Ten-Cent Tarot: When There’s No Land Left to Grab

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Entrepreneur, power company magnate, real estate tycoon, computer conglomerate CEO, and chairman of the board of a globally renowned science research facility, Geoffrey Landgraab did not fit the type who would consult a tarot card reader. The man came from a family that had schools named after them.

But guilt and despair can drive a man to cast off type.

Calliope picked up a heavy energy from him when he showed up outside her apartment late one evening.

“I would have come during office hours,” he said, “that is, if you have office hours. I don’t know what your typical schedule is.”

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“I’m open when I’m open,” Calliope said. “I’m here! You’re here! The cats are here. Let’s go! Let’s see what the cards show.”

He smiled. Sometimes, brightness can shine through the heaviest of clouds, and when his smile reached his eyes–just barely, but enough to let them crinkle at the corner–Calliope felt that his miasma was not yet too dense to disperse.

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He followed one of the cats, Cupcake, back into the study and sat behind the computer, as if an office chair and keyboard were necessary accessories to his comfort.

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“I don’t give consultations back here,” Calliope explained. “This is my room, actually. Mine and the cats’.”

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She led him to the consultation table in the corner of the kitchen.

She lit all the candles, turned on the strings of bulbs, and filled the diffuser with geranium essential oil.

“It’s like a gypsy place,” Geoffrey said. “How do we start? Do I tell you what’s wrong?”

Calliope looked at him.

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He fidgeted for a moment, as clients often do when her eyes first see past them, and then, as the quiet moment stretched, he sighed and closed his eyes.

She pulled a seven card spread: the Fool, the Magician reversed, and the World reversed fell in the crux of swords and wands.

“All right, then,” she said. “What are you resisting so hard? What is keeping you up all night?”

“I don’t trust anyone who isn’t up all night,” he said. “Whoever’s not worried, that’s who’s not paying attention.”

He went on to talk about climate catastrophe. The scientists at his own facility had contributed to an international team that had recently published a study claiming that the planet was at risk of reaching “Hothouse Earth” conditions.

“And you feel guilty,” she observed. It wasn’t a question.

“Of course I feel guilty! Don’t you? Who doesn’t feel guilty? We’ve only known for how long–since I was in high school, back in the late 1970s, that we had to change, and change immediately, to keep this from happening. Did we? We didn’t! And look now. It’s happening in our lifetime!”

She felt his despair.

“Let’s right-size your feelings,” she said. “I’m not trying to minimize the catastrophe that stirs those feelings. But when we enter an emergency, that’s when we most need clarity, calm, and resilient fortitude. You do no one any good, even with all your power and resources, if you are a Magician reversed. Let’s get you right-side up, first, and then consider what you can actually do, besides letting yourself get ripped up by guilt, shame, and depression.”

“I’d feel even more guilty if I weren’t depressed,” he admitted.

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“Well, snap out of it,” she commanded. “First, did you, Geoffrey Landgraab, single-handedly create the state of climate catastrophe?”

“I drove a car! I live in a big house. My power company didn’t produce solar until five years ago. My wife uses plastic like you can’t believe!”

“That’s not what I asked. Did you single-handedly create this situation?”

“Single-handedly? Like, by myself? Alone? No.”

“Right. Me, neither. Now, did you contribute to this situation? Were you a participating part of a human system that created this climate catastrophe?”

“Part of it? Yes. Of course I was.”

“Right,” she said. “So was I. So am I still.” She waved towards the strings of light, the electric pump in the fish tank, the stacked washer and dryer, the fridge, stove, and even the candles. “I am part of it. And so is, I would venture to say, every living person on this planet.”

“Surely not!” Geoffrey protested. “Not some villager in the jungles of Borneo!”

“I would say every living person. What fuel is used for cooking and heating in a tiny village off the grid? Carbon-based fuel. Fire. What is the taproot of the problem? Over-population. If a person heats or cooks with any carbon-based fuel, they are contributing to the problem. Anyone who has more than two children who survive into adulthood contributes to the problem. This is a human-caused disaster, and every living human is part of the system that has created it.”

Geoffrey sat stunned. “I’m not willing to agree,” he said at last.

“But do you at least agree that you are one part of the problem, and not the entire problem itself?”

He did.

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“And a very small part, at that?”

“I am not so sure of that,” he said. She could see that it was hard for someone who owned so much to feel small, even when he was.

