Melissa’s hands were stuck to the side of the bin in the Mail Room. No amount of jerking or twisting would peel her flesh from the timeworn and cracked edges now digging into her palm. Across from her, Janice continued her assessment of the uselessness of Melissa’s presence during the years spent in high school together.
Melissa looked around for Julie or Director Cargill. Surely the director would not tolerate anyone being more of a bully than she is. Surely Julie would insert herself into the conversation to prevent being written up herself. But all Melissa saw in the spaces around her were more sorting bins filled with boxes and packages.
Now Janice was informing Melissa of what had happened after Melissa was sent to a remedial school. How other girls continued to be treated unfairly and punished for misconduct that only earned Melissa some tutting and a call to her sister. How Janice’s family continued to pay for Janice’s bail with high interest rates and missed opportunities because that bill was everyone’s priority or Janice’s mother would be arrested. How Melissa’s very existence was a blight on Janice’s family and on Janice herself to the point that Melissa was now likely to be given the soft and easy assignments that Janice was working so very hard on earning.
Melissa was now pulling at her hands with all of her body weight. Not only did her hands not release the bins, but the bin itself didn’t move. It was as if her hands had been attached to the bin and the bin attached to the floor. She thought Janice would have run out of words by now, at least. But her peer continued her detailed inspection of Melissa’s life and the apparent uselessness of it.
“And now you’re reading tarot cards? Really? So you’re going to become a hack and a grifter for a whole new scene, now, huh.” The mention of tarot cards stopped Melissa from spiraling into a panic. She listened closely to the words and when Janice stopped to take a breath, she jumped into the conversation.
“Yea, tarot cards, bet you couldn’t even tell me what the Nine of Spheres looks like, huh.”
Janice looked at Melissa with fury. “It looks like ‘Go Fuck Yourself’, that’s what.”
“No.” Melissa’s sudden calmness did not alarm Janine. This same lack of response alerted Melissa to the nature of the conflict. “It looks like something the Moon would preside over.” She tugged on her hands again without accomplishing anything.
Janice placed both hands on the far side of the bin and leaned over the space. “And what gives you the understanding to say that?”
“Because you don’t know I’m interested in tarot, and even if you did, you would not know about the Nine of Spheres as that is a deck still being written.”
Black gloved hands released the far side of the bin. Black sleeves hid the wrists and arms of the figure as a loose black robe enveloped them. An animate mask of Melissa’s face was fitted over the figure. The mask was sneering. “As if you know what comes next, Melissa.”
“Still trying to use my insecurities against me, Judge. Well, I’m not up for that tonight.” Melissa tried to sound brave before the judge wearing her face, but she was still unable to remove her hands from the side of the bin.
“We’re past childish wounding with name-calling, Melissa. A greater goal requires a greater obstacle, Melissa. Is not the truth so very insurmountable at times, Melissa? It is a delivery that is so very hard to claim and even harder to avoid, Melissa.”
Melissa realized that her ability to modify the dream she was now aware of was greatly limited. She stopped struggling against the bar of the bin. She considered which card she was going to call, opened her mouth, and spoke from faith in what she knew to be true for her.
“Then let the truth be revealed. Let the light of day reveal all!” There was a glow from under Melissa’s clothes. But it soon faded and her hands remained stuck to the bin. She looked into the emptiness of the bin and tried not to slip into panic.
“That was a nice trick when you only needed tricks to get by, Melissa. But this is a different world now, and you need understanding to make it through, Melissa. Or, of course, you can just give up and give in, Melissa. Just close your eyes and let this world have you, Melissa. Nothing bad will happen, Melissa. Only a long-needed comfort and rest, Melissa.”
The judge was now standing beside her. One hand gripped the edge of the bin next to hers. The other hand was hovering over Melissa’s face, ready to wave down her eyelids and her awareness.
Melissa’s fear wound around her arms and legs, holding them in place and making it twice as hard to do anything but yield. She remembered that it took a nursery rhyme to dispel the Moon’s influence before, but she struggled to remember the charm.
If she could just have something to mentally hold on to and keep her awareness afloat. Some token of hope that would remind her how to keep going. Something that would bottle her fears into a jar. She pulled her face away from the judge’s hands as she remembered the name of that something.
“Elpis! Guide me through this terrible night!” Melissa closed her eyes in sudden fear but kept her faith resting in that name and the card it represented to her. Swiftly following the natural darkness that came with closed eyelids was an unnatural darkness that almost smothered even the awareness that she was dreaming.
She did not realize she had held her breath until she was gasping for air. Along with the opening of her lungs was the opening of her eyes.
“Guide? Or avoid?” Melissa looked to the voice and found a different judge standing beside her. Robed in black from head to toe and wearing the same black gloves as the judge wearing her face was now a judge wearing Rebecca’s face.
Melissa looked past the judge before looking around her. Gone was the Mail Room and the bins. Now she was standing underneath a sky with as many stars overhead as where was black grains of sand under her feet. She wanted to cry in relief, but was aware that not only was she dreaming, but that the dream could be interrupted at any moment if she lets her guard down for an instant.
“Um. Guide, please.”
“Then stop avoiding the discomfort that comes with revelation.” The judge wearing Rebecca’s face began to pace slowly around Melissa. “What was told to you today are the facts of a situation. It is up to you to determine what you are going to do with those facts.”
Melissa had tried to turn in place to keep facing the judge. The sand pulled at her feet and she was forced to remain standing in place or risk falling over. “What can I do? I can’t go back in time and change anything there. We were at a party. We were busted. I walked away because Jeannie pulled some strings. Janice was sent to jail and that has fucked with her and her family ever since. What could I possibly do now?”
The judge was suddenly in front of Melissa, facing her squarely. She never saw the figure walk back into her range of sight but heard their words reverberate in her bones. “You have the knowledge, but you lack understanding. Apply what you have learned to what you what you can grasp, and the understanding will be revealed as you follow through.”
