As two hours of study came to an end, Lisa knew enough to say with certainty that it was going to take a lot more than two hours just to get the basics. Now that she wasn’t afraid of the cards and had some experience with them, it took her only ten minutes to recite the order of the Major Arcana forwards and backwards. The Fool gave her a bit of trouble at first until she found that some decks place the Fool in different starting positions, including being between Judgement and the World.
When the alarm sounded, Lisa silenced it, looked at her notes, then reset it. The girl child spoke “ahem” in that irritating and loud way that children do when they are trying to be properly adult when doing improper adult things like interrupting someone. Lisa put the phone down on the table and indulged the girl child with her full attention.
“Remember I said that flowers are like people? Well, do you know what flowers and people need?”
Lisa shook her head to be polite.
“Water! Go get something to drink before you start the timer again!”
Lisa thought that was the best study aid ever and did just that.
When she came back and sat down, she picked up the decorated deck’s Hermit card to examine it. The girl child had said that the Hermit’s lamp was lit, but the decorated deck’s card had no image of a lamp, candle, or any type of light source. The light that fell on the figure in the card was implied by shading.
She looked online and checked images of the deck she recognized as the deck Rebecca had the day she asked her about learning tarot. That deck’s Hermit card did hold a lantern and a staff. The lantern was lit and a star shone brightly within it. She then checked images of a Marseille deck. The figures staff was shorter and the lantern was not shaded as brightly, but a light was still seen in the lantern.
“Hey… uh…” Even though Lisa had accepted the girl child as the manifestation of the card of Death, she was still not comfortable calling the figure by that name. “The decorated deck’s Hermit card doesn’t have a lantern, or even a light. So how can the Hermit’s lamp be lit when neither of the Hermit cards that I have, has a lantern?”
The girl child pulled the teddy bear to her face to hide her grin. “How come I have a teddy bear when one of the cards you have gives me flowers to hold and the other card is just a name?”
Lisa looked for the Death card in Rebecca’s deck and the Marseille deck. In Rebecca’s deck, a recolored version of a popular modern deck, Death rides a white horse in gleaming black armor and carrying the standard of a white rose on a black field. The horse tramples over a fallen king and is about to trample a child, maiden, and some type of church official. The more she looked at the card, the more busy and complicated the scene became, however nowhere was a teddy bear, and yet Lisa felt the girl child was connected to this card just the same.
In the Marseille deck, Death appeared skeletal and presumably rotting. The figure is hunched over a field wielding a scythe at a low level, ready to reap the plants and human heads sprouting out of the ground. Even though not much detail of linework and coloring was available at the time this particular deck was designed, it was clear that there was no children’s toy in the scene for Death to cuddle during a break. But here too, Lisa felt an echo of the girl child in the scene.
She looked at the child. “Okay. You got me. How is it that I see you as…” Lisa waved in the girl child’s direction. “And not as…” Lisa waved at the screen.
“Because that makes no sense to you, and this does. The Death in those cards make sense to the people that read with those cards. And the Death in your decorated deck makes sense to the designer of that deck. But none of those decks have any real meaning to you. But the way I look to you now, you have seen me before. You have seen this before. It’s okay if you don’t remember where or why. All that matters right now is that you have accepted the way I look to you as being right for you.”
Lisa looked at the girl child. With the exception of the hollow eye sockets and the complete lack of color, the apparition looked like she could have just come from the hospital after a long and exhausting illness. Her hair was not quite straight but not quite curly. Her bones were evident but also some musculature. The teddy bear hid a basic nightgown with vertical stripes but no decoration of lace or ribbons. She did seem familiar to Lisa, but she could not place where from.
Lisa compared what the girl child had said against what motes of information she was uncovering on the internet. There were many blog posts and articles online about the traditional uses and interpretations of tarot cards and of the major arcana in particular. There were only a handful of posts about personal interactions with the cards, and of those, Lisa had encountered five bloggers that spoke of the type of interactions she has had with the girl child.
“Dear girl… Just what are you?”
“I’m Death!” She smiled and laughed at Lisa as if her question was so obviously answered by her presence that asking it was unnecessary.
The girl’s laughter made Lisa uncomfortable and she moved around in her chair to settle herself. “Uh… yea… You’ve told me that the Death card is your card, but what are you?”
The girl did not answer with words. She sat still and smiled deeply. Lights seemed to swim in her empty eye sockets. The longer Lisa watched her for a verbal answer, the more Lisa felt that deep chill returning to her hands and feet. “Close your eyes. You don’t know how to listen with them open, yet. Trust me. I won’t hurt you. Trust the Sun standing behind you to keep you warm enough. But to hear my answer, you have to close your eyes.”
Lisa held still in a near panic as a glowing hand slipped from behind her to slip over and pat her shoulder. She looked down at the hand and saw a perfectly manicured woman’s hand settling on her shoulder the way Lisa would have comforted a friend. She turned her head and realized there was something… someone… standing behind her that was glowing so brightly that the light nullified the room’s electric lighting.
