Marrs Attacks: The ten of swords

Lars is my friend and a professional psychic. He taught me how to read tarot cards. I was seduced into it by the initial free reading he gave me: according to Lars’ cards, my future was looking A+, #1, top special. Hearing that gave me quite a rush. I thought that if I knew how to read the tiny soothsayers myself, I could get that rush over and over again, assuming my future didn’t change (and considering it hadn’t happened yet, I didn’t see how it could).

Tarot cards are like playing cards but more complicated. There are 78, each with its own personality. One of the early steps in learning how to read them, according to Lars, is to spend time examining each one to get a sense of what mood it has. Another early step is kill each of your blood relatives in sacrifice to the Dark Lord, but that goes without saying.

Since the cards reflect the life cycle, not all of them are good. Sadly, even the perkiest of Gap employees must walk beneath a rain cloud some time, and there are cards to represent that. Death, the Tower, the Devil, the Five of Pentacles, the Ten of Swords and, depending on which side of the spanking you’re on, Justice are all cards that could mean you’re in for a rough patch. They could, but don’t necessarily. Optimistic readers use the rebirth analogy while interpreting these: we must go through a kind of death before we can be reborn stronger. Think of the phoenix from mythology. Think of Christ.

An early task of mine was to shuffle the deck and flip over a lone card each morning to see how it would relate to my day. The first time I tried this I got a nasty one: the Nine of Swords. It often means mental unrest, delusion or paranoia. That day, I was running late for work for the third time in a row, and I thought I was certainly in for it. I had just gotten a warning from my manager the previous shift. In the car I was freaking out about being fired; I was further angry at myself for playing with the tarot when I was already running behind.

Sure enough, I got off scot-free. My manager either didn’t notice I was late or chose not to say anything. To me, that justified the card right there: I had simply been paranoid. It was relieving. I didn’t know if I was right, but the rest of the day went by uneventfully, and when I tucked myself in that night I still felt that incident was why I’d drawn the card.

A few more coincidences like that had me feeling good about my new hobby. I still couldn’t do a full-on reading, but I was enjoying drawing one card in the morning and seeing how it related to my day. Then a couple of days after the nine, I flipped a more challenging card: the Ten of Swords. In most decks, the gruesome image on this card is of a man fallen to the ground with ten heavy swords plunged into his body. The body is always yours; the swords have defeated you.

I had the day off from work, but I was scared to do much of anything lest I put myself in a spot where tragedy could strike. I didn’t want to answer the phone for fear of bad news; I didn’t want to drive for fear of a wreck. The tension wasn’t paralyzing, but my schedule was clear that day so it was easy for me to focus on hypothetical horrors. (P.S. I’m a masochist.)

Later that night I was supposed to rendezvous with some coworkers at a bar. I was convinced that was where I’d meet my swords—maybe in the form of an accident, maybe in the form of an arrest. To avoid that, I drank little. I could have gone one step further and drunk nothing, but at that point my superstition did not outrank my alcoholism.

Alas, all was quiet on the road and at the bar. The day was pretty much over and—hurrah!—still no bad news. My coworkers didn’t want to stay out long, so on my way home I ducked into my favorite gay watering hole just to see who was there.

Danny saw me when I walked in the door. He was a friend I made when courting another guy named Danny about a year before. It was easy to remember his name because he was “Danny’s friend Danny.” I hadn’t spoken to either one in months and was happy to see him.

A few minutes into the conversation, Danny abruptly changed the subject. “Hey, Danny wants you to talk to him,” he said, meaning my former fling. “Why?” I asked.

“Just talk to him. He told me he needs to talk to you,” was his reply. I didn’t like the way he sounded. I prodded, but Danny would say nothing of the reason. Until, “He wouldn’t tell me, but it sounded serious. He might be … HIV …”

The card flashed in my head. “OK. I’ll see you later,” I said flatly, abandoning my beer. I left the bar, got in my car and drove home, shaking as I contemplated how ten swords could fit so neatly into three little letters.

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