Melissa stomped her foot in frustration. “How am I supposed to apply something personal like tarot to this? Besides, all I have is a seed! And that got planted already! I have no fucking idea what comes next! How is contemplation on a picture in a card supposed to help me make amends for something I wasn’t even cognitively present for?”
The judge wearing Rebecca’s face did not move during Melissa’s tirade. They waited patiently and still for the animate woman to complete venting her reasons why Tarot, Capital T, was not able to help with this situation. It was only when Melissa tired and ran out of breath that they answered her concern.
“If you want to change the world around you, you must start with the world within you. This was true before we came to be, and it will be true long after we are lost to time. What is it you seek and why did you come here to find it?”
Melissa felt worn and tired. Wasn’t there some warning about losing arguments to figments of one’s imagination?
“Understanding. I seek understanding, and I came here to be guided by the Star through the night of my ignorance to the dawn of my understanding.”
“Apply what you have learned.” The judge turned to face away from Melissa and started to walk forward.
“Wait!” At Melissa’s shout, the judge stopped but did not turn back to face her. She had remembered one of her written questions that she had meant to ask Rebecca, but why not ask the source itself. “I need clarification about tarot cards.” The judge turned to face Melissa again.
“So, the last time I was here, under this starry sky and on this black sand, I was handed a tarot card. The Ten of Spheres. This card does not exist. Instead, what I encountered in the physical world was the Ten of Coins. Is there more than one type of tarot?”
The judge remained still for a moment longer than Melissa was comfortable with. When they moved and raised their arm, Melissa jumped in surprise. The judge raised their masked face and gestured to the stars over them.
“There are as many types of tarot as there are stars above you. Each point of light is a unique encounter of light and texture and distance and relevance. And yet, these are all still called ‘stars’ by your language, are they not?”
The judge lowered their face as they swept their hand low to point at Melissa’s chest. “You have received the Ten of Spheres and have determined what that card means for you. You have encountered the Ten of Coins and have seen the shape of its meaning for you. Both cards are tarot cards, but each is from a different deck. Complete the deck and you will complete a point of understanding.”
The judge pulled their hand away from Melissa and tucked it under the folds of their jet-black robes. “Notice that you did not distinguish between the reality of the paper card of the Ten of Coins that is sitting on your desk and the reality of the card of the Ten of Spheres that you received in this place. Here, too, is a point of understanding.”
Melissa nodded dumbly at the judge. Their words made sense, but the meaning of their words did not. How can she complete a deck that she’s never seen, much less don’t know the meanings of? It’s clear that the suit of Spheres is going to differ in meanings from the suits of Coins. How could she compare them? How would she begin to ask how to compare them? She shrugged and supposed that the only way out is through, once more.
“One last question before you go, please. How am I supposed to research the suit of Spheres and the tarot deck it goes with if it only exists here?”
The judge appeared to be standing under a thin spotlight. “You cannot research it any more than you can research a fold in your soul. You have to be willing to explore it. As the Ten of Spheres was revealed to you, so will the Nine of Spheres. Apply what you have learned about the Ten of Spheres so that you may reveal the Nine of Spheres within it. How you complete this task will reveal how you can possibly do something regarding Janice.”
Melissa nodded with a bit more understanding than before. She noticed that the shaft of starlight had a strange effect on the judge. They seemed to be… sublimating?
Before Melissa could ask another question, the judge dissolved in the starlight and was dispersed before her eyes. She looked up to see the same sponsoring star that had answered her call in a previous dream at a level of brightness significantly greater than its peers. As she watched, the star appeared to retreat until she lost it amidst the uncountable stars in the impossible ever-night sky.
“I have to be willing to explore it, eh. They said I can’t research it any more than I can research a fold in my soul. That I have to be willing to explore it. So… That means I not only am able to explore a fold in my soul, but that doing so is the way to discover what my suit of Spheres is. And if I was awake, this would all sound very much batshit crazy, but here…”
Melissa turned and looked all around her under the sky illuminated with stars of every possible type seen, imagined, and recorded by those who have dreamt of the night sky. The combined starlight was just bright enough to see herself by. The black sand under her feet did not glitter in response but seemed to soak up all light that had escaped her sight.
“I guess I could call this place the night of my soul, from the way the judges have been talking. Then, this is the place where I start, right where I am. Just like D–… she said.”
“Okay. So. Just how do I call up nine floating spheres, anyway?” She laughed. “It’s not like I can just dig into my chest and… or can I?”
Melissa pulled away the shirt she didn’t notice was there or not until she needed to pull away a shirt that she happened to be wearing. She laughed at herself performing a waking world action in a lucid dream. She laughed more at the thought of what she wanted to do next, as there was no physical possibility of what was about to happen.
She pinched at the exposed skin and with a deliberate motion, plucked what looked like a tiny seed from her chest. “One.” She flung the seed into the air before her where it suddenly expanded into a globe about eight inches across. The orb appeared as if it were made from darkly hued glass or obsidian. As it settled into a position across from her line of sight, it began to spin ever so slightly in place.
“Well, that settles it. If the Ten of Spheres was planted in me, then I am the source for the fruit that comes from it.” She repeated the pinch, pull, and throw gesture. “Two.” A second identical sphere flew to join the first. As it settled in place, the two spheres began to orbit the space between them. She noted that the space in between the sphere was just wide enough to fit a third sphere.
Melissa watched the moving spheres for a moment, before adding and naming a third sphere to join them. She had expected the third sphere to fall into the line created by the initial two. Instead, the third sphere moved to sit on the points of an equiangular triangle with the same distance to the first two as the first two held to each other.
The shape made by the three spheres were now turning around the center of the shape. Melissa was reminded of how the equiangular triangle made by the initial Ten of Spheres also turned until she had spoken her question.
