Which may or may not reveal my fortune, or my heart’s content, but certainly contains a first-act gun above a mantle
It was like walking into an alternate dimension.
If you had asked me what I expected while I’d stood in the curio-foyer with Veronica, I’m not sure what I would have guessed. Nothing much after having seen that other room; mismatched furniture, a threadbare rug, an old coffee table. Something ordinary, the kind of sitting room you grew up in, the kind of living room your great-aunt had, perhaps with plastic covers on the furniture.
Instead: a hall grander than I would have imagined and larger than seemed possible, given the dimensions of the house Veronica and I had entered. A marble floor with a deep, dark rug that could only have come from Persia, so intricate I would have believed it had taken several generations to handweave. A large, rough-hewn stone fireplace, in which crackled away bright orange flame that smelled like autumn and above the mantle of which rested a large, antique rifle—
If a gun is on a mantle in the first act, it must go off in the third.—
with a coal-black barrel and mahogany finish. Solid, dark wood rafters decorated the high ceiling in even intervals; I could have believed we’d just crossed the pond to end up in a castle in Scotland.
“Wow, it’s—,” I started to say, turning back toward the beads, but the woman pulled me farther in. Two burgundy leather chairs in front of the fireplace, between them a small table that looked as if it had been carved centuries before.
“It’s home. Come, sit,” she ushered me toward one of the armchairs as she sat opposite me. “Let’s get to know each other,” she said, as reflections of orange flame danced in her eyes, so lucid that I could have believed they weren’t actually reflections at all.
“Um. Okay. Well, I’m—,” I began, but stopped when she held up her hand.
“While there is much power in names, our little fireside chat will use other energy. You’re a Taurus,” she said.
It took me a little aback, but I smiled. “How could you tell?”
“You’re very . . . intense,” she said as if choosing wisely the word. “You have a lot of energy about you, and it’s very dynamic. I’ll bet you have a Taurus moon, as well.”
“I didn’t even know I had a moon.”
She laughed. “It’s just another aspect of your chart. We all have different signs in different houses, and we are all born under a certain sun and moon, with another sign rising.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of that. I don’t know what mine is, though.”
She looked at me, her eyes a little narrowed. “I can’t tell yours straight off. I’d have to do a chart. So instead, let’s talk about what brought you here—.”
“You’re very close to her.”
“We grew up together.”
“She’s very special to you.”
“She’s a good friend.”
“But there’s no more to your relationship? I find that difficult to believe. Two such attractive young people as yourselves . . .”
“Well, there’s—I mean,” I said, and then I hesitated, took a breath. The woman looked at me expectantly, and so I let it out. “When I was younger, I fell for her. Pretty hard. We were always so close growing up, and I guess part of me just couldn’t help it.”
“And did you ever let her know that?”
“Once. I was a senior in high school. Just about to leave for college. And I thought it was a great idea to let her know how I felt. But it wasn’t, and you know how that conversation went,” I said, because how could the woman not? All those sorts of conversations tend to go the same way: I love you like a brother but no more, and our relationship is just too important for me—”
“This was how long ago?”
“Before college, so must be going on, what’s that, six, seven years ago? Something like that.” Because, man, how time does get away from you.
“So what’s made you so tired?”
I wondered how much to tell the flame-haired beauty sitting across from me, but her eyes seemed so sincere, so genuine, and before I knew it, I found myself unloading almost like I had unloaded to Veronica back at the Barnes & Noble coffeeshop. I told her just about everything.
“There are many possibilities all around you right now, and a lot of energies coalescing and dissipating almost simultaneously. Times like these can be very stressful.”
“Tell me about it.”
She set the pouch on the table before us. That green-brown color: there was something so old about it, almost medieval. “I didn’t say it back in the other room, but did you realize, when you chose these cards, that their backs and the pouch from which they came are precisely the color of Veronica’s eyes?”
I looked at the pouch more closely. The dancing, flickering light of the fireside cast shadows and brightness like a picture show around the whole room, but I could see right away she was right. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“I thought not. Which is something I’m sensing about you. You’re a very intense, very perceptive young man, but you’ve got some blind spots, one of which is the girl now shuffling cards in the next room. I don’t tell you this to criticize you, mind you, only to make you aware of it,” she said, then: “Now, are you ready to be read?”
I smiled. “I’m an open book.”
The woman laughed. “Oh, my dear boy, of the myriad things you may in fact be, an open book is not one. You may be open to new things and accepting of dynamic energies, but you’re also very guarded, and intensely private, am I right?”
The more she spoke, the less skeptical I became. Not that I believed there might be something more to the cards or the quartz or whatever else, but I was certain there was more to that woman and that she sensed there was more to me. Which I liked; I felt like she saw me sitting opposite her, but she also sensed my potential, whatever it may have been.
She had opened the pouch and removed the cards, which she slid across the table to me. “I’d like you to hold these for a moment. Don’t shuffle them; just feel them. And I know that might feel like an affront to your oh-so-practical sensibilities, but humor me for a moment.”
