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Divination: A short story

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There once was a girl who’d grown up hearing stories of divination come true. Her mother had predicted wars, deaths, floods and, most importantly, the girl’s own birth. The girl would sit wrapped up in her baby blankets, shrouded in warm light from bedside lamps, listening to her mother regale her with tales of futures uncovered using tarot cards only her mother’s hands could touch.

As she got older, her mother read cards less and less. When the girl was five or so, her mother switched their nightly bedtime readings for illustrated storybooks. A few years later, she gave up her routine of pulling a daily card each morning. Eventually, her mother’s readings became a rarity. The world would have to be in incredible disarray for her mother to even consider pulling out her cards. If someone were about to get married or have a baby, maybe she’d do a reading for them, but as the girl grew into adolescence, even those exceptions faded. Her mother’s predictions became like any other’s: mathematical, imbued with common sense and, above all else, practical. The girl was perplexed. How could she so easily forget what had once been a point of pride? When she asked about the disappearance of the cards, her mother would brush aside her questions. She’d always receive one of three replies: 

“Honey, you know I don’t do that anymore.” 

 “Stop being silly.” 

“Why don’t you go play outside?” 

The girl loved her mother, though, and she was prone to follow in her footsteps, so she, too, decided to forget about the cards. She busied herself with other tasks: building fairy houses, playing pretend, growing up. 

By the time the girl met Camilla on the first day of high school English class, her mother’s cards were a distant memory. Camilla wasn’t quite like anyone the girl had ever known. There was something about Camilla’s fingers — the way she moved her hands when she made a point, how she took notes — that the girl couldn’t let go of. The girl would listen to Camilla talk for hours. When the girl walked into a room, the only thing that mattered was how far apart Camilla was from her. Her days were measured in the distance from her, and, increasingly, in the ever-confusing problem of how to shorten that distance. Slowly but surely, she was gathering her courage when, finally, she was blessed by a group project. All she had to do was stutter one question. 

“Would you want to be partners?” the girl quietly inquired as she was packing up her things. 

“I was hoping you’d ask that.” 

Camilla invited the girl over that weekend, and they sat together to work on their project. They chatted while pasting photos to paper and typing up captions. Camilla played soccer and Camilla liked Kerouac. Camilla tugged on her fingers when she was nervous and Camilla had the best smile in the world. The girl considered purposely messing up their project so that she could stay longer, but there didn’t seem to be a fate worse in the world than Camilla thinking the girl was stupid. As the finishing touches were put on and the poster board was ready, the girl felt as though she might give anything to stay there forever, when her thoughts were interrupted by a question from Camilla. 

“Would you want to hang out this week?” 

“I was hoping you’d ask that.” 

And just like that, they were fast friends. They’d take turns walking the other home. They swapped songs and books. They sat together at lunch and traded carrot sticks for green apple slices. It felt like every touch of Camilla’s pinky to hers, every color she wore, every song she listened to, was a sign to be interpreted. Lost in a haze of trying to make meaning out of classes spent passing notes and inside jokes, the girl realized she was in urgent need of divination. If there was any chance that things would turn out well, the girl needed to know. Otherwise, she would certainly lose herself in a sea of misread signals strung loosely together with hope.

It was this reverie that led the girl to remember her mother’s tarot deck. She knew her mother would be no help, however. She would just brush her aside like she always did, and the girl wouldn’t concede to that anymore. In her frustration, the girl had a curious thought — what if she didn’t need her mother? What if she could do a reading for herself? Her mother had never explicitly said she’d gotten rid of her cards, she remembered, only that they were in disuse. The idea was a long shot, but the girl climbed up into the attic anyway, and went searching for the tarot deck. 

The attic was a shadowy place, not quite filled with cobwebs, but marked by its neglect. A loom sat in the corner next to an old armchair. Her brother’s collection of baseball cards was splayed out in clear vinyl sheets on the floor. In this mess, the girl feared that she might never find the cards. But when she reached the back corner, suddenly, like an apparition, she saw a blue tin with a handle mimicking a cat’s tail swaddling two decks of tarot cards and a worn book. Inside the cover, there was a note in her mother’s handwriting: “The Black deck is for you and I. The yellow for everyone else.” 

