By the time the diner had begun to fill with the regular evening crowd, Jean had left her side of the booth to sit beside her sister. Melissa had also brought her tablet with her and had logged in to the Leifert Enterprises Human Resources website to show Jean what medical benefits she was signed up for.
Jean was surprised to see that Melissa had the best available medical plan usually offered to full-time employees despite being on the books as an on-call, part-time intern, but she quickly put her surprise to the side to help Melissa navigate the bewildering options.
“And this is how you find the psychologists that will accept your medical plan. If you’re still worried about any of them being in Aunt Helen’s pockets, then pick one that does not have an office in the city. That’s going to mean a rideshare for you, which leads me to something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about. You need a car.”
Melissa stacked empty plates onto each other as she avoided Jean’s change of topic. Jean gave her a reprimanding look as Melissa reached to collect all the silverware to put them, business end down, into the same glass that she poured the water from the other glass into. Once Melissa ran out of plates to pre-bus for Sue, she studied the portrait overlooking the booth instead.
Jean maintained her composure for no other reason than the desire to laugh and the desire to sigh had canceled each other out. “You know you need a car eventually.”
Melissa sighed. “Yea. It’s just…”
Jean nudged her. “I could teach you.”
Melissa stopped brooding and stared at Jean’s hopeful face. “No. Oh, hell no. I know how you drive. Nope. I’ll find a driving school. No way am I going to learn how to drive from someone who thinks being close enough to study scratch marks on the license plate stickers in front of me is far enough to be safe.”
Jean put her hand to her chest as if wounded. “That’s only when driving in the city! And you have to stay close to the car in front of you if you don’t want someone to cut you off! I’m a safe driver! No tickets!”
Melissa nudged Jean back. “Uh-huh. Sure. None on your record but how many times have you been pulled over!” She looked past her somewhat offended sister to the progression of seating. “I guess this diner is much more popular at dinner. Time to go, then. Sue needs to turn this table.”
As if on cue, Sue appeared with the check. Jean left the table to follow the waitress to the cash register, fussing about the lack of certain expected charges on the bill as she did. Melissa chuckled and reached for her purse as she slid out of the booth. She looked up and saw a faint image of Astra seated in the now empty space.
The image squeezed the ginormous teddy bear that she always carried. Melissa smiled and mouth the words “thank you” to the spirit. Astra’s return smile was so broad that it made her empty eye sockets appear not so empty and the girl-child waved before fading.
Melissa held the two small boxes of strawberry cheesecake that they had been given as apology for the delay in service as Jean drove her back to her apartment. Jean had won the battle of the check, but Sue had won the battle of the graces by allowing the cook to come out and apologize to the sisters personally.
While Melissa thought it was a very sweet gesture on behalf of the cook, she also recognized it as an act of war. Melissa had her regulars at the now burnt-down restaurant where she used to work. Some were memorable for their kindness to the staff and some were memorable for their escalating and unreasonable demands. She thought to have some words with Jean later about not trying to control everything within reach. Just because it was in her sight doesn’t mean it was hers to rule over.
After getting home and putting her slice of strawberry cheesecake away, Melissa looked again at the list of therapists and psychologists that accepted her plan. Nearly all of them were not accepting new patients at this time. The ones that were accepting had appointment hours that would conflict with her work hours at the call center or at Leifert Enterprises. She picked a few that had a waiting list available to her, added herself for the possibly months long wait, and logged off.
Having nothing else better to do, or so she told herself, she took her notebook and started writing down her explanation of the Eight of Coins. As she did, she rethought some of the words and made corrections as she felt needed. She realized she hadn’t made any entries for the Eight of Spheres as well and started to write down the still vivid dream and her acceptance of “Sense of Self” as the meaning for the idea of that card.
As she wrote of the judge with Rebecca’s face, she stopped. The journal she was holding was originally supposed to be a record of her dreams, and then later of her nightmares, and now it has become a record of her experiences with tarot cards, both waking and dreaming.
Melissa wondered if she was supposed to have a special book for this like what the witch and occult blogs say new witches and magic practitioners are supposed to have. But was she a witch? Nope. She didn’t even have a wand, wood or otherwise. Was she a magic practitioner? What the hell is a magic practitioner in the first place? She reflected on the posts she found when she first started looking up tarot cards on the internet.
