Sounding The Current: Chapter 9 – Crumbling Away

Lisa sat on a pile of fallen bricks. The uneven surface pinched and poked into her ass but that was the least of her displeasures. She was dreaming, she knew she was dreaming, and she knew just enough of the Tower card to know that her next encounter with a judge would not be pleasant. She had not forgotten her pledge to punch the next time she saw the judge that wore her face as a mask, and she was cracking her knuckles in preparation for making good on that pledge.

“Who are you angry at, Lisa?”

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Sounding The Current: Chapter 8 – The Light of Hope

Lisa woke up prior to her alarm but well rested. Her Friday morning job was really a Friday early afternoon job and she still had several hours of personal time before she had to be at the store. She sat down with fresh coffee at the table and reviewed the list of meanings, the meanings card of the decorated deck, and her recent experiences.

No matter how much she turned over what the judge had said during the ordeal of the Moon card, Lisa could not find the edge of the judge’s lie. Because of this, Lisa was unsure of Rebecca’s motives for giving her the deck and thus giving the judges access to her life.

“But did she, though? She gave me the plain cards, and probably did something to make that first dream happen, but I was the one who took the Tarot Judge’s hand in that dream. Not her. And what does the judge with her face represent anyway?” Lisa thought about what that judge did in the only dream she saw them in. “Hope. Rebecca had hope that I would use the deck to better myself, so of course the judge wearing her face would talk about that hope.”

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Sounding The Current: Chapter 7 – A Different Light

Suddenly startled, Lisa opened her eyes and looked around. She was worried that she would sleep through the arrival of her grocery delivery. The sun had set not too long ago. The sky outside was pinkish as if it was stalling the arrival of night. The temperature in the apartment had dropped slightly. She would need to put on another layer of clothes soon. The screen was dimmed from the screensaver but she could see the bright red Netflix logo waiting for her.

Everything looked right, but she felt completely wrong. Lisa stared at the red logo for a few seconds before getting up and looking for something printed to read. She suspected she was dreaming again. The dreaming studies she did for her psych class taught her how to test for dreaming. No matter how lucid and/or vivid the dream was, any printed material would be either backwards or impossible to read. Instead, the dreamer would unknowingly rely on the meaning of the text as delivered in the dream.

She sorted through the mail on the kitchen counter. Unfortunately, the printed addresses and envelope marks were proper in their place and direction. She told herself that she’ll look at the overdue bills later. She still had the sense that something was still very wrong.

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Sounding The Current: Chapter 6 – Sunny Day

Lisa woke up again at the time of day that she would usually have summoned a fuck about working the restaurant job. Though, if she still it, she would have been late. She looked at the clock, reflected on what her actions would normally be at this time and laughed. Any time before this morning, she would be defiant and flippant about being late for work. She would be quick to say that the worst thing her bosses could do to her was to fire her.

Now as her body insisted that she get out of bed again to take care of her bladder’s insistence for wakefulness, she wondered if her bosses hadn’t already done the worst thing for her. Those managers that was putting up with her shit, putting up with her chronic lateness, her inconsistent work, just letting her hang around for half the pay and none of the work, those managers that didn’t expect her to be anything more than eye-candy and portable benefits were just taking advantage of her.

The memory of the dream pinched her. Her voice only carried to her ears. “That’s not fair.” Lisa sat up and reflected on the unwritten rules of the game. “Yea, they took advantage of me, but I was taking advantage of them just the same. Everyone wanted a piece and as long as it was someone else that paid, who gave a shit.”

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Sounding The Current: Chapter 5 – Judgement Call

“So how long do you think you’ll be able to keep running? I mean, this is a nice fantasy you’ve built up for yourself, but do you really think that this mystical bullshit is going to stop you from running out of money?”

Lisa looked up from the table where the cards from her fancy deck was spread out in a line before her. Seated across the bare steel table was a person in black robes wearing a mask that was her face. Lisa blinked as she realized that the mask looked and moved like human flesh, but was clearly something that the figure was wearing.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Lisa looked around. A vaguely perceived mist surrounded her little table. There was no light source but she could see clearly in the little space that she was occupying. Looking down, she saw the floor was polished such that it was a perfect mirror. In the reflection she saw the floor of the coffee house near her apartment.

