Halfway through the morning, Melissa’s scheduling app announced with a bright chirp that she had been called in to work. Her paid internship with Leifert Enterprises was only part time but it came with full benefits and provided enough income to allow her to save part of her trust fund allowance. With a check-in time of two in the afternoon, she still had time in the morning to look up how the Ten of Pentacles tarot card was portrayed in other decks and write down questions to pester Rebecca with later.
In the Sweeney Tarot, the Ten of Pentacles was the Ten of Coins. This deck had a feature that Melissa was grateful for: Each card in the Minor Arcana was titled with a keyword for that card. For the Ten of Coins, that keyword was “Wealth”. In it, a woman dressed in an extravagant gown evoking the feel of feathers and flowers is seated at a bar. Her body is facing away from the bar and her face is facing the viewer squarely. She is holding a glass of wine and the entire card is hued in various shades of wine, from blanc, to rosé, to pinot noir, to cabernet sauvignon.
The card held the same feeling of “wealth” as the list of meanings in that there was the sense of more money available than one could possibly spend. The figure in the card was set and there was nothing left to do in life except to relax in whatever world the figure had created around them.
This certainly did not feel like the card that she took from the judge. As she remained at the table, staring at the card in her hand, she found herself reflecting on the dreamscape under the starry sky. She closed her eyes to better focus on the remembered sensations of the dream.
Though the dream held ten spheres with motes of light, Melissa had felt a strange solidity to the impossible figures. In the dream she had mused if they were ten tiny universes. But now that she was awake she felt they were more like ten patient seeds. Planting the card within herself now felt like the most normal thing she could have done.
She opened her eyes and looked at the Sweeney Tarot’s Ten of Coins. Immediately the memory and reflection of the Ten of Spheres was overshadowed and obscured by what she had learned of the physical card in her hand. One memory led to another and Melissa was reminded of what the spirit of the Death card had said when she was being taught a different lesson: “Close your eyes. You don’t know how to listen with them open, yet.”
Melissa placed the card on the table, placed her hands in her lap, placed her trust in the blank faced judge of tarot, and closed her eyes. She tried to focus her attention on the dreamscape, but though the scene was easy to describe, it was difficult for her to imagine. She then tried to focus her attention on the card in the dream, but the memory of every tarot card she has touched in the waking world kept superimposing a physical card over the imaginary one. She then tried to focus her attention on the ten spheres themselves, and the memory of those spheres seized that attention and would not release her.
Round and round turned the equal-sided triangle in her mind’s eye as her thoughts were gathered on the points and pulled on the sides. She sat captivated as she reflected on how the ten spheres stacked into a perfect triangle as if they were racked billiard balls. She did not notice when a light fell upon the imagined spheres, as if a lone star high above was giving them attention.
But when she did, the spheres moved to hang vertically before her point of view, with one triangle point pointing down and the opposite length of a triangle side perfectly horizontal as if to collect the starlight. Melissa, not realizing that she was entranced, reached out to gather a handful of starlight with inquisitive wonder.
The pouring starlight filled her cupped hand as if it was water. She pulled her glowing hand away from the flow of light and brought it close to her face to better examine it. She did not realize that her closed eyes were able to see the swirling light with the same ease as her morning self would have been able to see the cream swirling in her coffee.
“What is this?” A distant part of her wanted to be afraid. The part that was with the starlight and the floating spheres wanted to know more before deciding if to be afraid and how to deal with that fear. Without reason or direction, she brought her hand to her lips and tasted the evaporating starlight.
The light was as sweet as the blind trust she gave to adults as a small child. The light was as bitter as the lessons she learned the hard way about why that trust must be earned and upheld. The light was as empty as unjustified hope. The light was as heavy as the understanding of the world that comes from maturity and survival.
“Oh. This is starlight, no, this is the light of the Star. I must be in a different world again.” Melissa looked at the downward pointing triangle made by the ten floating spheres. “Well, if I’m here, and this is here, then here is the answer to my question if I’m able to find and seize the knowledge of it.”
She addressed the spheres. “You mean something to me, something that I’m not going to find written down anywhere, something that Big Name Tarot Readers are going to say that I pulled out of my ass to sell a book or something if I talk about it. But I don’t know what that something is. The judge said that in this space, you don’t have a meaning, you just are. So… What are you to me?”
The spheres remained silent as they slowly turned in place. Melissa reached out to touch a sphere in the row of four spheres that made up the top side of the triangle. The sphere stopped turning at her touch. She thought she saw a new scene in front of her and realizing that she was still in an altered state, closed her eyes so she could see.
This new scene was only seen. No other sense was engaged to perceive it. Before Melissa was a shattered expanse under a smoke clogged sky. Buildings were in ruins around her and the asphalt of the street was broken into staggered chunks. Ash covered all surfaces, regardless if they were meant to be exposed or not. The landscape was dead.
