Lisa woke up after sunset. She spent the first minutes of wakefulness copiously bitching out the Moon for hosting the magical attack on her will. She spend the next several minutes expressing gratitude to the Hermit for helping her identify what she needed to know immediately and retaining the bulk of what she had learned, expressing gratitude to the Sun for coming to her when she called, and to Death for being a background encouragement and support to her. She stayed in bed for as long as her bladder allowed her to, then begrudging got up to take care of that business.
Relieving herself of one burden reminded her of another. She had not eaten anything all day. Lisa went to the kitchen for a glass of water to drink while she sorted out the “dream”, what to immediately eat, and what to do for the remaining hours of the day. She did not realize how thirsty she was until she stopped chugging her second glass of water only because her body could not drink any more.
Gasping for air, she placed the glass on the table. She questioned the dream. Questioned her experiences. Questioned her sanity. Questioned all that has happened in her life since she received the tarot cards from Rebecca just nine days ago. Just as she started to cry from how overwhelmed she was feeling, her stomach twisted and sounded a very long, very embarrassing series of growls.
“Okay. No pity parties on an empty stomach. Gotcha.” Though she ate half as much of the ingredients as what she eventually made a large and fancy sandwich from, when Lisa sat at the table she felt ready to eat three times as much. As she moved the tarot cards out of splatter range, she noted the Emperor card was still face up on the decorated deck. The figure’s scepter could easily be seen as a sorcerer’s staff. And the shadowy tendrils that covered the figure and the throne were identical to the tendrils that the card reader in her dream used to capture her with.
“Was it just a dream, then? Or did that bitch really try to use magic against me?” She held the card up with one hand while using the other to pick up a portion of her sandwich. “Does it matter at this point? I faced this card, and I fucking won.” Remembering her crash course lessons on sympathetic magic, she held the sandwich before the card. “I not only won, but whatever it was that you sent to me, I have taken it, devoured it, and made it my own.” She bit into the sandwich as if it held a grudge against her.
She attributed the burst of sourness to not having made sure that the ginger powder was dusted evenly as she had made and seasoned the sandwich. The sourness was replaced with sweetness the moment she had recognized the ginger taste and she felt fuller for it. She placed the Emperor card face down and dedicated both hands to eating the first half of her sandwich.
Moving the Emperor to the bottom of the deck, she studied the decorated deck’s version of the Empress. The image wasn’t gory or explicit, but it did unnerve Lisa for some reason. She busied her hands with holding the second half of her sandwich as she studied the parts of the image.
A kneeling… creature with hooves for feet and skin reminding Lisa of a mottled deer filled the bulk of the image frame. The figure would be nude except there was a large green tangled mass of something filling the space here the figures lap and chest would be. The figure’s hands were resting on top of this mass in a way that implied care. An unnaturally long neck bent and coiled slightly at the top of the image. Seated on the figure’s shoulders were three stacked rings that looked to Lisa as open restraint collars. Sprouting from the head of the figure were antlers that were actually two fruit bearing branches.
But what unnerved Lisa was that the figure’s face was obscured by a large and nearly featureless white mask. Two thin slits for eyes and two small slits for nostrils were the only marks on the mask. The shading of the card implied that this mask was also glowing and providing light with which the rest of the figure was being exposed to and by.
“Is this one of the judges? Can’t be. I saw the judges before I got this deck and there are eye holes on the card but the judges have nothing. But still… A judge?”
Lisa looked away from the card and took a large bite from the second half of her sandwich.
She took her time to chew the bite and waited for one of those judges to inevitably show up. It would be perfect timing, after all. Right? She swallowed and looked up. The table and extra chair were just as she left it. No apparitions, of figures or chairs, had appeared around the table. Lisa sighed at herself and finished eating the sandwich.
Only after cleaning up after herself did she remember that she had not even looked at her phone since getting up. She confirmed that the alarms were all off so there was no way to say that the sound of them is what prompted the dream she had. She had several missed calls, a few voicemails, and quite a number of unread messages. The most recent message being from Jean.
The information about the message was longer than the message itself which simply read: “Check in, dammit.”
Jean must be feeling better, Lisa mused, as she’s back on her telegraph message style bullshit again. “Checking in. So tired that I slept through the whole day. Going through my other messages now but wanted you to know that I’m okay.”
She had just deleted two robocall voicemails after sending the message when her phone rang. Jean was attempting to reach her.
“Hi, Jeannie! Hope you had a restful day!”
Jean’s voice was whispered and quick. “Just answer yes or no and keep your voice down, I’m in the courthouse. Am I the first person you’ve talked to all day?”
Lisa remembered the dream and sat down. “Yes.”
“Did you sign for anything in the mail today?”
“Haven’t even checked the mail today, so no.”
