Topic: Novel excerpts
“You don’t really believe she can read the future, do you? I mean, isn’t this against your religion or something?”
“She’s really very good, Joe. She uses her gift to help people, and there’s nothing in the Bible that prohibits that.” Laughing, she put her hand on my knee. “Besides, it’ll save me a lot of time and trouble getting to know you.”
“Unless you’ve got something to hide,” she suggested ominously.
“No” My denial sounded uncertain. At first I’d fretted that Monica might use this opportunity to tell lies, to fabricate untruths to undermine my status in Susan’s eyes. But now I was forced to acknowledge the possibility that the truth — the truth I’d been hiding from Susan as well as myself — if indeed Monica held in her power the ability to decipher it, could be more damning than anything she could make up. Either way, I’d be at her mercy.
“In here,” Monica called from the dining room.
Resigned, I went to confront whatever fate awaited me.
In the dining room Monica was arranging a midnight blue silk scarf, similar to the one in the living room that served as a doily for her imitation crystal ball, on top of a piece of wood that looked like oak, although it was stained a dark brown. The wood, about an inch thick, was approximately twenty-four inches square. From a small, ornately carved hinged box she procured a deck of tarot cards.
“These have been in my family for three generations,” she announced.
What a pity, I reflected sardonically. With your sexual preference there will be no fourth generation to pass them down to. I wondered if she’d contemplated that, and if she had, how she was planning to overcome that little obstacle.
Monica removed a card from the pack and set it down on the center of the silk scarf.
“This card, the King of Swords, represents you.”
“Why that one?”
“Of all the cards of the Minor Arcana, he looks most like you — fair, with blonde hair.”
“I think he’s very handsome,” Susan said.
I’d never been able to take a compliment. Blushing, I glanced over at Susan and found her smiling warmly at me. The affection behind her smile warmed me further.
“Too bad the card can’t blush,” she teased.
Embarrassed further, I took recompense from the daggers of jealousy that came at me from across the table, where Monica had been silently appraising our exchange. She caught my look and in that moment knew that I knew. Embarrassed by her own transparency, she quickly averted her eyes.
“What’s the Minor Arcana?” I asked, trying to forestall the reading.
“Fifty-six cards make up the Minor Arcana,” she explained. “Like the four suits of a deck of playing cards, only with Kings, Queens, Knights and Pages. These cards deal with love, pain, gain or loss … anything that has to do with earthly affairs. The remainder of the deck contains the cards of the Major Arcana. They represent primal cosmic beings. Unlike the cards of the Minor Arcana, they cannot portray a person.”
She handed me the pack of cards.
“Shuffle the cards well. Then cut the cards twice, using your left hand.”
My mind swam as I tried to think of some way to delay the inevitable. It was impossible. If I backed out now I would appear suspicious, and so I could only hope that Monica’s gift was a sham and that this would amount to nothing more than a parlor game.
I cut the cards into three piles.
“Past,” Monica said, indicating the pile on my right. “Present and future,” she assigned to the remaining two piles. “Select one.”
I already knew what my future held, in 2047. And my past I could read about anytime in the biography on the coffee table in Porter’s apartment. I pointed to the cards that would depict my present. Monica looked askance at me, as if my choice surprised or puzzled her. She took the cards I’d indicated and squared them.
I watched Susan as she peered intently at the cards Monica was turning over and positioning around the King of Swords. The first she placed across the King of Swords at ninety degrees. She next placed four others around it, one above, one below and one to either side. Finally, she placed a column comprised of four cards along the right edge of the silk scarf. I held my breath. The cards meant nothing to me; yet not knowing what else to do, I carefully scrutinized the images that would, truthfully or not, reveal my present. I’d wanted Monica to reveal my present first because it was that aspect of my life that I knew least about. Suddenly aware of the silence around me, I looked up to find Monica studying me intently. I saw distrust in her eyes. I let out my breath and …
… Silently took another, grateful to see Susan still studying the cards.
“You are not who you pretend to be.” It was not an accusation; an assessment perhaps, based on uncertainty. She went on. “The Two of Swords crosses you. You keep many secrets.” She stared at the card a moment, as if seeking to discover something more about it. “You are a man shrouded in mystery.”