A glimmer caught her eye and she looked up. Above her, ten black spheres hovered silently over her. They hung without a pattern she could recognize. Five to one side, four to another side, and one directly before her. Suddenly, the spheres moved towards each other and snapped into the same down pointing triangle that she had touched. As they locked into position, the glow that she had seen before returned to them.
Quietly, the top row of four spheres flared briefly before the light in them drained out of the spheres and into the three spheres in the row below them. The light merged and flared before flowing out of the three and into the two in the third row. The light merged there again and flared brightly before flowing out of the two and into the sole sphere that was the bottom point of the triangle formation.
There the light intensified until the remaining sphere seemed like it was going to burst from the pressure. But instead of bursting, it slowly dropped a couple of inches before hurtling itself into the ground at Melissa’s point of view with such violence that she thought the sphere had been launched from a cannon.
She continued to watch as the sphere buried itself and was out of view for a few short moments. Just as the ground began to settle over the shot, something caused the area to well up into a small mound. A green shoot pushed itself through the closing gap and unwrapped a pair of tender nascent leaves from around itself. The tiny plant pushed against the resettling dead of the world and reached for something far above the hardening clouds of this world.
Melissa did not hear anything move into view in response. She felt the world itself change as a response. High above the decayed ruins, high above the noxious clouds, high above the world that had consumed itself in grief, a source of light pierced through the grief, the toxicity, and what felt like the grave itself to shine on the defiant plant as if it existed for no other reason than to encourage the audacious instinct to live in spite of all the reasons to give up and die.
The tiny leaves, smaller than flakes of chopped herbs, wavered and waved until they were oriented to capture as much of the new light as they could catch. Melissa watched this plant take root and in doing so, break apart the calcified rubble of the world that had died so that it could create a living world anew.
Melissa watched all this without making or receiving a sound. She watched this seed that would conquer the grave, and somehow, she knew what the judge was trying to tell her with impotent words. The judge had called the Ten of Spheres the seed of her understanding. But Melissa was now aware of the context in which they spoke.
The dead world was her life before she dared to reclaim her name and her place. The ashes that smothered it was the self-made fires of her undoing that had threatened to cement her in place with no chance of recovering from the consequences of hers and other people’s actions. The seed that the ten spheres planted was the hope that the ordeal of the tarot cards woken in her. And the light of understanding was what would feed that newly sprouted hope into something that could transform the ruins of what was her life into something living, refreshing, and thriving.
Melissa opened her eyes.
She had been silently crying while seated at the dining room table.
She looked at the clock. Perhaps twenty minutes had passed since she closed her eyes. Or maybe thirty minutes, but certainly not any more than that.
She looked at the text file on the screen that she had been using for her notes. She had made an entry that had referenced the judge, the Ten of Pentacles, and the acceptance of the card, but then had followed up that entry with a complete dismissal of the dream’s relevance.
She looked forward without looking at anything at all and reflected on the vision of the decaying landscape and the defiance of life.
“Okay.” Her throat was tight from unnoticed strain and her voice was like a whispering croak, but making sound brought her attention fully back into her body. “I guess that’s how this is going to be walked out, then.”
She reached up to the keyboard and started to erase the dismissal from the text file. She stopped, undid what she had already backspaced over, and created a new entry that started with the current date, time, and location. “The Ten of Spheres is the Seed of Understanding. The judge was absolutely right about what it is. I had to be willing to face what I did not understand to see what I needed to learn to get over my own shit. But if this Ten of Spheres is something unique to me, am I able to use the tarot decks and meanings that everyone else also uses?”
Melissa saved the text file and closed the editor. She collected the tarot cards scattered on the table, reassembled her decks, and put them away. She still had a few hours before she had to go to work, and she felt it was very proper and adult of her to take a nap while she had the time and luxury to do so.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Arroyo. Thank you for coming in today. I know it’s a short shift today and not too many interns will take it if they have the choice not to.” Gladys handed a small tablet to Melissa to review. “I don’t have any Must Take department requests today, but I do have to remind you that if you want to be paid for showing up, you do have to take at least one of the offered assignments.”
“Any departments here I haven’t been to yet, Gladys?” Melissa felt odd calling the Human Resources Director by her first name while the older woman referred to Melissa by her last name but using Gladys’s first name was at Gladys’s own direction.
Melissa scrolled through requests from the Documentation Department who always needed help manually sorting the mail and delivering packages, from the on-site Restaurant Department who always needed another busser or five for catering business luncheons, and from the Accounting Department who always needed help manually entering information that the automated systems could not read.
