July 28, 2006

Ask the Cards

One of the aunts has brought a tarot deck, and after the dinner things are cleared away everyone stays at the table—they’ve come from separate, distant parts of the country for an elder’s birthday—to take turns getting readings. You silently ask the cards a question, and then—well, it’s not fortunetelling, but it gives you a snapshot of the psychic moment, the synchronic netting you’re webbed in, the archetypal currents by which your future will be pulled. And she always gives good readings. She doesn’t go for scaring her clients or forcing them to face unpleasant possibilities. With her, a crisis is always the forerunner of growth, and death is merely a symbol for change.

So they take their turns, and as they move their lips or blink their lowered eyes you can tell what general area their questions come from. This one is asking whether her newest lover is going to stay, and that one is asking whether his career will take an upturn, and that one is asking for a prognosis.

A nine year old boy is at the table too, his eyes lighting up with each turn of a card. He believes in every kind of magic. Rather than sitting in his seat, he’s squatting on top of it like a catcher, bouncing up and down, leaning out across the table towards the cards, his sleeve dipping into a bowl of melted peach ice cream that someone thought they were still eating. He’s commenting on every card, biting his lip, groaning and laughing, crossing his fingers against any chance that any of his relatives won’t end up completely safe and happy.

“My turn!” he calls, above the white noise of wishful strained interpretation after the last grownup is done. He grabs the cards and shoves them into something like a pack: some of them splash away when he tries to shuffle, and his aunt patiently returns them. Now, she explains, you ask the cards a question.

“My question is—“

“No no no!” the grownups rush in, as if pulling him out of the path of a car, or perhaps imagining their own questions revealed aloud. “Don’t tell us. Just ask it to yourself.”

“But can’t I say it if I want to?”

The tarot-reading aunt shrugs: well, it’s not against the rules…

Okay. He jumps down from his chair, clamps his hands down onto the table edge. Okay, cards, his eyes are saying; tell me, tell me…

“What’s my life going to be like?”

And someone at the table takes in a breath. Someone else looks downward, hotly blushing. Someone bites a lip and turns away. Someone holds back a smile and reaches for a drink.

All of them would give anything to be able to ask that question again.