I felt my heartbeat quicken.
“The Justice card, reversed,” Monica said, pointing to the card. “You will not receive remuneration for that which you thought you had paid. Here, the Three of Pentacles. This card indicates material gain that was lost because of your own selfish reasons. The Two of Cups,” she said, eyeing me with suspicion. “The Two of Cups is the marriage card. You are estranged,” she added, her voice barely audible. “This relationship is flawed. You thought you loved her, but you were only in love with the idea of being in love.” She paused a moment, perhaps for dramatic effect, perhaps listening to some inner voice of her own. “The relationship cannot be fixed, it is gone. Even though it is something you still want, you can never have it — it will never be.
“The Ace of Cups indicates you gave material things to this person out of love, expecting to receive love in return. This woman you gave these things to was materialistic, but it was never enough for her. The Strength card, reversed,” she said, touching the card. “You must let go of this woman in order to go forward. Forget her,” she advised. “The Hanged Man reversed. The Hanged Man will provide strength — you will discover yourself, who you really are, through the guidance of this person.”
I chanced another glance at Susan, who was caught up in everything Monica was saying. Monica continued with the reading.
“The Emperor reversed. An invasion of your privacy by another man …” Was that a glimmer of triumph in her eye? “The Strength card,” — she pointed to it again — “is also the Devastation card. You were unable to control your emotions over what was done to you, so you escaped. You must look to the Hanged Man for guidance.”
Monica now directed my attention to the last card, the bottom card of the column of four along the right side of the scarf.
“The Moon card indicates psychic ability.” She eyed me with amusement. “You knew she would do this to you, but you were unable to prevent it. Or perhaps you chose to do nothing. The Moon card also tells you to surrender and start over. This is a brand new beginning for you … but only if you choose …”
Here she stopped; the silence became deafening.
Not knowing what was expected of me, I looked from the image that depicted the Moon card — a dog and a wolf both baying at the moon — to Susan, who was staring at me, waiting expectantly for me to say something.
There was truth in Monica’s reading. How I knew I didn’t have a clue, but I knew. Images of the dark-haired woman from the hidden photograph haunted my mind’s eye. Embarrassed by the idea of a past love I felt myself redden, and driven by the searching beauty of Susan’s warm brown eyes, I sought exile in Monica’s cold, calculating, masculine stare. She wore a look of superiority, born of the discovery of intimate events about my life.
How much does she know? More than she lets on.
But why hold back? Why not destroy me now, in front of Susan? Perhaps she was playing a game of discretion, waiting to relate the rest of the damning evidence later, after I’d gone. But if Monica was indeed psychic, then it was also conceivable that she already suspected the outcome and was content to allow Susan to make the discoveries on her own.
No. More than likely she merely wants to observe my discomfort.
“Wow,” Susan breathed.
“There is truth in what I have seen in the cards?” Monica was daring me to refute the facts as she’d presented them.
I couldn’t …
… And I’d already told enough lies …
… So I conceded. “Yes, there was a woman. She was unfaithful to me.” Somehow I knew this to be true. “She’s gone now … I don’t know where she is. She hurt me.” I sensed loss and felt pain in my breast, pain as real as truth. “But I’m … working through it.”
Monica, I saw, was disappointed. She’d expected denial. On the other hand, my response elicited sympathy from Susan.
“Oh, Joe, I’m sorry.”
Susan’s response served to displease further, for Monica had expected to see my esteem in Susan’s eyes fall, not rise. Her reaction to the ensuing silence was harsh as she gathered up the cards from the reading.
“Select,” she said. “Past or future.”
“Future,” I said, thinking there just might be more to my alleged future than I’d at first thought. There was my future in 2047, certainly. And being a part of my past I already knew much about it; but there were questions regarding my future here in 1992 as well.
Curious, I waited in silence as Monica squared the pack of cards that contained my future, and then proceeded to turn them over, one at a time, placing them as she’d done before. I nervously glanced over at Susan for a measure of reassurance. Her smile calmed me. I drew further assurance from the hand she placed on my arm. I drew in breath and listened as Monica began the second phase of my reading.