“Um, Accounting, I think. I know you’ve accepted requests from them before, but you’ve always been turned back after reporting to the Director of Accounting there. So, while you’ve technically met the requirement to assist there, you really haven’t assisted them at all.” Gladys gestured for the tablet, so Melissa quietly handed it back without having made a choice.
Gladys scrolled through the intern assignments. “Yea, Director Brandon is picky for some reason. He’s so quick to claim his department needs more hands, but he’s just as quick to dismiss the hands I send him. Well, if you want an easy two hours, help the Doc Department with the mail. If Director Brandon rejects you again, there will be a review about why and I don’t know if you want that kind of inspection right now.”
Gladys handed the tablet back to Melissa, who took it and quietly spoke a thanks for the information. “Why would I avoid a review, Gladys? Reviews are part of my job, after all. The whole point of me jumping around departments is to find out what I’m good at.”
The Director of Human Resources grimaced. “It is, but this would become a review to see if keeping you employed here is best for the company, and, well, it gets complicated after that.”
“Complicated in the way that if a director doesn’t like a person, and that person is super low rank, then the company doesn’t lose any profit by getting rid of the person like they would trying to replace a director?”
Gladys nodded as she sighed. “Yea. You know more about the patterns of corporate life than I was led to believe.”
Melissa chose the Documentation Department assignment, accepted the assignment on the tablet, and handed the tablet back to Gladys. “I know how to play many games, Gladys. I did not become an intern here to indulge in any of them, but to stop playing as many of them as possible.”
Both women smiled painfully at each other for a moment. A printer in her office interrupted by announcing that it was cleaning its printing head by screeching suddenly. Melissa winced and Gladys grimaced while the printer delivered Melissa’s job assignment for the day. “One of these days, I’m going to replace that damn thing,” grumbled the annoyed director as she handed the printouts to Melissa.
Melissa signed acceptance of the job on the top page and handed it back. “Why don’t you replace it now? It sounds like it’s about to fall apart.”
“Oh, I’d love to! Except I don’t have the budget for a replacement printer right now. I only use it when I need to print something in confidence. Otherwise, I would be sending it to the office printer down the hall.”
Melissa started to fold the remaining papers but caught herself and put them in her portfolio to keep them uncreased. “That’s right. What you print is… how did the class call it… Personally Identifiable Information. And restricted to privileged persons only, of which, most people are not. And because almost everything you print is confidential, you’re using this printer almost every time you print.”
“You got it.” Gladys was already scanning Melissa’s acceptance sheet. “Once, as a test, I sent a page to the office printer about cinnamon allergies. It took me three minutes to get to the printer to pick it up and I shredded it immediately. The next day there were two cinnamon scented candles burning in the open office and the week after there was cinnamon rolls left in the break room almost every day.”
Gladys placed the scanned sheet in a manila folder. “I’m not allergic to cinnamon, but what if I was? Could that have been a coincidence, the printout followed by the thing the printout warned against? Maybe, maybe not. There is one lesson, Ms. Arroyo, that is very hard to teach interns as young as you. Especially those that haven’t left college, yet. And that is for all the company videos about how we’re all in this together, the only thing we all share is the desire to succeed. The only thing that makes us unique is how far we are willing to go to get what we think we want.”
She picked up the folder and went to the large filing shelves installed along one wall of her office. “You already know this lesson. Anyone related to Helen Winston lives this lesson. I had expected you to be more like your aunt, Ms. Arroyo. It is a relief that you are much more kind. But while I have you here in this confidential space, allow me to deliver another equally important lesson.”
She turned her back to Melissa and spoke so that the folders and papers absorbed most of the force of her voice. Melissa had to sit still to listen with all of her being. “There are those who see you as a symbol of something they covet, or something they hate. They will never see you as an individual, but as a token to own, or a token to break. You’ll never know if the person trying to help you is genuine and just trying to help, or setting you up to be taken advantage of later.”
Gladys sat back down in silence while Melissa reflected on the director’s words. When Melissa finally answered, it was with the same quiet tone that Gladys ended with.
“I know. I learned that lesson very early. From my aunt, and from those who live in her wake. I have learned this lesson from them a long time ago.”
Melissa closed her portfolio. “Though a lesson I have learned only recently is that there is always a game being played, even by those who are sincerely helping you. It’s just that sometimes, it’s hard to tell which player is in front of you.”
The two women smiled politely at each other as both reassessed what they thought of the other. Melissa nodded to end the inspection.
“I better get going. This late in the day, the Documentation Department is going to need help delivering the mail and packages that came in. And of course, there is always someone who is personally offended that their package wasn’t placed on their desk first thing this morning even though mail drop is just before noon.”