“I will be here, my dear. I will keep you warm and comfortable. I wish I was the first that you saw in this way, but Death is a sweet child and she is gentle in a way that is hard for me.” The Sun had manifested behind her as a tall woman draped in layers of warmth and light and gold and furiously yellow jewels. Her voice reminded Lisa of honey and warm caramel and the way that dark chocolate is the perfect complement to those big thick oranges that her father used to bring home.
Lisa faced forward again. She nodded at the girl child and began to close her eyes. Lisa’s panic nearly overwhelmed her and she raised her hand to cover the glow still on her shoulder. The warmth soaked through her palm and she felt comforted. Lisa closed her eyes in peace.
Lisa felt something very cold and very still touch her forehead. She was reminded of the time she and Jean came across a dead cat on the side of the road and the way though the body was already bloating from decomposition, the flesh had an empty appearance to it. As if it was a suit that had been abandoned.
The cold persisted and she was reminded of the first flowers that her father had given her and the way they still faded and died even though she changed the water every day to keep them fresh. She was so angry when her mother threw them away saying that the stems were rotting. Sure, the petals were twisted and limp and the color of bruises and the base of the flower was getting fuzzy and the inside of the vase had an ugly smell to it no matter how many times she changed the water each day. But, no one but her had seen that the flowers were changing into something that wasn’t flowers but was still alive in a way just the same. As if death wasn’t an ending, but a transformation.
The cold moved under her flesh and into the bones of her skull and she was reminded of attending her father’s funeral and the way that she wanted to run away from the open casket because she knew enough about what death does to a body to recognize that what was laying out for other people to look and gawk at wasn’t anything similar to what her father was even after death no matter how well they kept the dimple in his cheek the same. She was so angry at Aunt Helen for not letting him go after his accident, for turning his body into one of her trophies and stage props that she used to make her and Jean feel guilty for living and to make other people feel sorry for the elderly woman had to suffer these two ratty children. This wasn’t death, Lisa knew both then and now. But Lisa then did not have the word to describe what Aunt Helen had done so she could only cry and make a terrible scene because there were no grownups that would help her. Lisa now recognized what the dowager had done. This was a desecration.
Lisa felt a warm pat on her cheek and the feel of something drying as a result of that touch. She opened her eyes to see the Sun was drying Lisa’s tears that had begun seeping unknowingly. Lisa looked across the table to the girl child and saw the small figure hiding her face behind her giant teddy bear again.
“I’m sorry if that hurt. I’ll understand if you don’t want me… or us… to come back to you again.”
Lisa held the Sun’s hand against her cheek and was reminded of the peace that is the sun emerging after a hard rain. “No. I asked a question and you answered. And I said that I wanted union with the deck, and this is the way to do that. Thank you… Death… for answering my question.”
Death smiled and raised her head.
“You’re the spirit of Death. No, that’s not right. You’re a spirit of Death. And what your tarot card brings is an understanding of all the ways that death affects the world. The first time we met, you said that I wasn’t ready yet to let something wilt and die. If I may ask, Death, what did you see in me that needed to be let go like that?”
The apparition smiled and laughed and for a moment Lisa forgot what was sitting in front of her and felt young and childish herself. “Don’t worry about that, Lisa! It already faded and gone to seed! Now we get to see what will come from that seed!”
Lisa sat still and realized that she wasn’t afraid of the apparition of Death anymore. The empty eye sockets no longer filled her with fear when she saw them. She still was not sure why the appearance of the little girl with the giant teddy bear was so familiar, but Lisa was glad that this was the appearance that Death had chosen to interact with her.
“One more question, please.”
“Sure!” Death tightly hugged the teddy bear with naked happiness.
“In the roadway, you stopped me from being run over. You would have had me with you forever if I was hit. Why did you stop me?”
When Death smiled again, it wasn’t with the intensity of youth. Lisa recognized the sorrow that is cultivated with age bloom in the young face. “I would never be with you again. That’s not how this works. I am Death, and you are not. These cards that let me be with you are windows, not boxes. I did not capture the cat, the flowers, or your father. I would not be able to capture you. If you died, the most I would ever have to keeping you with me is if someone else used a tarot card to call me and then called the memory of you while being with me. And that is all I would have. Someone else’s memories.”
Lisa unknowingly took the Sun’s eager hand again to console herself as she struggled to understand the ages it would take to develop that kind of sorrow and the limitations of such an aged being that they would not be able to change them.
Death leaned forward and touched Lisa on her arm. “I like you, Lisa. I really do. Many of us like you also. We want to help you and we’re glad that you’re meeting us this way and not like most other tarot card readers.”
“How do most other tarot card readers meet you?”
“Without thinking that there may be more to a tarot deck than paper and ink. Without thinking that there is more to the world than what they can measure. We are as we are because we are where many worlds overlap and bleed into each other. There are parts of us that you will never know. But don’t think that means you’re nothing! What you already know is impossible to those who keep themselves involved with only paper and ink.”
