LizardLizard

His step was light as he walked down the road (this highway with nobody on it) lizards scurrying off into the brittle sagebrush, their sunbathing briefly interrupted by the soft percussion of Simon's measured passing. Quail darted about, following topknots that dangled like crimson carrots before their beaks. Gnats got ensnared by the hair on Simon's arms, until, with a temperate breath, he set them free. A cactus wren emerged from its nest in a cholla’s shaggy skeleton (its issuance seeming to suggest life sprung from death). Bottle caps, tin cans, and vintage candy wrappers bore testament to litterbugs of old, while zip-top aluminum cans and the plastic paraphernalia from fast-food franchises represented trash more contemporary—this latter less profuse, due, evidently, to the main drag’s re-routing.

As Simon walked along, he came upon a car parked in a small arroyo. It sat just off the road, under a flowering paloverde tree whose shade still lent protection from the late-morning sun… though tracks of dew had dried in squiggly lines all down the car windows. He stepped around front, giving the vehicle a wide berth, its windshield looking, with all its carnage, like an entomologist’s nightmare; scrambled anatomies of untold insects had coagulated in a film so thick he could scarcely see inside. Outside, the car had its own expression: a sad, almost ironical bumper-bent smile, with hopeful head-lamp eyes under chromium lids, its overall aspect bashful, its paint-job an apologetic red. Cautiously, Simon moved to the driver’s-side window (a wing was cracked to allow ventilation), and there, on the front seat, 'pretzeled' around the gearshift lever and steering column, lay a young woman… deep in sleep… whose jacket, doubling as a blanket, had slipped partially off her hunched up shoulders, exposing a cream-colored blouse, its V-neck flexing laces (cat’s-cradle fashion) that confined the rhythmic slump and bulge of her breasts. Hair, a lush auburn color, spread across the seat cover in heavy curls. Her full, almost Negroid mouth was relaxed, slightly opened, with all but its outer edges licked clean of a lipstick. Her nose was straight, without being sharp; hard angles were, in fact, nowhere to be seen. Even her brows—plucked a little to widen the space above her eyes—were generously curved.

What fascinated Simon most, however, was the sleep itself.  He watched… as if imagining the private panoply being played beneath the placid features… a subtle quiver animating her loosely-hinged lashes… undulations like sea swells disturbing her wafer-thin lids.

Gypsy wagon

 

Is that me? No, it can’t be; she has black hair—the same as mine, but black. And, besides, I’m looking at her… From where? Somewhere in the country. At night; I see lanterns. And carts, with strange symbols on them. Why, I wonder, does everything look so real?

 

Her breathing changed; it grew a little faster.

 

‘Adrienne?’

‘Yes,’ she answered. I answered. ‘Who are you?’

‘The cards.’

‘What? What cards? What do you mean?’

I’m searching somewhere… in a cupboard hung by nails on the inside of a wagon door. The cards are there, wrapped in an embroidered silk cloth. I take them to her, to this old woman in a kerchief who apparently knows me… who has always known me? I’m barefoot and wear a delicate silver anklet.

 

Her face, to him, kept changing… like phases of the moon…

 

‘You danced well tonight, Adrienne.’                                            

 

… peeking in and out as through passing clouds.

 

Her hands are like cracked pottery. She’s unwrapping the deck. Her fingernails are brittle, and warped, and broken off unevenly. They rattle, like rodent’s bones, over the cards’ dingy surfaces; the deck is worn, all dog-eared and yellowed with age. And the pictures stare back when you look at them!

 

Simon wondered what the dreamer might be dreaming as he watched her eyelids bulge under sleep’s sound sedation.

 

She’s fondling the cards; I feel something weird—a humming sensation inside. She’s going to tell me things. About the others. Secret things. She doesn’t move her lips when she speaks; I only hear the air wheeze in and out of her lungs; the words themselves are silent—though they make the candle flicker.

‘A reading, my dear.’

‘Who for?’

Her eyes are pitch-black mirrors without any irises. I see myself reflected—me, or not me?—staring while she calls a string of names.

‘Yolanda… Daphne… ’

I change with each one, becoming different, yet the same…

‘Nana… Adrienne.’

… like an actress at her vanity creating characters. Each face seems to carry its own impression of place and time, but passes too quickly—except I seem to recognize every last one.

‘Shuffle the cards, my dark one. Shuffle them well for she whose life you’ll lead, when black will blush and manes exchange intensities.’

I shuffle. The cards feel like oily skin. They breathe in my hands. I’m glad to put them down. She turns the top card over.

The High Priestess

‘You see! The High Priestess. You are lovely. Your body pleases all who recognize fairness—few though they be. And already you suspect your pulchritude's power, if ignorant of its less superficial source. Youth unsure, beware the gloss, veneer is mockery.’

I don’t understand much of what she’s saying, but her voice, her soundless voice, blows through me like wind through a bamboo flute. Each phrase vibrates so powerfully I buzz right down to my toes.

Strength

The next card—placed over the first—shows a woman petting a lion. The buzz gets even stronger. Or is it the lion's purring? He's rubbing against my leg!

‘Passion retracts its claws to stalk on stealthy feet.’

She concentrates on the lion, then jerks her head up to stare at me. I feel self-conscious; I’ve been enjoying him. Whatever expression I wear gives me away; she sees right through me.

‘Purity exiles the banal; strength rebounds to tame the savage beast.’

The purring fades.

