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MINCHIATE: 7 of Coins and 4 of Cups


Stone Lions

”What fresh hell is this?” My husband said as Sarah, his assistant, came up to us. The party was not going well; the guests looked bored, the food was not what the caterers had promised and the music was subpar.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, Sir, but the bartender has informed me that we’ve run out of wine, liqueur and champagne, and beer is all that’s left,” she said, shirking his gaze. I knew that the blame would fall on me, I knew that I would pay for this debacle later on.

“Beer?” He asked, “we didn’t order any beer, did we?” He turned to me, eyes oozing mockery and reproach. Sarah and I shook our heads. She was a sweet girl and she was my best friend when my husband wasn’t around. He didn’t approve of me being friendly with employees, but when the cat’s away, the mice will play, and Sarah and I have often had a blast at lunch, or dinner, or around town.

“No, Sir, but Mister Christopher brought some along with his friends. They’re outside on the back lawn.”

I put my head in my hands. How could he be doing this now, in front of his father’s guests? This was a very important party for his father’s business. Not only would I be blamed for the disastrous preparations, but also for our son’s shenanigans; my son’s shenanigans, he would say. Whenever Chris did something right, he was his son, when he did something wrong he was my son. Chris had not been his father’s son in a long time.

My husband looked at Sarah in that stone lion way of his that could make the manliest man tremble. The poor girl winced, hunched her shoulders and looked down at the floor. Swallow me earth, please, I almost heard her think.

She was afraid for her job. Sarah and I had worked so hard organizing this party and I was perplexed that everything had gone so wrong. “Ah, the perversity of inanimate objects,” my beloved Uncle would have softly sighed, shaking his head. His voice came to me from the dark crevice of my memory and in that moment, I wished with all my heart he were here with his arm around me.

I looked up at poor Sarah and shook off the wistfulness and embarrassment as best as I could. We had to find a way to salvage this party, or else Sarah would get the boot, and I, well, I would feel the wrong end of my husband’s frustration, to put it mildly. I excused myself from my husband’s side and went to seek out Chris.

I hadn’t always been like this. He hadn’t always been like this. Chris hadn’t always been Mister Christopher, and even he hadn’t always been like this. We had once lived in a small one-bedroom apartment that had one tiny bathroom with grout on its tiles and rust around the faucets and drains. It had overlooked a noisy city street, where women still hung the clothesline from one window across to the next while people bustled about on the pavement beneath the day’s laundry.

“We didn’t have a bucket to piss in,” my husband would say on those few occasions when he would look, really look into my eyes and see the nostalgia embedded in their gaze, “now look at all that I can give you!” He would puff out his chest and open his arms as if embracing the wealth around him. “What more do you want?”

Poverty, I always thought. I rather liked our poverty. Back then, my husband had been Jimmy; not Sir, not My Husband.

I liked Jimmy. Hell, I loved him. But Jimmy was long gone; he’d flown out the door the moment my Uncle’s inheritance had sashayed in. Without it, our business would not have taken off as it had. “You have to speculate to accumulate,” Jimmy had said as we’d walked out of the will reading, Chris turning somersaults in my overgrown belly. We found out soon enough what most wealthy people already know: the more you invest, the greater the return.

In a flash, we’d gone from the apartment, to a small house in suburbia, and finally to a mansion by the shore. I could not deny that I loved the mansion, with its stone lions guarding the front stoop. There was another pair of lions at the bottom of the terrace steps that led to the immense back lawn and gardens. I’ve never really liked those lions, they seem pompous and egocentric, like my husband; but the ones on the front stoop give off a different vibe. Somehow, they make me feel safe, glad to be home. The stoop lions remind me of Jimmy and I’ve always patted their frozen manes whenever I’ve walked by. I don’t know why, but I’ve always had that impression, ever since we bought the mansion. Perhaps it’s because the stoop lions sit sphinx-like as if proud yet humbled to guard the treasures within. Or maybe it’s because the terrace lions sit upright, each with their paw on a big round ball, as if forcing the world into submission to satisfy their whims.

Chris was born in the apartment, he took his first steps in the house and walked out of the mansion’s front door on his first day of school. He’d said goodbye to the front lions and stroked their petrified noses as we’d stepped onto the graveled half-moon driveway.

I’ve sometimes felt sorry for Chris. I don’t think he ever met Jimmy. I’m sure he saw remnants of Jimmy in his childhood; I recall a few occasions when Jimmy had gleamed in the back of my husband’s eyes, but Chris was barely out of diapers then.

I remember the last time we’d seen Jimmy. It was the Saturday after Chris’s first week in school. It had been a tough week for our little boy and we’d taken him to the park. As we’d arrived, my husband had opened the trunk and pulled out a dragon-shaped kite. We were both surprised and delighted. Chris had clapped his hands and such joy and fire had shown in his eyes that I still feel a lump in my throat when I think about it. Jimmy was with us all that day. He had laughed as carefree as before; he had played with his son, hugged him and kissed him and swung him around in his arms. Later, he had made love to me. As I’d gazed into his eyes, I’d marveled at the warmth and joy of Jimmy. I’d missed Jimmy and he’d come back, just for that one day

I walked through the terrace doors to try and persuade Chris to take his party somewhere else.  As I went down the big stone stairs, I felt my stiletto heel catch on a crack in the step and my ankle wobble. I remember thinking as I fell that I’ve always hated high heels, but that my husband insisted on me wearing them now that we were well-to-do.