She gestured, and a fourth sphere was sent to the triangle. She had expected the fourth sphere to stick to the center of the triangle made by the first three, creating the three-dimensional figure of a four-sided pyramid. Instead the imaginary triangle “broke” and the spheres moved to permit the fourth to rest in the same vertical plane and create a perfect square that continued to rotate in place.
“One is a point. Two points define a line. Three points define a plane. The fourth point is resting in that plane. Oh, no! It’s geometry class all over again! Damn you, Euclid!” Despite her pain from remembering her math classes, Melissa laughed to see the pattern the spheres were making. If the fourth sphere rested on the point of a four-sided figure, then the fifth sphere would rest on the point of a five-sided figure.
She gestured with the expectation of seeing the points of a pentagon revealed. Instead the fifth sphere course-corrected in flight and planted itself firmly inside the square made by the first four points. This caused the first four spheres to move away from the imaginary center at first before settling back into their original positions. This gave the center fifth sphere the sense of dominating the shape of the square and subjugating the four spheres rotating around it.
“Well, that’s fucking rude.” She thought about her spoken comment. “No, not rude. Violent.” She was reminded of how many tarot decks gave keywords to their cards and of the many blog posts about numbers being a theme in their own right. Five, she concluded, is a violent number. That didn’t make the number good or bad as five candles on a birthday cake indicates progression in life, but five cracks in a car’s windshield indicates structural weakness or neglect. Regardless if the growth is the height of a child or the length of a crack, the swift progression of either one can be perceived as violent.
Melissa reflected on the five shapes she has seen the spheres make. One sphere, floating by itself, seemed to contain everything at once. But her conclusion felt incomplete and she decided not to settle on what “One” could mean by itself until she progressed through the numbers. The way the two spheres rotated individually and around a point between them reminded her of the ideas of tension and cooperation.
The triangle made by three spheres was a stable shape when the spheres were working together, but she noted that the same shape was easy to pinch. Perhaps there was a weakness to a group of three when placed under pressure? The square made by four spheres felt to be an even more stable shape. She was reminded of the four corners of a box, the four wheels of a car, and the four legs of her dining room table. But for all that stability from without, the square was with from within.
And that weakness was exploited by the fifth sphere, that was now ruling over the four outer spheres. Melissa noticed that this was the first configuration that was not the points of a polygon and that this could also be seen as a top down view of a four-sided pyramid such as those in Giza. This comparison settled her personal keyword of “Violence” for the number five and this particular configuration of spheres.
She gestured and threw a sixth sphere to join the floating punctured square. To her surprise, the inner fifth sphere moved to the edge of the shape and joined the others in making room for the sixth sphere to float on what she recognized as the points of a hexagon. She stood and regarded the slowly rotating shape.
After the violence of the dominated square, the even collection of points gave her feelings of peace and balance. It was as if the force of the fifth sphere was put to a better use and as a result, the entire group was now in harmony. Melissa stood and rested in that peace for a moment before gesturing and throwing a seventh sphere towards the collection.
At first, she was horrified to see the seventh sphere settle calmly in the very center of the hexagon until she noted that it had not forced itself into the space but gently moved into what she now sees as a place that had been prepared and set aside by the preceding six spheres. She stood in wonder at the feeling of peace and serenity. The seven spheres made such a perfect pattern that she wondered if this was what it was like to look at the atoms that made up the universe.
She did not realize she had thrown an eighth sphere out until the seven spheres broke their pattern to create another square. This time, the center of each side as well as each corner held a sphere. It was easier to draw imaginary lines from corner to corner to delineate the square. This pattern felt more than just a duplicate of the square made with four spheres. The sides now felt reinforced from without and within. There would be no dominating this square without having broken one of these eight spheres first.
Melissa pinched at her chest for a ninth sphere but paused before completing the gesture. Each figure she has seen from the mutually orbiting Two to the reinforced square of Eight had evolved from the figure preceding it. How, she wondered, did the stable equiangular triangle of Ten come to be after the unyielding reinforced square of Eight?
She completed the gesture and flung a ninth sphere towards the rotating square. The incoming sphere moved directly for the center the same as the fifth sphere did when inserting itself into the square of four spheres, but without the violence of the latter. It took the center point without any disturbance of the previous eight spheres and became part of the new collection without a ripple of movement in the others.
The resulting three by three grid of spheres continued to rotate quietly at the same slow drift as before. But where the previous configuration appeared to Melissa as a rotating square, this new configuration, despite having the same outline, felt like a rotating diamond. There was tension emanating from this idea of having the weight of nine whole spheres resting on the one single point of connection the diamond would make with any supporting surface.
The three spheres in the central line of the diamond would be self-supporting, but the three spheres on either side of the central line would be depending on their connection to the spine of the figure to support them. This would not be a figure representing stability, Melissa concluded, but rather one representing the ambition and audacity to do something dangerous and reckless. But what would the potential payoff be for balancing between growth and destruction?
Melissa already knew the shape that ten spheres would make, but for the sake of completion, she gestured at her chest and threw the tenth sphere anyway. Though her aim was for the center point of the diamond, it struck the bottom of the rotating figure as a sphere was at the trough of the movement. It struck the sphere with a crack that was felt but not heard. The two spheres moved to sit side by side, which destabilized the entire figure. The other eight spheres shifted and jostled to settle into the same ten-sphere equiangular triangle configuration that was on the Ten of Spheres card and that she had touched to begin her path through the suit.
The completed triangle began to rotate vertically before her as had all the other shapes and configurations before her. But in remembering how the scene of the Ten of Spheres had literally seeded her imagination, she now understood why her contemplation of the solitary sphere that started this pattern felt incomplete.
In the dream of the Ten of Spheres, all the light had drained from nine of the spheres into one, and that one had swiftly descended to seed the ground below her. She understood now that Ten, once it completes its goal, condenses into One to begin a new cycle of growth. One grows into Ten and Ten seeds the One.
