Lisa woke up again at the time of day that she would usually have summoned a fuck about working the restaurant job. Though, if she still it, she would have been late. She looked at the clock, reflected on what her actions would normally be at this time and laughed. Any time before this morning, she would be defiant and flippant about being late for work. She would be quick to say that the worst thing her bosses could do to her was to fire her.
Now as her body insisted that she get out of bed again to take care of her bladder’s insistence for wakefulness, she wondered if her bosses hadn’t already done the worst thing for her. Those managers that was putting up with her shit, putting up with her chronic lateness, her inconsistent work, just letting her hang around for half the pay and none of the work, those managers that didn’t expect her to be anything more than eye-candy and portable benefits were just taking advantage of her.
The memory of the dream pinched her. Her voice only carried to her ears. “That’s not fair.” Lisa sat up and reflected on the unwritten rules of the game. “Yea, they took advantage of me, but I was taking advantage of them just the same. Everyone wanted a piece and as long as it was someone else that paid, who gave a shit.”
She flipped her phone back over as she walked by to the coffee pot. A cacophony of chirps, bells, tones, and buzzes answered her silent gesture. As the kitchen warmed to her presence, she scrolled through the missed notifications.
There were missed calls from her sister, from her party pals, from her grifter pals, from her restaurant pals. There were missed texts from the same group plus a few others asking about unpaid debts. There were apologetic replies to yesterday’s party offer and new offers to make up for missing hers. There were social media updates, private profile inquiries, public wall notices, and a few requests to confirm that it was really her trying to log in to her accounts.
Rats. Jean would always call Lisa’s social media contacts, rats. They weren’t all rats, Lisa would retort. Some of them are actual people. They just had different ways of showing their friendship than the few and sterile methods accepted by Aunt Helen.
As the coffee pot gurgled Lisa mentally divided the group of folks trying to contact her into people who were concerned about her personally and people who just wanted a fun time.
“So that’s what it means to be ratioed.”
Last night’s dream came to her again and she again questioned her sanity. As she looked around her apartment for confirmation that she was indeed awake, all the little ways that her living space was unkempt. There was a place for everything, but everything was in the wrong place.
“It’s not a rat’s nest.” The kitchen sink was empty as most of her plates were in the cabinet. Truth be told, Lisa very rarely cooked at home, preferring to eat out “with friends”. She could cook for herself quite adequately. But something about washing dishes always scrubbed up painful memories.
As she looked around with a more critical eye, she realized that she avoided any serious effort at cleaning. The lessons she had learned as a child were not the type that would serve her as an adult. She wasn’t sure, but she suspected that she held on to the shame of not being clean enough because it was something she was used to by now.
Something expected of her.
Something she expected of herself.
The coffee pot had stopped brewing coffee already, but she only now noticed it had fallen silent. She opened the fridge to get her morning indulgence, heavy cream. Upon opening the door, her nose informed her that the cream, and most likely other contents had gone bad.
Realizing that she will have to replace everything in the fridge reminded her of the bundle that her sister stuffed into her jacket. She had placed most of the money in a shoe in her closet and shoved just enough into her purse so that she would have bus fare.
She can replace the food tomorrow. Right now, she just wanted to look at anything other than the messy decor of the apartment. As she got dressed, she realized that she had understood how the Judgement card was represented in her personal life and that it was time to look at the next card in sequence. Then she realized she was giving Tarot, capital T, serious thought as if it was a serious tool and not some mystical bullshit.
It’s Thursday. Lisa knew enough about Rebecca’s schedule to know that she would be at the coffee house on Thursdays, but she also knew that Rebecca would be conducting business in public. She started to walk out of the bedroom, then stopped, picked up her towel from where she dropped it last night, and started to put it in the clothes hamper.
But the clothes hamper was already full with clean clothes that she had neglected to fold after drying. She sighed, dropped the towel on the floor next to the hamper, and exited the room.
At her table, she sat down with both decks. She moved the World, Fool, and Judgement cards to the bottom of the decks. Two cards, one plain and one decorated, faced her on the top of both decks now. Both were labeled “The Sun” and had been assigned the roman number XIX.