If she hadn’t mentioned my hypothetical protestations, I might have made them, but her noting them engaged my defiant streak. Reverse psychology, perhaps, though I’m not sure psychology had anything to do with it; I think she had me pegged dead to rights.
I didn’t mind. Letting go had never felt so easy or right, so I closed my eyes and did as she asked; the deck felt stiffer and sturdier than I had expected, as though the stock itself were not just heavy paper but also run through with cloth and perhaps even embossed with metal and gemstones and leaves. I felt life in those cards. I felt like they wanted me to shuffle them.
“Go ahead,” came her voice, and I swear I could feel her voice in my ear, her hot breath against my neck, the proximity of her body to mine. I swear in the darkness of closed eyes I could feel the color of her hair and the sparkle in her eyes just as I could feel the textured features of those cards, and I did as she told. I could feel the power and energy of the cards as my fingers slipped each one past the next past the next past the next, over and over again. My fingertips became more nimble, my hands suddenly more dexterous, over and under each other like I had recently been practicing for a poker gig in Atlantic City, flippling and cuttling one past the other until I suddenly realized I should divide the deck in two. I cut it down the middle, then placed both halves on the table and flipped them one into the other like they were a blackjack rainbow, then started again to whip them over each other, whip whipwhip—
It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.—
until finally I clapped my hands together, as certain I must stop as I had been I should begin, and I slapped the cards face down onto the table with the decisive quickness of a killing blow. I realized, then, my breathing had become heavy, rushing in and out of my lungs, and it seemed as though I had broken a spell. Looking back, I realize it’s more likely I fulfilled one.
The woman smiled as she pulled the cards toward her, and she started to flip the cards and set them onto the table, one by one. I craned my head slightly to get a better look, but she put her hand out and looked at me: “Don’t bother. There’s more to the cards than just what comes up on their faces, so let me finish, and then I’ll explain them to you.”
She laid down ten cards. Two formed a center cross with four cards surrounding it, and then another four along the right-hand side. Some came down reversed in relation to the other cards, and the last card she placed was face down.
She frowned at the cards a moment, then looked at me. “I sensed you were at a crossroads, but this spread—It’s more serious than I had realized. I don’t say that to scare you, only to make you aware that it’s not happy. It says a lot for your character and your resilience that the stress you must feel is not as obvious as it certainly deserves every right to be. So that said, are you sure you want to hear this?”
“You’re not going to tell me I’m going to die tomorrow or something, are you? Because Veronica said that’s not the sort of thing—.”
“The cards don’t read the future. They read you and your situation. Which is not happy.”
“Which only makes sense, though, no? I mean, I’m not altogether happy, am I?”
She exhaled, then pointed to the first card she’d put down, moving the sideways card on top so that I could see it better: a verdant field with three people, a man with a woman on either arm. One blonde woman dressed every inch in maiden white, the other a redhead in red and black the colors of seduction. Beneath them: “The Lovers.”
“Well, that’s not so bad, is it? Isn’t a threesome every guy’s fantasy?” I asked. I wasn’t sure it was the fantasy of every guy, and I wouldn’t even call it one of mine, but then again, had I a woman on each arm I wouldn’t necessarily send either away. “Everyone needs a lover, right?”
The woman, however, shook her head. “This card can sometimes mean a new person is coming into your life, or that you’re about to form a union, but it only means those things right-side up. Notice how so many of the cards are upside-down in relation to the others? That’s called ‘reversed,’ and every card has a different interpretation when it’s reversed. Like with this one, for instance, notice this man has a woman on either arm? That means he will need to make a choice: on one arm the virgin, and on the other, the seductress.”
“Neither of which seems an altogether terrible option.”
“Neither is. But each would have vastly different consequences.”
“So, what, like a dilemma?”
“If it were in a different spread, it might be that simple. But in this one? With all these cards reversed? In this one, it means you don’t even know what a dilemma is yet.”
I considered that. Not so much on account of being scared, more just letting myself process what she was telling me. When she asked if I wanted her to go on, I nodded.
She indicated “The Lovers” again: “This card is the heart of the matter, but this second one, here, the Two of Swords, is your opposing factor. It relates to the heart of the matter but also encompasses another issue entirely, and see how she’s blindfolded, and the two swords she’s got crossed over her chest? She obviously can’t see, but the two swords indicate it’s willful: she’s closed off to possibility, and she’s closed her heart. She doesn’t want to act. And now this one,” she indicated a card just next to those first two: “This Four of Pentacles is your root cause. It’s the unknown factor here, and upside down, or reversed, it indicates you’re trying to assert control you can’t. You’re being stubborn, which doesn’t surprise me. You’re a Taurus, which means you’re sometimes inflexible in your methods.”
“I can be flexible,” I said, but I said it a little too quickly—
the lad doth protest too much—
which made me counter: “But, it’s true, when I see something I want—.”
“Something you want is what’s going to get you into this mess, and force this choice.” She indicated the next card in the sequence of four: the Heirophant, a wizened scholar surrounded by books. “This is your past. It can mean education, but I’ve always thought that’s the superficial aspect of this card. When you consider it more deeply, though, I think it’s more about one’s analytical nature than one’s education.”
She wasn’t wrong about my analytical nature.
