Stories Tragedy

Ace of Pentacles

It’s easier with the drunk girls—especially the loud-mouthed ones who travel in packs. Dressed in sparkly tops, short skirts, and wobbly heels, they wear “Bride To Be” paper tiaras or “Nifty-to-Be-Fifty” ballcaps.

On weekends, I expect them after the bars close. They burst through my door, tittering, eyeing the darkened reading room with glassy cows eyes. They half expect a fallen angel or an imp to peek out from behind the beaded curtains.

But it’s just me here—and the cards.

“We’re here for the $20 special,” they bleat.

My smile doesn’t reach my eyes. I know what they want—otherworldly comfort. So I give it to them, my eyes dark, rimmed in kohl, unblinking. I hold their gaze with an authority they’d rather not question.

Yes, your boyfriend-ex-boyfriend-fiancé-husband-ex-husband still loves you. He’s been preoccupied with work-bills-traveling-porn-sports-his friends. But soon his heart’s affections will be rekindled and burn with the same passion for you as when you first met. Of course you and he are twin flames. Be patient. 

They exhale, wondering how I know the sorrows lodged in their troubled hearts. With teary eyes and a laugh, they nod in relief. Sure, they’ve prayed to God for answers, but the heavens—as always—are silent on this as with other matters.

They want tangible confirmation.

Let’s see what the Tarot cards say. 

I slowly flip over the king and queen of cups.

Ah. This is good. Your man is becoming more in tune with his inner self. He wants to work things through in his own time. Perhaps before the next full moon you’ll see his attention and affection increase. As for the queen, the cards say you must show him divine grace and understanding. 

More tears. More nods.

Complicit in my fraud, the cheeky tarot cards reveal an upside-down king instead of one that’s right side up. Classic reversal. None of what I said will happen or come true; both the cards and I know it. Frankly, so does the woman in question.

So what is the truth? Lady, your boyfriend-fiancé-husband would gladly dump you if it were convenient for him to do so. If you are a sidechick, you deserve being left on read. If you have to ask me if he loves you, then he doesn’t. And no, your ex isn’t coming back either, so cut the cords, release the connection, delete his social media, reclaim your energy, and move on.

That would be the truth. That would save them a lot of heartache. But the cards and I never tell them what they need to hear. Since when is there money to be made by telling people the truth?

Perhaps you’d like to see my selections of love tokens? A rose crystal or a garnet amulet would help immensely. As you know, Mercury is in retrograde

They nod again, but neither one of us knows what that means. Since when have the other planets given a fiddler’s fart about this one?

If one of the inebriated women buys something, then they all will. They coo, holding up jars of ointments, sticks of incense, mystical trinkets, and good luck charms. Obsequiously, I cater to the weakest willed one in the group, the one who desperately wants to believe that someone knows something about the future.

I do know the future, my dear.

In the long run, we won’t have one. 

🜋 🜋 🜋

The middle aged men come after work—alone, hands jammed in their pockets. They’ve passed by my shop several times before. They walk away the first time, but they eventually come back.

Their fathers are dead, their wives are cold, their children are distant, and they have no real friends. Maybe golf buddies. Maybe a co-worker to talk about the game at lunch.

But who can they go to for guidance and direction?

Middle aged men aren’t afraid of much—except for looking weak. With me, they can pay for the privilege of letting their guard down, if only for a moment.

They may have secondary concerns—but I always lie to them about their first: “What do I do?”

Financial worries etch lines around their haggard faces. Their spouses are disappointed in them. Their offspring require payment for therapists and attorneys and rehabilitation centers and detox centers and unaffordable schools. Wasn’t it their job to keep everyone safe? These failed men, these silent men. They watch closely as I shuffle and reshuffle the cards.

I flip over the Ten of Pentacles, symbolizing a secure family, where everyone is provided for.

The tarot cards are mocking my client now, and I smack them on the glass table—ostensibly to get them into an orderly pile.

Behave, I threaten. But the cards listen to me as well as this man’s children listen to him. I prevaricate to give him peace, quoting scripture of all things: The cards remind you that you should raise a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it. The cards say patience is required at this point. Do not lose hope. 

The man and I look at each other. He remains silent, pays my fee, and leaves without another word.

Hope. Bah!

The cards and I and Emily Dickinson all know that hope is a thing with feathers—and usually a dead thing.

🜋 🜋 🜋

I have my door wide open on a quiet night, hoping to entice someone to come in.

Frankly, the cards and I are bored with each other. They are tired of my questions, and I am tired of their answers. We both know good and evil have access to the truth—and that truth is fixed. What is, is.

I shuffle and reshuffle the cards. The tarot cards try to slip from my fingers but my hands are too agile.

I don’t hear the woman entering the reading room. When I look up, I am startled by her piercing gaze.

We’re closed. I’m—I’m sorry, I stammer.

“Deal the cards for me,” she asks. She puts down a substantial sum of money.

I hate her, but I must do as she requests.

With our eyes on each other, I flip over the first card—a reversed Messenger of Death. We look at the upside down skeleton, dressed in black armor, riding a white horse.

I look at her, a drawn face devoid of emotion.

“Ah yes, I am resistant to change. It’s true,” she says. She knows the cards better than I do.

I turn over the next card. Another Messenger of Death, but this card is right side up.

“And another change is coming. You would think both of us have had enough change for one lifetime. Mothers with dead sons shouldn’t have to experience much more, don’t you think?”

I remain silent.

“Ask the cards again.”

The cards will not tell us. 

“I need to know where my son iseven if you don’t care where your bastard burns.”

My eyes flash, a dozen curses for her and her own wretched son on my lips. The cards grow cold in my hands. She’s cruel, but she has a point. My son was a bastard in every sense of the word.

I firmly shuffle the tarot cards, my eyes downcast.

Both the cards and I want her to leave.

“Ask the cards.”

The cards will not tell us, Mary Christine. 

“Deal the cards,” she orders. She places more money on the glass table. Again, I am bound to deal.

I shuffle the cardsfaster this time. They warm in my hands at first, then glow hotter with each pass. The edges of the cards flicker like hot embers as I deftly shuffle, over and over.

I flick one card out of the deck, placing it face up without looking.

The Lovers. 

The woman looks at the card in disgust. With a pass of her hand, she changes the card to The Judgment, with Gabriel the archangel blowing his horn over the graves of dead men. The ghouls emerging from the open graves on the card look suspiciously like our sons.

I stand and walk towards the door.

The tarot cards have had enough, too. Another card flips over on its own accord: The Empress, symbolizing maternal care. Oh how much I loved my son! 

Enraged by unchecked grief, the woman reaches out to pass her hand over the card to change it to The Devil, but the glass table shatters, shards covering the woman from head to toe.

🜋 🜋 🜋

After she leaves, the reading room’s lights flicker and grow brighter.

The tarot cards have arranged themselves into a tidy pile on the floor. I flip over the first one.

The Hermit. 

The deck makes me laugh.

So I am, my dear friend. But in the afterlife, we will be reunited with my son, won’t we?

I flip the next card over and see the Ace of Pentacles. One of the best cards!

With teary eyes and a laugh, I nod in relief.

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