The meanings list held the catchphrase of “And it’s alright” to the card. It took Lisa a moment to recognize the phrase as a reference to an old song that she only heard in commercials now. The decorated card was of a woman in a glowing golden dress sitting on an elaborate throne that was sitting on what looked like a large map of some fantasy world. Broken shackles were are her feet. She held two animals, one recognizable, one not. The card looked mostly normal, except the more she examined the image, the more “not right” the image became. The character’s stare was literally unblinking. The exposed legs were humanoid enough to be recognizable but the proportions were off. The background color was unnerving.
She lifted the decorated card. “So I guess it’s your turn. Please don’t give me a sunburn. I’m in enough pain right now as it is.” She put the card back on the top of its deck, picked up her keys and phone, and left the apartment.
On her way to the coffee house, she caught a stolen glance in a storefront window. How very different she was today than yesterday. Her hair was combed and pulled back into a ponytail. While her clothes were a little baggy, they were clean, and the cuffs had been rolled up in a fashionable way. Despite the dream that still dogged her, she looked well rested and ready to face and take on the day.
Lisa muttered a thanks to the sunlight for being bright enough for her to see herself clearly, but not so hot that she was uncomfortable. As she continued on her way, she realized that the day was unusually warm for the season. The warmth felt like a constantly reassuring hug that slipped between layers of cloth to settle gently against her skin.
She had taken a look at the decorated deck’s assigned meanings for the Sun before leaving. Lisa felt that after the brutal revelations and examinations of the recent days, having success and positivity would really be a welcome boon to her right about now. It wasn’t until she walked into the shadow of a building that she completely realized which card she was contemplating.
“The… Sun? Like… The literal sun?” She did not stop walking for fear that another unseen office worker would take offense at her existing again. She did pull her jacket closed to keep as much of the sun’s blessing close to her. “So tarot cards can sometimes mean what they are literally named after?” She thought about the Death card and noted that Rebecca appears happily alive so maybe it was the perception of the card that mattered.
As she approached the end of the block, she saw that the shaft of sunlight waiting for her seemed solid, as if the boundary between light and shadow was a wall to be broken through. Stepping into the sunlight gave her a sense of relief as if waking from a terrible nightmare and a sense of joy as if a puppy had ran to her.
Her eyes adjusted to the change of light halfway through the crosswalk and she saw the coffee house at the end of the next block. The way of life she was accustomed to was ending. She had lost one job and was aware that she may also lose the others, and her last friendly family member had disowned her. But there was someone who could help her, someone who could explain the tools she had been given to start fixing herself, and that person was sitting in the coffee house right there. And for the first time in a long time, Lisa felt that things were going to settle out just fine in the end and that she’ll be okay.
Lisa continued walking and entered the shadow of the next building. Though the physical light was out of reach, the warmth had seeped through into her soul to settle into her heart. As she passed through the coffee house doors, she realized that the sunlight appeared to have infected her with a strange and defiant positivity. She had no reason why she should be smiling right now, but to hell with logic. It’s a nice warm day and everything is going to be alright.
Rebecca was seated at a small study table in a distant and slightly shadowed corner. Lisa took a breath to call out a greeting in her usually rude manner, but caught herself and roughly swallowed her intent instead. In the space of the blink of an eye, Rebecca had glanced pointedly at Lisa, and with the smallest yet unmistakably deliberate facial expression, had commanded Lisa to remain quiet and to not interfere.
It was after Lisa stood in line to order her drink that she noticed that not only was someone else seated at Rebecca’s table, but that the someone else was engaged with Rebecca in a quiet conversation over tarot cards. Lisa tried not to stare at the unrecognizable details but she was astounded at how normal the consultation appeared.
The line advanced forward, obscuring Lisa’s line of sight as a tall display of ceramic mugs now blocked her view. Lisa had not seen Rebecca read in a professional setting since the masquerade. She had actually forgotten that Rebecca did so at all, having only seen her playing games like solitaire and poker with her decks.
