Walking back to her apartment from the coffeehouse was twice as frustrating for Lisa as walking from her interview to the coffeehouse in the first place due to the turbulent wind in her face struggling with her boiling emotions for her attention. She was surprised that Rebecca did not say anything about how tangled her hair was or how dirty her jeans were. The more she reflected on how Rebecca had said nothing about her appearance, the more she realized that Rebecca was too classy to say anything about her appearance at all and that the lack of a comment was a comment itself.
“It’s not fair!” The wind took her words and discarded even the sound of them. “All I had to do was show up, she said. No one was supposed to actually ask me questions. Jean said everything was taken care of and all I had to do was walk in the door. If it wasn’t for THIS FUCKING WEATHER, I’d have a fucking job right now!”
Lisa struggled to keep her hood over her head which reminded her about how she might be getting over her head with this tarot thing. She didn’t intend to ask Rebecca how to read tarot cards. She had originally intended to ask the card reader why the interview did not go as she was assured it would. It wasn’t until she sat down that she realized that Rebecca had already warned her about taking the job for granted and that she should go to the interview prepared to earn the job instead of just accepting it.
Her present question had been answered a week ago when she had told the card reader of Jean’s gift. Rebecca hadn’t even looked up when she warned Lisa to take the interview seriously. And now that Lisa thought of it, Rebecca wasn’t reading cards at the time, either. She was working on the rules for how to play solitaire with tarot cards. So it’s not like there was anything to read in the tarot cards. Rebecca just knew.
A wind gust pulled the hood away from her face just in time for her to see her reflection in a storefront window pane. She quickly turned away from what was surely the opinion of warped glass. She blamed her watering eyes on the wind and avoided any thought that perhaps she is not as charming as she thinks she is. After all, Rebecca is just a Becky, just a card reader, and all card readers are con artists, and maybe that’s why Becky didn’t need cards to know what would happen because game knows game and Lisa is obviously losing.
It’s not like she wasn’t planning on using tarot to talk people into handing over their money or anything.
“It’s not fair.” This time her hair muffled the sound of her words as she entered her apartment building. She knew she was looking for an excuse, a justification to not do anything different, not be anything different. Something about Rebecca made the wind sting a little less, made her failure feel recoverable, made her everything a little more settled. With anyone else, Lisa would have been able to charm her way into their life completely. Some people called it grifting, but she preferred calling it “taking what was offered”. But Rebecca wasn’t offering anything. Not even her name.
Is that why she suddenly demanded to learn how to read tarot cards? Because she wanted something out of Rebecca one way or the other and the only thing that could be stolen from her was attention? But could it though? The folded paper poked under her fingernail as she rummaged for the keys to the front door. She winced as she was reminded of the pack of cards and Rebecca’s instructions.
“Before you come to me with any question, go through all twenty-two cards at least once.” Lisa had originally thought to spend an hour each day for each card while also taking care of her regular matters. A task that would take her twenty-two days to complete. With her current funds and contracts only guaranteed for sixty-five more days, she thought that if she is going to use tarot as a means of income then she should sit with the cards at every available moment.
Seeing her reflection in the microwave door was enough to remind Lisa of how the interview failed. Jean told her to be presentable when she came to the interview and that everything had already been sorted so that the only question Lisa would have to answer is if she was available for the position. Lisa didn’t even know what the position was for in the first place, only that Jean had assured her that Lisa was perfectly qualified.
So Lisa came dressed for the blustery weather, or so she thought. Business casual meant casual, and that meant a sweater, plain t-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes, right? It’s 2019, after all, and no one has to dress up to impress people about to fall over from an outrage-induced heart attack, right? It’s not her fault that a windstorm kicked up after she left the apartment that fucked up her hair, or that the receptionist mistook her for a panhandler and had security drag her out into the mud, or that the job was for a courier in the building so she never met the dress code in the first place.
As the microwaved announced the end to moping time, Lisa muttered against the unfairness of the world and declared that the reason she set about learning tarot was to have an edge against circumstances like this. She had watched Rebecca read people to filth using tarot cards, after all. She studied the card reader, trying to see what tells were the people being read for giving away that allowed Rebecca to make accurate statements about their conditions instead of leading questions.
If Lisa can read cards the way Becky read cards, then she could continue living carefree and not bound to any obligations. All she’ll need to do is use the cards to find the best people to be friends with and be their bestest of best friends forever. And all she has to do to get started with all that, is get acquainted with twenty-two cards still sitting in her purse.
It took longer for the heated burrito to cool off than it did for Lisa to read the card meaning list and look at the way Rebecca ordered the cards. Lisa kept staring at the slightly uneven handwriting on the topmost card. “The World” and “XXI” were the only marks on it. None of the artistry of the deck Rebecca first showed her. Name. Number. Done.
The list of meanings gave a short and pithy sentence for the card: “The last page of the book.” Lisa looked back and forth at the list and at the cards trying to merge the meaning of the phrase with the appearance of the card.