Melissa looked up to the stars in triumph at having understood the pattern. The stars remained indifferent to her shout but received it just the same. She looked back to the rotating triangle of ten spheres and realized that for all her new understanding, she still had no idea what the Nine of Spheres meant to her and as such, no idea how to use the understanding of that card to help Janice.
Perhaps, she mused, that it would be better to go forward with the review of the suit. To take the seed that the Ten of Spheres gave her and start over from One. But the judge with Rebecca’s face had already told Melissa to take what she had learned about the Ten of Spheres to reveal the Nine of Spheres before it, so she was pretty much stuck in going through the suit in reverse.
So, what did she know about the Ten of Spheres? That it was the Seed of Understanding. That it was the completion of the growth started by One. That it was the result of the ambitious acceleration of the Nine.
Her thoughts came to a focused stop and she looked at the rotating triangle of ten spheres. She reached out and pinched one of the spheres along a side of the triangle, pulled it out of the pattern, and tossed it over her shoulder. The remaining nine spheres rearranged themselves back into the three by three squared off diamond grid and started to rotate again.
She held the diamond in place and took another look at the figure. When she had thrown the tenth sphere, it landed at the bottom of the diamond which destabilized the figure and collapsed the resulting ten sphere figure into a triangle that had a four-sphere base at the bottom so it was pointing up.
What if the tenth sphere had landed at the top of the diamond? The resulting figure would be a triangle with a four-sphere side at the top of the figure. This would leave it pointing down just as the Ten of Spheres scene did when planting the Seed of Understanding.
“The Nine of Spheres can go either way. It can either leave the Ten of Spheres pointing up or pointing down. But since this card is not a person, then the person experiencing the Nine of Spheres has a decision to make. Do they prepare themselves to send something away or prepare themselves to secure what they have gained this far? This card is not a statement, it’s a work in process.”
She released the diamond grid. The spheres sublimated in the wake of her release. “Oh. I must have hit on something for them to go away. Good. Because damn, this is a lot to carry with me to the waking world. I hope I can at least remember the shape of the patterns because that will help me remember. I hope.”
She looked at the starry sky and noted the stars were fading. One by one, they diminished as the background hue of the sky lightened. “Okay. I get it. Dawn is coming. Thank you.”
It was her intention to exit the dream with the action of walking away. When she lifted her foot, the black sand under her also sublimated and she literally fell into a deeper sleep.
When morning came, she updated her notes with what she had remembered from the dream. She made simple diagrams in her notebook with dots representing the spheres and wrote how each pattern made her feel. She thought about emailing Rebecca about the patterns but decided against it in case Rebecca thought she was trying to ask about magic again.
So, Melissa spent the morning preparing for an afternoon with her mother and sister. She felt guilty about how open she was to Rebecca regarding her feelings compared to how closed she was to her mother. Shouldn’t Melissa be doing her best to involve her into her life?
Except just how does one admit that many of the rumors and scandals surrounding her are based in fact? And how does one admit that it took a supernatural intervention for her to save herself? And how does one admit that those same forces never left and that she sees something that could be spirits or could be something far stranger on the regular?
One doesn’t, Melissa concluded while she went to the garage to meet Jean. Better that her mother thinks that she only took up what could have been an expensive hobby of collecting tarot decks and stopped at a reasonable four decks. After all, her father was always bringing home indecipherable panels painted by his students and calling those ‘art’ as well.
A subtly shiny black sedan pulled up to the passenger loading area just as Melissa stepped out of the hallway into the cavernous garage. She had a driver’s license but never had a vehicle in her name. While technically she could drive, her recent maturity meant she was hesitant to prove her skill level until she had some remedial training to remind her.
The driver of the sedan pushed the passenger door open. “Hey! Jump in!” Melissa barely had time to slide the seat belt across her lap when the driver eagerly drove on.
“Hey! Lemme brace for impact, Jeannie! We don’t have to race! Mom isn’t going anywhere.”
What was supposed to be a groan-worthy joke fell on their still healing hearts and silence claimed the space between them.
“No, she isn’t. You’re right. I’ll slow down.” Jean kept her face stoic, but Melissa could see the tightened grip on the steering wheel.
“So. You too.”
Jean glanced at Melissa before returning her stare to the signal light. “Me too, what?”
“You’re afraid that this is all a dream, and that Mom will go away and disappear again. That if we don’t keep Mom is someone’s sight as much as possible, we’ll turn the corner and it will be as if she never came back.”
Jean took another glance at Melissa, but with some concern now showing on her face. “Damn, Melissa. That’s very specific. And yes, I’m afraid she might leave, or that she might get sick. You know her health is not what it should be. But what you’re saying is specifically detailed. Is that what you’re afraid of?”
“Yea.” Melissa thought of her nightmares and of their aunt’s diviner still working actively against her. “That’s one of them anyway.”
“Have you talked to Mom about that?”
“Oh hell, Jeannie! I can’t bring that up to her! ‘Hi, Mom, so glad you’re back, would you mind wearing a tracker so I can see where you are any given moment of the day? I need to be reminded that you still exist.’ Like, that’s going to go over so damn well after all she’s been through!”
Jean kept her response within herself until she stopped at a red signal light. She turned her head so that she could monitor the signal light out of the corner of her eye but still be able to look at Melissa’s face. “Okay. That was sharp, even for you. What’s really bothering you?”
Melissa started to angrily sputter than nothing was really bothering her but after turning her face to view Jean’s, her words lost momentum and sound. The last time she saw Jeannie with that deep a concerned look on her face, they were on their way to Aunt Helen’s mansion for Melissa to sign an admission of guilt. The consequences of what happened at that meeting were spreading like rhizomes and there was no telling if the next revelation would benefit the two sisters.
