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A Turn Of The Cards
Mathew Gostelow

Tarot card spread

She cursed me when she read my cards that day.


Thanks to her gift, life held no surprises for Lily. So, when I got stumbling drunk and shouted that I was leaving - walking out on her, on our unborn child, leaving the carny – her tears had no anger in them, just bitter disappointment. After she cried, Lily read for me. One last time. The cards turned. Ten of Diamonds. Queen of Hearts. Two of Spades. We talked them through, in her tent by the sideshow. Then she let me go.


Ten of Diamonds - Beginnings, Endings, Money


I was a barker. Best in the business, I always said. But that was a lie. Telling lies, that’s what I'm good at. Being a barker is all about hiding the truth. “See nature’s most twisted oddity,” I would shout at the marks. “The two-headed baby.” I’d never mention it’s just a papier-mâché model. The sideshow did well on my watch because I had the spiel, the silver tongue, the right lie to tempt every punter. You see a tight-lipped, angry woman, you tell her “Ranjit the Fakir will pierce his tongue with a needle, before your eyes.” She’s here for the viciousness of it. You don’t mention that Ranjit is really Richard, and the most Indian thing about him is the rubber in his fake tongue.


You see a grim, grey pair – the kind of couple who avoid each other’s eye – and you tell them about “Alyona – just 21 and covered tip to toe in tattoos. A living art gallery. This shy young beauty will reveal every inch of her intricate decoration for you, exclusively tonight.” They both want that thrill, you can bet. Of course, Alyona is pushing 40 nowadays and keeps her bathing suit on throughout the show, but we don’t want to spoil the illusion before you buy a ticket. Concealing the truth from Lily came naturally – the truth that I was losing at cards in every town we visited, gambling cash that should have been for her and the baby.

Queen of Hearts - Relationships, Truth, A Woman


There was another woman, of course. I met her at the card spot in the last town but one. She had big, frightened eyes, like she needed saving. She was an escape. I could be someone else with her, someone different, someone good. She still wanted to believe my lies. Her company was like stepping out of the stifling sawdust-stink of the sideshow into a fresh, clear night, full of mystery and promise.


I kept seeing her. And when we moved the show, I brought her to a flaky guesthouse nearby, wasting more money. I think Lily knew. I never could keep anything from her. We didn’t talk much anymore, but she heard the words I left unsaid just as clearly as the spiel I barked from the stage.


Two of Spades - Communication, Problems, Solutions


Eventually, I told Lily I was leaving. She cried, she read for me, she let me go. I shacked up in the guest house with the new woman. We drank. I told her lies, pretended I was someone good, and kind, and caring.


Then I woke up this morning and found I couldn’t speak. Before, my silver tongue was everything. It was my livelihood, my armour. But now my patter’s gone. My throat closes and a gasping croak is all I can muster. I can’t tell the new woman I’ve changed my ways. I can't say I love her.


It’s Lily’s work, I feel it. She hexed my spiel when she read my cards that final time. In my heart, I know she hasn’t stopped me talking. I could speak to the new woman if I wished. But the curse means I cannot tell a lie, so now I find I’ve nothing left to say at all.

* This story was created with the guidance of the oracle. To read more about how to use the oracle (specifically tarot!) as a part of your writing process, visit here.

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