“Fuck. No. This isn’t going to work. I need something pretty to look at. How am I supposed to convince someone that this card means that everything they knew in life is about to end and by the way, give me some money so I can make it better for you. Can’t work with that.”
For all of Rebecca’s quip about getting a job before buying a pretty deck, Lisa had enough funds to spare to risk finding a cheap deck on eBay. She limited her search to Majors Only Decks, filtered for decks that could potentially arrive by the end of the week, and capped her costs to an amount she would be able to recover couch surfing later in the same time. The choices were still overwhelming, with the available items numbering literally in the thousands.
As Lisa blindly clicked through the pages and pages of results, she remembered what Rebecca told her about the presence of Tarot, capital T. “Alright, bitch, Tarot, whatever the fuck Becky was referring to. If you’re supposed to engage with me, then send me the right deck I need right now to plug in and engage with you. Amen and whatever else goes with that.” She stopped clicking through pages and clicked on the first result of the page that loaded.
The item page text loaded. None of the images that were supposed to load with the text did. So all Lisa saw was the seller’s claim of the deck being a limited edition, full color, majors only tarot deck that was being sold as “used” only because the original shrink wrap had been removed. The price was low enough that Lisa was sure the deck was counterfeit, but the idea of having something that was technically not easily replaceable meant she would have something that Becky did not, and would not, have in her own collection.
Lisa clicked “Buy It Now” with great satisfaction and delight. Her face dropped when the confirmation screen loaded. The deck’s scheduled arrival time was three weeks from the date of order because the seller was in a different country. Unable to cancel the order and request a refund, Lisa was stuck.
Too frustrated to look again at the card and list and still upset over the loss of a job, Lisa chose to do something sensible and went to bed early. That night, she dreamt of another interview. She was dressed in the same dirtied clothes she wore in the coffeehouse when she sat with Rebecca. But the interview was being held upside down on the mirrored ceiling of a corporate conference room.
In the dream, there were three judges standing before her. One wore a mask with her face, one wore a mask with Rebecca’s face, and the third wore a mask that had no features at all, not even eyes or mouth. All three judges wore black closed capes that covered their bodies completely and hoods that hid where the masks ended.
The judge that wore her face said that Lisa was not worthy of the challenge and that she was pursuing tarot for selfish reasons. Because of this, the judge said that granting her the challenge would put others at risk because Lisa would not be able to stop from using others as tools for self-gratification. They held a hand out in a thumbs-down gesture.
The judge that wore Rebecca’s face said that Lisa was worthy of the challenge for no other reason than Lisa existed, and that all people have selfish motives, even those who act altruistically. The actions taken to gratify a person may or may not benefit others, but ultimately, it is all about self-gratification. The challenge is if Lisa will be able to achieve what she wants without harming others along the way, and that is a question that only Lisa will ultimately be able to answer. They held a hand out in a thumbs-up gesture.
The judge that wore a blank mask addressed Lisa. “Why should we give this to you? What is it worth to you? How much are you willing to pay for the chance to change yourself?”
Lisa was aware that she was dreaming but was also too surprised to do anything but go along with the dream. “Because I want it! I paid enough already! And I’m not willing to pay anything more because every time I’ve been told to change myself, it’s to make me fit other people and to hell with what it hurts me! I’m not going to be hurt by anyone else anymore! I WILL BE PAID FOR WHAT I HAVE ALREADY HAD DONE TO ME!”
It occurred to her that she did not know what “it” was. She did not know why she wanted it so badly, why the judges were being so harsh in their assessments, or what the consequences of “it” would be. All she knew is that there was something she could take, so why not take it.
The blank face judge addressed her further. “If the cost of changing yourself was releasing your faults, would you consider that a detriment?”
She stuck her hands in her pockets. “Faults according to who? My aunt? The bitch thinks that because I’m not living up to her ideal, that I’m not worth the money I’m supposed to have. She wants me fucking married and pregnant with my first kid by now, and already has a perfect husband available once I come to my senses. Is that what you mean? Releasing my faults like having independent thoughts and shit?”
The judge flatly responded. “Not faults according to other people’s ideals. Faults in yourself that prevent yourself from becoming yourself according to your ideals, and no one else’s. But releasing those faults may require you to release pleasures. Are you willing to exchange pleasures that harm for pleasures that heal?”
Lisa shuffled her feet and looked at the mirror ceiling they were standing on. The reflection showed the coffeehouse floor where she had been meeting Rebecca “for conversation” for nearly every weekend since they met. In the image, she saw every meeting silently shown in a way that only makes sense in dreams. She realized that the blank face judge had asked plainly what Rebecca had been asking on the sly from the day of their meeting.
This is just a dream, she mused. This has no bearing on reality, she pondered. This is just an expression of her anxieties and a confrontation with the fact that she saw no future for herself in the way she was living her life right now. Grifters don’t age well, after all. Without anything to fall back on, she’ll fall down. She didn’t want to think on what would be waiting to devour her in those depths.
“Yes. I’m willing.”
“It will hurt. Changing yourself. It will be bloody, and when it’s metaphorical, it will hurt deeper than any physical wound. Are you still willing?”
