There was a box of tarot cards resting on the top shelf of her bookcase. They were in a box not to conceal them, for if Calypsê wanted to hide her wicked ways, she wouldn’t have placed the black-boned horns of a goat on top of the tin box.
She wasn’t wicked, though, and no one in the village believed she was.
History would suggest single women living by themselves on the outskirts of town were sinful. Especially if they made a living on reading palms and crushing back-garden herbs into a powder and telling Maria Lawm to give the power to her husband for two weeks, and only then did Maria Lawm become pregnant. No one feared Calypsê but they still kept their distance, for sadness was a stronger deterrent sometimes.
The young woman, who wasn’t that young just because she was a widower, wore the same red cloak and green headscarf every time she went into town. Everyone wore the same outfit all winter as the roads were frozen and thick with snow, and the closest town would take a tank and a few hours to get to. Tanks no longer decorated the streets, nor the woods and fields. All precious metals had been stripped and carried off for a profit.
Calypsê herself had acquired a piece of steel from one of the old military vehicles. It had warped from the few years since the war, and fallen to the dirt. She picked it up for it was in the shape of a bowl, and her last bowl had been shattered by an angry customer. Luis hadn’t liked what the witch had told him about his future and threw her pink ceramic dish against the wall of her kitchen. It had been the only pink object she’d owned, and she didn’t like it that much anyway. The rusting grey metalwork had fit better with her silver forks and spoons.
Last summer, Calypsê had to trade that bowl for a green headscarf. Her last one got eaten by a goat, perhaps the same black goat whose horns now sat on her dresser, though no one dared ask as they knew the pain of losing precious objects. The edges had frayed anyways, but the headscarf still tied Calypsê’s black curls back when she worked. This was also why no one knew how old she was, for while she had only crow’s feet from forced smiles, no one knew if her hair was beginning to gray. Her forehead remained as smooth as on her wedding day, which was pictured and framed and also presented on her bookcase.
These were the items people saw when visiting, though only the ones asking for fortunes knew what rested inside the little black box on the top shelf. Not many people asked for their fortunes after the war. But it was Wednesday and Ana Sarin from Sarin Farms believed in testing the village’s only soothsayer.
Right as the school bell rang, many streets away from Calypsê’s house, there was a knock on her front door. She knew who it was before opening the door, though she didn’t need superpowers to know it was Ana Sarin. The older woman had been visiting Calypsê religiously for the last four years, every week on the same day at the same time. Calypsê wondered if Ana waited outside the front door until the school let the children out, as if Ana didn’t want to see the children run to all the other houses except for her own. It wouldn’t have mattered as Ana’s sons would have been too old for school now, anyways.
“Hello, love,” Ana said as Calypsê opened the front door. “How’ve you been?”
“Nothing’s changed,” Calypsê said, letting Ana inside and closing the door. “I’ve made tea just as you like.”
“Oh, you didn’t have to,” Ana smiled, taking one of the mugs prepared on the table.
“I did,” Calypsê sighed, grabbing the black box from the shelf and sitting down at the table. “Boiling hot than a splash of milk.”
“Don’t be like that,” Ana rolled her eyes. “Though I am glad you’ve taken my suggestion to be more hospitable to customers.”
Saying nothing, Calypsê shuffled the cards, twisting and splitting the deck like a butcher cuts meat. She hoped the good parts were at the bottom by the time she set the deck on the table. Ana watched quietly, clutching her mug with both hands. Calypsê glanced up at the woman back down to the cards, flitted her fingers over the deck for show, and then picked the card at the top of the pile.
“Your past is the Empress,” Calypsê said, her gaze focused on Ana’s face, which stared intently at the card. “It is facing you, suggesting you have been bountiful in the past. This can mean you were fertile, with children, wealth, or resources.”
“Joe and I have a good farm, always have,” Ana nodded. “Lots of babies.”
Pausing, Calypsê did not want to continue. Ana was much like a gambler, buying a lottery ticket only to get the same results, but coming back expecting change. The old woman must know the routine by now, knowing what cards Calypsê will pull. She doesn’t care, though.
“Your present is Death,” Calypsê said quickly, wanting this awkward, tedious appointment to end soon. “It is reserved, meaning you must persevere with whatever struggles you have. You cannot give up, no matter how difficult.”
“I am, I am!”
“Must I continue?”
“Yes!” Ana’s eyebrows furrowed. “I pay you, you give me my future. You haven’t stopped before, so why now?”
“I don’t think coming here is healthy for you,” Calypsê said, reaching her hands towards Ana, who pulled her hands back.
“I’ll decide what is good for me or not,” Ana said, her voice rising. “Pick the last card.”
Sitting back in her chair, Calypsê looked down at the table. Her cheeks were warm and she felt ashamed. Not at the magic. The cards were right. How could Ana Sarin get the same three cards every week for four years? Mathematicians would say it was not possible.
Calypsê was ashamed for being available to mourners such as Ana Sarin. Most people came to terms with those lost in the war. Not Ana, though.
“Your future is…” Calypsê closed her eyes, grabbed the top card of the pile, and opened her eyes as she presented it on the table. “Death.”
