by SJ Longtaile
An eclectic fortune teller divines the death of a cheating husband with a smile.
| In a big city, tucked into a snug corner of the suburbs, there is a house, a gorgeously old, three story house with a beautiful waterfront view and a quaint neighborhood surrounding it, but it’s what lies inside that is the subject of our story. See, this is Card House, a shop in a manner of speaking, a shop which merchandises answers that have yet a question to match them, here answers are bought and sold like so many odds and ends, though beware the answers such as they may be, are not necessarily truths.
Now, the title Proprietor of Card House changes hands as often as a woman changes shoes, and while no specifications or requirements are necessary for the job, not just anyone can do it, and the ones who can are rather unique, few in numbers and far in between, and it is one such individual that stars in this particular tale.
A tale that begins on a perfectly normal afternoon in April, when the breeze is still cool, and showers pour on and off every other week, an afternoon that starts just as any other before it; with a client, the first client of the day in fact.
“Mr. Larkson!” Illy calls gleefully up the gloomy staircase,”Mr. Larkson, we have a client, sir.”
Larkson, the proprietor of Card House, slowly trudges his way down the creaking stairs, emerging from the shadows of the upstairs, looking bedraggled and disheveled, swathed not only his vermillion robe but three of his many fluffy blankets. “Illy, it’s far too early for clients,” he grumbles as he shoos the bubbly girl out of his way as he rounds the bottom of the stairs making a b-line for the kitchen.
“It’s two thirty in the afternoon, sir,” she giggles after him.
“My point still stands,” Larkson huffs, just before he walks into what seemed to be a wall, only it isn’t a wall.
“Client first, Larkson,” Jared Windlass, Card House’s only employee towers between his lazy twig of a boss and the kitchen.
“But Jare....coffee~” Larkson whines around a yawn.
“I’ll bring you your coffee, now go greet the client properly. I already set out the cards for you,” Jared turns Larkson by his shoulders and marches him back down the hallway to the foyer.
Larkson yawns again, scowling up at his absurdly tall employee,”What are you, my husband?”
Jared huffs, unimpressed but rather used to his boss’s particular brand of sarcasm,”You wish. Now get to work. I need you to make money so I can get paid.”
Larkson grumbles something that distinctly sounded like the word ‘greedy,’ to which Jared simply responds with,”Pot, kettle.”
The spindly and drowsy proprietor waves off the tall young man, before stepping through the wine red curtain isolating the foyer from the rest of the house where he is met with a modest looking woman, an unhappy stay-at-home wife judging by her attire and the faded gold band on her left ring finger.
“Good afternoon, ma’am, I am Larkson, the proprietor of this establishment, how can I help you today?” he greets her with his customer-friendly mask firmly in place complete with a kind smile and sweet tone.
“Oh-um…I’d just like to have a tarot reading, if it’s not too much trouble,” she stumbles a little, likely due to Larkson’s extremely laid back and casual appearance, still sleep rumpled as he is, it isn’t an unusual reaction.
Most official people tend to dress the part, this day Larkson had absolutely no rats to give about that though. “No problem at all,” he replies, still in his sweet tone,”Right this way.”
He holds the curtain aside for her, directing her to the main room to the left of the stairs where Jared had already pulled back the opaque glass sliding doors and gestures for her to take a seat at the modest, yet comfortable chair situated before a low but large coffee table draped in a deep purple velvet sheet, upon which sat a fat red candle already lit and a stack of wide, hand painted, midnight blue cards trimmed with gold lacquer.
“Can I offer you anything, ma’am? Tea, coffee?” Larkson asks as he rounds the table and settles himself, crosslegged in a squat but tall wing backed chair covered with a silky smooth black bear skin and his favorite emerald plaid throw pillow which he plucks up and hugs to his middle.
“Perhaps something a little stronger?” he teases lightly with a slight quirk to his smile, just to see her sport a dusting of pink across her delicate cheekbones.
The room is lit only by the candle on the table and three old fashioned gas lamps arranged in a triangle on the wall behind Larkson’s chair, granting a warm but dim ambiance to the room and shrouding him mostly in shadows.
“Uh…tea, please, peppermint if you have it,” she replies after settling herself into her chair, purse to the ground, back straight, ankles crossed, and hands folded neatly in her lap.
A lady, Larkson presumes, she even has a slight English accent now that he’s a little more awake and listening. He would guess that she’d been raised in an old fashioned household, where women were expected to behave as certain way, to be proper. But it’d been years since she’d been home, at least ten, since she’d married an American, that would explain the slightness of her accent, that’s what Larkson would surmise anyway.
“Of course,” Larkson says, giving a nod to Jared who then turns and leaves, closing the doors behind him with a soft hush sound. “While we wait, is there anything in particular you’d like to ask the cards today?”
This seems to give the woman a pause, her expression freezing up, her posture tensing just so, such a response usually meant that the reason was either deeply personal or embarrassing, or both, in Larkson’s experience.
“Do I have to tell you for it to work?” she then asks, looking for all the world like she hopes the answer would be no.
Larkson is intrigued now by her hesitance,”Not necessarily, however, it certainly does help the process quite a bit.”