She concluded that she was not a magic practitioner as well. For one thing, she didn’t have any of the required gear like magic tables and incense for special days and books full of what she assumed were translations of medieval clerical wanking records from what little she had read about them. But most importantly, because she was willing to admit that she was wrong about an idea and she also thought that trying something new, even if it failed, was better than trying to be perfect at it from the start. Melissa had looked over so many blog posts and websites berating novices for their imperfections that she wondered how anyone got into the hobby at all! That will be a question to ask Rebecca about, but not today.
She thought about getting a pack of cards and writing out the suits of Spheres and Coins as she discovered each card for herself, but that was later work for a later day as she had no blank cards on hand and the emotional weight of the day had caught up with her.
Right now, there was only time to prepare for bed and for whatever dream or nightmare was to come. Melissa hoped to open her eyes to an expanse of black sand and more stars in the sky than have been created but prepared herself for a full moon holding court in the midst of day just the same.
Melissa scraped the big chunks off the plates onto the chosen top plate as she bussed the table. Plates were placed onto plates of the same size. Small plates were placed onto equally small plates before being placed onto big plates before being placed into the bin that was already placed on the cart. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to go, anyway.
But for all the plates that Melissa picked up from the table, it felt like there were still just as many plates left behind. She couldn’t leave the table half-cleared. She had to collect them all before turning away because her turning away was the signal that the table was ready to be seated. She stopped counting the plates she had already collected and counted only the plates remaining as she placed her perilously tall stack into the shallow tub.
Seven. There were seven plates remaining on the round restaurant table. Small plates were stacked onto big plates that were collected and placed in the shallow tub that should have been filled with water but was to the brim with greedy shadows instead. Melissa turned back to the table. Seven plates remained to be picked up.
The silverware was already gone, as were the glasses and the crumpled napkins. Melissa wouldn’t have been surprised if they had been stolen by the patrons after arguing about the check. The restaurant was advertised as having upper class cuisine so there were always patrons who felt their upper class bill entitled them to some upper class serving ware. Never mind that the boss bought them online from factories so questionable about quality or even metal content, that not even the big box stores would carry them.
She stacked the plates and placed them in the tub. She was good at bussing tables even though everyone thought being a busser was the only job available for people not pretty enough to be a waiter and not smart enough to go to college. They didn’t know that she took personal pride in leaving behind a clean table for the next set of patrons to not notice as they complained about the disconnect between the menu prices and the serving sizes once the food arrived.
Everyone was always telling her what a mess she was or how she seemed to bring misfortune and crud to whomever she visits. There were a lot of people who were disappointed that she still existed and expected her to leave nothing but misery and remorse in her wake. But here, at this eatery that pretends to be classier than the people who come here, Melissa could make someone’s day a little better by making sure they had a clean place to sit and a clean place to eat.
Or she would once she got these seven plates out of the way. Layers became stacks became a shifting and slippery weight. As she lowered them into the tub, she thought the plates were moving around as if magnets were hidden within them. They fought being stacked as if they wanted to be spread out on the table again.
Which was silly because when she looked at the table, she saw there were seven plates still remaining and no room for anything more, not even a bread plate or a saucer for a teacup. Melissa thought about what she would like to do once her shift is over. Maybe go to the bar and hang out. Maybe go to a street fair and sell a song. Maybe go to the coffeehouse and pester her new friend who reads tarot cards for reals. Wow, that woman makes cold reading look so easy. Maybe Melissa could learn what to do with cards like that, some day.
She decided that once she finishes taking these seven plates off the table and wipes down the bleached surface with the barely bleached cloth, she’ll give that idea more thought. As she put the stack of plates in the tub on the cart, she paused and watched the stack slowly sink into the dissolving shadows in the busser bin. Her sense of self seemed to sink with the plates until she snapped herself back to the task at hand and realized that the bin was empty.
Of course, it was empty! The seven plates that the patrons had dinner on were still on the table! Frustrated and judging herself for her inattentiveness, Melissa began to stack plates on top of more plates in preparation for carrying the entire stack to the bin. Before she lifted the stack, a stray thought stopped her, and she pulled her hands away from the stacked plates. As she watched, the plates slipped out of the stack and redistributed themselves back onto the round restaurant table. Seven plates remained on the table.