 

More and more the car window seemed to serve as a barrier. Simon felt once-removed from this woman-under-glass. He wanted to observe her unobstructed. The wing was open. He had only to reach in and roll down the window. But the thought of her awakening—possibly panicking—stayed his hand.

 

She’s putting a third card down, horizontally, across the other two. It shows a boat full of swords, with a man, a woman, and a child on board. The man’s poling them toward shore.

Six of Swords

Funny things are happening to me again; I’m getting this queasy feeling, almost like I’m seasick. I don’t like it. I want to know what’s going on. Who is this ugly old woman? She’s watching me. I know she hears what I’m thinking. I try to block it. Still, I'm pretty sure she knows I’m scared. She’s reaching out to touch me. I don’t want her to. I flinch as her man-size hands take hold of mine. But they aren’t like I expected; they’re soft as kidskin. I’m calm again. She lets go in order to turn another card, putting it down, face-up, above the others (below to her). It shows a man sitting with crossed arms under an archway that has cups set on top of it—nine, in all.

Nine of Cups

I’m okay now. In fact, I’m feeling pretty comfortable. She smiles. I’m surprised how good her teeth are—straight, well-shaped, a soft ivory color. She’s actually quite beautiful, not nearly as old and withered as I first thought. I want to explore where we are, but nothing seems to exist outside of what we’re immediately touching: the tablecloth, for instance—which looks like an ancient map with tea stains for continents; that and us, in our wicker chairs—plus the candle and cards—are all that I can see.

 

Unable to resist, Simon cranked down (stealthily) the driver's-side window , then rested his elbows on its frame. He now looked on intently (like one of Picasso’s Minotaurs overseeing Sleep).

 

Wheel of Fortune

I must not have been paying attention; a new card is lying face up under the center pile. It’s a wheel… revolving very slowly… picking up speed… faster and faster… spinning. It’s making me dizzy. My eyes won’t look away, though; they can’t, because suddenly I’m inside. It’s like a merry-go-round, except all the animals have gotten off. I see them whirling by: a dog, a snake, a bull with wings. I’m being pulled toward the center! I’m there. It’s like a hurricane’s eye—calm all of a sudden. I look out toward the Gypsy Woman. Her features change from young to old, then old to young again, like in a dream. Of course! I only have to open my eyes. I can feel the bed sheet wadded up in my fists… except it’s the tablecloth. And on it there’s another card—two people, a man and woman naked, standing under an angel.

The Lovers

The woman looks just like me. I don’t recognize the man, even though he's glancing at me lovingly. Except he’s turning away, walking. I follow him—I don’t quite know why. He leads me into a garden of lilies and dark red roses. He turns and points at the ground with his left hand, while raising a sort of wand he holds in his right. He’s changed now, dressed in a long robe. The same halo I saw over that lady with the lion—a sideways number eight—now hovers above him. I’m trembling. Not from cold or from fear; the sensation is more like nerves after extra-strong coffee.

The Magician

‘Adrienne.’

I’m back in the chair. I don’t understand. A moment ago… (?) The cards now form a cross: the man’s on my left, the naked couple’s on my right, the nine of cups’ above, the wheel is below… with another card being turned—three swords stabbing a heart.

Three of Swords

This has gone on long enough. If I’m sleeping, I want to wake up. Now! I try to stand. My legs go all rubbery. I try again with all my might. I’m rising! I seem to be floating somewhere, way above the table. I see Adrienne. Her hair glows in the candlelight. It’s changing color. She looks up. It’s me! Except I have on too much makeup; mascara cakes my lashes; my lips are ruby red; my cheeks are smeared with an ugly shade of rouge. Hot; I’m sweaty all over. And I’m crying. Lord knows why; something awful, I guess, has happened. The makeup is beginning to run, melting down my face in long sooty streaks. My breasts! Oh, God, it feels like they’re melting, too!

I’m back at the table, clasping my chest—which seems to be normal again. The old woman sits without any expression. I’m embarrassed sitting here with my boobs in my hands. I can feel the blood rushing to my face. As if nothing has happened she flips another card and places it above the wounded heart.

‘Queen of Wands.’

Queen of Wands

She’s shaking her head. She looks at me, then at the card, then shakes her head some more. I want to ask what’s wrong, but I don’t get the chance. There’s a new card between her thumb and index finger. She holds it up in front of my eyes. It becomes a window. I look through it and see myself walking to the edge of a pond. I must be going to bathe because I’m nude—or maybe to fetch water; I’m carry a pitcher in each hand. A dove flutters its wings in a nearby bush. I kneel on a mossy bank that squishes underneath me like a sponge. It’s nighttime, but light shines from the stars so brightly it’s just like day. I feel a warm liquid sensation welling up inside of me… kind of gurgling through my body… like I’m the channel for some underground spring… rising… filling me up until I can’t hold it any longer.

The Star

The overflow gushes out—I lift my arms—pouring in streams from the open-mouthed pitchers, as if I’ve been transformed; I'm a living fountain!

 

Simon, become anxious about the sleeper’s agitation (her cheeks grown flushed, her parted lips reshaped by a fleeting semi-smile) forced himself away.

 

I hear her voice…

‘The elements attend thee. Dance for them, Adrienne.’

… coming from somewhere way off in the distance…

‘Dance for them all, my fair one, in your ovoid world.’

The World

… or do I? The voice is more like a chirp… or cooing; it must be the dove's.

 

Brandy’s lashes quivered for a moment, then opened. With obvious effort, she tried to recall where she was… and who—or what—had inspired such an esoteric dream.

*

*

The sun shown boldly...

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