She saw the floor of the coffee house as perfectly as if she was seated on the very ceiling of that place looking down. All the tables in the reflection were occupied except for the table that was the reflection of where she was sitting. The two chairs at that table were empty and the table itself was bare.

“Bullshit, you don’t. Look at you, you’re hallucinating! And you’re fucking sober! Don’t fucking sit there and say you’re not trying to avoid reality again!” The figure obscenely reclined in the same style of chair that had so completely abused Lisa’s back in the coffee house.

Lisa looked at the cards on the table. They were all neatly laid side by side and face down except for the third card from the right. That card was face up, but she could not see the card face.

A black gloved hand waved over the cards, breaking her line of sight. “And this, just what the fuck even is this?! Are you going to grow up and be a fortune teller? Where’s your crystal ball? I already know your future if you are fool enough to ask me.”

There was something about the figure’s voice that was familiar, something that was nagging Lisa into wanting to challenge them. But the voice was indistinguishable from the internal voice of her doubts and she was still mentally exhausted from the events of the previous day. “And what is my future, if you think you know it.”

The figure slapped the table causing the cards to jump and shift slightly. “TO DIE!” The figure leaned back and laughed the as cruel and as vicious a laugh as Lisa ever laughed at someone else. Lisa folded her hands in her lap as if Aunt Helen herself was presiding. She pulled her shoulders in and her head down and tried to make herself small and insignificant.

“Why are you doing this to yourself? Aunt Helen already had a good future ahead for you, but you did to her just as your mother did to you. Walked away and pissed on every offering of good will that could have been extended to you.” The figure leaned forward again and rested their arms on the now askew cards.

“It’s not fair.” Lisa’s voice was heard only by her tears that gathered in the corners of her eyes but refused to advance further.

The figure stood and placed both hands on the table to better steady themselves as they leaned completely over the table to place the mask of her perfectly cloned face inches away from her trembling own. To see even the pores in cold clarity made her feel even less real.

The figure spoke with Lisa’s voice, but to Lisa’s horror they used her Aunt Helen’s inflection. “I’m sorry. Did you speak? Use your inside voice please. No. Correction. Use your proper inside voice, please. No vulgarities. We already know you weren’t bred properly as it is.”

Lisa flinched and turned her head away from the figure. Too terrified to run, too ashamed to strike back, Lisa felt captive to the figure. Bound by them as sure as their hands were pinning cards to the table, and as sure as gravity held the table to the floor.

The mirrored floor.

Lisa forced herself to keep her head turned to the side and opened her eyes. Focusing on the floor beside her chair, she watched the coffee house patrons minding their own business in the reflection of the floor. Full awareness of her environment seeped into her from the image.

“You’re not me.”

“Well praise God for that!” The figure still spoke with her voice, but was now using her sister Jean’s inflection. “I suppose if you understand that, then you might actually be able to taught some respect.”

Lisa forced herself to fully sit up in the chair, but she kept her sight trained on the floor under the table.

“You’re not Jean, either. And you’re certainly not Aunt Helen. That bitch.” It was just one vulgar word, but saying it gave Lisa the strength to continue speaking. Everyone always said it wasn’t ladylike to use vulgarities and would leave her alone when she indulged in offensive phrases.

“Dig for more words. Words you actually need a book to understand. Try. So when I educate you about how fucking stupid you are, you might be able to comprehend it.” The figure was close enough to lick Lisa’s face. She wondered why they haven’t tried to strike her yet.

She lifted her sight just enough to see that their hands were still on the table, still on the cards. And that the cards were still face down except for that one. The figure’s hand was covering most of the card, but what was available to see had nothing to be seen.

“You can’t touch me.”

The figure shifted their hand as they all but crawled onto the table to impose further into her personal space. “Bitch said what?”

Lisa stared at the unnaturally blank card struggling to remember what the card name should be. “You can’t touch me.” This place was familiar. The floor was familiar. Lisa knew if she could just remember what had happened in this place before, she would be able to escape it.

“Why the fuck not?” The figure swept their hand in front of her face as if to slap her. She flinched but remained seated. “Try me. Touch me.”

She raised her sight and stared into the eyes of her unnatural twin. “No. Because you can’t touch me unless I touch you first. That’s the rules.”

“You’re fucking stupid. Listen to you, playing this fucking game of keepaway. Degenerate.”

