The Tarot Reader

Submitted into Contest #152 in response to: Set your story in an oracle or a fortune teller’s parlor.... view prompt

3 comments

Latinx Contemporary Urban Fantasy

Stephanie Gutierrez stared at the neon sign in the storefront window, barely breathing.


INTUITIVE TAROT CARD READER, it announced. Squiggly lines bordered the words, while stars and moons adorned the empty spaces in between. Stepping closer, she realized that the stars and moons had faces – set lips, a subtly raised eyebrow, eyes boring into her demanding why she was there. For a second, she could have sworn that these celestial beings collectively sighed and downcast their gaze, shaking their heads with a tsk tsk, dismissing her, a lost cause. “¡Ay mija!” they lamented.


The squiggly lines started to swirl and coalesce. Her breath became shallower. Her heart lurched and struggled in her ribcage. Static coursed through her arms and legs until the searing white roar of it threatened to engulf her. “This is it,” her mind said. “I’m dying.” The static tsunami barreled its way up her chest to her throat where it submerged a scream stuck in her voice box. As the edges of her vision blackened, she could make out a woman reaching for her at the end of the tunnel. “Come inside amor,” the woman said as she wrapped her arms around Stephanie and led her through the door.


“Here, sientate.” The woman set her down on a hanging egg chair. Stephanie felt herself sinking and sinking into the cushion. She closed her eyes as she resigned herself to be swallowed up inside this egg. Total darkness approached. But before the cushion could completely consume Stephanie, the woman pulled her back up and told her to put her head between her knees and breathe. “Follow the movement of my hands,” the woman said as she kneeled in front of the chair, placed her hands within Stephanie’s view, and slowly expanded her hands out while instructing Stephanie to, “Breathe in…” Her hands paused, “…Breathe out…” She joined her hands back together. Stephanie did as instructed and after many repetitions, the panic attack began to retreat.  


“There now! ¿Ya te calmaste?” Still shaken, Stephanie glanced up at the woman and nodded. The woman eyed her up and down. “Let me make you a tacita of some siete azahares tea, eh?” She was already getting up and walking over to a side counter before Stephanie was able to say, “Oh, no thank you. Actually, I gotta get going. Sorry…” “You didn’t come for a tarot reading?” the woman said over her shoulder as she poured water into a tea kettle and set it on a hot plate. “Saw you walkin’ down the street. Seemed like you were lookin’ for a place and found it when you stopped out front, ¿qué no?” Stephanie bit her lip and stared down at the egg chair cushion, picking at some loose pilling. Yes, she had come to this tarot reader looking for answers, guidance, a miracle. Her mind had been bouncing around the padded walls of her skull as of late with ever increasing speed. She had tried some free therapy sessions on her law school’s campus (former law school) but had reached the maximum allowed and had been referred to outside longer term treatment. Still on her mother’s insurance policy, she dared not schedule an appointment. Her mother didn’t believe in psychology. (“No sirven para nada. God is the only therapist you need.”) She also didn’t believe in tarot readers. A very conservative and strict Catholic, her mother would probably drown her in holy water to save her soul if she knew where Stephanie was at that moment. To be honest, the thought that she might be opening some gateway to hell or inviting a demon to possess her did cower at the corner of her mind. 


“I’m Luna, by the way.”


“Stephanie.”


“Alright, sit tight Stephanie. Let me light some palo santo to cleanse my cards. It’ll do you some good too. Te va relajar even more.”


Stephanie finally took a good look at Luna – a middle-aged woman with a robust, statuesque frame. She wore a 50s rockabilly style dress with a Peter Pan collar. A pattern of brightly colored tarot cards and white crystals overlayed the dress’s fuchsia background. Holographic combat boots with at least 5-inch platform heels went up about halfway her hairy calves. A shade of electric blue covered her lips, while streaks of a similar hue lined her silver curls. She looked like the Ms. Frizzle of tarot card readers.


“I like your dress.”


“¡Gracias amor! I sewed it myself.” Luna beamed. “¡Mira! I even added deep pockets.” She reached in and pulled out a deck of tarot cards, 3 crystals, a palo santo stick, an iridescent sea shell, a tall votive candle, and a lighter, all of which she placed on a small round table beside the egg chair. Stephanie half expected her to keep pulling out supplies like Mary Poppins did out of her magic carpet bag. Luna lit the votive candle and then used that flame to light the palo santo. She placed the burning stick on the upturned sea shell and took out her cards from their box, fanning them out, letting the smoke waft through them. The citrusy, woodsy aroma enveloped Stephanie, warming her up.


She swiveled the egg chair and got a better view of the rest of the shop. It wasn’t very large at all. Not much bigger than a spacious walk-in closet, honestly. A shelf in the corner displayed various crystals and labeled jars of herbs and teas. Potted plants were strewn around the room, some hanging from the ceiling. She then noticed an altar against the far wall, covered in fresh flowers, votive candles of various colors, cups of water, apples, candies, Coke, and tequila bottles. Among these offerings stood statuettes of La Virgen de Guadalupe. Stephanie wasn’t Catholic, but La Virgen’s comforting presence eased the knot in her stomach that she hadn’t realized was there. Then she saw them. How did she miss them? Towering above everything else were figurines of an enrobed and hooded skeleton holding a globe in one hand and a scythe in the other, an owl at its feet. Stephanie recognized Santa Muerte and suppressed a shiver.