“Yea. I mean, fuck, I’m dreaming. What’s the worst that could happen? I wake up?”
The blank face judge held their hand out in a fist. Slowly, they turned their fist into a thumbs-up gesture. The other two judges nodded, lowered their hands, and took a step back, moving away from Lisa and the blank face judge.
The blank face judge then transformed their gesture into an open hand held towards her. “Take my hand.” Lisa placed her right hand in the judge’s right hand. They clasped each other.
“If you are sincere, pull me towards you. But I warn you, once I arrive, I will begin. And once I begin, I will not cease until the cycle is complete. This is your chance to release yourself from the bargain you have made and walk back into the life you are accustomed to.”
Lisa stood still. “Will I get this chance again later if I back out now?”
“Maybe. Maybe not. That is your gamble to make. I was here before you were born, and I will be here after you have passed. What you decide has no bearing on me. You must choose for yourself. Choose well.”
Lisa gripped the judges hand fiercely and pulled them towards her sharply. Their weight was a hundredth of what she expected and they slammed into her so hard that they fell on top of her as she fell backwards. Instead of falling onto the mirror ceiling, however, the logical gravity of the room asserted itself and they fell towards the indistinct floor which was now several hundreds of feet below them.
She woke up flailing as she fell out of the bed. Her right hand gripped the blanket as if it would be her parachute. She laid on the floor, completely entangled in the sheets as they cocooned her, and reviewed the vividly remembered dream that she fell out of.
“What. The ever. Fuck. Was that?” For an uncomfortable moment, there was only expected silence as a reply. When the morning alarm sounded, Lisa shrieked and scared herself twice over before recovering herself, silencing the alarm, and getting on with her day.
All morning her coworkers at the greasy spoon she worked at were asking her if she was okay. Usually, they were trying to avoid interacting with her because she was either trying to borrow money from some or hitting on others. Instead, she quietly rolled all the silverware for the usually busy evening shift and when she filled the three tubs, she quietly bussed everyone’s tables without comment.
Dreams weren’t supposed to be remembered, Lisa kept reminding herself. And yet, the dream of the three judges continued to be just as vivid as the bruise on her hip that developed upon contact with the floor. She had lucid dreams before, and had remembered dreams before, but none of them were as clear or as permanent as this one.
She had enough sense of mind to compare the judge that wore her face to be a representation of how much she hated her current situations. No one loathed her more than she loathed herself. At least her aunt can pretend she’s coming with good intentions. And she was able to compare the judge that wore Rebecca’s face to Rebecca herself. Even when Lisa was trying to get the card reader to show contempt, Rebecca still spoke of hope and how no one was a lost cause.
But Lisa had no one to compare the blank face judge to. There was no person, present, promised, or threatened in her life that the blank face judge could be a representation of. This bothered Lisa most of all, because this was the judge that she agreed to take in the dream.
Instead of hanging out after her shift, or going to a different coffeehouse to busk some attention, Lisa went home. The plain cards and ripped list were still on the kitchen table where she left it. Looking at the cards and remembering that the blank face judge had no features other than a smooth white surface, she felt her gut twist at the possibility that a tarot deck was the comparison she was missing.
No, she thought, not a tarot deck. Not any physical collection of cards. But Tarot, capital T. The presence that Rebecca had warned about. The presence that was in the world before she was born, and will be in the world long after she was dead.
In a panic, she gathered up the cards and paper to throw them away. As she stood over the trash can, she remembered more of Rebecca’s words. That the physical deck was just paper and ink, and that the presence of Tarot would interact with her as she was willing to interact with herself. Throwing the cards away was just another way she was running from herself. Just like how the judge wearing her face said she would.
She put the cards and list of meanings back on the table. Suddenly exhausted, she went to bed. She told herself that she can begin studying the cards tomorrow when she had the full day off and could devote actual time to them.
Shortly before noon, she was woken by vigorous knocking on her apartment. When she answered, the beleaguered mail carrier held a clipboard and pen at her eye level. “Sign here, please.” Still more sleep than awake, she signed the notice without asking what it was for.
The carrier tucked the clipboard under one arm and pulled a bundle of mail from under the other and held it at Lisa’s chest. “Your mail please, thank you.” Lisa took the small bundle of envelopes and muttered a vacant “You’re welcome” that was quickly forgotten as the carrier went quickly down the hall.
She closed the door and threw the bundle on the couch so she could get coffee and attempt to function like an adult. The dream from two nights ago was still fresh on her mind and she had intended to begin the tarot card study today.
As the coffee machine began to transform grit into grit-flavored liquid, she realized what was listed on the slip she signed for. She came back to the couch and took another look at the bundle. A long and slightly thick brown paper envelope laid on top of her expected mail. An abused customs label was folded over. She unfolded it.
The envelope was mailed from Korea three days ago. The label matched the signature slip regarding the contents. Categorized as a “gift” to avoid being delayed by customs, the handwritten declaration was as clear as the cards on the table behind her.
The eBay order had arrived.