Lisa moved her hands to her pockets so not to even accidentally touch the figure. “All you have is words. You can’t touch me. That’s the rules. When I was here before, you didn’t want me to have…” She grimaced as the memory failed her.

The figure started mocking her again but this time she knew to ignore the words. Taking a cue from that, she also ignored her own. She reached for her memory to remind her what happened the last time she was seated… no… standing… on the… ceiling

“I didn’t touch you then and I’m not touching you now. I pulled Tarot, capital T, not whatever the fuck you are the judge of!” She felt like shoving the now recognized judge out of her face, off of the table, and off of the mirrored ceiling they were having their overworked drama on. But she admitted to herself that she really didn’t know the rules and wasn’t even sure if she was merely dreaming or not.

She looked on the table and saw the judge was still leaning on the cards. “Get the fuck off the cards, bitch! You’ll bend them!”

To her surprise, the judge did move off the table to retake their seat. To her dismay, the judge picked up all the cards on the table, except the face up card which kept slipping out of the judge’s hands to lay on the table before Lisa.

After several more futile attempts, the judge stopped trying to pick up the unrecognizable card and left it on the table while slipping the rest of the deck into a pocket. “There. Now the cards won’t be bent, but you won’t have them either.”

“You’re lying but I don’t know how. Yet.” Lisa stared at the card and tried to remember its name. “Why are you here?”

“Because you are. Why are you here?”

Lisa shrugged. “I dunno. Why are you suddenly chill?”

The judge did not answer. The mask of her face was static and still. No emotions fluttered over the duplicate skin. No flush of anger reddened it. The judge was silent.

Lisa stared at the card again in hopes of summoning all the answers that she had originally wanted from tarot. She called the memory of the first two cards. The World card had revealed to her the collapsing boundaries of her world and how if she did nothing that she would collapse with it. The Fool card had revealed to her how her willful ignorance of that state was self-destructive and that she needed to move past that ignorance if she was going to help herself.

But the Fool was out of turn because Rebecca had moved the card. What should have been the card before the World? She had looked at the decorated card before but the imagery made no sense to her. The card frame was filled with the twisting and turning of something like feathered wyrms, one of them grossly damaged. She remembered being frustrated that the image had no connection to the title and felt like she was taking a final test that she never had the materials to study for.

Understanding fluttered in her thoughts. She looked at the judge. “You’re testing me.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because you want to prove that I can’t do it. That I can’t carry it. That I’ll hurt myself and you want to make sure I don’t hurt others. That’s what you said. This is a test.” She glanced at the card on the table. “That card is a test. You can’t take that card because that’s the card in play right now.”

Lisa took her right hand out of her pocket and picked up the card while watching the judge. The judge did not move, even to the point of not having the appearance of breathing.

“I’m going through the deck in reverse. I have the World but I can’t do anything about that because I don’t have the tools to work on the World. Before I can win a prize, I have to prove myself worthy, I have to take the test, I have to pass…”

Lisa turned the blank card to face the judge.

“Judgement.”

The blank card changed shape and appearance to match the decorated deck. Lisa saw the shift but did not focus on it. “This whole thing we’re doing right now? That’s judgement. But you’re doing it not to pass me, but to fail me. You’re using other people’s words, other people’s false judgement to justify trying to break me! Why?!”

Lisa’s anger was returning and damn, it was starting to feel good. She realized how she was starting to work herself up, and as much as she wanted to slip back into old routines, she forced herself to remain level.

“No. That’s not what you were doing. I see now. You’re repeating… reflecting… my self-judgement against myself. All the ways that I’ve been using Jean’s and Aunt Helen’s and everyone else’s bullshit to beat myself down, to keep myself down, to stop myself from trying to rise above the bullshit and to do right.”

Lisa turned the card so that it faced her. The central damaged wyrm was surrounded by other wyrms. To her, they had participated in the causing the wound to the central wyrm and was waiting for its downfall to be complete. She noted that the case could also be made that the central wyrm harmed itself and the others were just waiting for it to finish self-destructing.

“Once I get a full-time job with fucking benefits and shit, I’m getting a shrink. I must have all sorts of fucking issues if this is starting to feel fucking normal and shit.”

Lisa stood up and put the Judgement card in her pocket. “I don’t know how this works. And somehow I don’t think that I’ll find good info on the Internet about this. I don’t know if you are a reflection of me like everything else here, or if you are me, but this much I do know…”

“You have no power over me.”