The warmth that had softened Lisa’s steps now felt searing and penetrating. She felt overexposed as she entered the light fields that were illuminating other display cases. Doubt about her experiences, about her reactions, about whether Rebecca would even acknowledge her again began to burn away the comfort she had nurtured on her way to the coffee house.
She ordered a large mix of black tea and lemonade and went to the pick-up counter to wait for her order and to eavesdrop on Rebecca’s table. She found that while she could hear Rebecca’s soft and lulling tones, she could not make out a single word that the card reader spoke. Rebecca’s client, however, despite facing away from Lisa, was clearly understood to the point of rudeness and Lisa was embarrassed for it.
As she collected her drink and looked for a seat away from Rebecca but still within sight of her, she wondered why she suddenly gave a shit about overhearing other people’s dirty laundry. She remembered the old adage about if a gossiper gossiped about other people to you, then that gossiper will gossip about you to other people. She was reminded of all the times she would eavesdrop about a person and use that information to guilt them into doing something for her.
If it was something that everyone did, then why was she worried about being exposed for it this time? Despite sitting away from the lights, Lisa still felt exposed as if the sun itself was shining through the layers of concrete, steel, and acrylic shielding her from the outside. When she realized that she was feeling uncomfortable in a very solar oriented way, she wondered if she was feeling a bad side effect of the Sun card.
Lisa wished she had brought her decks with her to the coffee house. Neither the torn list of catchphrases nor the keywords card made any mention of a card’s meanings turned opposite. She thought about looking this up on her phone when a shadow fell across her face, startling her.
“Answer me with a quiet voice, but you better answer me true. What are you doing here?” Rebecca stood over her with a steaming beverage in a personal mug. While her body posture was relaxed, and her face sternly neutral, Rebecca’s eyes frightened Lisa. Rebecca was revealing her displeasure only to Lisa and the seated woman was trying not to have a panic attack over the display of emotional control.
“Um…” Lisa coughed as her throat itched. She drank of her drink to soothe her throat and buy time to collect her thoughts and words. “I have questions. Some shit went down… and… things got weird.”
Rebecca grunted and sipped her drink while keeping her gaze on Lisa. The seated woman fidgeted a bit, drank her drink a bit, looked around a bit, then fidgeted a bit more before allowing herself to even look in Rebecca’s direction. The card reader’s gaze had softened just before she sat in the chair neighboring Lisa.
“You have about thirty minutes til my next client. I’m going to guess that you did not go through all the cards like I told her. I’m going to guess that some of the consequences you had built up for yourself have begun to visit your ass. I’m going to also guess that some really wyrd shit happened and you are so far out of your comfort zone that you need a passport to get back.”
Lisa nodded. She found herself wanting to cry but held back the tears. “Yea, something like that.”
Rebecca held her mug with both hands. “Okay. I’m not going to talk about any one card until you’ve gone through the entire deck. You need to face them all and see how they overlap each other. I’m not going to help you avoid what you’ve built up for yourself. I am going to jump your shit for not accepting the help that’s been offered so far. You keep saying no and one day there will be no further offers. So, let’s get to what I can talk about right now. Tell me about the wyrd shit.”
Lisa looked around. “Here?”
She pushed herself into her chair and was grateful for the cushions. “In public?”
“Well, I’m not going back to your place and like hell am I taking you to mine!” Rebecca tested the heat of her beverage and found it still too hot to enjoy.
Lisa thought about telling Rebecca about the dreams, about the waking visions, about the way that she has been experiencing something like the theme of each card, but found herself unable to say anything directly.
“I… can’t. Not… yet. I dunno. This is weird as hell. It’s like… It’s like I’ve been watching a show about my life, and I’m looking at shit from the outside, and seeing some shit from a perspective that just… lays me out so damn… clear… and now I have to make decisions about what I’m going to do now that I know shit about myself that I didn’t have before and… It’s only paper and ink, Rebecca.” Lisa turned to face the patient woman. The motion cooled the just noticed tears on her face. “It’s only paper and ink but I feel like my life is being cut open while I’m living it and I’m afraid.”
