Prologue: The Cards
Rosemary sat in the back room of Triple Goddess Herb Shop, drinking a huge mug of chamomile tea and feeling sorry for herself. She’d just been dumped. Again. This time the sad, nascent relationship had made it all of three months before disintegrating beneath the barest discussion of a long-term future. Jason had all but run for the hills when she’d finally mentioned her dream of kids and a husband.
“Listen, sweetheart, you’re going about it all wrong,” Parsley said. She poured herself another cup of tea, even as she handed Rosemary a fresh Kleenex. “For years it’s been this way, just a parade of losers. You get all of one week to mourn this guy, and then it’s time to get back on the train.”
“Yeah,” Rosemary sniffled. “You’re right. As usual.”
“I know. Big sisters are always right.”
Rosemary rolled her eyes, but she couldn’t argue. Parsley always did seem to be right. She was a true child of the sixties. Not exactly a Woodstock baby – Mom had been just a couple years too young to participate in the great bacchanal – but definitely the product of a flower-child San Francisco summer. The second sister, Sage, had been born in Seattle while Mom was exploring her (nonexistent) African-American roots. Rosemary and her twin brother, Thyme, arrived a few years later. Mom was a huge Simon & Garfunkel fan.
“I just don’t understand, Parsley. Why does this always happen to me? It’s like, everything starts out fine, but the minute I mention the idea of a real, you know, commitment, the guy disappears.”
“It’s because you keep picking jerks. I should know – I’ve had my share of those, too. But I figured it out, thank God. And I sure as hell know more about men than you!”
That was certainly true. Parsley had been married three times. Once at eighteen – bad idea; it didn’t even last a year before the football star dumped his quirky-but-adorable girlfriend-turned-accidental-wife. Next came the inevitable bad boy phase. Parsley let him grind her down, but as soon as the abuse got physical she got smart again. Got rid of him in a hurry, too; restraining orders help in those kinds of situations. Now, proving that third time’s the charm, she was with Lorenzo. A kind, soft spoken man, he was completely devoted to her… and to his home landscaping business. His hard work permitted Parsley to continue her relaxed career path as “junior herbalist consultant” at Triple Goddess.
“I know,” Rosemary said with a sigh. “I just don’t know how to do any better. I mean, how do you even meet guys nowadays? I’m thirty-two, not a crazy college girl going out every night.”
“Well, Mom managed it several times over, with totally different types, so you must be able to!”
Parsley chuckled at her joke. They loved their mom, but she was a real character. None of the four had the same father (except Rosemary and Thyme, of course, being twins). Parsley was fair-skinned, with blond hair, blue eyes, and freckles like their mother. Sage was clearly half Black. But, although she often wistfully speculated that her dad might have been Jimmi Hendrix, nobody noticed any real resemblance to the famous guitarist. Thyme and Rosemary, on the other hand, were the product of a four-month trip to Korea. Yup, Mom had definitely been busy, and she had been liberal in her affections.
None of them ever met their fathers. They’d been raised by their loving hippie of a mother, and mostly by their grandparents. Solid boulders in the midst of Mom’s rippling, frivolous stream, Nana and Baba had always been there. When they died two years ago – within a month of each other – it had wrenched Rosemary’s heart. Her siblings’, too.
“I’ve been telling you forever,” Parsley went on, “You need to look into yourself, first. You need the Tarot.”
Not this again. Rosemary barely concealed a groan of exasperation.
“Parsley, please. You know I don’t believe in that crap.”
“That’s because you’re a close-minded product of the poisonous modern media culture. Seriously, Rosemary, it all starts with self reflection. Until you know who you are – and like who you are – how can you expect another person to do the same?”
“But I do like myself.”
“That’s what you say, and yet this is, what, the fifth time I’ve had to hand you tissues and listen to you cry over chamomile tea? Obviously what you’re doing isn’t working. You need to try something different.”
“What does that have to do with a deck of cards?”
“Not just any deck of cards, stupid! The Tarot. It’s not a game; it’s a system of personal growth, a guide to yourself, a sacred journey. Do it, and I promise you’ll get results. Just maybe not in the way you expect,” she added, mysteriously.