She started to walk away from the table. “Now, how the fuck do I get out of here? I need to go ask a card reader a question.”

As she turned to get around her chair she bumped into the blank mask judge. Somehow she was taller than them, shorter than them, and just the same height at them. “Don’t fucking tell me that you’ve been standing behind me the entire goddamn time!”

The blank mask judge nodded. “Very well, I won’t.”

Lisa shoved her hands in her pockets and stared at the ground again. The action in the mirror disoriented her so she stared at the blank mask again. “You just fucking stood there and let that bitch terrorize me?!”

“If that is how you want to describe it, yes.”

“WHY! I thought you’re supposed to be helping me! Why didn’t you help me?”

The blank mask judge tilted their head in a movement that Lisa interpreted as confusion of the question. “Because I am not here to help you.”

Lisa took a step back and bumped into the table. She turned around to stare at the judge wearing her face, then back at the blank face judge. “Not here to help… what the fuck are you here for, then?”

“To teach you tarot, as you requested.”

Lisa wanted to be angry. She wanted to be furious. She wanted to throw things and make a scene and raise everyone’s level of discomfort to dangerous levels. But Lisa was now remembering Rebecca’s words and her declaration that tarot is a tool.

“You’re not here to fix my shit. You’re here so I can have something to help me fix my shit, myself. But you’re not here to fix my shit, or to rescue me.”

The judge bowed. “That is correct.”

“I have to be the judge of my life. And all this bullshit that just happened was to make me see that. I judge myself, and walk that judgement out. I just have to make sure the rules I’m judging myself by are fair.”

Lisa reached forward and took the hand of the blank face judge. “Okay. I’m ready to go home.”

The judge pulled their hand out of Lisa’s suddenly weak grip. “Then leave.”

“Don’t I have to pull you or some shit?”

“No. You just decide to leave, and then leave.”

Lisa held her face in her hand. “Could I have done that at any time?”

“Yes.”

“Goddammit.”

Lisa woke up just after dawn. She stared at the far side of the room for a few minutes as she waited for the dream to fade. She got up, used the bathroom, stared out the window for a short while, then burrowed back under the covers once more, only to realize that the dream was still vivid.

She was still bitching and muttering under her breath when she fell back into a deep and dreamless sleep.

Sounding The Current: Chapter 4 – What Foolishness

Lisa stood at the table holding the Fool card for several minutes. The card wavered and trembled as nothing else happened. She dropped the card on the table, stared at the two decks of cards, then swept everything off the table and crumpled into the chair.

“What the flying fuck am I doing? Talking to a card like it’s going to talk back. Of course I’m dreaming about being judged, my life is falling apart! And this… fucking bullshit… is only a distraction and it’s not a fun one. Fuck this. I’m out.”

Lisa stormed away from the kitchen back to her bedroom, tromping over cards, paper, and blanket as she went. She may not have a job today, but there are people whose goodwill can be crashed upon and people who can be a source of fun and people who are both.

As she checked her clothes for the least offensive odors she started messaging her usual daytime party people. “Charlie! Happy No Job Day! Let’s go talk shit about people!”

She pulled a publicly presentable shirt over her head, checked her phone, and grumped. Charlie had changed their status from “Online” to “Do Not Disturb”.

She opened Discord and sent a message to “TheBrandNameBrandon”: “I’m available today for a game of tag if you are.” Brandon’s status changed from Away to Available and she saw the typing indicator float on the screen.

She pulled off her original choices and quickly dressed in something a little tighter and a little shorter. She was hopping to get the tights pulled up all the way when she finally looked at Brandon’s reply.

“Hey. Brandon’s sister here, just to let you know. My brother won’t be giving you anything. NOT A DAMN THING! But now that I know where and who you are, we’ll be right there to give you everything you deserve. See you soon. Bitch.”

“AUGH! DAMMIT!” Lisa signed out of the Discord account. She knew it was an empty threat, but it upset her just the same. She wished she knew if Brandon had been busted for pickpocketing or if that really was his family taking him away. She liked him.

She peeled the tights off and threw them on the exposed mattress. Contact after contact, group chat after chat, the polite people were either already into whatever it is they were into and the impolite people just flat out ghosted her. Dejected, she looked at the blanket lying across the threshold to the bedroom.

“Fine. I’ll go have some fun by myself. Happy No Fucking Job Day to me.”