“Do not answer any phone calls, emails, or messages after I hang up, not even mine, unless I have sent you a text about what happened at lunch yesterday first. I’ll explain later.”
Jean ended the call before Lisa could acknowledge the instructions. She looked at the phone in wonder. Something had obviously happened while Lisa was battling imaginary men. Now Jean was asking her to continue to stay out of contact from everyone as she was obviously battling some new legal issue. Lisa looked at the Empress card while remembering the insight she had gained in the dream.
“He was supposed to tie me up and keep me captive. Keep me under control. Keep me passive, for her, for Aunt Helen. But… why now?” Aunt Helen is the kind of person who plays chess for years. She doesn’t make sudden moves unless absolutely forced to. Lisa suddenly thought of the promise of the second chance interview and the chaos that its announcement brought to Aunt Helen.
“A steady job would have meant that she would be spending even less money on me and would increase the status of the family name making her look good in the end. Why would she be against that?”
Lisa ran the faucet with intention of pouring some water to heat for tea now that it was clear that she was going to be up for a long while again. “It’s not like its her money anyway, my allowance is supposed to be coming from the trust.”
The pitcher grew heavy in Lisa’s hand and she allowed gravity to lower it into the sink and for the faucet to overfill it as the fullness of what she just spoke to herself watered her thoughts. She looked at the gurgling water flowing over her hand numbly. Finally, she reached up and closed the tap. The silence that filled the kitchen did nothing to the ringing in her ears as her thoughts grew to a conclusion.
“But if something was to happen to me before the trust was released… then the money, the properties, whatever other shit that Mom and Dad had put away for me… would then go to the trust caretaker. Would go to Aunt Helen.”
Lisa leaned against the counter behind her. “All this time that she said nothing while I partied and shit and got in trouble and shit but got mad at Jean for kicking my ass for it. It’s because she wanted me to self-destruct. Nothing like a good old-fashioned OD to get a pesky kid out of the way, huh.”
She raised her hands to cover her face. “Jean kept telling me that if I fucked up too bad or get strung out that Aunt Helen would have me put in an institution for my own good. To do that meant having a court declare me…” She uncovered her face as the heat of her realization was too much to hold in any further. “A COURT!”
All the times that Jean had managed to bail Lisa out of jail and prevented her from being before a judge suddenly made sense. The backroom deals that Jean had paid for wasn’t to protect the family name, Lisa realized. It was to protect Lisa from Aunt Helen.”
The day Lisa was arrested, Jean had said that she couldn’t protect Lisa any further. The tarot cycle had already begun before that day and Lisa had already seen that her world was crumbling. While she couldn’t prove it, she knew with unshakable faith that her aunt had gotten her fired from her remaining jobs. And Jean was at court right now, after banker’s hours. It had to be an emergency session. But for what?
Lisa held herself as she continued to suss out what her aunt might try to play in court. Ricardo had already tried to shift blame for the restaurant fire to her. If Aunt Helen is making the case that Lisa is unable to provide for herself, then being a person of interest, if not for the fire itself then for the insurance scam that followed, plus not having any independent sources of income would surely make for a good argument that Lisa is only getting worse in behavior and is in need of being controlled.
The magician said he was supposed to make her obedient to Aunt Helen, but he would control her psyche, her mind. He seemed to know enough about her already that he was able to enter her dreams like nothing. Lisa thought about the botched interview and the then-normal choices she made that led to the disaster. What if today’s dream wasn’t the first time he had worked his magic on her?
What if today was the first time that she fought back?
Her cell phone, still silenced, brightened and glowed as a phone call came through. Lisa wiped her hands dry and started to reach for it. Just before she touched it, her fingers tingled as if she had touched a hot burner. She pulled her hand back and looked at the name.
Lisa backed up so quickly that she bumped into the fridge. She put her hands between her and the appliance to ensure that she did not interact with the phone while it silently requested her attention. After a total of ninety long seconds, the screen dimmed, and the tally of missed calls was increased by one. Just after the screen turned off, it lit up again as Aunt Helen’s full name was displayed on the screen as the incoming caller.
Lisa remained standing at the fridge watching the screen for any notification of a new text. After the call went to voicemail a second time, Lisa quickly swiped to her text message app for Jean’s number. No new messages had been received from her since her call.
And then one did.
Lisa saw the notification drop down from the top of her screen and she moved quickly to unlock the phone to respond. Again, her fingertips felt like she was touching hot metal and she pulled her hands back. The notification lingered long enough for her to read the message without the app recording such.
“Aunt Helen wants to talk to you. Please answer the phone when she calls again.”
The phone screen lit as Aunt Helen’s name rested on the display. Lisa realized that Jean knew their aunt was going to use their connection as a tool for her measures. Now she understood why Jean said not to answer unless mention was made of the diner first. No one in the family would know about what happened there yesterday and so it was the only way to announce when it was safe to talk.