Melissa weighed how much to tell her sister. “I’ve been having nightmares. Well, I’ve always had nightmares, but since…” She turned her head and looked out the window as her voice refused to admit any further details. “They’ve been getting worse and it’s been hard to sleep through the night.”
The signal light turned green and Jean turned her attention forward as the car moved on. “Ah. Okay. For the record, I know you’re bullshitting me and not telling me everything. But thank you for telling me something. You know, there’s a doctor I could refer you to, if you’re willing to go.”
Melissa wanted to interject the moment she realized Jeannie was going to say the word ‘doctor’ but thought to be polite and to hear her sister out. Now that she had done so, the offer did not change Melissa’s predetermined response.
“No, thank you.”
“That’s a very polite ‘No, thank you’. Too polite. Have you considered–”
“Yes, I have!” This time, Melissa had no reservations about being rude and running over what she suspected was Jeannie’s prepared speech advocating for psychiatric help. “Been there, done that, almost got papered for it. No, thank you! I’ve dealt with being unsettled before and I’m sure I’ll be able to deal with it this time.”
Jean’s reply was a slow nod of her head and making sure Melissa could see how focused she was on the road ahead of them. Their mother’s apartment was on the edge of city’s boundaries. Far enough away from the heart of the city that Deborah’s presence wouldn’t attract gawkers and opportunistic story-hounds. Near enough for Melissa and Jean to spend more time worrying about if they’re visiting her too much than it would take to actually come visit her.
“Hello, my dears!” Deborah greeted them as she remained seated in a wide and luxuriant couch in the otherwise austere living room. “I would smother you with hugs and kisses, but my legs are being quite bothersome and it’s hard to stand right now.”
“It’s okay, Mom. We’ll just come over to you instead!” Jean’s assurance came with a well-practiced tone that Melissa recognized immediately. While Jean never spoke of any concerns or fears about their mother’s return, Melissa realized that Jean was choosing her words to their mother very carefully.
“Big couch makes for big hugs.” Melissa greeted Samantha, Deborah’s assistant, and moved quickly to take up space on the couch on the other side of her mother. Together Jean and Melissa wrapped their arms around their mother and squeezed gently. Though they had inherited their father’s sturdy frame, both daughters could feel that their mother’s ordeal has taken more than time away from her.
“Tell me, my dears, how has your week been and how are you going to frustrate me this time?” Deborah’s bright laughter was answered by her daughters both exclaiming “Mom!” with disbelief.
“And just how do you think we’re going to frustrate you, Mom?” Melissa leaned just enough on Deborah for her to feel her daughter’s warmth.
“Yea, it’s not like we’re setting out to deliberately give you wrinkles, you know.”
All three laughed with each other even as they reflected on the previous seven months. Melissa could see that they were all playing a game of pretend, where the goal is not to speak about painful topics. It is a game she was often forced to play with Aunt Helen. She decided that it is a game that she would no longer participate in.
“Okay. As the youngest person here, it is my duty and obligation to declare that we are all physically adult. As such, is there any reason why we should continue pretending that difficult things haven’t happened to each of us and that I especially have not been very adult? Because as much as it’s nice to be here, the three of us, what happened before we got here is also here with us, too.”
Jean stared at Melissa as if she could burn her younger sister’s tongue out of her mouth by determination alone. Deborah sighed in what her daughters first took as remorse, but soon understood to be relief.
“No, my dear, there is no good reason why we should pretend that the past ten years didn’t happen to any of us. And you are correct, Melissa. What happened in those ten years is still with us now. It is why it hurts to walk, and I will likely never be cured. It is why Jean is leaning stiffly on my shoulder like she’s afraid to touch me. It is why you won’t talk to me about your inner life. We are all hurting. But we have had to hide those pains for so long, I don’t think any of us are prepared to show how deeply wounded we are to each other.”
Melissa bit her lip to keep from sobbing but that only allowed her tears to silently escape as she nodded in agreement. Jean withdrew from Deborah, realized what she was doing, and forced herself to reach out to take her mother’s hand.
“I know more about what you two have done and have been through than you are willing to admit to yourselves, my dears. Helen may have kept me from touching you, but she did not keep me from knowing you. Please, do not think that either one of you has done anything so shameful that I would reject you for it. When you needed a mother, your mother was not here for you. There is nothing you have done that will ever be greater than my shame for my absence or that I was not able to come back sooner than I did.”
Melissa thought of her life weeks before Rebecca gave her the tarot deck. She thought of the parody blogs that announced each social faux pas, real and imagined. She thought of Ricardo attempting to blackmail her and of the intern’s statement about a sex tape. She thought her life had become pretty shameful before she gained enough clarity to turn it around. Thinking of her mother also knowing these things hurt Melissa and she closed her eyes in remorse.
Thin fingers swiped away the new flow of tears prompting Melissa to open her eyes. “I know, and I’m here. Helen tried to chase me away with her stories, and she only made me more determined to take you two back from her. I did not abandon you when I found out what you had done with your lives, and I am not going to abandon you if anything else is revealed. You don’t have to tell me anything, Melissa. You, too, Jeannie. But I do ask that you forgive me for my absence and my slowness in coming back to you.”
It was only when Melissa dared to look at her mother that she noticed that Samantha was nowhere to be seen. Rather than allow herself to be distracted by a potential witness, Melissa leaned in, wrapped her arms around her mother, and allowed herself to cry. The sobs were not expressions of happiness, but of finally acknowledging pain, remorse, and regret to another person. And while she wasn’t sure if she was more ashamed for having endured the past ten years or for having survived the past ten years, for the first time since seeing her mother at the courthouse three weeks ago, Melissa truly felt like it was okay to let the intervening years remain behind her and be comforted by her mother’s presence again.