Melissa stood as Gladys remained seated and said her farewells. As she moved through the building to the basement to check in for her assignment for the day, she reflected on Gladys’s posture as she spoke about symbols and tokens. She concluded that Gladys was caught in a game of her own, one that involved Aunt Helen in some way, and this was the director’s way to warn Melissa without actually telling Melissa in plain words that she was not yet out of her aunt’s reach.
Being reminded of Aunt Helen’s games led to being reminded of her ordeal of learning the Major Arcana of the tarot. This in turn led to being reminded of the cards of the Minor Arcana now being opened to her. Her thoughts followed the exposed trail and soon she was back to her personal encounter with the Ten of Spheres and how both the scene it evoked and the meaning it carried differed from the more widely known Ten of Coins.
Upon arriving to the Documentation Department, Melissa put aside all thought of tarot cards, black robed judges, and mystical experiences. Gladys’s monologue came back to the forefront of her thoughts and Melissa now wondered who the director was really warning her about as she heard something like her name being spoken down the hall leading to the mailroom.
“Hey, Lisa’s on shift today! Awesome!”
“A nothing. Pay her no mind.”
“Isn’t she the heiress? The one whose mother came back?”
“Came back? Don’t tell me you’re buying that story. The woman never left! Took care of the dead weight dick, waited until the heat died down, and is now living happy ever after.”
“No, that can’t be Lisa, her parents are dead. Both of them. She’s the one that used to party at the bar every weekend until she had to go into hiding because she burnt down some guy’s meth lab.”
“If this is that Lisa, she’s not hiding very well.”
“Ladies, I said she is a nothing, the same as the space between your ears. Behave yourselves, stop gossiping, and get back to work!”
Melissa heard three sore voices mutter a combined “Yes, Ma’am” before falling silent as she placed her hand on the barely closed door. She took a breath and reminded herself that while there was little outward change in appearance, that the tarot ordeal did happen, and more than her byname had changed as a result.
She opened the door to the mailroom and four faces turned towards her in silent greeting as the hands that went with them took envelopes and small packages from a large sorting bin sitting on the floor between them. One staff member she recognized as someone she had interacted with at the bar on occasion. One staff member sounded familiar, but she had not met in person like this. The two others were rotating interns who she had not met yet. Their reaction to her entry ranged from annoyed indifference to excited curiosity.
“Hi. I’m looking for Director Cargill. I’m here to assist with a department request.” The two interns wore their ID cards on a lanyard. The lanyard and background of the cards were light blue like Melissa’s, as did all interns. The staff member she had recognized had a card with a light green background, showing that they were regular staff. The last staff member’s card had a light green background but with a very dark green border around the card, designating the card holder’s position as a director, which was a fancier title than “manager”.
Melissa turned towards the person wearing the director card and retrieved her assignment sheet to hand over but politely waited for the director to acknowledge her before speaking. The director looked Melissa over with a disappointed face before accepting the offered paper.
“I’m Director Cargill. Thank you for your manners.” The woman took the page to a desk in the far corner of the room and laid it there before walking back to Melissa. “So, I have your assistance for the next two hours. What I need you to do, Lisa, is simple: Sort the mail. No deliveries today.”
“The entire contents of this bin and… yes, what is it, Lisa?”
Melissa had raised her hand to gesture a need to interrupt the director’s instructions. The director, curious as to what could possibly be so important, granted the request.
“Melissa. My name is Melissa. While you may have heard others refer to me by a nickname, the time for those nicknames are in the past. I go by my birth name, Director Cargill. I go by ‘Melissa’. Pleased to meet you.”
The two interns glanced at each other and barely withheld a giggle. Director Cargill looked Melissa up and down before turning to the staff member with an inquisitive look on her face. “You said she goes by Lisa. Anything else I need to know so I can investigate it before accepting it as a definitive answer?”
The staff member glanced at Melissa before glancing at Director Cargill before glancing back at Melissa again. “Uh… um… well…”
The director returned her inspecting stare to Melissa. “Very well then, Melissa. Welcome to the Mail Room in the Documentation Department. To reiterate: Your assignment today is simple. All I need you to do is to sort the mail. The contents of this bin either have handwritten addresses that the mail sorter cannot read, or machine-readable text in a combination that the mail sorter AI cannot match with a building recipient. Because of how much mail has arrived recently, right now we’re just doing a pass for what can and cannot be understood by a person.”
Director Cargill turned away from Melissa and gestured for the intern to follow. Melissa closed the door behind her and quietly caught up to stand next to the director as she demonstrated how to interpret some of the more obscure addresses applying to the building.
Melissa would have had an easier time of listening to the instructions if it were not for the two interns barely restraining their giggling as they not at all quietly made observations about Melissa.
“Not bad for just getting out of rehab.”
“She wasn’t in rehab, she was in jail!”
“Well, not bad for just getting out of jail. Do you think they had rehab in jail?”