She dressed back in her “everyday” clothes and left the apartment without looking at the tarot art collection decorating the floor. Walking down the street with her hands in her pockets and her head under last night’s darkness, her automatic walking came to a stop where she should be turning to continue to the bus stop.

If she walks right and continues for two blocks, she’ll be at the bus stop that will take her to the ever-present outdoor art festival. If she walks left and continues for three blocks, she’ll be at the coffee house that Rebecca likes to hang out at.

The bus won’t arrive for another thirty or so minutes so Lisa had time to think about her choice. The art festival meant possibly meeting new “friends” that she can charm and have fun with. But sitting with Rebecca meant she can ask if her dreams are really just dreams or if there is something supernatural going on with tarot.

It briefly occurred to her that she could also go home, clean up the messes she made, and start looking up shit on the internet like how Rebecca advised her to, but that meant acting like a responsible adult, and she’s not ready to do that just yet. She’s not even thirty, for fuck’s sake! She’ll grow up later.

She laughed as she turned right and felt better about herself for making the fun choice. Letting the wind push her, Lisa happily half-skipped, half-bounced along the sidewalk. Her reflection in the store windows bounced with her. She turned her head with the intention of laughing at/with her reflection.

She came to a full stop instead. Her hair was tangled by the wind again. Her half-applied makeup was already streaking from the wind-summoned tears. The stains on her jacket that were barely seen in the dark of her bedroom announced loudly and clearly that the wearer is someone who doesn’t take care of herself.

The wind was no longer in her face but the flow of tears increased. She reminded herself that she was in public and that yelling at inanimate objects probably wasn’t a polite thing to do. Going to the art festival wasn’t a fun idea any longer. She turned away to face the street for a moment, then turned to face the wind. Pulling the hood over her face, she started back to her apartment.

Halfway down the last block before her turn a strangely decorated car pulled over and stopped slightly in front of her. She spent the last modicum of politeness she had stepping aside so the industrial goth passenger could exit the car. Her tangled hair hid most of that person except for the black leather lace-up boots that Lisa could not help but appreciate.

“Nice boots,” she muttered. “Good for ass-kicking.” Lisa would have continued on her way except the wearer of those boots had grabbed Lisa’s right arm, pulled and twisted it behind her, and was swiftly guiding Lisa’s face to interact with the trunk of the car. “Hey!”

“Slow down, Miss. We just want to talk.” A woman leaned into Lisa’s captive view. She moved Lisa’s hair out of the way so she would be seen clearly.

“What the… Cops? Why? I’m just going home! I didn’t do anything! It’s not fair!”

“Did you do anything earlier, Miss? Did you make hand gestures to anyone?” The officer pinning her to the car used his free hand to pat her down causing Lisa to yell at him about feeling her up.

“He’s just making sure you’re safe, Miss.”

“I’m not some fff…. I’m not a druggie! I got nothing on me but my keys and I was going home! Don’t talk to me like I’m stupid!”

The two police officers confirmed that not only did Lisa have a set of keys in her pockets, but that the only other thing she had with her was a bus pass. No money. No phone. No wallet. No ID.

“Where did you find the keys, Miss?” The female officer wasn’t as softly spoken as she was before.

“Find? They’re mine! For my apartment!”

“Did you find a name to go with them?”

“I don’t get…” Lisa’s confusion was clarified when the handcuffs embraced her wrists. “You think I stole them?! They’re mine! My ID is at home! We’re two blocks away from my apartment, right there!”

The male officer paused as his muffled radio muttered something to him. He jerked her upright as he shared the information with his partner. “The manager confirmed, she’s the vagrant that was threatening the office staff through the window.”

“WHAT OFFICE STAFF?! I haven’t talked to … OW… I didn’t… No!” The officers easily pushed and pulled her into the rear seat of the patrol car. As they drove away, the female officer recited oft spoken phrases of how Lisa will be able to sleep in safety tonight and have a hot meal.

Lisa only cried as she realized that the storefront window she stopped at was so heavily tinted that she could not see inside. She could barely tolerate how she was appearing. Lisa understood that to someone who did not know her or what she had been going through these past several days, she looked more like a zombie than a normal human being. While she had not been read her rights, she remained silent and waited for the opportunity to explain herself to someone who didn’t assume she was trash.