Rebecca sipped her drink in thought. “I bought my first deck for myself because I was curious about something. It’s the same one I let you look through. Paper and ink. Nothing more. Even to this day, with all that I’ve done with it, nothing more.”
She looked out the window as if looking back in time. “I was curious because something had happened. I thought it was just a flight of fancy, just a dream. I didn’t have anyone midwife me into tarot. Tarot came to me.”
“Oh I had to learn the skill of it, of course! It’s not like I became a master tarotist after breaking the shrinkwrap! Oh, hell no!” She laughed quietly to herself, as if forgetting that Lisa was there. “I still had to learn the cards, the nuances, the language, the dance. I still had to learn how to get past myself, how to help myself, how to allow Tarot to speak through me without feeding my ego along the way. I’m still not a master tarotist”
“It wasn’t easy nor was it pleasant. I had to face things about myself that just outright gutted me. I didn’t want to change. I didn’t want my life to be different. But once I started to find things out about myself and what I was dragging myself through, I really didn’t have a choice. The world I lived in before Tarot came to me was already dying when it did. Tarot just opened my eyes to that and gave me the opportunity to decide if I was going to die with it or die without it.”
Lisa was following Rebecca closely until her last sentence. She thought about the Death card again. “Um. Not to, like, be that dramatic bitch, but I’m sorry to say you’re quite alive.”
Rebecca chuckled. “There is more to death than the termination of life, Lisa. Which, I think, you’re experiencing first hand. To survive the circumstances that Tarot found me in meant changing myself in such a way that I have become a completely different person. Change is a type of death, you know.” She took a drink and looked at Lisa squarely. “So. Did Tarot come to you?”
Lisa stared back, suddenly terrified. She wanted to look up at the ceiling to see if it was mirrored, and if it was, if she would see the reflections of the judges standing there. She held her drink with both hands in her lap and stared at it instead.
Rebecca nodded. “Okay. Are you following the cards in the order I gave you? If so, what card are you on?”
“I did. And I’m on the Sun right now.”
“Okay.” Rebecca patted Lisa on the arm. “Remember, as you pass through each card, you can use not only what you have learned about yourself, but what you have learned and gained from each card to help you as you go. You have twenty-two cards to pass through in all, but you are also collecting them along the way. Remember that, when you need a light in the darkness.”
She stood up and finished her drink. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a skittish client coming in, and you lurk as delicately as a drunken elephant on roller skates. I can’t kick you out of here, but I must ask that you not interfere with my readings.”
Lisa stood as well. “Yea, you’re kicking me out of here. And that’s fair. Besides, I have grocery shopping to do and I’m on foot today. I’d thank you but I think there’s a lot you’re not telling me, and a lot you should have told me on Sunday but I’m not ready to talk about that yet. So… I’ll get back with you later.”
Rebecca went back to her table as Lisa finished her lemonade with tea. She threw the empty cup away as she left the coffee house. Instead of turning towards the corner market with the old bread and the expensive milk and the shop owner that was always offering her a discount if she’d flash him, she turned back to her apartment.
The money that Jean gave her will be enough to justify a big online grocery order for delivery. She’ll be able to spend the time waiting for the delivery by decluttering her apartment. She knew it would be a series of efforts over several weeks to tidy up the place. Might as well start to put that new self-awareness to use.
The afternoon sun was already waning in power. She remembered how warm and comfortable she felt earlier and wished that she could have sunlight in a pocket as needed. As she entered her apartment and saw the decks on the table, she thought that perhaps carrying a tarot deck was what Rebecca meant with her cryptic statement about having light in the darkness.
It was Lisa’s intention to study the next card in the tarot deck after placing her order. But the smell coming from the fridge was too great to ignore and she set about dealing with the spoiled food instead. By the time she completed that task, she was too emotionally tired to even look at the deck. She sat down with the intention to binge something on Netflix, but fell asleep before she had even selected which series to load.