It was only when she felt extra warmth on her hands that Melissa looked up. Jeannie’s face was dry, and her eyes were closed, but her older sister had allowed herself to fully embrace their mother. In doing so, Jeannie was also leaning on Melissa’s hands, which did not bother the younger sister in the slightest. Deborah had draped one arm over each of her daughters and just silently held them as they held her.
No words were said for a long time.
“So, who is going to ruin this by admitting that their feet fell asleep and they need to move?” Deborah’s whispered non-admission made Melissa giggle and made Jean jerk away in fear of having hurt their mother. But Jean moved too fast and smacked Melissa upside the head which made the latter outright laugh and lose her balance. Melissa’s attempt to recover without pushing against Deborah while laughing failed terribly and Melissa fell sideways into her mother’s lap. All while Jean sat with her hands over her mouth trying not to yell at her younger sister to be careful as she realized it was her action that had upset the balance.
All three women were silent again for a few seconds. The silence was thoroughly banished by peals of laughter punctuated by sharp snorts. Only once the laughter had spun itself into giggles was Deborah able to tap the weight laying almost comfortably against her.
“Move, child. You’re too big to hold for hugs and wiggles now and I do need to stand up for a bit.”
“Sorry, Mommy!” Melissa said nothing more as she pulled her weight off her mother’s lap before pushing herself back into a seated position. She realized what she had said and was suddenly holding one hand to her face while trying not to cry.
Deborah took up her cane with one hand and offered her free hand to Jean, who recognized her mother’s intent and braced herself to help Deborah rise and stand. As she stood, she grimaced and tried to hide the stiffness in her legs. Behind her back, Jean and Melissa glanced at each other in mutual acknowledgement.
“Listen.” Deborah held Jean’s hand to steady herself and lightly knocked against Melissa’s head with the handle of the cane. “You don’t have to call me ‘Mommy’ if it hurts you. You don’t have to call me ‘Mom’, ‘Mama’, or any of those family words that doesn’t apply right now and may not ever apply. I know I’m a stranger to you. You can call me ‘Deborah’ if that helps.”
Deborah quietly asked Jean to help her walk around the living room of the apartment. Jean noticed that Deborah’s first steps were directly away from Melissa, who remained seated on the couch watching them.
Melissa remained quiet and was obviously in her thoughts as she absentmindedly watched the two women slowly track around the room. As they approached Melissa for the third time, she folded her hands in her lap and looked up at her mother.
“No. ‘Mommy’ is good. It feels good to say again. It’s just… well… A lot has happened in such a short time that I’m getting whiplash from stitching together the past with what has happened in the present.”
“Okay, my dear. Oh, is it okay to call you that? I don’t want to force myself into any spaces that I don’t belong in.” Deborah looked over her shoulder at Melissa as she slowly kept pacing.
“Oh, I’m sure it’s okay, Mom.” Jean spoke happily for her and her sister. “You’re our mother, and of course you belong in this space!”
Deborah came to a stop and continued to hold Jean’s hand tightly. “I’m your mother, and I belong in the space you individually make for me. I did not work to free you from my sister only for you to be held captive by a worse tyrant! I love you both and I have missed you in ways that have broken me, but I also know and see that you both are broken as well. I did not come back to press myself into the places that hurt.”
Deborah’s rebuttal caught both sisters by surprise. Whereas Melissa was comforted by Deborah’s deliberate distancing, Jean was greatly troubled by it. So when their mother pulled Jean into a tight hug, Melissa was not envious to see it.
“Melissa, while Jean helps me walk around some more, do you mind telling me about your jobs? Jean tells me that you’ve become an intern at Leifert Enterprises but I’m much more interested about the job at the mall! You must meet so many different people every day!”
Melissa snapped at Deborah’s request. “Uh. Ah. Well. My job at the mall is on hold. There was, uh… There was an incident and while I was cleared of any wrong doing, the way the company handled it is now under investigation and… well… I’m not sure that job is coming back.”
“But you still met people there! And you probably have stories to tell! Losing the job doesn’t mean losing the experiences.”
Melissa watched her mother and Jean make another lap around the living room. She realized that this was Deborah’s way of learning about her without interrogating her. Melissa tried to remember a time when her mother was short in asking questions and shorter about waiting for an answer. No memories came at her bidding.
“Uh, yea. There were mall walkers that would stop and chat when they came by the kiosk. Some were almost running but most were out for a daily stroll. This was their exercise and to be honest, I don’t blame them for wanting to look at something other than a gym. What with the mall being indoors and so big inside.”
The more Melissa talked about her interactions with others at her jobs, first at the kiosk and then on the phone at the call center, the more informal and livelier she was in her speech and body language to her mother.
Melissa didn’t think she had much to offer in terms of life experiences as most of her memories and reflections were on events that were hard enough to discuss with her sister, much less her returned mother. But each recollection reminded her of another and soon Deborah and Jean were laughing at her mimicry of entitled callers demanding to be catered to.
“Okay. Switch. Melissa, dear, come walk this old woman around her memories while Jean tells me how mature and responsible she is.”
Melissa giggled again as she stood up and stretched herself. She was reminded of how her parents used to playfully snip at each other with teasing words and how neither one could pretend to be offended for long. She almost started crying again to hear that playful tone in her mother’s voice.
Jean, on the other hand, took Deborah’s words at face value without hearing the tone that carried them and was suddenly proud to be recognized as mature and responsible and by the same token, absolutely frightened that she now has to prove to her mother of all people, that she is mature and responsible.
As she sat down, she began to tally all the ways that she had kept herself and Melissa safe from Aunt Helen and other family members who thought they would help themselves to the Arroyo trust.
As Deborah’s mirth settled into careful listening, Melissa noted that Jean was listing all the ways she had protected the wealth that their mother was now in full control of and that they were likely to inherit after her passing.
She almost stumbled when she realized that Jean’s detailing of her role as the caretaker and maintainer of the trust was a personal demonstration of the meaning of the Nine of Coins in a positive aspect.