Melissa stood completely still and stared at the collection of plates that were so clean, she wondered if a waiter had just placed them there. Six plates sat at the edge of the table, spaced apart perfectly from each other such that a seventh plate sat in the center of the table, spaced perfectly apart of the other six. On the center plate, seven large gold-wrapped chocolate coins sat in the same pattern as the seven plates sat on the table. On the center candy, seven hard round comfits sat in the same pattern as the candies sat on the plate.
Melissa reached over the table and picked up the comfit in the center of the nested patterns. She was expecting something in the shape of a tiny pillow, or of a tube that was pinched at both ends like a piece of candy cane. The comfit was a tiny glossy sphere that reminded her of a gumball. As she brought the candy to her mouth, she felt the surface harden into something that at first reminded her of glass, but when touched to her lips, reminded her specifically of obsidian.
“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING JUST STANDING THERE YOU DUMB BITCH! YOU’RE NOT PAID TO EAT AFTER PEOPLE! GOD YOU’RE SO FUCKING DISGUSTING! WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE! HURRY UP AND CLEAN THAT TABLE SO I CAN JUSTIFY NOT SNAPPING YOUR GOD DAMN NECK!”
Melissa dropped the cold bauble as Ricardo’s voice shattered the air around her. As she turned in fear to face him, the bauble shattered on the ground at her feet. Ricardo was still yelling but she heard nothing as the bauble’s explosion had deafened her. She held her hands to her ears and screamed as the table suddenly buckled from the weight of the plates and the gold-wrapped chocolates and the comfits that had become as heavy as a world’s core.
She turned back to the table just in time to watch the comfits push into the gold-wrapped chocolate, the chocolates melt through their wrappers onto the plate, the plates shatter under their own weight and self-pulverize on the table, and the table warp from the unimaginable weight of everything else and slowly begin to fall into itself as if something were pulling it through a black hole from under the very center of the table.
“TAKE MY HAND, LISA! LET ME SAVE YOU, LISA! THAT WILL DESTROY EVERYTHING YOU KNOW, LISA!” Melissa tried to step away from the table towards Ricardo’s warping voice, but the bussing cart was in her way. As she tried to step around the cart, she turned to face him.
“You have touched power that you can’t control, Lisa. It will devour you, Lisa.” A stranger wearing Ricardo’s clothes and Ricardo’s appearance speaking with Ricardo’s voice stood with their hand outstretched to Melissa. “It will not stop until you have mastered it, or it has mastered you, Lisa. And you are no master of anything, not even yourself, Lisa. Take my hand, Lisa. Let me save you, Lisa. Let me transform you into what you should have been from the start, Lisa.”
The table’s collapse slowed as the stranger approached Melissa keeping their hand out towards her. “I was wrong to have treated you like a puppet, Lisa. I was wrong to believe that you were a rebel in need of correction, Lisa. But now I know what you are, and I can help you, Lisa. But you must yield to me for now, Lisa. Let me help you recover what has always been yours, Lisa.”
Melissa’s eyes opened wide as she realized the Diviner had found his way into the restaurant. She shouted for the other staff to come help her and turned away with intention of running away from him. She found herself boxed in with the slowly collapsing table on one side of her and the suddenly long and curving bussing cart pushing her into the table.
“You don’t know where you are, Lisa. This is a trap, Lisa.”
The Diviner’s words shook a memory loose from her panic. “YES I DO YOU FUCKING BASTARD! THE SUN IS…” Melissa looked at the windows, but they were all covered by heavy curtains and she couldn’t tell if it was day or night, much less what direction the sunlight was coming from. “The sun is…” There were no clocks on the floor, and she wasn’t wearing a watch. Without knowing the time, she wasn’t able to make an educated guess of the sun’s location.
“The sun… it’s…” She didn’t want to risk closing her eyes and losing sight of the Diviner so she stood as still as she could with the cart bending around her and tried to feel where the sun could be. The absence of anything even reminding Melissa of the sun and its power informed her precisely where she was.
The Diviner gave no indication of noticing Melissa gain lucidity. “The Sun can’t help you here, Lisa. Only I can, Lisa. There is not much time left, Lisa. Take my hand, Lisa.” The Diviner was now close enough to touch her, but he pulled his hand back just enough that Melissa would have to make the choice to complete the gesture.