“If that’s the way you feel, I don’t know why you keep coming to me. Sage is the one to talk to if you want to pooh-pooh the spiritual mysteries.”
The children of bona-fide hippies tend to take one of two paths. Either they follow in their parent’s footsteps, enjoying the counterculture vibe of flowy spirituality, crystals, herbalism, modern paganism, free love, and all that – as Parsley had done; or they swing to the opposite end of the pendulum. Sage had taken the latter route. As a successful corporate lawyer in New York City, she was about as far from hippie-fied as a person could be. Sage took no shit, listened to no nonsense, and accepted no otherworldly explanations for what could be solved by some psychotherapy and a prescription for antidepressants. Rosemary and Thyme, the youngest, had ended up somewhere in the middle.
It had always been tricky for Rosemary to decide how she felt. She definitely didn’t agree with Sage’s vigorous atheism, which extended to denial of everything not supported by multiple peer-reviewed scientific journals. She was pretty sure Sage just said all that to piss Parsley off. But Parsley eagerly grabbed hold of the latest New Age fad, even without stopping to consider whether it contradicted all the previous ones. Parsley had a whole roomful of Native American spirit items, Celtic fairy charms, rocks of various sorts, chakra-opening incense, and dusty stacks of metaphysical books. Not to mention numerous decks of Tarot cards.
“I’ve prepared a deck just for you,” Parsley went on. “Cleansed it, renewed it, and readied it for your energy. All I’m saying is, spend some time with it. I’ve even devised a program of study just for you.”
“All right, what is it?”
“After you infuse the cards with your energy, just shuffle them and put them in the bag. Every day, take one out and meditate on it. Think about what it’s telling you. Then, keep that in your mind all day. You’ll see how the cards can guide you. They open your eyes to look at the world with your innate wisdom. There are only twenty-two cards in the Major Arcana, and those are the ones I’m giving you. If you do it daily, you will have this amazing experience in under a month.”
“It sounds like you’re selling me something,” Rosemary said grouchily.
“I am. I’m selling you the chance to really get to know yourself. So do you want it, or not?”
Parsley had gone full on big sister mode. Rosemary sighed.
“Yeah, I guess. Hand it over.”
Parsley leaped up with a huge smile on her face.
“Wait here, I’ve got your deck somewhere. I’ve been waiting ages to get this to you!”
Rosemary finished her tea while Parsley puttered around in the cluttered backroom of Triple Goddess, finally emerging with a silk bag. Dark blue, decorated with a pattern of stars and moons, it showed the clear contours of a rectangular deck within.
“Here,” Parsley said, pressing it into Rosemary’s hands. “You won’t regret it, I promise.”
“But how will this Tarot thing help me meet men?” Rosemary asked.
“Oh, for that,” Parsley waved her hand in the air with a dismissive gesture. “Just go online. That’s how everybody meets nowadays, or so they tell me.”
“Great. Super original advice.”
“Hey, I do Tarot, not dating consultations. Just let the cards do their work and see what happens.”
“If you say so, Parsley.”
Back at home, in her messy post-breakup apartment, Rosemary flopped down onto the couch. It was only Saturday, but already she was dreading the return to work on Monday, and Sunday stretched before her like an endless sea of loneliness. With a heavy sigh, she tossed the bag of Tarot cards onto her bed. Parsley had said some woo-woo stuff about “infusing the cards with her energy,” but Rosemary had no idea what in the hell that meant. Probably lighting some candles, whispering chants, and touching each card one by one, some crap like that.
I just need to get this off my mind, she thought. The cards, my job, my sister, and especially that asshole Jason. Just need – them – gone! A hot bath. That’ll do it. Shedding her clothes piece by piece, leaving a trail to the bathroom door, Rosemary walked into her tiny apartment oasis. She’d mostly rented the place for its bathtub. An old claw foot, luxuriously deep, with a sloping back just perfect for resting her head. Almost worth the crazy Seattle rent she paid for it… With a sigh, she plugged the drain and turned the hot water tap on full blast. Steam rose into the air, filling the room with fragrance as Rosemary added a sachet of the homemade bath salts Parsley had given her last Christmas. Perfumed with mint and pine, it transformed the plain little bathroom into a tranquil spa.
