That old saying, “It’s in the cards,” gets a treatment from Richard Thomas. His story, “Divining,” was originally published in Curbside Splendor, and reprinted at Revolt Daily.
If you asked me today the exact moment in time that I knew Heather was wrong for me, it would have to be the night her husband was banging on my apartment door, her laughter hidden under the sheets, our bodies slick with sweat. She was the kind of girl who bent over the pool table just a little too far, her top slipping down, her bra pushing up, her skin-tight jeans hugging her hips. Her eyes told you she’d never been here before, that this was new territory, eyelashes batting, a stray dark hair tucked behind her ear. She sipped at the bottle of beer as if it was an oddity — it somehow just ended up in her mouth. Sly grins and sharp white teeth devoured glossy bruised lipstick, always wet, always whispering secrets wrapped in bourbon and mint.
It rained all week so the construction site was shut down. Hiding out at Nik’s Tavern with the rest of the crew was one option, a sea of flannel and denim, stubble and cigarettes, just waiting for something to happen. I saw her come in, but paid her no attention. I was worried about the rent, the stack of bills on my kitchen table, hoping I wouldn’t have to start selling pot again. My arms were mottled from donating blood, my sperm scattered all over the city. When I closed my eyes I saw apartments I knew, thin back doors that steel-toed boots could splinter, loose money hidden in mattresses, anything that could be hocked for a buck. It would stop raining soon, I knew that much. It had to.
I dealt the tarot cards out onto the table, looking for an answer to my prayers. The Fool was the one card that kept turning up, a stray dog yapping at the feet of the idealist, perched on the edge of a cliff. It was my way of meditating, getting closer to my god, a way of divining my path. A crack of pool balls from the back of the bar shattered the deep grumbling of impatient men.
“What’s that?” she asked, her legs up against the table, her left hand shoved in a front pocket, the other holding tight to a bottle of beer.
“Tarot cards,” I said, not looking up.
“What are they for?”
“Lots of things,” I said. “Mostly, for telling the future.”
“And it works?” she asked.
“I’m Heather,” she said. “You shoot pool?”
Her hand resting on the small of my back, we ran the table for the rest of the night. Whatever came up, whatever was offered, we took it, and won. And then we did it again. The beer kept flowing until the shots started, dark liquid that coated my mouth with licorice. The world faded away. She told me her story and I nodded my head and pictured her naked. In time, the room became empty, nobody willing to take us on. Lips snarled and noses twitched and we knew it was time for us to leave.
We were wet before we even got to my apartment, the cold rain soaking through our jeans, hair plastered to the side of our faces, her mascara running down her face, t-shirt clinging to her breasts. I didn’t ask any questions about what this all meant. I simply peeled off her clothes and took every part of her body in my mouth, and held onto her, my fingers pressing red into her hips, her alabaster body crashing waves across my battered frame.
In the morning she was gone.
Money was scattered all over the floor, crumpled up fives and tens, a folded over wad that I knew was my rent money, not a single penny touched. My apartment was quiet, a chill in the air. Large raindrops beat against the glass. No work. Again.
On the kitchen table, the tarot cards were spread out in a reading like the one I’d done the night before. Across the middle, blocking the reading, was the King of Cups — a wise presence resting on a throne, a patient and understanding soul. The outcome, the last card in a line of four, was nothing but The Tower. Lightning struck the top of a tall grey building, flames and chaos, the card a montage of ruin.
I ran my hands down my chest, a smattering of bruises, and a solitary bite mark over my right nipple.
No number, no last name, she disappeared into the night. For weeks I didn’t see her, the rain finally stopping, sending us back to work. Long days stretched out to make up for the weather — mud and rebar and the cold.
Every night I would stop by Nik’s on the way home, and wait to see if she showed. She didn’t. I put my money in the bank and told myself it was better this way. I didn’t need her. I didn’t want her.
She haunted my dreams.
The pounding on the door was not her husband, the first time. It was Heather. I was out of bed before the bedside light filled the room, because I knew that she had come back. She stood in the hallway, dripping wet again, her eyes swollen and bruised. There was blood on her lower lip and a gash across her forehead.
“He found out,” was all she said.
I let her in. And she stayed.
Weeks went by.
When I was with her the world didn’t matter. We hid out under the blankets, smoked cigarettes and drank. We ate Chinese food and rented movies and hid ourselves from each other. It was pathetic.
The phone bill showed dozens of calls to a number in Indiana. When I called it a gruff male voice answered. Once, he mumbled her name. It was only a matter of time before he showed up on my doorstep. It was gasoline to her fire. Fists and broken glass and I dial three digits to get us some peace and they drag him away with a warning. Down at the station Heather fills out the paperwork, and we hope it will do us some good.
The joint checking account was my idea. Or that’s what I tell myself now. She pawned her wedding ring in order to get her stash, netting us a couple hundred bucks. I should have seen the rest coming.
The first sunny day in a week and I head to the job site filled with sunshine and daydreams. And when I come home the apartment is silent. My checking and savings have been predictably drained. There are boot prints in the hallway and laughter in my ears and I know that if I dial that number in Indiana she will answer the phone, laughter and cigarette smoke filling the air, her man sitting behind her drinking a cold beer, admiring her backside as she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear.
On the kitchen table the tarot cards sit in a pile, with one card turned over.Richard Thomas is the author of three books — Transubstantiate, Herniated Roots and Staring Into the Abyss. His over 100 stories in print include Cemetery Dance, PANK, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Arcadia, Pear Noir, Chiral Mad 2, and Shivers VI. He is also the editor of three anthologies out in 2014: The New Black (Dark House Press), The Lineup: 25 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk. In his spare time he writes for The Nervous Breakdown, LitReactor, and is Editor-in-Chief at Dark House Press. For more information visit http://www.whatdoesnotkillme.com/ or contact Paula Munier at Talcott Notch.