“Self-importance aside,” Calliope continued, “can you, single-handedly, fix this problem?”

“Of course not!” He admitted. “If I could, I would have! Decades ago!”

“Exactly,” she said. “So perhaps, a feeling of helplessness, and even despair, might be understandable. But guilt? Your guilt is way out of proportion.”

She rose and brewed a pot of tea from chamomile flowers and pine needles.

“You did not single-handedly create this. You cannot single-handedly fix it,” she said, pouring their tea. “But, just as you contributed to the problem, you can contribute to the solution, correct?”

His eyes flashed wide and the sclera was clear and white.

“Tell me how you already have contributed,” she said.

He talked about transforming the power company to solar, about using solar power in his own home, about driving as minimally as possible, and then, only driving his small electric Ford, which was drew its charge from the solar panels at his home and businesses. He talked about the scientists at his facility and the direction of their research program.

“You’ve done a lot,” she said.

“It’s not enough,” he said.

“No, not by a long ways.” She thought of the card The Fool, so dominant in his reading. “What more might you do?”

“I always thought I should go into politics,” he said. “My wife, Nancy, she scoffs whenever I bring it up.”

Calliope recalled the Queen of Swords reversed in the position of home in Geoffrey’s reading. “How would it feel to dethrone that criticism?” she asked.

Geoffrey smiled again. “Do you think I could? I may not have the charisma a politician needs,” he said, “but I know policy. I could write some damn effective policy. Do you think I’d win?”

“Even if you didn’t,” Calliope said, “what’s to lose? By campaigning, with curbing climate catastrophe as your platform, even if you don’t get elected, you bring this issue into the discussion. That’s a win, right there.”

“A win right there!” he echoed. “By golly! I’m going to do it! Will you be my campaign manager?”

She had to refuse. But she would serve as consultant to the newest candidate for representative of Congressional District 68.

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Ten-Cent Tarot: Trip to the Bank

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Hopes and Dreams Citywide Sperm Bank sat happily on the first floor of a glass, steel, and concrete high rise in the financial district. Calliope was always glad for an excuse to visit to that end of the city, for it stood at the far west border. Beyond stretched steep rocky hills extending all the way to the sea.

This was a reconnaissance trip, Calliope reminded herself as she strode towards the entrance. Find out the possibilities, establish a few contacts, open doors, only, and don’t close a single one, not yet.

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Before making the trip, she’d had to decide if she would, indeed, take the case. Some mysteries were better left unsolved, and it took some reflection to conclude that this might not be one of them.

She reviewed her consultation with Aadhya. She’d found the young woman endearing: Cat-ears, Dashiki top, earnest brown eyes–she was just the kind of person that Calliope would drop everything for in her rush to help.

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But locating the anonymous sperm donor who was the biological father of her nine-year-old daughter? She wasn’t sure, at first, that she’d wanted to poke that rat’s nest.

“I’m not asking for Shanaya,” Aadhya had said. “She’s doing great. It’s almost like it doesn’t register with her that she doesn’t have a dad in her life. But I’m asking for me.”

“Do you want a relationship?” Calliope had asked.

“Oh, heavens, no,” Aadhya replied. “That’s why I went that route, to avoid all that. I just… I just wonder. Shanaya is such a mystery. The way she cocks her head when she laughs. The way she won’t stop asking questions until she gets an answer that satisfies her. The way she’s so good at math. I suck at math.”

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“And you want to know where all that comes from?”

“Exactly!”

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“Be careful what you wish for,” Calliope warned. “I am good at finding things out. Suppose I do find out who the anonymous donor was. Suppose we get a name. An address. Will you really be ready to know this? What if you don’t like the guy?”

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“What if I do?” Aadhya laughed. “That’s what I’m worried about! I’ve made it this far without being with a guy. But what if I meet him, and we somehow hit it off? What if he likes me? What if, by some miracle, I like him? Oh, Lordy! That’s what scares me!”

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“It’s a possibility,” Calliope admitted, “especially if all of these intriguing qualities of your daughter’s can be traced back to him.”

“But what if I can also trace all her bad habits back to him, hmm?” Aadhya asked. “Do you think he picks his nose?”

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Her attitude had been sensible enough that Calliope decided to risk it. After all, the cards showed that discovery, in this case, wouldn’t bring disaster. And even if complications did arise, Calliope was prepared to be there to help resolve them.

