, two old-before-their-time girls and their momma, shaking only what God gave them for a few dollars, plus a little something extra for a few dollars more.

Sofie's mother warned her away from them, refusing to give any reason why. Sofie, who was still a young girl, would occasionally look over at them, watching them practice, watching them laugh, watching them live a life she could only faintly imagine.


She had gotten so used to cleaning up her mother every month that when the curse came upon her, she didn't even mark it, except to notice that she stained her trousers. Just another mess to clean up in the small bus that was their home, another thing to rip up some more of Momma's clothes over, turning them into rags for bleeding and washing.

Lila came over when she was washing out the bloodstain and made some noises about Sofie being a woman. It didn't take long for Samson to tell her to get the fortune-telling show back up.


If you just glanced at Sofie, you'd be hard pressed to tell she was a woman. Rail-thin with only a hint of curves, only noticeable with the slightest twist of her shirt, showing off the curve of a breast, the indent of a waist.

She told herself liked it that way. Most men, their eyes would stop on her for a second, then quickly look away, focusing, instead, on Rita Sue and Dora Mae, all breasts and hips and cheeks.

They'd look upon those two with devotion and lust, and Sofie never noticed them looking at Libby the same way.


She popped her cherry during a black blizzard, and she found dust and blood in her underwear when she returned. Momma knew, of course, as always, but, for once, after having done something just for herself, Sofie just couldn't bring herself to care. Despite how awful she felt 'bout it.

Her mother and Sofie were like clockwork, and Sofie panicked when she was one day late.

When Libby told her she couldn't be pregnant and that there were ways of not getting pregnant, Sofie suddenly realized that her mother was wrong about a lot of things. Including the Dreifuss family.


They talked during the movie, and talked on the way to the bar, and talked in the bar, the taste of dust and cheap beer in their mouths. They talked about all the things they had seen on the road, all the things they hoped for, all the dreams and nightmares and wonders from the years. They got drunk and giggly, dancing to the music, arms around each other as they laughed and hummed along.

When everyone piled out of the bar, they found a half-full bottle of wine on a table. Libby picked it up without a moment's notice.


The wine was cheap and bitter and Sofie choked on it as she drank it, laughing and spluttering as she passed the bottle back to Libby.

Libby drank it easier than soda pop, the thick red liquid shaking down the bottle like a shimmy on a stage.

Sofie said that aloud and Libby started giggling again, standing up and imitating just what she said, thrusting her hips along with the shouted words. "Like a shimmy on a stage!"

Sofie squealed and pulled her down, hushing her.

Libby landed next to Sofie with a thump, her thin body pressing against Sofie.


They were lying on dust, their dressed rucked up high on their legs, their shoulders pressed against each other as they passed the bottle back and forth, finishing off the wine with a flourish of the wrist and a lot of giggles.

Libby curled into Sofie and Sofie curled into Libby and they were watching the stars, tracing the tiny shooting stars that danced across the sky, when, suddenly, Libby whispered, her mouth next to Sofie's ear, "Make a wish."

Sofie closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She was about to exhale when Libby's lips pressed against hers.


She tasted of wine and honey and just the faintest bitter taste of dust that seeped into everything. Sofie laughed into the kiss, drunk on cheap wine and Libby, who slid out of her dress with another little shimmy, skin glowing in the moonlight, long lean body and long sweet kisses.

Sofie fumbled, clumsy and curious, her hands sliding against Libby's body with an urgency she only faintly felt before, the jittering frustration twisting her against Libby with faint moans, sobs, and tears.

Libby holds her close, tenderly, pressing against Sofie's thighs, against Sofie's chest, against Sofie, over and over.


It was the morning and everyone was hungover. Libby hollered at her mother, Sofie hollered at hers, and, in the middle of the day, when Sofie was hiding from sunlight and Libby was hiding from everyone, they saw each other from across the mess area, both of them drinking thick black coffee.

Sofie looked straight at Libby.

Libby looked back.

Libby paused, smiled, and blew a kiss.

Sofie blushed, looked down, then looked back up at Libby, smiling. She rubbed her fingers together, remembering the slippery-soft texture of Libby's skin, and smiled wider.

"Tonight?" she mouthed.

Libby smiled and nodded.

This Carnivàle story was written by Kate Bolin. If you liked it, there's plenty more at And you can feedback her at