Silence filled the room as both women stared at the card. Cold set in Calypsê’s hands as she rubbed her thumb over the card, wondering if she was imagining it.
“What does that mean?” Ana asked, eyes wide. “Why isn’t it Justice?”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Calypsê said, holding the two Death cards up to her face. They were exactly the same drawing, the middle one upside down from her point of view. “I don’t have two Death cards.”
“What does it mean, then?” Ana asked, slapping her hand on the table. “You’ve always told me that you don’t pick the cards, the universe does. So the universe meant for me to have that card. What does it mean?”
“Well, it’s facing it,” Calypsê said, placing them back down on the table. “It means something in your life is ending. Perhaps you can move on from something holding you back… it doesn’t make sense.”
“So you’re telling me,” Ana spoke out loud, “That the thing I am presently holding onto, I need to let go of.”
The hair on the back of Calypsê’s neck rose, and she picked up the three cards and put them back in the pile. “As I’ve said before, the results are for you to interpret. I cannot give advice except for what the cards mean.”
“Of course you can’t,” Ana said, standing and reaching into her purse. “If only my sons came to you before the war, you could’ve stopped them from dying.”
“Do not blame me for the death of hundreds,” Calypsê said, feeling disgusted as Ana placed money on the table. “You know as well as I do that if they had their fortunes read, they would have died anyway. I don’t change the future.”
“You just did,” Ana said, nodding to the cards.
“Are you suggesting I scammed you?” Calypsê asked. “I don’t know if you believe the cards or not? What’s it going to be?”
“Well, I definitely won’t be returning next week,” Ana said, heading towards the door. “You gave me a satisfying answer, whether out of fate or because you don’t want me to come back. It doesn’t matter, now, does it?”
“Get out,” Calypsê said.
Ana paused before opening the door. “I guess if you could’ve predicted the future, your husband would be as alive as my boys.”
A painful scream tore through Calypsê’s throat, and she picked up the deck of cards and chucked them towards the old woman. Ana gasped and hurried out of the house, leaving the door wide open.
Sinking to her knees, Calypsê punched the hardwood floor with her fists. Pain spread across her hand, and she lifted her hand to see blood on her knuckles. There was a tarot card stuck to her skin. It was the Hierophant, upside down. The same card Calypsê received for herself for the last ten or so years.
“If her fortune changed, why can’t mine?” Calypsê wondered out loud, placing the Hierophant card down on the floor.
All the cards on the floor were facing down, so she picked a random one. She set it down next to the first card: the Hermit reversed.
“Same as always since the war,” Calypsê said, already looking for another card. She hovered over them, letting some unknown energy pull her toward one. She hoped it was different.
The Justice card reversed. As always, nothing has changed.
Calypsê let her head hang, feeling the energy drain out of her body. Her hand hurt but it felt numb, pulsing like a light tap on the skin. For a minute, she thought she could hear it, but then she realized what she was hearing was not her heart pumping, but the crunching of footsteps on the snow outside.
“Are you praying?”
Looking up, Calypsê saw a young boy standing outside her front door. His snow boots sunk a few inches into the snow, and a light sheen covered his forehead.
“No,” Calypsê said, squinting. “I’m picking these up.”
“Let me help,” the boy said, rushing through the door and kneeling down. A bag fell from his shoulder, causing a stack of envelopes to spill out onto the floor. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright,” Calypsê said, controlling her irritation. “Set your bag down so nothing else falls out.”
The boy obeyed, then helped pick up the mess. “I’ve never seen cards like these before. These aren’t the owns I use at school. Have you ever played Slap Jack? These are magic ones, right?”
“It isn’t magic,” Calypsê said, beginning to feel the sting from her knuckles. “It’s…. what are you doing here?”
“I have a letter for you,” the boy finished picking up the fallen letters, then handing one to the woman.
Calypsê took the letter and saw that there was no return address. “Thank you.”
“I am,” Calypsê said, opening the letter while getting blood on the white envelope.
There were a few quiet moments as Calypsê began reading the letter before she realized the boy was still standing in the room.
“Do you want a tip?” Calypsê asked, then nodded to the large sum on the table. “Take that.”
“Oh, I don’t usually get a tip,” the boy said, eyeing the money but stepping toward the door. “I just wanted to know who the letter was from.”
“That’s really none of your business,” Calypsê said, grabbing the money from the table and stuffing it into the front pocket of the boy’s coat. “Leave before a smack you.”
The boy looked scared and hurried out of the house, politely closing the door behind him. Calypsê sat down at the table and continued reading the letter. By the time she finished the last sentence, her heart pounded in her chest.
“How…” she stood and hurried to the front door. Throwing it open, she looked out at the empty street for the boy. The letter was from her husband. The government reported him killed in action days before the war ended. This letter was yellowed as if written many years ago.
Calypsê returned to the tarot cards and read her own fortune three times.
Shuffle. Past. Present. Future.
Hierophant. Hermit. Justice.
Same master. Same loner. Same damn judge.
Gabrielle Rupert is a fisheries observer for NOAA in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean. She has short stories published in Pif Magazine, Ripples in Space, Transfer Magazine, In Parentheses, and Forge & Flint. She is from Framingham, MA.