From that day on, the girl spent her time sneaking up to the attic whenever she could. She started asking little questions about classwork or her friends and she was surprised by how naturally divination came to her. Once, she pulled “The Tower” when her school’s power went out. Another time, she drew “Four of Wands” before she was cast as the lead in her school play. As her little predictions came to life, she finally worked up the courage to ask the cards about Camilla. She knew it would have to be a special reading, so she waited until the full moon. She set a blanket down, so the cards wouldn’t touch the ground and laid out a full spread. 

Sitting around her cards, it felt like she could finally breathe again when she divined good news: “The Knight of Cups,” “The Lovers” and “The 10 of Wands.” Nothing had ever felt so sure, so constant, than her impending success. As she neared the end of her reading, she reached the position of “The Final Outcome,” indicating where she and Camilla would be in six months. She flipped it over, hands trembling, and saw “Death.” Nervously, she tried to tell herself this wasn’t a bad thing. She thought back to what her mother had said about “Death,” that it was simply an ending or a beginning, good or bad. She tied up the nagging fear that something wasn’t right and left it behind, in the attic with her cards. 

Just as the girl had predicted, everything started falling into place for her and Camilla. It became clear that Camilla was sending signs of her own: candy left in the girl’s locker, scribbles along the edges of annotated books, laughing for much too long. Now, the girl had the cards to back up her interpretations. In an act of bravery, she kissed Camilla one day after school. It wasn’t like what she’d heard it would feel like: fireworks, sparks, pouring rain. Rather, it reminded the girl of when she was little. She would lie in the sun, close her eyes and watch the technicolor lights on her eyelids for hours. Really, it was better than she ever could’ve hoped for. 

They were thrown into a frenzy of flowers and shared glances, milkshakes and small smiles. They spent every second together, just as she’d hoped. But as the months passed by, the girl began to get worried. For the past few weeks, she had been looking for the right time to tell Camilla that she loved her, but she always found herself choking on the words. The girl couldn’t help but worry that Camilla didn’t feel the same way and even if she did, it was just a matter of time until Camilla realized she shouldn’t. These thoughts swirled in the girl’s mind constantly, whether she was with her or not, and they began to remind her of her first tarot reading about Camilla. “Death” sprang into her mind with Camilla’s head on her shoulder. “Death” seeped into her thoughts when she tried to tell Camilla she loved her. “Death” was beginning to get in the way. 

One day, the girl went back to Camilla’s house after school, like usual. Except, she could tell there was something off, something that made the air in Camilla’s room feel heavy and stale. As she was sitting on Camilla’s bed, waiting for her to return from the kitchen, she looked around and realized this was the moment she’d prophesied. It had come all too soon. And as Camilla was saying the words, “I just can’t do this right now. It always seems like you’re somewhere else,” the card “Death” flashed in the girl’s mind. 

She went home crying, as one does in times like these. As her nose ran, she desperately tried to fan her eyes so her mother wouldn’t see. But right as she walked into the kitchen, the girl was wrapped in a tight hug. 

“What is it, dear?” 

She was forced to give it all up. She cried and cried about how it wasn’t fair. She wanted to die, and she wanted to tear out her hair. She couldn’t breathe and she couldn’t eat. There was nothing for her to do but be. 

“I know you found my tarot cards,” her mother said. 

The girl sighed. She didn’t want to fight with her mother about this. She’d been through enough. She hated that her mother hadn’t been there to teach her. She felt like if she had, things would’ve been clearer. 

“See, I’m not trying to tell you that I told you so. But, this is why I gave up my readings. I love you and your dad and your brother so much. I wouldn’t ever want to know if something bad were to happen. I’d just want to have you all while I could.” 

“But why didn’t you tell me that was the reason I shouldn’t have started reading? Why did you write that note in the tarot book?” 

“You had to learn this one for yourself, honey.” 

All the girl could do was burst into tears. Her mother was right. Moms usually are. It felt good that her mother knew her secret, and it felt better to learn a lesson. 

And so, the cards sat cold in the attic, untouched. Sometimes the girls’ friends would ask her for readings, and she’d oblige. But she’d always tsk at them, “Don’t go looking for answers you don’t want, and don’t disturb the happiness you have.” 

Contact Stella Merims at