Death tilted her head and smiled. “And you know, that’s okay for them, too. Everyone has their own limits, you know.”
Lisa looked at her cell phone’s timer. Forty-five minutes remained in the study session. Seeing the date on her phone reminded her that it had been only nine days since she had stomped her feet in the coffee house and demanded that Rebecca teach her how to read tarot cards.
“Did Rebecca send you, Death? You and the other cards?”
“No. But I can’t talk about why we’re with you just yet. You have to complete the cycle and get through all the cards to the end.”
Lisa sat quietly in the comforting presence of the apparition of the Sun and the quiet presence of the apparition of Death. The remaining time in the study session passed quickly and soon she was resetting the alarm. Death gave her a dirty look and without any rebuttal, Lisa went to both the bathroom to take care of business there and to the kitchen for more water before returning to start a new two-hour session.
“Okay, I’ve already burned four hours and I’ve barely gotten any studying done. There’s so much to learn about using tarot cards in any sort of way more than just reading them. I guess what I’m doing with them isn’t exactly traditional, after all. Sitting here, having a chat with Death, getting my shoulders rubbed by the Sun, and all in the light of the Hermit’s Lamp. If Aunt Helen’s card reader has any sort of extra something the way I do, then I’m sunk.”
The girl child said nothing but slipped the Hierophant card from the decorated deck and placed it before Lisa. “What do you see there?”
“Huh? Really? I thought the deck didn’t matter.”
“It doesn’t, until it does. Tell me what you see on this card.”
“I see a long yellow beast with a long furry orange neck and six great big purple horns coming out of it’s head and neck. The claws are really sharp. And the beast is looking down. There’re some green and orange cards floating in the top of the card. There’s a whole lot of them, actually.”
Death nodded. “What is the name of this card?”
“The High… the hay… hero… Aw, shit, I just looked up the pronunciation too, dammit. Hierophant! It’s the Hierophant!”
The girl child nodded. “And what’s the meaning of this card?”
Lisa flipped through her notes. “Um… The decorated deck says it’s about tradition, conformity, and order. But the list of meanings says it’s inflexible and traditional and a pillar.”
The girl child nodded while smiling. “Okay. If the beast in the card is so great and powerful that it has six big horns, then what is keeping its head bowed?”
Lisa looked at the card again. The large green cards and small thin orange cards appeared to be oppressing the beast. As if in the world of the deck designer, it had to be brought to order and kept compliant according to the…
“Rules! So many rules, that the beast can only sit there.” Lisa felt compassion for the grotesque figure. “If the beast so much as farts, it will break a rule, and there will be consequences. But there are so many rules literally over its head, it will never be able to meet them all. Kinda like me, huh.”
She thought over what Death had said about most card readers and the answers she had received to other Witch and Tarot 101 blogs about what she felt was the most basic of tarot card questions. (At least, those questions that did not involve spirits.) “More like kinda like me under Aunt Helen. According to the rules of tarot that I’ve seen so far, this isn’t supposed to be happening. I’m not supposed to be seeing spirits, much less interacting with you. I’m not supposed to understand the literal spirit of the cards after nine days. I’m breaking the rules.”
Lisa looked at the figure. “If Aunt Helen is involved in anything, then there will be lots of rules about how to engage her or that thing she’s involved in. Her card reader will be following a lot of rules, and he’ll be expecting that whoever she’s sicced him on will also be following a lot of rules.”
She looked back at Death. “I don’t need to learn his rules for whatever he’s doing. I’m not doing what he’s doing. I need to learn what I’m doing, and what are the rules that I’m involved with. And if that means I see spirits, then I see spirits. And if that means I use a tarot card as a window, then it’s time to open the fucking window!”
Lisa blushed deeply and began to apologize to Death for using a naughty grownup word in front of her. When the girl child began to laugh, Lisa was confused until she remembered that this “girl child” was the apparition of an ancient spirit.
“Aw, fuck, you probably know better words than me, anyway.” Death squealed with more laughter as Lisa allowed herself to chuckle. “Okay. Enough fun. Back to study with me, for reals this time. I need to go over the cards I’ve already passed and get an idea of what the next card will be. My life is getting really intense, and I’m going to need everyone’s help to help me prepare for whatever comes next. Fortune favors the brave, because the brave is prepared. Will you help me prepare?”
Warm and golden cloth draped over Lisa’s head before Death could answer. The Sun was reaching down to embrace Lisa. “Of course, we will! Just be honest with yourself, and you’ll make it through just fine.” When the apparition stood up, Lisa saw that Death had laid out the handwritten deck in the order that Rebecca had assembled it.
“Will you tell me a story, Lisa? Start with the World and tell me a story about it and what it means to you. That will give you an idea of what story will be written about the cards that follow the Hierophant.”
Lisa picked up the handwritten World card. “A story, eh? Well, let me tell you about a person who lived as if she was already dead, and how that world started to die so she could start to live…”
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