“As much money as she has, she probably never got past the door before her lawyers bailed her out.”
“She doesn’t have money. No one works as a gopher unless they need money.”
“No one works as a gopher unless they have to. Her aunt made her get the job. Craig told me so.”
“Didn’t Craig also say he was her number one fuck?”
“No, that was Daniel. But did you see on that one blog about the sex tape made in the restaurant, the one that burned down?”
“ONE MORE WORD OUT OF EITHER ONE OF YOU AND YOU ARE BOTH RELEASED FROM YOUR ASSIGNMENTS, PERMANENTLY.”
Director Cargill did not turn to face the interns when she made her statement, but this did not diminish the impact of her words or lessen the ringing in Melissa’s ears struck by being so close to the source.
As the two interns flattened their lips and attempted to look contrite, Melissa realized where she had heard Director Cargill’s voice before. Every second Friday of the month, a woman would call the customer service number for her credit card account and attempt to bluster whoever received the call into lowering her interest rate or postponing a payment. When Melissa received the call, upon recognizing the woman’s voice, she would preemptively move the headset speaker an inch in front of her ears to protect herself from the inevitable yelling.
“YOU DARE TO COME TO ME ASKING FOR WORK AND THEN TREAT THOSE IN YOUR SAME CIRCUMSTANCE AS IF THEY ARE YOUR LESSER? IT IS OBVIOUS THAT YOU HAVE NO SHAME BUT AT LEAST LEARN WHEN TO KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT!”
Melissa winced and reached for a headset that wasn’t there, confirming that Director Cargill was indeed the person who never paid their credit card bill on time and was always trying to stall the inevitable late fees and cancellations. She smoothly transitioned the movement into smoothing out an errant lock of hair that also happened to block her ear.
Director Cargill saw Melissa fussing over her hair and nodded in quiet approval. Now satisfied of her control over the Mail Room, she repeated her previous instructions and continued on with a demonstration.
“Sorting mail is a process that requires at least four able-bodied people to complete. Sorting my inbox requires me to complete. Now that you are here, Melissa, both can now be accomplished. Your assignment here today is for at least two hours. I am willing to pay you for an additional two hours, for a total of four hours, should you require more time to accomplish today’s goal. Do you have any questions?”
“No, Director, I have no questions at this time. May I interrupt you later if I do?”
The director’s mood visibly lifted and something like a smile twitched on her face. “Refuting rumors is always a joy. Your manners are a delight. Yes, Melissa, you may interrupt me should you have a concern. Now then, I leave you to your work so I may depart to mine.”
Director Cargill turned to the other full-time staff member. “Julie, you may interrupt me as well, if needed. You’re now in charge of these three.” She completed her turn and went again to her desk in the far corner of the large room where she sat down and began to scowl at her monitor.
The four workers watched the director for a moment. Melissa was the first to break away from the wonder and start pulling thick envelopes to sort by floors. The other three shifted their attention from the director to Melissa and now stared at the busying woman for a moment.
“IS THERE A PROBLEM, JULIE?”
Julie, facing away from the director but easily seen by Melissa, pressed her lips and quietly sighed. “No, Director Cargill, there isn’t a problem.”
“THEN WHY IS MELISSA THE ONLY ONE WORKING, JULIE?”
“Because that was your perception, Director Cargill. We are all working, Director Cargill.”
“I DO NOT WANT TO ASK THIS QUESTION AGAIN, JULIE.”
“You won’t, Director Cargill.”
The repetition of the Julie’s and the director’s name after every sentence annoyed Melissa. It reminded her of the judge wearing her face and how they used her nickname as both irritation and binding.
Without prompting, Julie and the two interns began to also pull packages and envelopes to sort. At first there was only the sound of sliding cardboard punctuated by the occasional mouse click from the far corner. But the two interns kept glancing up at Melissa before quickly tucking their heads and snickering.
Julie gave them both evil looks in hopes they would be silent. They did not take the hint, so Julie started up a conversation in hopes of controlling the space. “So, Lisa, haven’t seen you at the bar, lately. Going for a New Year’s resolution so soon?”
Melissa answered without looking up or pausing her work. “Melissa.”
Julie was not as smooth. She stopped with a large envelope in her hands. “Pardon?”
“My name is Melissa. And yea, I remember you from the bar and that’s likely where you got my nickname from, but I don’t go by that name anymore. My name is Melissa, and I’m not on an early New Year’s resolution. The bar just isn’t fun for me right now.”
“Like, oh my god, you do know her, Julie! Hey, Lisa! I know some other bars that are better! Got cute guys that we can have fun with! Wanna catch up later?”
This time, Melissa stopped her motion just long enough to look at the intern to ensure that the intern was looking at her. “Melissa. And no.”