It’s a simple matter of reconnaissance, she reminded herself.

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The receptionist listened carefully when Calliope explained why she was there.

“All your client needs to do is fill out this form,” she said. “We’ve also got it online, http://www.hope.net/yourdream. This won’t reveal the donor’s actual identity, if he opted for anonymity, but we can give her a detailed genetic report. It will show everything you get in, say, an Ancestry.com report: ethnicity, race, and so on, plus whatever shows up in your basic medical DNA report, markers for cancers, Alzheimer’s, and so on. It’s useful stuff. Most of our customers find that it satisfies their basic needs and curiosity.”

“But no names?”

“Not if the donor signed up to be anonymous. We take privacy very seriously.”

It was something to go on. Calliope figured that the generic report, while interesting, wouldn’t be completely satisfactory to Aadhya, but it was a start. Surely they had full genetic profiles available, and with access to the computer system, there was no telling what might be discovered.

When she left the building, walking through the cold evening to the plaza, a savory, spicy scent of tamari, ginger, and water chestnuts pierced the fog to greet her. She followed the aroma to a food stall.

“Don,” she said, greeting the vendor, a friend of hers, “what delectable dishes are you serving?”

“This ramen?” he asked. “It’s the best in town. Want a bowl?”

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He dished her up a steaming serving.

There is an indescribable delight to sitting with a hot bowl of fragrant soup and noodles on a cold night, watching the steam rise to join the mist.

“Eat up, Miss Twisp!” Don called. “I want that soup gone by the time I get there! Slurp! Slurp!

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His shift ended fifteen minutes later, and she had, indeed, finished her soup by then. He joined her at the table.

“I saw you leaving Hope and Dreams,” he said, “if you don’t mind my saying. What brings you to a place like that?”

“Nothing personal,” she said.

“I didn’t think so. I mean, I didn’t mean to imply it would have anything to do with you, at your… Ummm… with you.”

“It’s a case.”

“That’s what I was wondering,” he said. “Do you take cases like that?”

“Like what, Donny-boy?” Darren, a mutual friend, joined them. “You’re looking dashing, Calliope,” he said.

“I was just asking if Calliope took paternity cases,” Don said.

“What do you want to get mixed up in something like that for?” Darren asked. “I thought you and your lady friends were careful.”

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“Hell, yeah,” said Don. “Extra careful. As in extra-strength careful, if you get my drift.”

Then ensued a string of off-color jokes, and Calliope excused herself for the long walk home.

Back in her apartment, Calliope was still thinking about Don’s question before the conversation had been hijacked. Did he have a paternity case he wanted her to take on? If so, was he hoping he would or would not be the father?

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Don had always seemed to her to be the type of man who didn’t want to be tied down. He was friendly and charming, certainly, but universally so. She recalled the afternoon when she’d met him. He and one of his house-mates approached Calliope and Aadhya as they strolled through the square outside Calliope’s building. She hadn’t been certain, but it had seemed that Don had flirted with her. Don! Young enough to be her grandnephew. At the very least, he’d complemented her style in voice with a suggestive undertone. Maybe that was his normal tone of voice. Aadhya had been none-too-impressed. She made a snide remark after he left.

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“Think we exist for the sole purpose of providing eye-candy, men like that,” she’d said. “I’ve got news for them. The world is not their candy bowl!”

But Calliope hadn’t minded. He’d noticed her, at least, which was a rare occurrence, and even if he had been fresh, he’d been polite and charming, too.

When Calliope dropped by Aadhya’s to tell her about the Paternal Genetic Report Request form that she could fill out, if she chose, Aadhya was just on her way out.

“My shift at the bar is about to start,” she said, hurriedly, “Can you give me the details later?”

“Bye, Mom!” Shanaya called.

“Who is staying with Shanaya?” Calliope asked.

“Oh,” said Aadhya, “she stays alone. Geeta lives across the hall, you know. She’ll look in a few times. She’ll be all right.”

“I could stay,” said Calliope. “I’m already here. I’ve got nothing planned tonight.”

“Oh, would you?” Aadhya opened her mouth as if to protest, but then seemed to remember the time. She waved to them both as she rushed towards the elevator. “Be good, Shanay! I’ll see you at breakfast!”

Shanaya headed back to the computer without even greeting Calliope. The child’s concentration for her math game gave Calliope a chance to observe her.