The tea kettle shrieked. Luna got up and served Stephanie the siete azahares tea. “So,” she sat back down and knocked three times on her deck of tarot cards. “¿En qué te puedo ayudar? What would you like to know?”


Stephanie stared at Luna for several seconds, then sighed, slumping her shoulders. “Ah, say no more.” Luna began to shuffle the deck. Immediately, a handful of cards jumped out, face down. “Wow! Your spirit guides really wanna talk to you!” She grabbed the cards and started to flip them over one by one, citing the name of each – “The nine of swords…” A woman sat up in bed sobbing, nine swords hanging above her head. “Four of pentacles…” A sitting man held a coin tightly to his chest, while he stepped on two others, and balanced the fourth on his head. “Eight of swords…” These swords encaged a blindfolded and bound woman. “The Tower…” Stephanie caught her breath. A lightning bolt had struck the tower, setting the structure on fire and crumbling it to the ground. A crown had been knocked off from the top. Two people leapt to their demise. Stephanie could almost hear their cries. “Death…” The taste of bile started to come up Stephanie’s throat. “And The Devil…” Lucifer himself, with a goat’s head and horns, bat’s wings, and talons at his feet. A man and a woman below him were chained at the neck. The Devil snarled at Stephanie. She leapt up from the egg chair, almost knocking herself over. The tea cup crashed to the floor. She ran out the tarot reader’s parlor and didn’t look back.


The next week was the worst of her life, since her father had passed. She couldn’t leave the house at all without her heart pounding and feeling like she couldn’t breathe, so she stayed inside. She got fired from both of her jobs. Her boyfriend dumped her. And when her mother finally found out that she had dropped out of UCLA Law School, she threatened to kick Stephanie out of the house. Stephanie supposed being the first in the family to attend college and graduate with a bachelor’s degree (from Stanford, no less) wasn’t enough.


Stephanie was sure that the tarot reader had put some kind of curse or hex on her. Maybe she should have gone to an astrologer like Walter Mercado, someone who could’ve given her bendiciones, mucha paz. Pero sobre todo, mucho, mucho amor.


“You have to go back,” one of her best friends told her. Stephanie knew she was right.


So, armed with a cross around her neck, she headed out and found herself in front of Luna’s shop once more. This time she didn’t pause to contemplate the neon sign. She barreled straight through the door before she could lose her nerve.


Luna sat at her table shuffling tarot cards. A handful immediately jumped out as Stephanie entered. “¡Vaya, mira quién es! Glad you’re back.” She gave Stephanie a genuine smile. “Come in! Sientate.” She gestured toward the egg chair. As Stephanie sat, she began to apologize. “Uh, uh, uh. Say no more!” Luna flipped over the cards. “Well, what do you know? They’re the same cards. Wonderful!”


“Wonderful??” How is Destruction, Death, and the Devil wonderful??”


Luna put her hand up. “Let me explain mija.” She paused. “You are so worried about losing control that you hold on so tight and lose your grip anyway. You’re creating a cage for yourself. See this bound woman surrounded by swords? She’s only holding herself back. Her wraps are only loosely tied; the swords don’t surround her completely. She can get out. But only she can do that for herself. She can and should seek help, of course. But ultimately, it’s up to her. You feel trapped, though, like this bound woman, and like these people imprisoned by the Devil. But look closer. Their chains are loose on their necks. They could take the shackles off of themselves. But they are under the illusion that the Devil is holding them there. You must let go of what is no longer serving you. Let it die. Let the tower fall. It’s not gonna be easy. It’s gonna hurt like hell. But the foundation was rocky to begin with, wasn’t it? You can and will rebuild – something sturdier, more secure.”


Stephanie was weeping. It wouldn’t have taken much to crack the floodgates at this low point in Stephanie’s life, but Luna’s words did it.


“I get it.” Luna said. “I’m first generation too. Actually, I quit my big law firm job to become a tarot reader. Would you have guessed?” She laughed.


“What a coincidence.” Stephanie said.


Luna shook her head. “No such thing.”


“My mom suffered and sacrificed a lot, you know? Other people out there in the world are suffering more than me. And I can’t even handle what’s on my plate? With all the privilege I have?”


“Oh, so this is a trauma tournament now? You don’t have to suffer like a martyr for your struggles to be valid.”


Leaving the shop, Stephanie paused by the neon sign, glancing at the stars and moons once more. They looked serene with Mona Lisa smiles.

July 02, 2022 03:56

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3 comments

Graham Kinross
02:50 Jul 12, 2022

This is great. Your descriptions are poetic and helped me to see exactly what was happening. The tarot therapy is really interesting. Hopefully I’ll get to read more of your work on reedsy. Let me know when you’ve got new stuff.

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Dani Camporeale
17:09 Jul 08, 2022

just read through your story. you can write. you deserve more likes. join the clique on here, and maybe you'll get them

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Dani Camporeale
17:06 Jul 08, 2022

you sent me a message about "worm and butterfly" but i never wrote anything like that. reminds me of Heart's "dog and butterfly". when i write, i don't plagiarise anyone, which is why i don't have anything on here at the mo, too many plagiarists on here

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