Cora immediately recognized her new neighbor, Shirley, standing on the porch, huffing and puffing, wearing a green caftan and holding a pug.
“Are you going to this Ladies Pot Luck thingy?” she asked without any other greeting. Cora half smiled, which Shirley seemed to think meant yes. She turned, her green garb flowing with her large body. “See you later then!”
Cora, straining to hold her grocery bags, responded with only speechlessness and dread.
Shirley arrived with her face sweating beneath a shield of makeup, a pasta salad in her hands. Cora forced a smile, turned to close the door, felt Shirley examining her.
“I’m on a deadline-I didn’t have time to make anything,” she said, explaining the bag of Oreos.
“So - you’re in there all alone all day-doing what-typing?”
“Sometimes,” Cora said, a flash of a sexy rendezvous in her bed after the last neighborhood event emerged and receded.
“That’s why you’re so pale,” Shirley said.
The Steins' door opened and Shirley was swallowed up by a throng of curious ladies. Cora, having sworn off drinking with the neighbors, avoided the wine bar, receded to the background with a plastic cup of water and a sagging paper plate full of ziti.
Linda Goodson. The one who kept white lit candles in her windows all year long.
“How’s Jamie?” she asked.
“He left. We’re divorced,” Cora said, looking around the room at all the other women laughing, sipping glasses of white wine.
Linda scurried off.
“Anyone like a reading?” Shirley called out, holding court at the main table, hands shuffling a deck of tarot cards, eyebrows raised.
Amy McFarland, the unofficial queen of the neighborhood, approached, her lips clamped in what Cora read as general dismay.
“I’ll give it a go,” she said approaching while all the other women crowded around.
Shirley explained how the cards were not a prediction, they were a reflection, just something to think about. And that with every truth the cards might show they also can present the reversal of that truth.
. “Do you have a question in your heart?” she asked Amy.
Cora’s breath caught.
“Yeah, will Kevin empty the dishwasher tomorrow?” she said, causing a roar of laughter. Shirley laid out three cards before Amy.
“Your past, your present, your future,” she said solemnly.
One by one, Shirley turned the cards.
“The lovers! A force binding two entities together. This card suggests unity in relationships, harmony, but it can also touch on imbalance, conflict, disconnection.”
The circle of ladies tightened around Shirley and Amy.
Cora stepped backward, drawing further into the shadows.
“The present. The three of swords,” Shirley’s voice diminished. “Associated with power and conflict.”
Cora laser focused on Amy’s face, glowing beneath the crystal chandelier, gripped in a flat smirk.
Finally, for the future, Shirley turned the death card, causing an Oh! rose up from the hush.
“I guess I don’t need to go to the gym tomorrow!” Amy broke through, triggering a wave of giggles.
“Shirley, put those cards away! We don’t need that hocus pocus when we have good old fashioned gossip to attend to!” Marylou Stein, the hostess, scolded.
That was Cora’s cue to leave. She did not wait for Shirley. She did not collect her bag of untouched Oreos. She grabbed her purse and passed through the front door, unseen.
Cora walked quickly, too fast for the hot summer evening. Her legs and arms pumping in tandem, she began to sweat, to pant, the energy within her at the party diminishing with each step. Tempting fate, she hesitated at Kevin (and Amy) McFarland’s house.
Butterflies shot up from her core, she looked up, fists clenched, wished for him to be there, and he was, in his bedroom window, gazing down at her.
Her body prickled with desire for this more-than-middle-aged insurance salesman. When they first met at the fall welcome party, when he shared the last beer with her that unseasonably cold night, he told her he used to write poetry, have long hair, that he always wanted a motorcycle. He was sweet and sad, and, like Cora, drunk.
She thought of the Tarot, of reversals, of her ex, now remarried to another, more interesting woman. He reversed, so could she.
She turned away from the beckoning window, followed the straight path home, through the door, the rooms of her dark house, to bed, peeling back the white duvet, sliding in, to sleep, to dream.
About the author
Maggie Nerz Iribarne is a 52 year old late bloomer, living her writing dream in a yellow house in Syracuse, New York. She writes about teenagers, witches, priests/nuns, cleaning ladies, runaways, struggling teachers, and ghosts, among other things. She keeps a portfolio of her published work at https://www.maggienerziribarne.com.
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