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She was quick. While she played, she adjusted her strategy as the equations became increasingly complex. When the game began throwing basic algebraic problems at her, she missed a long string. Then she stopped, looked away from the computer, closed her eyes for a second, and dove right back in. This time, she earned a perfect score and advanced a level.

Calliope went into the kitchen to prepare a snack. The scent of cinnamon toast and warm honeyed soymilk made its way back to the bedroom, and Shanaya soon arrived in the kitchen.

“Is that for me?” she asked.

“For us both!” said Calliope. They sat together at the little kitchen table. Calliope asked her about the math problems, about how she figured out what the equations were asking for.

“I’d seen those kinds of formulas before,” she said, “in a book once. So I just closed my eyes to remember better. I can see it up here with my eyes closed,” she said, pointing to her forehead. “I’ve got a separate drawer for everything, so I just remember what drawer I put something in, and then I can take it out whenever I want.”

“I do that, too!” said Calliope, “only I think of it as file folders!”

After that, the crone and the scout became friends.

A few nights a week, when Aadhya had late shifts at the bar, Calliope came over to stay with the child.

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And some nights, Shanaya came over to Calliope’s. They lived in the same neighborhood, after all.

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Shanaya loved coming to Calliope’s. The apartment was full of color, plants, and little living friends: a rat in an over-sized habitat, cats and kittens with free run of the place, and angel-winged fish in a floor-to-ceiling tank.

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“What’s new with you?” Calliope would ask.

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Shanaya always had an eager answer.

“I bet you didn’t know I earned a new scouting badge!”

“I could’ve guessed.”

“But I bet you don’t know what for!”

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For the older woman, these evenings with Shanaya were a treat. Her friends her age were full of complaints. Her younger friends were filled with worry. But Shanaya–she and Shanaya seemed to be on the same page. Kindred spirits.

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“My mom told me you might be looking for my dad,” Shanaya said one day. “Is that true? And if so, what for? Do I need a dad?”

“Do you want a dad?”

“I don’t see what for,” said Shanaya. “I’m perfectly happy now, and if i’m perfectly happy now, why mess things up?”

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“That’s a good point.”

“My friends with dads are not always happy. So therefore, presence-of-father does not always equal happiness. So why?”

Calliope chuckled. She honestly didn’t know why, either. The search wasn’t for her. It obviously wasn’t for Shanaya, either. But she had to admit, the more she got to know Shanaya, the more she considered that, if indeed, many of Shanaya’s special qualities were inherited from her father, then maybe meeting this man wouldn’t be the worst possible thing. It might even be interesting.

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Ten-Cent Tarot: Clearly Visibly Invisible

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As Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple observed now and again, women of a certain age are generally overlooked. Even old hippies with purple streaking their silver dreadlocks, gold sparkling their remaining teeth, and art bedecking their long arms may find themselves practically invisible. Even when they incarnate the very essence of joie de vivre.

After fifty, very few heads turn. After fifty-five, very few notice. After sixty, very few see. And after sixty-five, crones walk invisible among us.

This suited Calliope Twisp just fine. Like Miss Marple, she realized while watching the cavalier dramas of the young, that “old people know how valuable life is and how interesting.”

And being practically invisible made it even more interesting.

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Of course, escaping notice also helped Calliope professionally.

She was a tarot reader. She was also a certified counselor, a licensed massage therapist, an AHG registered herbalist, an accredited life coach, and a licensed private investigator. Sometimes, the dark corners brought to light through a tarot card reading required a bit of follow-through in order to achieve resolution for her clients, and those additional degrees, certifications, and licenses provided the needed supplemental resources.

“Is it true that you only charge ten cents for a reading?” Reiko Ikeda asked when she showed up for her first appointment with Calliope.

The lean red-haired woman shot her a mean-eyed squint.

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“It absolutely is true!” said Calliope. “It’s the other stuff that costs more.”

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“Other stuff? What other stuff? What kind of scam are you running?”

“It’s no scam,” said Calliope. “It’s simply that sometimes, some problems, require a little bit of extra push. I never want to do more. I always hope that a client will simply stop with the tarot reading. But, old as I am, tough as I am, I have yet to learn to say no. So when somebody needs help, I step up to give it.”

“For a fee, of course,” Reiko observed.

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“Well, more like an exchange!” Calliope laughed. “Money is simply energy, after all!”