“The Ten of Cups crosses you,” she said. This time it was Monica’s turn to sneak a peek at Susan; in dismay, she went on. “You will find that which you seek, your paradigm — that which has seemed so elusive to you. Because of her you will be able to finish that which was started long ago. Also, a lost child will seek to renew a relationship with you — this is indicated here, by the Ace of Swords.
“The Queen of Wands shows herself as an unfaithful lover. She will try to rekindle your love for her, but beware … she tells lies! Here, the Page of Wands, are those lies. But the truth is, if you take her back all will be lost.” She paused again, head cocked, as if listening to that voice that was hers alone to hear. “This woman caused you much suffering. You feel she must be punished because of the man who removed you from your place and subsequently caused you to lose your ambition. This man shows up in your reading as the Five of Swords reversed. He will be defeated in battle and will no longer perform for her what she needs. Therefore she will return to you.
“The Six of Swords tells of future travel. You will have business regarding your work. A long lost brother will seek you out, as shown by the Knight of Wands. He is very angry with you, as well as disappointed. Listen to what your brother has to say. It will be easy for you to distrust his words, but he will speak the truth. The Ace of Pentacles, reversed, shows a loss of business or opportunity for continued success. You will regain all, but only if you spurn the Queen of Wands —”
“That’s enough.” My outburst surprised everyone at the table save myself. My decision to halt the reading was the only thing that hadn’t surprised me since this nonsense began.
“But I have not completed your reading.”
“I don’t need to hear more.”
“But, Joe, what about your past?” Susan asked.
“I already know what resides there.” The truth was that the reading she’d completed thus far, concerning my present and the one that lay incomplete before me, didn’t belong to me. None of what she was talking about dealt with me. Unfaithful lovers! How could a lover be unfaithful to me when I in turn had never been faithful?
Untrue! a part of me argued back.
But I was already moving on. A child? Impossible! I’ve sired no offspring. And I have no brother! It’s all a sham.
Or meant for someone else.
I arose, upending the board the cards had been positioned on, sending them into Monica’s lap and onto the floor; the reading had come to an end, of that I’d made certain.
I strode purposefully into the living room, where I stopped in front of the window to gaze at two gays strolling hand-in-hand past Monica’s second floor apartment. A moment later I felt Susan’s light touch on my arm. That simple gesture sparked anger in me — that she could make me feel the way she did just by the gentleness of her touch. I turned, preparing a reprimand and was stopped short by the concern in her eyes.
Now my anger was directed inward. The very idea that I could even consider reproaching her was reprehensible. Suddenly I was nearly consumed with a passion to cup her face with my hands, to taste the sweetness I knew resided on her lips, and to hold her close and bury my face within the soft, luxurious texture of her wondrously dark hair, inhaling its fresh fragrance …
Ashamed, yet not knowing the source of my abasement, I turned away.
“What is it, Joe?”
I ached for her. And because I ached for her, it pained me to have to do what was becoming more and more common although no less difficult — lie. There was trust in her eyes, but like the cards had foretold, I was a man shrouded in mystery. I held secrets that were the truth known could not be believed. Hell, I was finding it more and more difficult to believe the facts as they unraveled, so how could I expect her to comprehend them?
I took a deep breath. My peripheral vision afforded me the sight of Monica leaning against the archway to the other room. How much did she actually know? Would she contradict what I was about to say? It didn’t matter. I had to say something; maintaining silence at this point was just as damning.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that … well, I thought I had that part of my life under better control. I thought I’d put all that behind me. But to see … in the cards … that I’ll have to deal with all that again, it’s painful.”
“Ah, but the cards also say you have the option of closing the door.”
“What if I can’t?”
“A better question would be what if you don’t want to?” Then, in response to my exasperation, she added, “There is a difference.”
“I know that.”
“Isn’t it better to recoup at least some of what you lost as opposed to losing it all, including yourself?”
I smiled down at her. If you only knew, I reflected. If I opt for what you think is the best option the cards offer, then I will lose myself.
My smile seemed to reassure her.
“Come on,” she said, taking my arm and leading me back to the dining room. “Let’s have another cup of coffee.”
Posted by J. Conrad Guest
at 1:15 PM EST
Updated: Thursday, 11 December 2008 7:21 AM EST