“I’ll break my neck in them,” I’d always said.

“You must wear them, ladies of our class all wear them. You don’t want them to think you don’t belong, right?”

But I don’t belong, I thought as the cold stone shattered my elbow. I saw Chris rushing towards me, looking like his life was about to end too. It’s funny how death comes so quickly yet happens so slowly. I heard myself calling out to him and saw my name formed on his mouth as I rolled down the steps, but all I heard was the dull crack of my neck as I landed under the haughty gaze of the terrace lions.

I’m with my Uncle now. We are watching Chris cry on my grave with poor Sarah bawling on his shoulder. My husband looks on, cold as a stone lion.

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She had it all, but hated everyone and everything. Nothing was ever good enough for her; so Alice spent every day complaining about her life, her job and the people that surrounded her. No one was ever as smart or as pretty as she; no one could do anything as well as she. In her mind she was flawless and faults were unacceptable.

One day, she met Jason, and just like everyone else, he was not good enough. Alice was convinced that Jason didn’t mean anything to her, but she was only cheating herself. The truth was that Jason had impressed her deeply from the very start. Jason was tall and handsome and intelligent. He had been hired at her jobsite and was quickly climbing the corporate ladder. He was proving to be a valuable employee. He did things right the first time, just like Alice. He was nice, well-educated and unassuming, just like Alice (or so she thought). In any case, he was perfect. The perfect catch, the perfect man. But Alice had convinced herself that he wasn’t good enough because Jason was deaf. And in her flawless mind, deafness or blindness, or any other handicap was an intolerable fault.

Despite this huge blemish on Jason’s life resumé, Alice’s heart still skipped a beat when she saw him. Her mind swam with pleasure whenever the scent of his cologne floated to her through the sea of office cubes as he walked by. She woke up every weekday elated that she would see him; and during the day, whenever she bumped into him in the hall she would bask in the sunshine of this gaze.

Try as she might to reject and deny it, Alice was thoroughly smitten and her attitude towards Jason changed. She smiled at him, praised him whenever she could, and even tried to teach herself sign language from a book she’d borrowed from the library.

One day, she got up the courage to ask him out to lunch and, to Alice’s amazement, he agreed. In his mind, it was just a friendly outing between co-workers. In her mind, it was to be the date of her life. This was to be the date that defined everything for her, this was to be the most important hour of her life; excepting the future wedding ceremony, of course. During this one hour, she was going to bowl Jason over with her wit, her charm and her beauty; since Alice was certain she was in possession of all three. She was perfect, after all.

The next day Alice was slightly late for work. She had woken up extra early and spent much of the morning picking out her outfit, doing her hair and makeup to perfection. She was ready to conquer the man of her dreams. At lunchtime, she strutted to his cubicle in a tight red Nordstrom pencil dress, black Jimmy Choo stilettos and Prada handbag. She was a sight to behold. She even paused to look at her reflection in one of the windows and set her hair just right. Alice was hot, Alice was sexy and Jason would not be able to resist her.

Throughout the date, she was sensual and seductive. She gave it her all. She smiled, flirted and was certain that Jason was completely and irrevocably enamored of her charms. She was Alice, how could he not be?

Jason was a dream; he was kind and witty and in spite of that strange muffled quality of his voice, he was eloquent and gentlemanly. He was even sweet enough to point out her mistakes in sign language and praised her for the effort she was making in communicating with him. Alice brushed those comments off; she was certain she hadn’t made mistakes, her sign language was flawless, she had made sure of that. Perhaps Jason was just being polite by communicating in her preferred mode: the spoken word, and was using these so-called mistakes as a way to make her feel comfortable.

When they returned to the office, Jason accompanied her to her desk and said goodbye in the most polite manner. He assured her that he would love to lunch with her again and Alice’s heart raced as those blessed words flowed through her brain. Yes, she would very much like that too. Jason was hooked. She could take that to the bank.

That night, as she lay in bed she dreamed of the perfect relationship, the perfect wedding, and their future flawless life. She woke early again, and made herself up to perfection. Jason must think that Alice’s image was always perfect. She could not afford one single mistake now that she had met the man of her life.

Alice walked into work as if in a dream. She was still curt to those imperfects around her, but she felt herself light, featherlike, and very much in love. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw an envelope on her desk. It was not on company letterhead and looked rather personal. She was certain it was from Jason, and as she reached for her letter opener she imagined him coming in early just to give her that. She pictured him standing behind her as she read the letter, smiling like the sun, arms wide open while she rushed to his embrace.