Jean had taken deliberate steps to move as much of the fluid assets into management accounts that were not influenced or ruled over by Aunt Helen. She had arranged for one account to provide an income that was meant for both Jean and Melissa, but Aunt Helen was able to insert herself into that flow and divert Melissa’s income away to her purse.
But the endowments remained in place, and the artwork remained secure, and the investments remained untouched, such that when Jean executed her plan to remove Aunt Helen from the trust to allow the two sisters to complete their inheritance, they would be able to live a life away from Aunt Helen and with no dependence on the dowager for anything more in life.
Melissa listened to all of this in a brooding silence. She now had an understanding of the Nine of Coins. Some online readers referred to this card as an Inheritance. Some referred to it as well-kept woman, but that phrase fell into Melissa’s thoughts as terribly old-fashioned. She now understood the Nine of Coins to be the increase in wealth that would lead to the legacy of the Ten of Coins. How the wealth came to be didn’t matter, only that the person receiving it takes proper care not to squander it.
She continued to walk with her mother around the room, though she had allowed her thoughts to wander elsewhere halfway through Jean’s itemized accounting of her actions. So, Melissa did not notice when Jean had become quiet or when Deborah’s attention had turned from the seated daughter to the daughter escorting her. Only when Deborah came to a halt and pulled slightly on Melissa’s hand, pulling Melissa’s thoughts back to the present, did Melissa realize how silent she had been.
“Penny for your thoughts, my dear. Oh wait, with inflation happening, should I say, ‘Dollar for your thoughts’, instead?” Deborah smiled with a warm invitation. Behind her, Jean barely shook her head in a frantic silent warning. Melissa had to remind herself that Jean knew about Melissa’s tarot cards, but the topic had not yet come up with their mother.
“Um. Just thinking. That’s all.” Melissa watched Deborah furrow her brow in worry and remembered her mother’s observation that Melissa wasn’t allowing her to see any part of her inner life. “Well, something happened at work, at the internship.”
“Sit.” Deborah’s command was softly spoken with the full understanding that it would be obeyed. “I wondered why you talked about everything else except Leifert Enterprises.”
As the three women found the right combination of pillows to be comfortable with, Deborah asked Samantha to put some water on for tea and to arrange for some afternoon snacks to be brought to them.
Samantha entered with a tray of already poured tea and already prepared snacks. She chided Deborah for missing a meal and reminded her charge that she needed to monitor her blood sugar. Melissa used the interlude to think through what parts of her concern would she be able to relay to her mother and her sister, and what parts must be kept on a field of black sand under a starry sky.
“Well, I still have my internship, if that’s what you’re worried about. I happened to run into someone I went to high school with. And, well…” Melissa tried to sit politely with the teacup and saucer, but the posture felt too much like preparing for an interrogation under Aunt Helen. So, she put the cup and saucer back on the table and sat a little more comfortably even though it was a little less polite.
“Something that happened back in high school didn’t leave a mark on me, but completely ruined her life and her family’s life and I didn’t know about it until now. And I was wondering, now that I have more money coming from the trust than I need, if I could somehow… make amends? You know, help her get back on her feet and maybe undo some of the damage?”
Deborah and Jean were both silent in voice and still in movement for a moment. They looked at each other while Melissa regretted ever saying a single word and braced for the yelling to start. Jean was about to oblige her when their mother gestured to Jean to remain quiet.
“Make amends, how? Be as specific as you can, please.” The joy and mirth of the afternoon had dimmed along with the sunlight. Deborah’s voice sounded weary.
“Um…” Melissa gripped the cloth napkin in one hand and used her other hand to smooth out what fabric had not been caught fast. “Well, reimburse her for the bail money, at least! And, maybe give her a sum that will help her get through the next several months so she doesn’t have to take jobs that are beneath her. Maybe?”
This was the most daring Melissa had spoken to her mother since Deborah’s return. And this was the most small she has ever felt since her mother was lost. She ran out of words to spill and became silent. The only sign of her inner turmoil was the smoothing of the napkin in her lap.
Deborah’s pointed gesture kept Jean silent even as Jean’s facial expression told of a sudden impatience. “That’s an idea, dear. But then what? Even if you were to bestow upon her all the money that she would have earned or kept if she had not gone to jail that night, would that undo what was done? Would that make amends, or would that only make her even more angry and hateful towards you? What does she want from you, dear, and it is something that money could buy?”
She relaxed her hand and brought it to join the other in her lap. “What you want to do is ambitious, Melissa. But while your heart is compassionate, the world is not. There are circumstances where reparations paid to those affected wrongful deeds would be an act of righteousness. I’m sorry, my dear, this is not one of them.”
Melissa had lifted her face to listen intently when her mother spoke the word ‘ambitious’. As such, she heard and completely understood the words spoken after. “It’s not? But…” She lowered her head again. The judge wearing Rebecca’s face had said that how Melissa reveals the Nine of Spheres would reveal what she could do about Janice. Jean had already demonstrated what the Nine of Coins was about. Melissa had figured out that the Nine of Spheres was about ambition and how that ambition was used would determine how the resulting Ten of Spheres was the seed of the next cycle. If she could only understand the Nine of Spheres completely, she would be able to help Janice!
Melissa crumpled the napkin in her hands. “It’s not fair, Mom. Why can’t I help her? I’ve seen the bank statements! Jeannie and I will have more money than we can spend in our lifetime so why not help the folks that got run over when I didn’t know my head from my… a… hole in the ground?”
Deborah moved to be closer to Melissa. When her daughter didn’t retreat, she moved to be right next to Melissa and laid a hand on her daughter’s wrung out napkin. “When your father and I set up the trust before I left, neither one of us thought that it would come to anything. And if I was able to come home when I had planned, we would have likely changed the investments and it would have come to very little in profit in hindsight. But I didn’t get to come home and he didn’t change the investments and even though Jeannie wasn’t able to save all of it from my sister’s predation, there is now worth more than all you, Jeannie, and I will ever spend in our combined lifetimes.”