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Reiko sat down for her reading.

“I’ll stop after one reading,” she said. “Just to help me get clear on this one thing.”

“I hope you do!” said Calliope. “I’ve got all the cases I need at the moment! It would be refreshing, for once, to do a single reading and be done!”

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But Reiko didn’t stop after a single reading. They never do. The first reading provided such depth of insight into Reiko’s lifelong pattern of deflecting intimacy through inappropriate anger that, before she hardly knew what was happening, she was writing a check for fifty dollars and signing up for weekly consultations with her life-coach herbalist, who always sent her home with a baggie of fresh mint, dried chamomile, or chopped oregano.

“I feel better already,” Reiko said after the second session. “I even accepted a date with this guy I think is kind of cute, rather than shooting him down with snarkiness.”

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Calliope had enough clients to fill most of her days with sessions, research, and investigations. She saw Baako Jang to help him get over his creative block.

“The Five of Pentacles!” Calliope said at his latest reading. “Oh! This is good! You have the resources you need. Can’t you see? You just need to ask for help.”

“What’d you put in this juice, man?” Baako asked. “This is wicked stuff!”

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She saw her neighbor Geeta Rasoya, who always seemed worried about her son.

“Raj deserves a promotion!” Geeta insisted. “Why doesn’t he get one? It’s racism. It’s not my son. He works as hard as anyone! I’ve got a good mind to walk right down and have a word with his manager!”

“Weren’t you asking about your nervous stomach?” Calliope replied. “That reversed Eight of Wands that keeps popping up in your readings clearly speaks of the dangers of interfering. Let’s focus on what we can change, rather than on our suspicions.”

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She saw students who wanted to cultivate focus, athletes hoping to improve performance, people who were stuck, people who were unstuck, and others who simply wanted to be something different in some other place.

At the moment, her most intriguing case was the one presented by Aadhya Banerjee.

Aadhya had been a successful caterer who was just making the career move to become a bartender. She had a gift for mixing healthy drinks. Even her signature sparkling water, with its secret ingredient of flower essences, made people feel relaxed and happy.

Aadhya had a nice apartment in the neighborhood and a smart, funny, talented daughter who was advancing up through the scouting ranks.

She also had one very big mystery.

“I don’t understand what this Page of Cups is doing in your reading,” Calliope said. “you seem so confident. What is this one area where you lack experience? Where you’re unsure?”

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“I can only think of one thing I’m unsure of, really unsure of,” Aadhya answered. “It’s the father of my child. I don’t know who Shanaya’s dad is.”

“And you want to know?”

Aadhya nodded.

“And you can’t just… eliminate the possibilities?”

“It’s not like that,” Aadhya said. “You see, I don’t know who the possibilities might be. It’s not that I slept with so many. It’s that I slept with nobody. Shanaya’s dad was a donor. She came from, uh, one of those kind of banks.”

“A sperm bank?”

Aadhya nodded.

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Some things were best left in the dark.

There were reasons that donations were made anonymously. There were medical consent forms, legal agreements, contracts.

Calliope tried to get her to change her mind, to leave it be.

“Let it rest,” she said.

“With each day, I just need to know,” Aadhya replied. “It’s not that Shanaya is unhappy. She’s not. She’s doing great. It’s just that… I walk through the city, and each guy I see, I think, maybe that’s her dad. What if it’s him? What if he’s right here in this city, and she never gets to know him?”

Calliope drew a card. The Knight of Wands. Adventure. Adrenaline. She knew that Aadhya would pursue this, alone or with help. Calliope might as well step up to be the one to help. Maybe, if she helped in the right way, Aadhya would be able to see past her curiosity and find a wiser response.

The first reading was only ten-cents. But it always seemed to cost a world of trouble.

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Summer House: The Ferry, To and Fro

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The Ferry, To and Fro

At summer’s start,
the ferry leads
west, to escape,
to sanctuary.

We leave behind
the daily life
of alarm clocks
and automatic
coffee pots.

Drink in
the slowness
of the rhythm
of sunrise
and sunset.

This is a new life
in a place
not ruled
by wires.

At summer’s end,
some head back
east again,
where the office
waits with an
inbox fuller than
the busiest tide pool.

But some of us
stand on the south shore
of the island,

watching the ferry
as it becomes smaller
and smaller.

We turn to smile
at each other.
We are not on board,
and the summerers
have left.