She casts her eyes down quickly, disappointed with that response.
Sighing inwardly, Larkson digs around in his pant’s pocket, fishing out a pack of cigarets and a lighter,”Do you mind?” holding them up, he distracts her from her obviously downward spiralling thoughts.
“Oh, no, go right ahead,” she says with a slight shrug.
He salutes the pack and lighter to her in a ‘cheers’ gesture before flicking out a cigaret and lighting it in a swift, practiced motion, taking a long luxurious drag of the bitter smoke then tilting his head up and blowing it up to the ceiling, he sits back, giving her time and a little space to sort out her thoughts while they wait.
By the time Jared re-enters the room with a tray holding an elegant tea pot, saucer and cup in one hand and Larkson’s coffee mug in the other, the considerably sized room is clouded with the bitter-sweet smoke of Larkson’s cigaret, causing the young man to suppress, almost unsuccessfully, a few coughs, but, in proper employee etiquette, remains quiet about it. Larkson knew he was just dying to tell his boss off for smoking indoors though.
“Here you go, ma’am. Sorry for the wait,” Jared says politely, serving her first one handed, purposefully making Larkson wait for his caffeine fix, before presenting his boss with his favorite mug filled to the brim with dark and chocolaty coffee, then silently retreats to stand by the doors.
Larkson snuffs out his cigaret in the crystal ashtray by the clawed foot of his chair, takes a large gulp from his mug,”Right, shall we get started?” Waiting for her response, reaching for the cards to his left, he looks up at her to see her gazing intently into her teacup. “Ma’am?”
She glances up to meet his eyes before quickly averting her gaze,”There is something specific I’d like to ask,” she says quietly.
Larkson, content to wait, cups his hands and warms them around his mug, settling back into his chair, patient.
About a minute and a half passes before she speaks up again, this time to say,”I think my husband is having an affair,” her shoulders slump a little at the admission.
Nodding to himself, Larkson swirls his coffee a bit, he’d suspected something like this, he gets these kinds of requests quite often actually, even more so in this day and age. Sitting up, reaching for the cards, he gets down to business, “Well, let’s have a look at the cards then, shall we?” Larkson spreads the cards across the table one handed while taking a much needed swig of coffee.
“Pick a card, any card, or if one doesn’t suffice then as many as you like,” he says as he leans back in his chair to idly watch the world weary woman, sipping at his coffee.
The woman eyes the cards, dubious, she doesn’t seem the type to believe in such things as fortune tellers and other worldly abilities, Larkson guesses she only came to him as a last resort. She’s hesitant, as most are, but she ends up selecting three cards rather quickly and with a certainty that leads Larkson to suspect a strong intuition, which also means she’s likely right about her husband.
As she turns the cards over and presents them to him, it appears that she is correct, although one of the cards has Larkson curious.
“The Whore and The Eunuch. Amorous betrayal and significant but manageable loss,” Larkson says,”You have a good intuition, my fair lady, though I find most women do, especially when it comes to this kind of thing.”
The woman lowers the cards back down to the table, staring at them, not with contempt or even anger, but with resignation. “I suppose we do,” she sighs, fingering the two cards.
Larkson hums a little, then simply sits back and let her have a little time to herself, before asking,”Ma’am, is your husband rich?”
She looks up at him, frowning,”Yes, though not as much as you’re probably thinking,” she was looking at him with suspicion now, probably thinking he was going to try and overcharge her or something even more unsavoury.
Chuckling a little, Larkson shuffles around in his chair, repositioning himself to lean forward a bit,”I’m not after money, ma’am. I’m just curious. What does he do, if I might ask?”
“He’s a banker. Why?” Her frown shifting more into a confused one.
Larkson nods slightly to himself, waving her off,”Nothing that need concern you, ma’am. Now, is that all that you’d like today?”
She eyes him but doesn’t press, simply saying,”No, that is all. Thank you.”
Smiling,”No, thank you, ma’am.” And with that, Larkson gestures to the door where Jared opens the door to show her back to the front for Milly to ring her up.
The woman pays and leaves with the sound of the bell and Milly’s overexcited,”Thank you for your patronage, come again!”
Larkson doesn’t move from his chair, sipping his coffee and staring up at the ceiling, until Jared returns with the coffee pot to refill his mug,”Interesting,” he mumbles, watching the black-brown steaming liquid pour into his mug.
“What’s interesting about a cheating husband?” Jared asks, seemingly genuinely confused as to why Larkson is thinking so much.
“This,” Larkson holds up the third card, the one he hadn’t mentioned to the woman.
Jared takes the card to look at it closer,”A ten of Gold Flowers?”
Larkson sighs contentedly after a particularly long gulp of coffee,”Yes.”
Frowning, Jared eyes the card,”The question about her husband’s job, that was about this”
Larkson nods. “But if it pertains to her husband, then why did it turn up in her reading?”
Larkson peaks up at him, a smirk on his lips,”Take a wild guess.”
After a moment of thought, realization dawns on Jared’s face, “He’s going to die, isn’t he?”
The grin that overtook Larkson’s face was positively gleeful, “Oh, most definitely.”