Love Story over Coffee
by Marcia Barrett
She's here again today. She's sitting by the upstairs window, reading Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf and sipping her Brady's Dark from that hand-cast mug. Yesterday it was The Confessions of Lady Nijo and two days before that it was some old science fiction novel.
I sit by the head of the stairs and try not to stare at her. I can see her tarot cards, in the torn-out back pocket of some old pair of blue jeans, peaking at me from just inside her book bag. I can see the chains on her leather jacket. I can see the way she brushes one strand of blonde hair out of her face before she turns the page and I see how that strand falls right back into her face once that page has been turned.
She is a study in opposites, at once a tech-geek and a mystic, sexy and demure, strong and weak, hard and soft.
I am in love with her.
And she doesn't know I exist.
I can't expect anything better, I've never said a word to her or any of her friends. Sure, she's smiled at me once or twice, but she smiles at everyone here. That's just the sort of girl she is.
He's sitting at the head of the stairs. Stares. No way to get past him, go to the restroom or get a fresh cup of coffee. Problem with the Brady. Creep can sit at the top of the stairs and trap you up there.
Could make eye contact with Tommy, wave him up here. Tommy would make a show of busing tables, get me a fresh cup, maybe a Brady Roll.
No, no Brady Roll today. Got two bucks for the rest of the week, don't want to get more money out.
Book it is.
That's her best friend's girlfriend coming in the door. At least I think it is. He always seems to have such a flock of pretty girls around him. I wish I were as cool as him, but I don't understand what they see in him.
But she's not one of those. I've seen them together, and I've seen him with his girlies, and it's not the same. Everyone whispers about them, but I know the truth, that they aren't together because she's too strong for him.
The girlfriend gets coffee and comes up the stairs. She doesn't look at me. I'm invisible to them. I wish she would see me.
I watch them lean their heads together, watch the girlfriend shuffle the tarot cards while she, my beloved, marks her place in her book and replaces it in her bag.
I wish I could ask her to read for me, but I'm afraid of what her cards would tell me.
The Commencement--Page of Coins. Well, there he is, huh?
The Nadir--The Chariot. Pride and the ox-goad, sister. You knew that.
The Decline--Death. Any questions so far?
The Apogee (that means the highest point, I had to look it up)--Ace of Swords. Victory. Winning is good, right?
The Past--Eight Swords. Desolation. Things really are as bad as you think.
The Present--Knight of Cups. And he is in his cups, isn't he?
The Future--The Moon. Deception. Lies. But who's the liar, little sister? There's four people here, a dog, a wolf (or is it coyote?), a water beast and the Moon herself. You get my meaning?
And one for the dealer. Two Swords. Danger for a lady.
Sister-sister glances at him, sitting there, watching like invisible. Feel breath on neck, but he's all the way by the stairs. Stares. Stars.
She finishes her reading and looks up, those beautiful eyes turning unerringly to meet mine.
I do not know what she sees. I wish I did. I wish I knew what the cards just told her. But don't the cards tell her about the person she's reading for, not herself?
I'm frozen in my seat, I can't move a muscle. I heard about what she did to her ex, the one who got caught with the kiddie porn. I wonder what she's going to do to me.
She writes in her journal, quick scratches with a pen shaped like some Egyptian god, hands it to the girlfriend. They're talking about me, I'm sure of it. The girlfriend nods, and she picks up her cards, sliding them back into that lone jean pocket.
She stands, card-pocket still in hand.
My God, she's coming over here.
She sits down across from me.
"You need a reading," she says, handing me the cards.
"I do?" I hope I sound cool and suave.
"Yes. Shuffle. Ask a question."
Shuffles. "Do I have to ask it out loud?"
Take the cards, fingers not touching; danger there. Touch top card. Pain. See it all now.
Three cards, fingertips hover over images. World blurs.
Past--Nine of Swords. Nightmares. Night terrors. Are you the dreamer or the dreamed? Terror or terrified?
Present--Nine of Wands. Nine and nine. You know nein means no in German? The wounded soldier. The pass that cannot be held alone.
Future--The Moon. The eighteenth card. Nine and nine again. The moon floats over, but you can only touch her reflection. What you see of her is only a reflection, your self reflected.
And one for the dealer--Two of Swords. Again.
Fingers come to rest on card, world comes into focus. He stares, thanks. Fool.
She gathers her cards and walks away. I stare after her. I don't understand, but I know I won't be back. She has lost her mystery, made herself transparent to me. I see her as she is, and I no longer need her.