And the quietness
of the days
remains.

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Author’s note: This concludes Summer House! Thanks to all of you who read it. I enjoyed writing this exploration of change and the ways that, sometimes, change leads to good things.

I’ll have a new series starting up shortly, Ten-Cent Tarot, which will be more typically SimLit, even featuring some of the pre-mades, if they cooperate! Don Lothario–I’m looking at you!

Summer House: Ch. 19

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Sonya had wanted to take Elise to the mainland to shop for school clothes, but she got called in for a workshop the school board was hosting, for the teachers at all the island schools, on trauma-informed care.

“What do these sheltered kids know about trauma?” Elise asked.

But I knew that wherever there are people, there is trauma.

“Farming accidents, storms, fishing accidents,” I said, “not to mention domestic violence, substance abuse, sexual harassment, and bullying. Trauma’s everywhere.”

“I’ll just wear these clothes,” Elise said. “I only need t-shirts and jeans.”

But her shoes had holes, so she agreed to let me take her instead.

We left our car at the island terminal and walked on board, to the accompaniment of wolf whistles from workers on the dock.

“Those are for you,” Elise said.

I laughed. “I hardly think so.” It had been decades since anyone whistled at me, not since I’d perfected the self-assured stride that says, “Not available, not interested,” and certainly not since my hair turned white.

“They’d better not be whistling at me,” Elise said.

“Does it bother you?”

“Hell, yes!”

There had been a time, when I was around Elise’s age, and I was first feeling what it was like to inhabit a young woman’s body, with hips, a thin waist, breasts, when my best friend and I collected wolf whistles. We held a friendly contest. I never garnered more than thirteen a day, while she often racked up fifteen. We called a halt to the contest suddenly, after a saunter through a park filled with Hell’s Angels drew more than whistles. We stopped sauntering, kept our gaze on the path, and walked as quickly as we could without running back to our bicycles. As we raced off, our hearts beating, I realized I didn’t want that kind of attention, not from a biker, not from anybody.

Elise and I ordered coffee on board and sat looking out over the straights.

“What are the boys like at school?” she asked. “Are there many?”

“There are four,” I said. “They’re good kids. One’s the son of a fisherman. Another’s the son of the librarian. And you met Devon and Shire selling their mom’s honey and organic herbs at the farmers’ market.”

“Do they have girlfriends?”

The fisherman’s son did. I’d heard that dating for island teens was a slow affair–there simply weren’t enough kids living year-round on the island. Some of them met teens from other islands. Some held online romances. Some hooked up with summerers for short romances. But mostly, from what I’d heard, the kids waited to date until leaving the island for college or work.

“I think I like that,” Elise said. “Less pressure, right? Is it a clicquish school?”

It couldn’t be, with only seven, now eight, students in the entire high school. Besides, the school had been practicing its particular blend of Steiner/Reggio Emilia since before these kids entered kindergarten.

“It’s pretty egalitarian,” I said. “I think you’ll like it. When you’ve only got enough kids for one group, everyone pretty much gets along.”

“That would be different,” Elise said. “My old school was awful. There was this hall you walked down, in the math wing–it was called ‘butt-grab’ hall, because that’s what happened there. When you walked down it, the guys grabbed your butt.”

“That’s awful!”

Elise nodded. “So we had a buddy system. We’d walk in a group, and the ones in front held their binders in front of their chests, and the ones in the back held them behind their… behinds. And we walked like that. Safety in numbers.”

“You shouldn’t have to do that. You should be able to be safe in school.”

“One would think. The system worked, though. Then, in April, my friends stopped being my friends, so I had to walk alone. I was always late for math, then.”

“Couldn’t you report that?”

“Yes. And the report asks for names, and when I put down the names, that’s when my friends stopped being my friends, but the behavior didn’t stop.”

I flashed on my student Sasha and her complaint against Denny, my friend and former colleague. I felt thoroughly relieved, grateful, even, that her claims had been acted on.

“I hope we can find some decent clothes,” Elise said as we approached the shoreline. “I hate girls’ clothes. They make me look like this.” She scrunched up her lips, cinched in the waist of her t-shirt, and stuck out her chest. “Like I’m a target.”

“We don’t have to buy off the girls’ rack,” I said.

