Cypress had a lot to think about on the morning of her birthday. Her childhood and teen years had flown by. Maybe that’s a consequence of living in the moment–time zips.
But she found that if she put herself inside any of the memories, she could feel the whole thing. The memory itself took on the texture of the time in which she experienced it. So even if, in retrospect, it felt like her life so far had raced by, she discovered that could step inside any moment of the past, and there it was, unfolding again.
While she sat inside, she could feel that Grim was still there, where he’d been for days, standing by the card table. Maybe she should go see what he’s waiting for.
After reading Dust to Dust, Cypress wasn’t afraid of Thanatos. Sure, he was a little mysterious, but Gaia had him wrapped around her finger, and Cypress, a true-born nature lover, had an in with Gaia.
“What do you say?” she asked him. “There are all sorts of games we could play that don’t involve gambling.”
“I do like a nice rousing game of ‘Go Fish,'” Grim replied.
“Or how about ‘I Doubt It?'” Cypress countered. “That’s even more fun!”
Grim agreed, and they took out five decks, dealt their own hands, and began the long process of asking and doubting.
“Got any fours?”
“Yes,” said Grim. “Seven.”
“I doubt it!”
Soon, they began to chat, in between asking about each other’s hands.
I got a little nervous when Cypress asked Grim about woo-hoo.
The last Bough teen girl to ask Grim about la petite mort was Willow, who, after hearing about it from Le Grand Mort, quickly decided that she’d have nothing to do with any of that. The role of maiden aunt worked well for Willow, who had a sense of oneness that I always admired and resonated with, but we need Cypress to deliver the gen. 10 nooboo, not to pledge herself to chastity.
I had no cause for worry, though; Grim’s answer put me at ease.
“It’s nothing to fear!” he replied. “A touch of the divine! The transcendental meets the natural!”
“You know I can see into the future, right, Cypress?” Grimm asked. “I can look ahead far into the time horizon.”
“What do you see?” Cypress asked in return.
“I see fields and fields of flowers,” he replied. “And do you know what I hear? Laughter.”
“Now,” Grim continued. “Do you have any aces?”
“Fifteen!” said Cypress.
“I doubt it!” said Grim.
But she did have that many aces.
“I’m doomed,” said Grim. “Look. Rather than folding, I’ll make a bargain. Ask me a question. Any question, and I’ll answer it. And we’ll just forget about this hand.”
“Is it true that sometimes, if somebody pleads with you, you’ll have mercy and not reap a soul?” Cypress asked.
“I’m not sure that’s mercy,” Grim answered. “It buys some time. If the right person asks, someone with a pure heart, and if we’ve got a little leeway, we can postpone the inevitable.”
Cypress folded her hand.
“Thanks,” she said, as J.P. walked out to let her know breakfast was ready.
“Cypress?” J.P. said. “You know it’s your birthday? You really think chatting with the Big Mortality is the most auspicious way to greet the day?”
She thanked Grim again, for the conversation, the game of cards, and the answers, and she followed J.P. inside where a hot plate of spinach frittata waited.
That afternoon, while her mom sang the birthday song and Aunt onezero blended her voice with the thousand so that it became a chorus of the thousand and one, Cypress thought long and hard about her wish.
“What will be, will be. And I wish that I respond to what life asks of me with courage and strength and grace.”
And after she blew out her candles, she looked directly at me, and I said “Vadish” to the game that has given us a final heir who is a childish goofball that loves the outdoors.
After the guests left, J.P. and his sister sat out on the patio, listening to the old retro tunes from games gone by.
“Guess even though you’re all grown up, I can still call you Pepper Doodle, huh, little sis?”
“You know what I always say! If the name fits,” pronounced Cypress, “wear it with pride!”