Lisa was promised that opportunity after being fingerprinted and booked. All she had to do was wait in this small room that had only a bench bolted into a wall for furniture. Someone would be with her shortly to hear her explain again what her name is and why she was making faces in the window and once the judge is available we’ll get this all sorted out.

This wasn’t Lisa’s first arrest. Excuse… “Temporary Hold.” She knew that her identity would be confirmed once her fingerprints were ran in the system. What she wasn’t sure about was if there was a warrant out for her arrest or not. She didn’t think she had anything outstanding, but with the sloppy way her ex-boss and his son attempted to cover up their crimes, who is to say that they didn’t also try to pin anything on her.

For the next several hours, Lisa sat patiently on the bench. She gave up crying soon after the door closed and faced the uncertain future with stoic futility. No matter how hard she had tried not to think about it, she viewed the detainment as one more checklist box ticked on her world’s destruction’s todo list.

She thought about the Fool card. How the artwork on the card seemed to match her intentions before the police intervened. She was happily on her way to score a hit, score a mark, score a couch, or better yet, all three at once. Even though that meant having one day less to find another job, or getting hurt, or not being rested enough to do well at her other jobs. Or worse, having to go back to her aunt to be rescued.

Lisa acknowledged being the Fool in her life. Anything for the literal fun of it. She already knew she had to change the world she lived in. Now she understood she had to change herself as well.

“Hey. Tarot. Capital T.” Her lips moved but she made as little sound as possible. “Okay. I asked to see the Fool and you fucker, you showed me. But, what am I beginning, and why do I need to bring it to an end?”

Lisa had barely closed her eyes to finally allow herself the luxury of sleep when the door lock clattered and the door itself opened. “Lisa? You’re being released. This way, please.”

Lisa stretched herself slowly after standing up and quietly followed the officer to the front of the station. Seeing her sister waiting for her lurched her stomach and for a moment Lisa considered making a scene so she would be detained further and get that peace and quiet that the female officer had promised her.

“God. You smell. When is the last time you bathed? Don’t say it was for the interview because they smelled you entering the building.”

“Hello, Jean. How much do I owe you this time?”

Black, pointed, manicured nails rapped against the counter as the attending officer brought the bag holding Lisa’s worldly belongings. Lisa signed acknowledgement that the station was not responsible if any of her items had been damaged while out of her sight. The bus pass had a hole punched into the magnetic stripe of the card, ruining it and preventing any recovery or transfer of the balance still assigned to the card.

“The only reason I’m here collecting you is because I don’t want Aunt Helen to know what you’ve done this time. To be honest, I can’t stand looking at you. The only reason I’m taking you home is because they were nice enough to put you aside for me. This time.”

Lisa slowed as they neared the station doors. “Put me aside?”

“Just shut up. Shut the hell up. You don’t know how much you have cost me in opportunities and payments. You couldn’t even afford to think about what I have had to exchange for your self-infested pretend game of adulthood.”

Lisa had enough awareness of her environment to wait until she was in the parking lot of the police station before pulling her hood over her head. Jean snatched the hood off immediately, pulling on Lisa’s still tangled hair as she did so.

“Take that off. You don’t get to hide anymore. You don’t get to pretend that honest people like me don’t see you anymore. You were a rat of a child and you’re a rat’s nest of an adult. Now get in and don’t you say a word to me once the doors are closed.”

Lisa did as she was commanded, much to Jean’s surprise. Jean drove away from the station but did not immediately turn towards Lisa’s apartment. To Lisa’s relief, neither did Jean turn immediately towards the opposite side of the city. Jean drove out of the city entirely while Lisa stared blankly out of the passenger window. It was like old times again, Lisa thought.

After about twenty minutes, Jean pulled into the parking lot of a diner. Lisa waited for the doors to be unlocked so she could exit, but Jean just sat still in the driver’s seat. After several grinding minutes, Jean quieted the car and spoke.

“What the fuck is wrong with you? Why are you like this? Did a hit burn your head out or something? Why? Why do you have to fuck up every good thing that you have touched or even looked at? All you had to do was show up to the interview. That’s it. Be dressed. Be clean. Be nice smelling for God’s sake! They told me how you arrived. How you behaved. They tried to give you a second chance by actually interviewing you in case you had shit luck that morning, but no, you saw a good thing and pissed the hell all over it. Why! WHY DAMN YOU! WHY DO YOU CONTINUE TO EXIST?!”