The rebuffed intern blinked at the short yet complete sentences. “Oh. Heh. You have your own parties to throw, I suppose.”
“No. I have a job assignment that I’d like to focus on.”
“Sure this isn’t community assignment for indecent exposure? Everyone knows about the tape, after all.” The other intern did not look up as she laid her accusation in the space between the women.
“The tape is a lie. And I will answer no further questions about my personal life. Whatever you post on your feeds later is entirely your invention. Enjoy yourselves.”
“Okay, enough talk. There’s three more bins waiting for us to finish this one. Let’s get through this as fast as we can.” Julie asserted herself and her authority. Melissa nodded in acknowledgement. The other two interns looked at each other before mocking Melissa’s movements with their own. Julie glanced back at Director Cargill then refocused her attention on the bin in front of her.
Melissa was furious about the rumor of a sex tape. It would appear that Ricardo had made good on his threat after all. She doubted anyone would believe her that no such videos were made and certain that someone would create a deepfake for no other reason than to mock her and stop her attempt to find happiness.
Her train of thoughts led her from fears of someone interrupting her happiness to how she could find happiness in the first place. This, in turn, led her to think on the Ten of Coins tarot card and how many decks portray the card as one of enduring happiness extending into one’s elderly years.
She looked at the small box in her hands. It was addressed to someone on the fifth floor and came from a jewelry store. Would a diamond bracelet make her happy? It would make the person drawn on the Sweeney Tarot’s Ten of Coins very happy, for sure. But would it make herself happy?
She imagined herself wearing a thick diamond tennis bracelet and how she might feel wearing such a thing.
No. A diamond bracelet would not make her happy. She felt anxious by the imagination and realized that if she had such a bracelet, she would be constantly worried about the bracelet being stolen from her.
She put the box into another bin behind her. That bin had a sign that informed the reader that it belonged in the Fifth Floor Document Room. The bin was only a third full but it was filled with boxes from upscale stores and outlets.
She picked up a thick pamphlet. Originally sealed and addressed for mailing, sometime during handling the seal had been broken, allowing the pamphlet pages to be exposed during transit. Melissa could not help but read the page she had picked up the pamphlet by. A recipe for roast beef with paprika and rosemary reminded her of her light breakfast.
As she placed the pamphlet to the side to be repackaged later, she imagined herself seated at an extravagant restaurant. The pictured roast beef was on a plate, ready to be served. Her imagined table was completely filled with every kind of food delicacy. Would a feast make her happy?
It would make her full and give her a feeling of content happiness, Melissa conceded. But it would be just as easy to overeat and be uncomfortable for a long while. This did not feel like the type of settled happiness that the different meanings for the Ten of Coins represented.
She picked up a thick envelope, filled with papers. The front of the envelope bore a large logo of an investment brokerage. The firm’s slogan reminded Melissa of the trust set up by her parents. The trust had been designed to preserve the wealth that her parents accumulated in life so that after they passed, Melissa and her sister could enjoy a comfortable life without worrying about having enough money to pay the electric bill, the grocery bill, or any bill at all.
But now that her mother Deborah had returned and was present again, the trust now served to restore Deborah to financial independence and a life apart from Aunt Helen. Deborah immediately set about ensuring that she and her daughters were unencumbered by a cruel environment and that they would be free.
This, Melissa felt deeply, was the meaning and understanding of the Ten of Coins. This was the peace that came from a lifetime of work and preparation: To enjoy the remaining years that one has and to leave a legacy for the generation to come. Why force people to struggle when there is joy in helping them thrive?
Melissa had continued to sort through package while deep in thought. So she did not notice the two interns resuming their whispering between them and pointed glances towards Melissa. However, Julie paid attention to all three of them and while she wanted to ask Melissa her own questions, she didn’t want to expose her to further mockery and baiting from the interns.
The interns didn’t wait for an invitation. “So, Melissa! I know you said that you wouldn’t talk about yourself, but what about your aunt? I heard that she’s not going to be sponsoring charities anymore! Is it because she’s out of money or because the charities raised their standards?”
Julie snapped at the giggling women. “That’s out of line!”
“She said she wouldn’t talk about herself! I’m respecting her boundaries!”
“It’s not like she has anything to hide, Julie. Everyone knows who her family is and everyone in her family is all over the place. Peasants such as us should be grateful to even be in their wake.”
As the three women began to bicker in glances and whispers, Melissa looked at the hanging ID cards of the interns. Clara was the intern who claimed to be respecting Melissa’s boundaries. Janice was the intern claiming that boundaries didn’t matter once breached.
Melissa observed herself remaining calm as the bickering in front of her increased to loud rushes as whispers slipped into low tones. If this conversation had happened prior to Rebecca giving her the tarot cards, Melissa would have been escorted off the property after physically assaulting the two interns. But today, she was surprised by her abiding calm and her focus on completing the boring assignment.