We walked from the ferry terminal into town. The road was shaded, with mushrooms growing alongside it. We fell silent, after our long conversation on the crossing. My attention went to the birds singing in the forest, vireos, nuthatches, and chickadees. Elise seemed lost in her own thoughts.

We stopped at Starbucks and then hit up the discount retail stores. On the boys’ rack, we found skinny black jeans, relaxed-fit stonewashed jeans, and a pair of baggy brown cords. In a record store, Elise found GOT7 and BTS t-shirts.  We bought black sneakers and brown canvas ankle boots. By the time we needed to catch the evening ferry, we’d filled four big shopping bags of clothes.

“I’m exhausted,” Elise said, as we boarded the bus to take us back to the ferry terminal.

We didn’t talk much on the ride back. I bought us veggie wraps for supper and we ate facing the front windows. The water danced with sun gems.

“I’m gonna look so cool,” Elise said.

She was right. In her new clothes, she looked confident and hip.

“This was fun, Elise,” I said. “I’m glad I got to take you shopping. Thanks.”

She nodded. “Yup,” she said. “I think it’s gonna be my best year yet.”

As the sun set, the ferry moved into the golden path. In June, when I rode the ferry out to the summer house, I knew that this time of year, at summer’s end, I’d be riding the ferry again. Only then, I thought I’d riding it the other way, away from the sunset path, back to my busy life of conflict and demand.

But here I was, riding it home, and not alone, but with a new friend who shared that home. So many changes, such a short time.

Change isn’t always bad. And sometimes, good things happen after bad. The college would get along without me. Bernard’s dad would get along without his family. And in our new lives, in our new home, we’d all get on just fine.

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Summer House: Ch. 18

school

“I suppose I could work as a hostess at the restaurant,” Sonya said.

“They cut staff once summer’s over,” I replied.

“How about I get a job with the ferries? Serving food? I used to work in a cafeteria back in college.”

Ferry employees, including food services, all live on the mainland, I explained, since the ferries run out of Anacortes. They cut back during the winter, too.

“Babysitting?” she asked. “I could take the day shifts when Elise is at school.”

“It’s only the summerers who hire babysitters,” I observed. “The islanders don’t have need or resources. If kids are too little to stay home alone, there’s someone there to be with them or they’ve brought along. And by the time they’re six or seven, they’re allowed to be unsupervised, since it’s safe and there’s not a lot of trouble they can get into.”

“There’s always trouble for kids to find.”

But island kids were of a different sort, more self-reliant, less plugged-in.

“I guess we’ll just keep making jam!” She said, exasperated. “I know, I know! ‘The island farmers’ market only runs in the summer!’ You already said! But I’ll just make a bunch and head into Anacortes every Thursday, if only there were enough berries on the island left to pick.” We’d nearly harvested all the berry patches, leaving just a few up at the north end.

A few days after this conversation, when I went to the grocery store in the village to pick up some ginger for our stir-fry, I ran into the school’s K-8 teacher. She looked about four months pregnant, just beginning to show.

“I’m going to need a good long-term sub when winter break’s over,” she said, laying a hand on her belly. “You wouldn’t be available, would you?”

“Maternity leave?” I asked.  She nodded. Of course, I wasn’t available. I was retiring from full-time teaching, not picking it up again with a younger set of students. But Sonya…

I mentioned the conversation to her when I returned home. Her eyes lit up.

“Back in the classroom? I would’ve looked for a teaching position if we’d gone back to the mainland, and if it weren’t so close to start of school. I never dreamed there could be anything on the island!”

“Usually, a lot of teachers are interested in any positions that open–and they hardly every open. Most teachers here keep the job for life. But subs–and good ones–are harder to find. And certificated ones are nearly impossible!”

She called the teacher. Then she spent the afternoon filling out forms online and emailing references. A few days later, we received word from the principal, who oversaw the schools on all the three islands in the Straights, that she was approved. When the regular teacher went on maternity leave, Sonya would have the long-term substitute position, through the rest of this school year, at least, and possible into the beginning of the next.

“This will work out!” Sonya said. “We can make the jam fund stretch out until then. It’ll be tight. No extras. But we can do it!”

Of course, I kept to myself that I’d be covering utilities, and, if we kept up our current dining arrangements, the grocery bills, too.

A few weeks later, just a week before school started, we received a frantic call from the principal. The teacher woke up bleeding and was air-vacced to the hospital in Bellingham. They were able to stop the bleeding, everything seemed OK, but it was now deemed a high-risk pregnancy, requiring bed-rest. The teacher wouldn’t be starting the school year. Not only that, but she and her husband decided to move to Bellingham, since her specialists were there.

