VOICES FROM THE FIRE: Karen Cline-Tardiff

Do Credit Cards Dream of Electric Purchases?

The teller thought it was probably when I tried to buy gas at the Quik-E-Mart out on the bypass. They’d had a rash of credit card skimmers on that side of town. They issued me a new card on the spot, all shiny with little gold chip, just like the last one. Something about a new card made me want to spend it all. I smiled at the teller, thanked her, and secreted my new card away in the depths of my purse. 

I called the local law enforcement to give them a heads up. I imagined them leaping onto the case, finding the offending skimmer, holding it aloft like electric kill trophy, wiry veins pulled from the host pump.  I got a phone call back about some misunderstanding and the store manager said “it happens.”  I made a mental note to never go to that Quik-E-Mart again.

Three days later I saw the old card sitting on my desk. I didn’t have a working shredder and I was just putting off cutting it up.  My brain was convinced I had to cut every single number in half and half again. It was a time-consuming task in a day with innumerable hours ahead of me for time-consuming tasks. As the scissors ripped into the offending plastic, I noticed the little gold chip. It had bump to it, a little lift above the rest of the card. I had rubbed my fingertip across the bump many times while standing idly at the pump, waiting on the gas to finish. A little snip along the edges and the chip was free.

Pretty unimpressive. The tiniest square of gold stuck between the gold outer layer and an odd plastic pouch. It was probably the size of a pin head. Wasn’t there an old adage about the devil dancing on a pin head? I wondered what fuckery this chip had been up to. All that useless plastic for this one little piece of metal, the brains of the whole operation.

Something about Philip Dick’s post-apocalyptic world popped into my head. Were there machinations beyond my comprehension in this little chip? When I opened the plastic pouch, which was becoming harder to snip at, I didn’t know what I would see on the other side of the chip. My fingernail couldn’t slide in between the pouch, so I got up to find the tweezers. Something about that little chip needed to be discovered. It held the answer to a question I didn’t even know how to ask.

My husband called while I was in the middle of my tweezer search. His truck got a flat and the spare was flat. I needed to come get him from the Quik-E-Mart, where he had limped the truck into the parking lot. I told him not to get any gas there. 

Art by Paul Warren

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