As soon as the water reached knee-depth she stepped in, wincing at the sudden heat, then breathing out as her skin adjusted. Inch by inch she sank down in the bath, letting the water scorch her thighs, her buttocks, the tender skin between her legs, until its burn mellowed into a caress. Leaning back, she let the water dance over her belly until, finally, it covered her up to the shoulders. Lying there in the sweet-smelling, steaming bath was pure bliss.
Rosemary remembered, midway through a gratified sigh, that she’d first discovered pleasure in a bathtub like this. When she was young, she’d loved to sit right inside the flow of rushing water from the tap. One night she realized it felt especially good when flowing between her legs and, inspired, had contorted herself to get beneath it. The result had been her first orgasm ever. Smiling at the memory, Rosemary trailed her fingers through the water. Parsley had said she must infuse the cards with her energy… the more she thought about it, the more Rosemary realized: her energy – her essence; her inner strength – came from those moments when she brought herself to the peak of pleasure. That’s what she had to do. What she wanted to do.
As the bath was already full and hot, she lay in it, relaxing into the perfumed water until it began to grow cold. At that point she pulled the plug, and also turned the tap back on. Water gushed out, too hot at first, until she adjusted the knobs. It took a while for Rosemary to find the perfect temperature. When she did, she raised her legs and draped them awkwardly over the edges of the tub. Then, carefully, remembering when she used to be able to do it so easily (that was in her teens; not her thirties), she arranged her tingling clit directly under the flow.
Bursts of intense pleasure flooded her at once; there was no sensation quite like a jet of water right onto her button. Rosemary gasped as sensations took over. No man’s touch could imitate this: the perfect flow against her clit, hitting the spot over and over; the merest shift of her hips kept the pressure right where it needed to be. Rosemary squeaked, biting her lip against the cries that threatened to pass her lips, holding herself directly beneath the tumbling water. It was upon her in seconds, the shuddering pleasure of release. Like a mermaid she abandoned herself to the water, letting it carry her into thoughtless delight.
Her whole sex hummed in the aftermath of pleasure. The tub had drained; she turned off the tap. Standing, stepping out of the bath, she wrapped herself in a towel. Orgasmic tingles still darted through her body, shutting off her mind, centering her in the moment. She clung to them as she returned to her bedroom, to the cards. With the lingering sensations still pulsing in her sex, Rosemary opened the bag and tumbled the Tarot deck onto her bed. The cards spilled out in a menagerie of colors and images: humans, animals, objects and figures; all brightly colored, each unique, with complex layers everywhere. In her altered state, Rosemary didn’t know which was which. Nor did she care. With one hand between her legs, holding onto the vestiges of her solo climax, she caressed each card. Spent a moment with it, not looking at it really, just feeling it.
She’d have sworn it was all hocus pocus, but in touching the cards Rosemary began to sense the power in each of them. Some made her feel a rush of sudden joy. Others inspired terror, anxiety, or uncertainty. Some cards came to her like a person, half-speaking before she set them aside, afraid of the message they might bring. One by one she held them, giving each card her attention for a moment. Rosemary wasn’t sure how much time went by. Only that her body was supremely aware, focused, and on the brink of orgasm the whole time. When the last card dropped back to the bed, she realized she was exhausted.
Infuse the cards with my essence. Well, I guess I did that. Where did the idea come from, though? It’s more than me, isn’t it? Reeling from her experience – and her flashback masturbation session in the bath – she dropped the towel, gathered up the cards, and dumped them back into their bag with minimal ceremony. Whatever had just happened, it was over. She felt nothing now, except tired. Tomorrow was Sunday, and she had nothing but long, lonely hours ahead of her. Maybe I’ll grab brunch with Thyme, she thought. That might be nice.
Worn out from the day – the breakup, the conversation with Parsley, the orgasm, the cards – she fell into bed and burrowed into the covers. As she tiptoed into sleep, bizarre images kept flooding her mind. Figures of people danced in and out of her brain. Fools and lovers, priests and magicians, towers and wheels… images of the Tarot darted about, and she counted them like sheep, until she fell at last into exhausted slumber.