The school needed a full-time teacher to start the year. Was Sonya available?

It would be the class Bernard was in, but she’d already talked with him about it, when she was preparing to sub, and he seemed excited, if a little bashful, to have his mom for a teacher.

After interviews with the county school board in Anacortes, meetings with the island school site council, and answering scores of questions about educational philosophy (“What’s the best response for dealing with classroom disruption?”; “How do you handle bullies?” ;”Do you use worksheets, at all?”), Sonya had the job. She signed the contract.

“I have a job,” she said, over and over again. “I’ve got a salary! I start the day after Labor Day. That’s Tuesday!”

I smiled to think how happy I’d been, just a few short months before, to make the decision not to sign my own teaching contract. And now, in my kitchen, stood a woman grinning ear-to-ear at having signed her own. It felt right to have a teacher in the house.

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Puppy Love 26

healing01

Do you ever find yourself acting on an idea whose genesis you can’t trace? Where’d that idea come from?

Maybe you were sitting on your couch, feeling a little sad, missing someone, perhaps, or feeling forlorn. Then, next you know, you feel an impulse blow through you.

“I need to get out!” You say. “I need some fresh air!”

Sometimes, we are the ones who whisper these ideas to you, we spirits in the After who never really leave, who always watch and wait for you to listen.

In this way, Lucas found himself following a notion to take Emery for a run along the boardwalk. Oh, yes! I explicitly whispered, “Emery! Emery wants a run! And it will do you good, too.”

healing02

By the time Lucas stopped running, he found himself wondering. What was he doing there? I rode the breeze around him. Emery barked softly.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it, pup?” he said.

Do you know that you can see us in reflected light? I shimmered over the waves, singing Lucas’s name, but only Emery listened.

healing03

“You’re not alone here, Emery,” I sang. “You’re not alone!”

healing04

Lucas let him off the leash, and Emery raced down to the dock, passing another dog, a stray.

healing05

Nougat is a boxer with a tail that’s never been bobbed and ears that have never been clipped. She’s lived on the beach for a few months in a loose pack of strays.

Lucas called over an Irish setter, who’d been following Nougat. But it wasn’t the setter that I’d brought Lucas here to see.

“Out on the dock,” I whispered. “Keep on!”

healing06

While Lucas befriended Nougat, the dog I’d led them there to meet appeared: Prissy,  a beautiful, intelligent, friendly border collie with the right spirit to bring healing to a home submerged in grief.

healing07

Prissy raised her head and sang, long and low, stirring in me all the memories of life and living in a house full of pups.

Sweet days
with sticks and balls and bones

Sweet nights
with a rug on the floor in a home

What a dog,
every dog,
what a dog

wants: a home,
a stick, a bone.

Her song got inside of us.

“You look so lonely,” Lucas said to Nougat. “Do you like living here on the beach, scrounging for food? Wouldn’t you rather come home with us?”

healing08

Of course she wanted that. It was fine with Emery, too, but it wasn’t what he had in mind.

What a dog
with a tail and ears and brown eyes

What a dog
with cute feet and just the right size

I like a dog
with long fur

Long ears
and a song

What a dog…

healing09

Nougat and I liked his song, but Nougat knew he wasn’t singing about her.

healing10

“You’ve caught another dog’s scent, then?” she asked.

healing11

He looked up the dock, where Prissy sat.

“She can sing,” he replied.

healing12

He trotted up beside her.

“Come meet Lucas,” he said.

healing13

And the moment she met him, the moment Lucas met her, we knew, this border collie had found her new home.

healing14

But what about Nougat? We can’t leave her behind!

She ran and pounced on Lucas.

“Oh!” he said. “You know the great game of Pounce? Then you belong with us!”

Of course I had my reasons in sending Lucas to the beach with Emery. I hoped he’d find a beautiful dog to bring home.

He surprised me by bringing home two.

healing15

The house was full again–six big dogs! And Lucas spent all his time filling supper dishes, bathing dirty dogs, and mopping muddy paw prints.

But through all his efforts, he smiled. He sang.

“So many dogs
So little time!

“So many paws!
Each one divine!”

There are as many ways to heal from grief as there are to grieve. But every healing happens through love.

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