By Geoff Marshall
Mr. Li intercepted Halo at the front desk of the Avalon lobby. He seemed preoccupied as he hooked his arm around Halo’s and dragged them back through the door. Halo heard a voice as the door swung closed. Leona calling for the old man. For real. She sprinted across the lobby floor, tottering in her knee high brown boots that made her even taller than she was. She appeared to have a tea set in her hands. No joke.
“Mr. Li, it’s Leona, I think she wants to talk to you,” Halo said.
“No time, no time,” he waved in the direction of the Avalon and continued dragging Halo to the small park next to the residence. The pink blossoms of spring were long gone, replaced by the browns and oranges of fall. He found a table under a tree and sat down. “Sit, sit,” he waved his hand.
The tabletop was a chessboard, black and white tiles embedded into the frame. There were a few tables like that and some of the others were occupied by opponents facing off. “Chess today” Halo asked (fingers crossed no).
“That depends, do you know how to play?”
“Yeah, for real.”
Mr. Li smiled and just said, “Today I have something else in mind.” The old man put a deck of Tarot cards on the table, “Think about what you want. More than anything.”
Halo opened their mouth, said nothing and contemplated the stack of cards Mr. Li piled there. The cards will tell. Just pick three. Or so the old man said before Halo cut three cards and lined them up face down.
Eye contact. Mr. Li flipped the first card.
A blue sky, and in the sky a perfect rainbow hung, and ten golden cups were embedded within. Beneath the rainbow a couple beheld the sky in wonder while their children danced. Halo could see their house, not far away, nestled amid gentle green hills.
“Look closer,” Mr. Li prompted, “But use this,” the old man gently tapped Halo’s forehead, “Not your eyes.”
There was nothing, except — a memory. A small house with grimy white siding, a tiny front yard of dry yellow grass and dust. Their father had a sprinkler going and Halo leapt through the sheet of mist and chased insubstantial rainbows. Their mother there too, they all laughed and darted through the watery veil, their uplifted hands reached for the ephemeral rainbows.
“I see myself, my family,” Halo whispered, “My father died not long after,” the words forced through a tightened throat, “It’s just my mother and me now.”
“The Ten of Cups is a card of contentment and happiness. But ten is also the last card, the end of the cycle. Bittersweet, no?”
He flipped the second card. A woman in blue seated on a throne. She wore a strange cross and behind her, the Veil, patterned with pomegranates and palm trees, hid the mysteries of the Temple.
“This is the High Priestess and behind her Veil lie the answers to all questions.”
Abuela’s blue shawl. She wore it then, in her sick bed. Our Lady of Guadalupe on the wall, to watch over the old woman. She whispered quiet words in Halo’s ear — impossible to understand. The curtains waved gently by the open window. So ugly. Where did she get those things?
“Baby, it’s time to go,” their mother guided them out of the room.
“I just couldn’t understand — she spoke in Spanish,” they stopped and clenched their fists.
“This memory weighs you down,” the old man said, “But it also drives you.”
“I learned Spanish because of her, because of that moment. But no matter what I do I’ll never get back what she said.”
“She said you should listen to your mother,” Mr. Li said.
Halo looked up. No doubt. That was actually a possibility. They grinned and wiped their eyes.
“The High Priestess often represents the one asking the questions. What secrets would you find behind the Veil I wonder?” Halo was silent.
The third card, the Future. A mounted knight with no sword, only a staff, but alive with sprouted leaves. The horse reared and they are about to charge into action. For good or bad?
“The Knight of Wands,” Mr. Li said flatly, “Energy is set in motion. To create or destroy? That is the question.”
Halo’s vision was of her. They were in the van, and she was driving. She wore her usual orange bandana and the van shuddered with every pothole on the 88. The back was filled with giant spools of cables and spilled toolboxes that slid around with each reckless turn. She yelled, “Give them some water, will you?”
“Ok, Ok,” Halo unbuckled the seatbelt, hopped in the back. The two techs were bound with cables. Halo offered water to the first, the other seemed carsick.
“It was the girl in the van.”
“A bad card, according to some.”
“I feel like I will see her again.”
Mr. Li only nodded.
Suddenly Leona was towering over the table. “Mr. Li,” she knocked the cards aside and plunked a tea set down on the table, “You asked for tea when Halo arrived.”
Mr. Li only raised his eyebrows a very, very little as he gathered up his cards. He watched Leona’s eyes as she set out the saucers, cups and the little steaming teapot (Avalon Residence stamped on the side). When the tea was ready, he pointed to a chair and invited Leona to join them.
He handed her the cards, “Just pick three.”
She began to cut the deck, but Halo drifted off, their thoughts on the vision — the girl in the van. Honestly, the meaning was unclear, but Halo knew one thing, the girl needed help. And they also knew the old man was too proud. Too proud to ask for help. Even for his daughter. No doubt.
Geoff Marshall lives in Aurora, Canada with his family (humans, cats, dog) and writes software for a living. He has a BA in English Literature from Carleton University. Recently his work has been selected for publication by MoonPark Review.