“These other two feed off each other. This one is what’s most immediately on your mind, and the Nine of Cups is the sort of card that indicates a multitude of options but a lack of direction. Given that it’s reversed, it indicates that you probably sometimes make major decisions without thinking carefully enough about them. Given the Heirophant and the Two of Swords, it’s probably less that you don’t think about them and more that even though you do try to analyze everything, you keep yourself unintentionally closed or blind to real factors in the decision. Which might be what’s going to get you into the most trouble considering this upside-down Page of Swords: you’ve got a major choice coming, and it’s going to be a doozy. It might even be a choice that someone is going to offer you, but either way it’s going to force you to decide something that’s going to impact your whole life.”
She had finished with the first six cards, and she moved on to the four along the side, starting with the one closest to me:
“This is the King of Wands, and it represents you. And it’s the right-way up, which might be the most encouraging thing I see in this whole spread. This is you as you are and as you could be, and the King of Wands is very creative, very strong, and very charismatic. He has style and presence, charm and beauty, and he inspires others, and you’re blushing, so I think you like that, but I wonder if you really know or believe it.”
“What? That I’m awesome? I mean, it’s okay to hope, but to really—.”
“No,” she said, reaching across the table to touch my arm, sliding her hand down to mine, which she grasped with a light squeeze: “Modesty is commendable, but one mustn’t be so modest as to deny one’s true nature. Especially considering a spread like this, denying your power could have dire consequences. I knew the moment you walked in that you were special, and I wasn’t even in the room you walked into. If you don’t cultivate what strengths you have, whatever dilemma is before you could seriously unhinge you. But you’re right to be careful,” she said, tapping the next card, an upside-down Knight of Wands: “This card is you as others can see you, because that is often something you will find you cannot control. Some will see your confidence as arrogance, and some will believe your charm superficial. This card indicates that you can let their opinions, and your own insecurities, undermine your real strength. You mustn’t let that happen.”
She moved on to the next card. I had, as she had spoken, become more acutely aware that the final card, the one she was building toward, was face-down. All I could see was that green-brown back, and I realized I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what it actually was.
“This card, this upright Magician, is good. Notice how one of his hands is in the clouds while the other is grounded? The magician is a conduit for greater things, and this is what you need to remember when you face whatever is coming. I have to say, though, that coming as it does in the middle of a spread like this one, I wonder if your own power doesn’t frighten you. You may be a conduit, but I sense you fear your own ability to fulfill your purpose. Maybe you’re worried about those other people who would call you arrogant, or that you won’t be able to do your magic justice.”
I didn’t say anything to that, partly because I knew she was right. I wanted more than anything, and always had, to be better than I was, perhaps because I believed I had talent I simply never did justice. Sometimes, I knew, when I hit a stride in writing, when I really got into the zone, I often felt like I’d tapped into something, that the story hadn’t actually come from me, that I was just its teller, and being a storyteller comes with responsibility, both to the story and those who would hear it.
“You write a lot,” she told me.
“I used to. There was—up until a month or so I’d written pretty much every day for as long as I can actually remember. But then—well, I don’t know what it was. I had this weird moment of uncertainty, and I haven’t really written much ever since.”
“It’s very important to you, but I know you’re holding something back. Not least because this last card,” she tapped the table, “Is face-down. This is the outcome card, the card of consequences. I told you this is a troubled spread, but this is one of the few times I’ve seen this card come up face-down. This card could be a lot of things: the outcomes, certainly, but also the way out. It’s not about the future, though. It’s about seeing the situation as it is and understanding what such a situation will bring. But the fact that it’s face-down indicates you don’t want to see it. Maybe you think you do, but subconsciously, it’s similar to this Two of Swords in that it’s about what you want to see and what you choose not to,” she said, leaning back from the table, settling into her armchair, as she did so. “Which is why I leave the choice to turn it over to you.”
I hesitated, and that moment took on the preternatural reality only a moment like that can possibly hold: colors seemed brighter, and the fire crackle constant as television static but lower and deeper. A wood knot popped, and reflections of flames and their shadows danced like smoke on the walls. I couldn’t decide if the room felt warmer or I did.
I hesitated, but only because I needed a moment. I knew she was probably right, that somehow I might be holding myself back or blinding myself to something I wasn’t sure I was ready for, so I took a deep breath, and then reached out and turned the card over. That long moment continued as we considered that card between us.
“I know,” I cut her off. I didn’t need her to tell me what the card was or what it meant. Its image depicted a large heart as perfect as any one might find on a Valentine, full of red and love, but pierced through by three silver swords, each with a thick, crimson drop of immaculate blood at its point.
A guy doesn’t need a psychic or a fortune teller or . . . well, whatever that red-haired woman would have called herself to know a broken heart when he sees one. I could feel mine beating in my chest, strong and confident, and it didn’t feel in danger of breaking, but I had to wonder, in light of those cards and what that woman told me, if it was just putting up a brave front it thought I needed to see right then.
Just how much truth was in those cards? Will our young narrator finally get over himself? Who’s going to shoot that rifle?
Find out next week in another exciting installment of Meets Girl!