Lisa said nothing. She knew better than to interrupt her sister’s monologue. Aunt Helen’s vicious wit poured down the family tree to Jean, and Lisa was still smarting from other hard ground lessons to risk exposing those inner wounds now.

“Did you know our cousins have jobs? They’re what… eighteen and nineteen? And, get this, they only have one job each and it’s enough to pay the rent and the electric bill! Aunt Helen can’t stop talking about them and how well they have carried the family legacy.”

Jean stopped talking. This would be the moment when Lisa normally took the bait and ask if Aunt Helen had asked about her, but she knew the script of the screaming match that would normally follow the question. So Lisa remained silent and waited for the answer to her whispered question to appear.

“WHY AREN’T YOU SAYING ANYTHING!” Jean broke the silence first with impatience.

“Nothing to say.” Lisa’s reply was quiet and directed more to herself than to her sister.

“Why the hell not!” Jean’s hands shook with renewed rage. Lisa was being twice as bullheaded with this new silent routine and Jean was done being mocked by her.

“Because, we’re having the same words again. It’s the same cycle again. You yell a lot and I cry a lot. You remind me that Mom would have been disappointed in me and I remind you that she left you as well as me. You get guilty for trying to hurt me the way Aunt Helen does and promise that you’ll help me if I help myself and I promise you that I will and that…”

Lisa’s face blanches and her eyes grew large as the meaning of the unspoken words soak into her understanding. Her mouth opened as if to speak but paused as if to hold her breath forever.

Jean’s anger transformed into concern. She had never seen Lisa react this way in an argument. Had never seen Lisa actually thinking on anything for a moment. Concern flashed into fear and Jean wondered if Lisa was having an episode. “And that… what?”

Jean’s voice pulled Lisa from wherever her thoughts had transported her to. When Lisa turned to look at her, Jean shuddered as Lisa’s gaze seemed to be seeing through her.

“I promise you that I will and that I will start a new beginning.” Lisa’s sight returned to the interior of the car. She looked her sister in the face as tears cleansed the path between her eyes and her heart. “And that’s got to stop, Jean. It’s nothing you can do, nothing you can buy. It’s me. I have to end this beginning. I have to break this cycle.”

Lisa laughed, a soft and scary noise, and sat back in the car seat. “Take me back to my apartment, please. I have some messes to clean up, and there are things I have to look up.”

Lisa’s request was so matter-of-fact that Jean was not sure if to take her to her apartment or to the hospital. She started the car but did not move. “I… I heard about the restaurant job. I’m glad you were clear of that when it happened. But… are you going to be able to pay the rent next month?”

“I’ll figure that out next month. Right now, I have messes to clean up, including myself. Please, let’s go before someone thinks I’m making faces at them and start a new round of shit.”

Jean pulled out of the parking lot and drove back into the city. Lisa asked to be dropped off at the corner, but Jean insisted on pulling into the parking garage even though she would have to pay for the privilege. As Lisa started to get out of the car, Jean grabbed her coat and stuffed something in the pocket.

“No. Shut up. Get out. I won’t collect you if you get arrested again. You said you have to break the cycle, then do it. But I can’t… I won’t help you any further.”

Lisa patted the pocket and knew from the shape what had been given to her. She looked at her sister with tired eyes. “That’s fair.”

Jean took a breath to resume the screaming where it had left off but fully understood Lisa’s reply before she sounded off. “Don’t you usually say that it’s not fair?”

“It’s the end of the beginning. I have to accept where I am, right. I don’t like it. It’s uncomfortable. I feel terrible. But I’ve done that to myself, so… that’s fair. Thank you for collecting me, Jean. Go home.”

Lisa closed the car door on Jean’s attempt to have the last word. Once she turned to face the stairwell, she did not look back. By the time she reached the door to the stairwell, she had already mentally blotted out the sound of Jean’s car idling as her sister waited for Lisa to be safely inside before leaving.

It was almost sunset when Lisa entered her apartment. She could smell the soured coffee still sitting on the counter. The cards remained scattered over the sheets that had been dragged nearly into the kitchen. Her wallet was next to her phone. Her phone was fully charged and in sleep mode. Both were right where she had forgotten them on the counter in her hurry to escape the morning.

Waking the phone screen, she saw several missed calls and countless social media notifications. They wearied her to look at them. She turned the phone face down on the counter and turned her own face to the cards on the floor.