She focused her sight on him. “You’re right, the sun can’t help me because the sun’s not here. I’m dreaming.”
Behind her, the table’s collapse stopped. Most of the table surface had been pulled and stretched into an infinitely deep hole shaped much like water spilling into a dam funnel. She placed one hand on the cart trapping her next to the table and raised the other hand.
“There were seven settings placed on the table. There were seven discs placed on the setting. There were seven globes placed on the disc. And I was about to take the core of the matter when you interrupted. But I’m kinda glad you did, because I just realized something very important that I need to remember once I’m awake.”
She pushed at the air in front of her and created a shockwave that pushed the Diviner away from her. “You keep calling me ‘Lisa’, like that name has power over me. My name is not ‘Lisa’, and even if you do start using my real name, you have no power over me.”
She lowered her raised hand to the cart and pushed herself backwards with both hands. As she fell into the hole in dreamtime where the table used to be, she asked the Star to help her come through the darkness of her nightmares.
She prepared herself to land on an expanse of soft black sand. She was not prepared for her arm to smack the nightstand next to her bed as she woke up halfway through falling out of the bed. After completing her graceless descent to the bedroom floor, Melissa relaxed on the cold hard linoleum, rested helplessly with her legs entangled in the twisted bedsheets, and laughed through her physical and emotional pain.
Unlike previous iterations of the dream of seven plates, this time she remembered the ending of the dream completely. The Diviner had appeared in some of the iterations and Melissa was sure that he had spoken to her each time, but this time she remembered the name he was using.
“Lisa.” The nickname forced on her by her aunt. Even though Melissa had begun to go by her legal name bestowed by her father at her birth, it had only been a few months since she made the change and there were still many people who referred to her by the hated nickname.
Melissa pulled herself out of the tangle of sheets and picked herself up off the floor. She sat on the side of the bed and opened her battered dream journal on the nightstand. Melissa had been repeating the dream of seven plates so much that not only did the dream have a formal name in her notes, but it was abbreviated as D7P. She had been having the same dream nearly each night for the past six weeks.
And each night it would end with something changing in what she thought was her world, and that change was so different and unexpected that it would terrify her into waking. What happened this time that it gave her the strength to see the dream to the end, she wondered. It wasn’t the Diviner appearing. He had been there before. It wasn’t hearing Ricardo yell at her. She already knew that any loud authoritative voice would spike her spine with fear as an instant reaction and would do so for a long time.
It certainly wasn’t being back in the old restaurant again. Bussers were invisible to both patrons and staff, after all. Her old job gave her some needed space from everyone except Ricardo. She thought about what her thoughts tumbled over while the dream kept giving her seven plates to clear.
Seven plates had sat on the table, perfectly spaced, in the same pattern as the seven spheres in the vision under the starry sky. Melissa realized that she had changed the pattern of the dream by stopping to reflect on the nature of the plates and the pattern they made on the table. She had not done that in the previous iterations of the dream, nor did the seven chocolate coins or the seven spherical comfits appear previously as well.
She had broken the pattern of the dream by observing the dream.
Melissa doodled seven dots into the dream journal in the same pattern that the plates, coins, and spheres had made. Funny how a pattern of seven dots fit perfectly into a pattern of perfect and adjacent equilateral triangles, she mused. One dot at the center surrounded by six triangles all meeting at the dot in the center. If the triangles were to be folded out and over each other, they would create a plane.
She ran out of space to doodle additional triangles and became annoyed at herself for not only waking up early on her day off, but that her mind was now filled with math and geometry of all things.
She closed the book and tried to go back to bed. But as she snuggled back under the askew covers, she kept thinking of the coins and comfits of the dream and wondered why she couldn’t stop thinking about the candy.
No, not candy, but discs and spheres. The same as the tarot suits that she had stopped trying to figure out as the Christmas season gave her more work hours than she was prepared to work through. As more of the regular staff at Leifert Enterprises had gone on vacation, the more that she and other interns were called upon to fill the gap in productivity. Between that and the increased work at the call center, Melissa did not have the time or the mental luxury to ruminate upon more esoteric concerns.
She realized that she had been dreaming them instead.