She opened the envelope and read Jason’s letter. It began with a gentle explanation of how difficult it was for him to speak, since words always came out strange in his voice, and, while that normally wouldn’t stop him, he felt that in order to avoid any misunderstandings, in this case, he preferred to write.

He wrote about how flattered he was by her attentions, but that he didn’t think she’d be good fit for him. He didn’t like the way she treated others. He didn’t like the way she thought so highly of herself, and he was certain he did not want a romantic relationship with someone like that. He wrote about her initial attitude towards him and his deafness, her curtness towards her peers, and her rudeness towards those that made no difference in her life.

He wrote about how he believed there were five crucial conditions for a good relationship. The first, was that both parties had to like each other. In their case, there was no doubt about that; she was very pretty, he wrote, but there had to be more than that. The second condition he sought in a relationship was the way a potential partner would treat him. That meant a lot to him, he wrote, especially because of his condition, and Alice, who had recently showered him with praise, had not always been so attentive towards him. Third, it was important for him to see how she treated those she loved, both in good times and in bad times. He admitted that he had not been privy to that behavior, since it seemed that Alice did not have many friends at the office, and he had only seen her at work. Fourth, he always paid attention to how she treated people who were indifferent to her, and in these instances, he had seen a lot. Alice was rude and boorish, especially to those who worked under her, not only at the office, but elsewhere too. He even gave an example of how she had yelled at the waiter the day before because he had forgotten to bring the ketchup. And five, it’s always important to note how a potential partner treats her enemies; and he had seen how Alice had destroyed a poor colleague’s career by taking credit for all the work and blaming all the mistakes on him. It had not escaped him, Jason wrote, that that man was first in line for a promotion, and that Alice, had received it instead.

So, he concluded, while Alice was a very beautiful woman on the outside, it seemed to him, that she did not fit his other conditions and that it would be best if they just remained colleagues and friends. Perhaps, he went on, if Alice rethought her attitude, someday, his feelings towards her might change.

Alice read the letter, crumpled it up and threw it away. In her mind, Jason had passed on a great love with someone beautiful, smart and flawless. But in reality, Alice had missed out on a wonderful relationship because of her ego.

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 Ask and You Will Receive

Today of all days he had to be late for Art class. Jennifer had detained him, only to nag about their relationship.

She’d gone on and on forever about how he never touched her anymore. How he never cared about her life anymore. How he never gave her anything anymore. How he’d changed, how she’d changed. How she needed more. She’d yakked and yakked and yakked until the conversation had led to a big fight. As he’d rushed to class, he’d felt himself adrift, out to sea with no sail and no oar; unable to decide whether to stay with Jennifer or leave.

He liked Jennifer and he had been in love with her once. But now, that love wasn’t just fading, it was turning into something else, something dark and toxic; something he dared not experience, and yet, what could he do? He had never been good at breakups. His timing had always been terrible. The last time he’d put it off for so long that the girl had broken up with him instead. But he knew Jennifer would not break up with him. When he looked in her eyes, he still saw the same spark burning as brightly as at the beginning; but now there was something cloudy behind it. Was it disappointment? Anger? Despair? Or maybe just the need to hold on to what once had been? He wondered whether Jennifer saw something else in his eyes too; maybe she saw something that fueled this new opacity.

Even though he knew he was late, he paused at the door, his fingers tight around the handle and eyes closed. He took a deep breath and asked for a sign. He needed guidance, he needed something to show him which way to go.

He opened the door. As his eyes adjusted and he came out of his reverie, he thought he was looking at a Botticelli. The Birth of Venus, to be precise. She was standing in front of the class on the small podium dedicated only for the models. She was stark naked and holding a staff the professor had presumably given her. Her long hair flowed in a braid down her right shoulder.

Lo and behold, here was this goddess, this Aphrodite born of the sea, standing right in front of him; beckoning him to come closer, to take her, to ask her about her day, her life, her future, and hoping against hope that her future might include him. Kevin was dumbstruck as he closed the door behind him.

“Mr Jackson, would you care to answer the question?” the Professor’s voice brought him out of his astonishment, while the class looked up. Some people smirked.

“I, um, I didn’t hear the question. Um, could you please repeat it?” The whole class laughed, while the Venus smiled shyly. Kevin couldn’t take his eyes off her and her smile made his heart skip. He felt it touch him deep down there. Down where he shouldn’t feel anything for anyone else but Jennifer.

“The question was, is there a reason for your tardiness?”

“No sir, I was kept late by someone, is all.”

“Nothing serious, I hope?” the Professor asked raising an eyebrow.

“No sir, time just got away from me. I apologize.”

“Very well, don’t let it happen again. As I’ve already said, we have a new model working with us. Mr. Jackson, please meet Miss Summers.” The Professor pointed at the goddess. Kevin looked her right in the eye.

“It’s nice to meet you. I’m Kevin.”

The goddess met his gaze, and for just an instant he thought he saw her pupils dilate briefly. He’d always thought that was myth. It hadn’t happened with Jennifer; the spark in her eyes had been lit later on during their acquaintance.

The goddess smiled, and with a voice as soft and rolling as the dawn said, “I’m Stella.”