She arranged both decks in the order that Rebecca had sorted them and placed them with the crumpled list of meanings on the table. She gathered the blanket and sheets and remade her bed even though she was planning to crawl into that bed later. Fluffing the pillow encouraged the scent of her stressed body to remind her tired mind that it has been days since she last took basic care of herself.

In the shower, she allowed herself to cry all the tears that she had held away from Jean. It really wasn’t fair, she silently sobbed, that she was being given so much shit for being what everyone always said she would be. It also wasn’t fair that everyone expected her to break the cycle she had been inserted into but no one would actually help her do so.

“Cycle. That’s what the judge said. That it would not stop until the cycle is complete. Then Rebecca moved a step out of order. She put the beginning near the end and started me at the end. I’m going backwards. Maybe I’m unmaking the choices that have been fucking me over?”

Lisa banished the clothes she was wearing into tightly tied trash bags. She wasn’t so sure that she will be able to salvage them in the wash. She thought about looking at the tarot decks and the list of meanings for what the next card was, but just the thought of raising her head exhausted her.

Shortly after night had pulled itself into the sky, Lisa pulled herself into her bed and went to sleep.

Sounding The Current: Chapter 3 – Worldview

Lisa waited until she had finished her second cup of coffee before opening the package. If it wasn’t for Rebecca’s handwritten cards setting the expectation for how thin twenty-two cards could be, Lisa would have thought that she had been scammed with some stiff cardboard.

The outer wrapping was a letter size manila envelope that had been folded in thirds to provide extra protection to the thin box. And even then, the box was wrapped in a layer of thin bubble wrap that had been completely flattened by pressure. Lisa carefully peeled back the wrap and set that aside.

An empty flattened box acted as a stiffener and a third protective layer to some items that were not included in the actual tarot box itself. The listing claimed the contents were from a Kickstarter with all extra items included but the lister had never used the deck. From the way the items were layered in the package, Lisa guessed that the extra items included an extra tarot card and a smaller card that served as the creator’s calling card.

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Sounding The Current: Chapter 2 – Reflection

Walking back to her apartment from the coffeehouse was twice as frustrating for Lisa as walking from her interview to the coffeehouse in the first place due to the turbulent wind in her face struggling with her boiling emotions for her attention. She was surprised that Rebecca did not say anything about how tangled her hair was or how dirty her jeans were. The more she reflected on how Rebecca had said nothing about her appearance, the more she realized that Rebecca was too classy to say anything about her appearance at all and that the lack of a comment was a comment itself.

“It’s not fair!” The wind took her words and discarded even the sound of them. “All I had to do was show up, she said. No one was supposed to actually ask me questions. Jean said everything was taken care of and all I had to do was walk in the door. If it wasn’t for THIS FUCKING WEATHER, I’d have a fucking job right now!”

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Sounding The Current: Chapter 1 – Syllabus

“You can put those away now. Halloween was yesterday. Today is Cheap Candy Day. Tomorrow is Christmas.” A brown slouch purse collapsed on the table as the purse bearer slouched into an uncomfortably bare steel chair. Her hands now free of their burden, one sought the pocket of her oversized denim jacket while the other pulled a time faded hood over her face. This pushed her wind-styled mess of hair to cover her face. She gladly hid behind the tangles while sighing how done she was with the world.

“Lemme guess, Lisa. It went to shit again.” Anyone who heard and understood the words would have instantly known that the speaker was the last person to be surprised that it had gone to shit again. If anything, it would be fair to infer that the speaker knew it would go to shit from the start and that it was Lisa who had to learn this the hard way.

Lisa said nothing as she slumped further into the chair. For what was an uncomfortably long minute to one and a satisfactorily long minute to the other, the only sound between the two people seated at the unadorned steel table were that of cards being slipped from a deck and those cards tapped onto the table.

Continue reading “Sounding The Current: Chapter 1 – Syllabus”

Queen of Swords

Her history is scarred
like her reflection.
She teaches that
steel and makeup
can both cut a man’s soul
when properly applied.

Her voice is viscous
like blood and power.
She preaches that
covenants broken
can sever a lineage
even if the blood remains.

Her grip is unyielding
like a lock without a key.
She seizes those
already stolen assets which
can further her goals
and ends her enemies like sentences.