Frustrated, she left the bed and got dressed for the day spitefully. The pattern of the seven plates, discs, and spheres was bounded and static as well as promising and infinite. The number seven explained why Melissa had been having the dream of seven plates for the past six weeks: Until the restaurant had burned down, it was the most reliable environment space she could occupy, even down to Ricardo’s harassment and advances. Everything was predictable, everything had its place and its moment. Once the pattern was established, nothing was out of place and any change that came about would happen slowly and with concerted effort from all involved. Just like the seven plates on the table. Just like the seven chocolate coins on the plate.
But what of the spheres, she wondered. Why would she feel compelled to take one of them into herself? As the coffee began to brew, Melissa thought of the vision under the starry sky when she first saw the shapes of numbers as expressed by the floating orbs.
No, not orbs, worlds. Seven tiny universes, perfect, unchanging, balanced. With her personal world so tumultuous and upended, why wouldn’t she want a little bit of perfect stasis within her? If she saw working as a restaurant busser to be when she could have a perfect moment of peace, then of course, that would be the moment that the spheres appeared to anchor that moment in place.
“Which would make any breaking of the pattern to be the most horrific and terrifying thing I could go through, which is why the dreams always ended as a nightmare! Back then, I couldn’t imagine my life improving, so any change that happened would of course have to be for the worst!”
No sound followed Melissa’s exclamation, much to her relief. She could only take so much change in her life after all. The disease which last month had been considered an inconsequential regional outbreak in China was now spreading through Asia into Europe. There was talk about a possible pandemic. Melissa remembered enough of her history classes about the influenza pandemic of 1918 to have little faith in what the people she knew would do if there was such a thing now.
She sat at the table with her coffee. She doodled seven filled circles on the notepad in the same pattern as the plates and the spheres. But now that she was fully awake, the marks in front of her did not feel like they belonged to the now analyzed dream. She realized that she knew what the dream of seven spheres were about and even knew a fancy word to describe it: Stasis.
However, waking world matters meant waking world symbols. She slipped the stack of ten quarters next to her laptop towards her, spilling them into a random assortment on the table. Counting out seven of them, she arranged them in the same pattern as the plates.
“If eight coins are a marker for investing resources, then how do I get from seven to eight?” Melissa spoke her thoughts out loud to keep them orderly. She knew that sometimes merely hearing the question is enough to give her an answer. “What is so special about seven symbols of money that I’m able to even consider investing in the first place?”
She kept her gaze on the quarters as she raised her coffee mug to her lips. While the ceramic had cooled enough to hold the body with both hands, the coffee itself was still too hot to drink. She put the mug down with the resolve to be a little more patient with herself and her coffee before indulging in it.
She started to look at the coins but suddenly looked back at her coffee. She looked at the coins. She looked at the still hot mug of coffee again and reflected on trail of thoughts that rose with its steam. “I have to wait. I have to wait before acting. Eight coins are a marker for investing, but returns don’t happen immediately! I have to wait for the returns to be worth the effort of collecting them!”
She put her palm over the seven quarters and slid them to the side as if signifying placing the worth of the coins into an investment account. “I have to wait! I have to have… Patience.” Smugly she sat upright in the chair and grinned with pride. Her facial expression slid from joy to annoyance just as suddenly and just as fast.
“It can’t be that simple. No way it’s that easy. I mean… I’ve been wrestling with this concept of what seven coins could represent for the past six damn weeks and it unlocks itself just by waking the fuck up and playing with a bunch of coins?”
She pounded the table without looking where she was striking and tipped the coffee mug over towards her stack of tarot card decks. Her anger quickly forgotten, she captured the tipping mug with one hand and swept the cards out of range of the spilling coffee with the other. She winced as her extended arm was scalded by the splash.
“And that’s what happens when you don’t have any patience. You risk losing what is already there. Okay, I fucking get it.” She went to the kitchen sink and ran cool water over her arm in personal and private embarrassment.
“It took unlocking the dream of seven spheres to understand what seven coins were about. It took being willing to face and go through change to unlock the dream and stop it from becoming a repeating nightmare. So just because it’s stupid easy to explain now doesn’t mean it was stupid easy to work out.”
She took the damp washrag to the table to clean up the spilled coffee and the outside of the mug. As she finally took a drink of the now tepid coffee, she spoke one last observation to herself in an attempt to bring the present matter to a close.
“I really need to stop talking to myself out loud like this.”
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