“And how much of that profit was worth the years I was kept away from you and Jeannie? If Helen was held accountable right now and forced to pay back every penny taken and every potential profit reimbursed, would that heal the wounds we carry?”
Melissa was not able to hold back the tears that her mother’s words pulled out of her. Nor did she resist when her mother finally pulled her into a comforting embrace.
“This person from high school, this person who has had to walk out the consequences of so many other people’s contributing actions, does not want anything from you even though you are willing to empty the accounts for her. And you must respect that!
“You have your father’s compassion and his ambition to make things better for others, but there is a limit to how much you can force a person to take even if it’s a good thing. Especially if it’s a good thing. I’m sorry, my dear, there is nothing you can do for her and I don’t think your sister will allow you to risk hurting yourself to prove otherwise.”
Melissa remembered that Jean was in the room. She didn’t realize she had closed her eyes until she opened them to see where her sister was. Jean was seated on a single-seat sofa chair next to the couch that Melissa and Deborah were half-collapsed on. Jean closed her eyes when she saw Melissa looking at her and barely kept a stoic expression on her face. Though much the same as Melissa, Jean had wrung the napkin into tight folds.
“I’m not sure, Mommy. Jeannie said I have to grow up and that she won’t be protecting me as much from my mistakes. Especially the stupid ones.”
“AND THIS ONE IS VERY STUPID, MELISSA! What were you thinking? That if you just threw enough money at this person that all their mistakes and errors in judgement would just go away?” Jean finally found her voice and her willingness to stare down Melissa.
“Well, it works for Aunt Helen, doesn’t it?”
Melissa regretted speaking the observation the moment she heard her own voice. The look of horror on Jean’s face as Melissa watched her sister glance to their mother holding her was a condemnation that would never be lifted.
Melissa whimpered and tried to pull herself out of her mother’s grasp, but the older woman held fast with an equal severity.
“No. Neither one of you dare to apologize for speaking the truth. Helen is as Helen always has been, and Melissa is correct. Helen’s preferred way of dealing with a problem is to buy the solution at any cost as long as it wasn’t her pound of flesh being taken. I do not fault Melissa for thinking that the same process could be used to restore a person as well. I am thankful that we’re talking this out instead. I was worried the two of you would only speak in pleasantries to me and never let me be a mother to you again.”
Melissa’s posture slipped and she fell into her mother’s lap once more. When she apologized and expressed concern for Deborah’s legs, the older woman stated that the pain of bearing Melissa’s weight was nothing compared to the pain of being separated from her family for so long. What was another hour if it meant being able to touch and comfort her daughters?
Deborah’s caregiver gave them only thirty minutes of quiet and peaceful reconciliation before loudly announcing that Deborah should be taking her evening medications and that rest was probably the best for everyone present.
Everyone present reluctantly agreed if for no other reason than departing now would guarantee another mutual greeting later. Farewell hugs lasted longer than it took to warm up the car and it took Samantha’s half-hearted threat to throw water on them for the three women to finally let go of each other for the night.
“I’m sorry.” Melissa’s first words to Jean after leaving their mother did not come through until they were halfway to Melissa’s apartment. “I really fucked that up, didn’t I.”
“How so?” Jean didn’t look at Melissa but gripped the steering wheel a little tighter.
“Bringing up the whole thing about Janice with Mom. I just wanted to fix things, but…”
“Oh hell, Melissa, that’s what you’re worried about? You think that Mom doesn’t know what’s happened since she was gone? I’m just glad I’ve been able to explain the parody blogs and what’s really been going on. She knew about the different raids and the different busts and some about Janice already. What surprised her, and surprised me too, was that you wanted to make amends now.”
“Oh.” Melissa now felt very silly for crying so much earlier. “Then why did you look like you wanted to throttle me for existing?”
Jean shifted her grip on the steering wheel before answering. “I thought you were going to bring up the tarot cards and what you’ve been doing with them. The blogs have always insinuated that you were doing something witchy. Aunt Helen’s pet diviner is a secret out in the open, so if she’s doing it, then so must everyone else, right? I’ve explained to Mom that you’re not doing anything witchy, but she knows Rebecca better than I do, and I don’t think she’s buying it.”
That night, as Melissa prepared herself for bed, she opened her notebook and wrote down her observations of the Nine of Coins as a caretaker or inheritor of wealth and her observations of the Nine of Spheres as the actions of an ambitious person and what a person with means could do with that wealth. As she drew the nine-point diagram of the Nine of Spheres in her notebook, she realized that she had not properly explored the shape of the number.
In her dream, she considered throwing the tenth sphere only at the top and bottom points of the figure. But now that she was looking at it with open eyes and an awake mind, she saw that she could have thrown the tenth sphere at the left and right points of the diamond as well.
“But if I did that, the triangle would be pointing left or right, and the One that launched from that triangle would go… Oh. Sideways. Like I would have done if I had tried to buy Janice’s debts. The result from that kind of blind faith effort would have been wasted and no one would get what they wanted.”
She closed the notebook. “The judge said that revealing the Nine of Spheres would reveal how I could possibly help Janice. The judge didn’t tell me that there was no way I could help Janice in the first place. I guess I had to discover that on my own.” A deep yawn suddenly overtook her and interrupted her train of thought. Though she had made her mother sad, the day had ended well for everyone. An attempted glance at the clock only told her how tired her eyes had become as her vision blurred in the effort. She accepted that she had gone as much as she could for the day and crawled into her bed for the night.
Missed a chapter? Go to the A Deeply Planted Seed Masterpost or use the navigation links to read chapter by chapter.