Janice took that calm as a challenge to overcome and waved her hand between Melissa’s face and the package she was inspecting. “Hey! Lisa! Are you stoned or something? Did you hear what I said?”
Melissa looked up from the package to Janice. Behind her, in the same line of sight, she saw the Director watching the four of them with a quiet stare and realized that this entire encounter was a test for all involved.
“No, I’m not stoned or anything. However, I apologize, Janice, I did not hear a single word you said. For one thing, my name is Melissa. For a second thing, idle conversation was not part of the work instructions and if I’m not mistaken, is discouraged.” Melissa held out the package to Janice. “Also, this package is going to the first floor and that bin is behind you.”
Janice snatched the package from Melissa and tossed it into the bin behind her without looking. As such, she completely missed the deepening furrow on Director Cargill’s face. “Don’t you fucking dare try to act clean, Lisa. You’ve been a pain in my ass for years, bouncing around getting into shit and it all slides off you like you’re fucking Teflon. My life is fucked because of you and you dare to come in here like you just ditched high school again.”
Melissa kept her hands on the edge of the bin and listened to Janice’s increasing fury. The two women appeared to be of the same age, but she could not remember if they had ever met before. Behind Janice, Director Cargill slowly stood.
“Let’s have that high school reunion another time, okay?” Julie attempted to insert herself into the tension, but the bin’s size kept her from doing anything more than waving at the two women.
“No, let’s have that reunion right fucking now. Remember when we got busted, Lisa? Remember when everyone with money was escorted home but us poors got put in jail, Lisa? When Mom couldn’t make bail money, she got a loan and when she couldn’t make the payments, I got picked up again, fucking Lisa? ALL YOU HAD TO DO TO GET ANYTHING IN LIFE WAS TO JUST SHOW THE FUCK UP, LISA! And everything you’ve gotten is because it was taken from me and my family. And now here you fucking are, slumming it like a god damn temp, like you have no other option but to take a job that doesn’t even pay for good toilet paper.”
Behind her, Director Cargill was yelling for quiet and order. Her arms spread indecisively as if to reach for the phone or to reach for the livid and trembling intern. Julie and Clara stood transfixed next to Melissa and Janice.
Melissa studied the angry woman’s face intently. “Janice. I don’t remember you.”
“OF COURSE YOU DON’T! YOU WERE HIGHER THAN THE ROOF WHEN THE COPS ROLLED IN!”
Melissa looked away. “That’s… likely, if this happened in high school. And… yea… I didn’t get what was coming to me, then. I…” Melissa looked up just in time to see Director Cargill pinching Janice’s sleeve. “Leave her, Director Cargill.”
Melissa forgot how loud the woman can yell and still be heard clearly. “THERE IS A STRICT STANDARD OF BEHAVIOR IN THIS OFFICE AND I WILL NOT TOLERATE ANY DEVIATION FROM IT!” As the reminder stung Melissa’s ears, the director pulled at Janice to lead her away from the bin.
“Yes, Director, there is. And you have just reminded us all of that. But, please, don’t write this up.” Melissa’s pleading surprised everyone except Janice, who only became angrier because of it.
“Don’t try to buy my respect by buying my check. I know I’m fired, and for once, I’m glad I am! I don’t want to be working where the only way to be promoted is by ass or cash and if you’re here, that’s the type of place this is. I don’t buy the bullshit that you’ve changed yourself. People with your kind of money don’t change. Why should you? You can buy any reputation you want and the only one that keeps being posted is you buying your way out of shit that other people have to pay to clean up. Lisa Fucking Yo-Yo, bouncing her head and being true to the god damned Winston family legacy!”
Janice threw the envelope she was holding into the sorting bin, snatched her arm away from the director, and stormed out of the Mail Room towards the exit. The remaining four women stood silently in place until not even the sound of Janice’s footsteps could be heard. They then turned towards each other with questions that none wanted to be the first to ask.
After a moment, Melissa sighed and picked up an envelope from the bin. It felt very warm in her hands and she realized she had picked up the very envelope that Janice had thrown down in her anger. As she stared at the poorly written address, she didn’t know what to think about, so she allowed her thoughts to jump off Janice’s last words and spread out from there.
Just as she started to regard what had just happened in the context of the Ten of Coins, Director Cargill recovered her inside voice.
“Julie and Melissa, I apologize for allowing the situation to escalate needlessly. Thank you for keeping yourselves levelheaded through this. Carla, while you were not part of how this matter ended, you had a significant role in how this matter began and that needs to be addressed.”
Carla glanced to Julie and Melissa. Julie pressed her lips and said nothing but glanced between Carla and the director. Director Cargill kept her focus squarely on Carla.