Lisa stood in fury watching the phone gleam on the counter as the tally of missed calls increased by one again. She rubbed her still singed fingertips and realized what the heat reminded her of. Under her breath, she thanked the Sun for her vigilance.
“This is very important, Lisa. Answer the god damn phone for once. We are in court and the judge is asking about you!”
The notification lasted just long enough for Lisa to read it entirely. Any other time, Lisa would have not only responded to the message, but would have called Aunt Helen immediately. But now, after the dream attack, after the realization of the dowager’s motives, after understanding that there is more going on than she is aware of, for once in Lisa’s goddamned life, she followed instructions and did not respond to either the increasing number of messages or the phone calls from Aunt Helen or Jean.
Instead, she filled the electric kettle, turned it on, and picked up the keyword card and the list of meanings to review it while waiting for the water to boil. The decorated deck had assigned the themes of beauty, fertility, and femininity to the Empress card, which Lisa found useless in the face of Aunt Helen’s attempt to control her and the family. The list of meanings, however, had the catchphrase of “Because I’m the CEO, that’s why” as the card’s theme. This fit perfectly with Aunt Helen’s ideal of herself as the maintainer and master of the family fortune.
“Okay. If Aunt Helen is the Empress, and her pet card reader is the Emperor, how does a Fool like me have any chance against them?” Lisa pulled out the named cards from the decorated deck. She laid the Empress down first and laid the Emperor to the immediate left of the Empress, both upright. She laid the Fool card to the far right of the first two with a significant space between them.
“Death likes me and the Sun favors me.” She placed the Death card to the immediate right of the Fool and placed the Sun over the Fool.
“The card reader, that bastard, has probably been using Fortune against me.” She placed the Fortune card over the Emperor. “And he has certainly been using the Moon card against me!” She placed the Moon card under the Emperor.
As Lisa heard the beginning rumbles of the water starting to boil, she looked over the cards she had experienced. “All these other cards will help me deal with the consequences of what she’s doing, but I need something that will stop her from doing shit in the first place!”
Lisa heard the water jumping in the kettle. She placed the remainder of the deck on the desk and barely noticed that the slick cards had slid apart as she pulled her hand away. After pouring water on the tea bags she had stuck in a gallon pitcher, she came back to find the slipped cards had moved so that the Justice card was now clearly visible.
Lisa picked up the card. “Justice? But she buys and sells justice. I mean, Jean wanted me out of the court system for a reason and even right now, that bitch is trying to…”
Lisa looked down at the layout of the placed cards, then to the decorated deck’s keywords, then to the list of meanings.
Feeling inspired, Lisa laid the Justice card sideways across the Empress. “Tarot, capital T, if you have any favor towards me, show to Aunt Helen the meaning of Justice when it is said, ‘The court is not amused.’”
Lisa lifted her hand away from the laid cards. She stared at the cross positioning of the Justice card until she heard an intense ringing in her ears. She continued staring at the card until the pounding of her pulse started to sound like the pounding of a gavel.
She remembered in the dream battle that when her eyes were closed, her other senses were enhanced. Acknowledging that she didn’t feel completely in the physical world right now, Lisa closed her eyes. Immediately she could smell the combination of wood, deodorizer, and acrid stress that fills the space of a well-used courtroom. The sound of the gavel ceased. She tasted Jean’s presence in a way that should not have made sense yet still made perfect sense. She could also taste that Jean was very nervous but was also playing herself as very calm.
Lisa tasted Aunt Helen’s presence in the courtroom as well. The dowager’s presence was bitter and artificial and filled Lisa with a barely withheld sense of disgust. There was a man standing next to Aunt Helen. His presence tasted of talcum powder, sawdust, and varnish. Lisa did not understand what those tastes could represent.
The same person that handled the gavel was now handling a large number of loose papers. They were the only source of sound that Lisa could hear. The person cleared their throat and Lisa realized she was hearing sounds from the judge’s bench.
“Ms. Winston. I took the liberty of reading through the copious documentation you have presented to the court during the recess. Were you able to contact your niece?” Lisa did not see the judge, but noted that her presence tasted of pepper, basil, and tomato with the black pepper being the dominant taste. Because of the overwhelming blanket of pepper, Lisa wanted no part of the dish that the judge was serving and realized what the sensations were portraying about each person.
The man standing next to Aunt Helen made noises that would have been recognizable as speech in normal circumstances, but Lisa was unable to sort out any part of his communication. She didn’t need to. The judge’s response told her all she needed to know.