“Be thankful that I need your assistance today more than I need to hold you accountable. While there will be notes on your record, that you finally learned to keep your tongue will be considered. I will be working beside you to finish this bin. I do not have time to request another intern, and to be truthful, I do not want to risk any new surprises.”
The four women sorted the bin quietly. Director Cargill kept glancing at the clock. Carla kept glancing at the director and at Melissa. Julie kept glancing at Carla and Melissa. Melissa kept her visual focus on her work and returned her thoughts to the Ten of Coins and the idea of legacy.
How was it, she wondered, that her aunt’s married name became attached to the rest of the family when she didn’t even have any children of her own? There were three uncles who carried their father’s name, and they had several children who carried that name forward, but anytime someone referred to her mother’s family as a whole, it’s the Winston legacy that gets the namedrop.
Thinking of legacy returned her thoughts to the Ten of Coins. Here she was, sorting through personal mail that had been delivered to the corporate office and passing along tokens of wealth that hinted that some of the upper directors were enjoying a strong financial security. The kind that is bequeathed in wills because the person literally couldn’t spend it all.
Melissa’s older sister, Jean, was able to use the financial legacy established by their parents to protect Melissa from herself until she was able to come to her senses last month. She realized she had been benefitting from the positive aspects of the Ten of Coins for nearly all of her life despite her aunt’s attempts to ruin her.
Janice, however, did not have a family legacy to rely on. And from what the woman said in anger, the family’s attempt to come together to help her only caused more trouble for herself and her family. Melissa recognized that this also described the Ten of Coins from a detrimental aspect.
What kept Melissa silent in her brooding was how the legacy of her family worked to overshadow and devour the legacy of Janice’s family. Melissa knew that some of her extended cousins were heavily invested in the prison industry, from bail bondsmen to companies that used prison labor to the very prisons themselves. It was likely that the loan Janice’s mother had taken out was from a business owned or invested in by her cousin.
As goes the head of the family, so goes the family itself. Perhaps this is why the public named the family after Aunt Helen’s married name. Since Aunt Helen has inserted herself into all of the family matters, the family matters are now her aunt’s matters. So it would be no surprise that if Aunt Helen was willing to destroy Melissa to steal what would have been hers by right, then Aunt Helen and those who looked up to her would not give a second thought to utterly wrecking someone who was not family if it means a penny in profit.
This was still the Ten of Coins, Melissa concluded, but a malicious aspect to it. It is a lesson that she made a silent promise to herself to always remember so that if she leaves a legacy, that it is a beneficial legacy to those who follow in her wake and one with as little bloodshed as possible.
Director Cargill spoke and almost spooked Melissa. “Alright then, ladies, we almost finished everything, but we have run out of time.” Melissa’s ruminations had endured as the four of them sorted all but the last quarter of the last bin. “The building will be closing soon, and no interns are permitted to remain without Mr. Leifert’s explicit permission. Tidy up please while I complete and sign your assignment sheets.”
Julie, Carla, and Melissa pushed the bins into their respective storage spaces. Julie explained that an overnight crew would come in, finish the sorting left from the day, and then deliver the bins to their respective floors. In the morning, another set of hands would deliver the mail across the floors. Melissa thought this was a cumbersome way to deliver the mail but thought nothing of it.
“Carla. Melissa. The two of you have thirty minutes to get back and turn in your sheet for the day. If you don’t, you will have to come back tomorrow morning to submit it, regardless if you have an assignment here or not.”
“Julie. While you should have inserted yourself into their conversation sooner, I will not hold today against you. Janice’s vitriol was sudden, even for her, and once that began to flow, there was nothing anyone could do.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an urgent phone call to make before the hour ends.”
The director did not wait to see if any of the women had anything to say. She turned away from them, opened a small notebook, and dialed a number that her hands remembered more than her eyes.
The three women left the Mail Room quietly. As Julie closed the door behind her, Melissa was able to hear Director Cargill’s statements.
“Customer Service. Agent. Yes, I am calling from my account’s phone number. Now, listen. I’m tired of doing the same thing every month. I want my interest rate lowered and I want a month with no payments because I have been a good spender all year and I deserve something from you, too.”
Melissa reached up to adjust a headset that wasn’t there again as she knew what would be coming the moment the clerk finished the initial script. Though they were now halfway down the hall and the door to the Mail Room was closed, the three women were still able to hear the Director’s comments clearly.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN I AM DELINQUENT? I CAN’T POSSIBLY BE DELINQUENT! DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM AND WHAT I AM CAPABLE OF? TRANSFER ME TO YOUR MANAGER, RIGHT NOW!” Melissa made a silent prayer for the call center associate who was now likely wondering if hearing aids were covered by their medical benefits.
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