“Listen, counselor, I am not having any of your second-year games tonight. If you were the best that your client could purchase with the type of resources that she has available, then perhaps the wrong person is under scrutiny right now. Did you review these papers? Are you aware that they are contradictory in nature? Are you aware that the signatures that are labeled as being of Miss Arroyo don’t even match in pen or weight within the same document? I actually happen to have a sample of Miss Arroyo’s signature right here. Just last week, she happened to be the clerk handling a refund for the bailiff at the mall and she had to sign the receipt as a representative of her company. He had that receipt with him today and guess what, counselor, only one of the papers you have presented to me has a matching signature. And it is the one that declares the lack of involvement in the proceedings you are having handled elsewhere.”
Lisa was not sure if this was a dream or not, but either way, she was enjoying tasting uncertainty welling up in Aunt Helen and the carefully covered relief spreading out from Jean.
“All the examples you have given me of Miss Arroyo’s indiscretions are not indicative of a person who is at risk of being an immediate harm to herself or to others. They are indicative of someone who hasn’t quite figured out how to be an adult yet and judging from the one statement that I can rely on, is starting to figure that out very quickly. Let me tell you and your client something, counselor: The court is not amused by the attempt to cage Miss Arroyo without her knowledge or consent. Case dismissed, with prejudice. There will be no emergency order written tonight.”
Lisa still wasn’t sure if she was dreaming but she was so elated to hear the judge’s words that she wanted to jump up and shout in happiness. Instead, she brought her head up so quickly that she disoriented herself and fell, smacking her head against the table on the way down.
She was sure that she had remained conscious for the entire way down, but the sudden bruise on her forehead made her wonder if she had imagined the magical eavesdropping. She pulled herself up and sat in the chair. The cards were just as she had arranged them. She rubbed her sore forehead to check for bleeding.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her cell phone screen brighten again. Carefully, she stood to loom over the notification.
“I kept Barbara’s vase. Respond by text. Are you okay?”
Lisa unlocked her phone. “I kept Barbara’s vase and flowers. I’m okay. Didn’t answer anyone.”
“I know. She is very upset with you. Avoid contact with her if you can. If anyone asks you to sign anything, do not until I have read it. I have a surprise for later. It’s good. We’re almost out. Just have to hold out until Friday. If it is safe for you to answer me, I will mention the vase but I am deleting these messages. Love you.”
Lisa forgot her head was hurting as Jean’s words ignited the nearly frozen wick of hope that she had been holding on to for so long. “Elpis? Be the good hope, please. Don’t lead me astray.” Lisa was afraid and elated and nauseous and a complete tangle of emotions. When a small hand touched her arm, Lisa jumped and almost fell again.
She looked down to see the girl child apparition of Death smiling. The figure would be tearing up herself if she had eyes to weep with. “Hi. You did good there.”
“Heh. Yea. I guess. Tarot card magic, ya?”
Death nodded. “Ya. I know it’s a lot all at once, but there’s a lot that had to be handled all at once.”
Both Lisa and Death nodded in understanding.
“Lisa? This is going to sound weird, but I need you to trust me.”
Lisa wanted to throw her head back and laugh, but the nausea warned her otherwise. “On top of everything else? Sure thing, kid. What’s up?”
“Are you going to let your aunt remain the Empress? And are you going to allow yourself to be a Fool forever? You know how to use the cards now. Use them.”
The question brought Lisa’s thoughts to focus on the cards on the table. She staggered over to them. “No. No, I’m not going to allow Aunt Helen to remain the Empress of my life. Because I am the CEO of my affairs, that’s why.” Lisa slipped the Empress card from underneath the sideways Justice card. She rubbed the card face on her pajama shirt as if to scrub any influence of Aunt Helen off of it, then blew on the card to make it her own. Lisa then laid the Empress on top of the Fool.
“For all my talk, I know I’m not really anywhere near as knowledgeable and wise I need to be to really fit the role of the Empress in my life. But I know I’m not as naïve and as ignorant as I was before.”
Lisa pulled the small trash can from beside the counter and placed it by her feet as she sat back down in the chair. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pretend to be an adult and deal with the concussion I just gave myself.”
Death giggled a little and hid her face behind her giant teddy bear. “Okay.”
As Lisa practiced deep breathing exercises, she reviewed the two cards remaining in the deck. Each card had been represented by a person or a situation. Lisa had already encountered Helen’s card reader as the Emperor, but now that Aunt Helen’s power was being diminished, maybe he will reappear in her life as the Magician. She wanted to resume her online studies with a focus on the Magician and the High Priestess.
As the nausea began to ease, exhaustion took over. Magic was tiring work and Lisa admitted to herself that the only study she was going to accomplish in the next eight hours was the art of snoring.
Lisa suddenly remembered the tea bags still sitting in the pitcher. They had been there for so long, that the tea was far too strong and bitter to be usable. So much for making that batch of sweet tea. What rotten luck.
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