La Force et Le Mat

Gesù had only been reading the tarot for about three years, and even he was amazed at how, in his estimation, overly complimented he was for his “skills.” The truth was, tarot reading was like everything else: sizing up someone’s vulnerabilities and preying on them. In Martine’s case, it was quite clear she was insecure, of herself, of her identity. Gesù would be able to use that quite effortlessly in what he would tell her for the duration of their thirty-minute reading.

As for Martine, well, she really hadn’t the slightest notion of what was coming, of how psychological an interaction with a tarot reader is, it being her first time and all at the table. She had only come to support a friend who had recently entered “the society,” one that put on monthly gatherings in the loose form of a party mixed with performances and readings (of the present and future–they didn’t fuck with that past bullshit). Jeanne had been diligent in her studies of both palm reading and tarot, but had to focus more on the former category in order to give herself an edge. Everyone wants to read the cards, after all. And no one wants to touch hands. Not in this overly sanitized, sexless climate. Even in Paris. In fact, Martine had seen so little of Jeanne over the past few months as she threw herself into the society and her studies that this seemed like the longest block of time they had even been in the same room despite living together. That Jeanne had found her niche and her calling was both a joy and a sadness to Martine, who still appeared to be searching for something she would either never find or didn’t actually exist. Where she ended up and why was as much of a mystery to her as it was to anyone else. Something in her indecision and vacillation leading her to all manner of strange places both physically and mentally across the globe. For the past year and a half, however, it had been Paris that managed to keep her in its clutches. Yet lately, she was starting to feel that itch, that old need to bolt over some indescribable loneliness that made her believe it could be shaken with the mere changing of cities.

As she picked up her umpteenth glass of red wine from the bar (three euro per cost glass be damned), Jeanne, all bedecked in costume cliches save for the modified for “psychics” turban, approached her with a gleeful aura and insisted, “You should get a reading. I think it would really help you in your situation right now.”

My situation, Martine thought, wanting to slap Jeanne for reducing her life to such a non-word. One of those filler nouns designed to say nothing at all. She supposed that’s how her existence probably would come across to most people though. But Martine didn’t want to be difficult. She was already known, if known at all, for being just that. And for once she wanted to be truly and willingly amenable. Then again, was this just another instance of her going with the current that bum-rushed her despite loosely trying to go against it at first in a vain attempt to pretend she had any control over her own destiny?

“I’m going to pair you with Gesù. He’s really good. He’ll tell you what you need to know.”

Martine was open-minded enough not to roll her eyes, though maybe she should have had she known what was actually going on behind Gesù’s thought process in “reading” her. One glance was all he needed to gain immediate cognizance of her self-doubt and instability. And the most facile people to blame these types of characteristics on–or anything really–were one’s parents.

“So this is your first time I hear?”

“Yes. Sorry you have to be the one to do it.”

“Don’t apologize. I want you to take these cards, shuffle them and then pick one to place here on your right representing who you are as a person.”

Martine did as she was told, shuffling languidly before taking a card out of the deck to reveal Le Monde. It was already getting heavy and they had barely begun. Gesù folded his hands and said, “Can you tell me a little bit about your childhood?”

Martine was taken aback. She had no idea of the therapy session this was quickly going to evolve into. Or devolve, depending on your stance on therapy. “Um, well. Wow. I just…I wasn’t aware I would need to…”

“It’s okay, just tell me a few things you’re comfortable sharing about it.”

“Well…um…”

“Do you have a sibling? Brother? Sister?”

“Sister.”

“I see. And what was that relationship like when you were younger?”

Martine paused, flashing back to all the times she had simply resigned herself to being the “quiet one” in any scenario, as her sister had this tendency to take up all the air in whichever room she entered. It could be suffocating. And it was. Describing this to Gesù, he nodded and asked, “And your parents? Did they ever intervene? Notice this dynamic?”

“I think they did, but chose to ignore it. Like everything else. So now, I guess I, too, kind of ignore everything that’s happening around me. Almost to the point where I know that I can’t possibly be experiencing the same reality as everyone else.”

Gesù nods knowingly (that always gets them every time, he thinks inwardly) and asserts, “Le Monde almost always signifies the end of one life’s cycle and the beginning of a new one. But it seems you are, like Sophia suspended in midair, unable to move on to the next cycle and take your place where you belong. And if Le Monde represents who you are as a person, then you are someone who can effortlessly interchange among the four elements, which is good and bad, because it only makes it easier for you to avoid settling on any one thing or place.

Martine felt frozen, this tarot reading was giving her more of an existential crisis than her entire life had up to now. Nonetheless, Gesù continued, “Now choose two cards to place in the center. These are meant to be what’s blocking you from achieving your ultimate goal.”

Sighing with resignation, Martine chose La Force and Le Mat cards. Seemed accurate, considering it takes a lot of strength to be a fool with the level of commitment that Martine had. “All right, so these are the things keeping you from what you want. And strength doesn’t necessarily mean fortitude in this case. When you look at the woman, the way she’s essentially taming that lion, we see there is a war on this card. The one that exists between earthly pleasures/carnal lust and ability to hone enlightenment toward a more spiritual, divine path.” Gesù is silent momentarily, for dramatic effect of course. “Are you the type of person who gives in easily to pleasure?”

The director of the movie called Martine’s Life probably feels inclined to smash cut to all the times she’s been railed in bathrooms, bedrooms, closets and cars–or simply snorted rails in bathrooms, bedrooms, closets and cars. But that director is busy driving the narrative somewhere else, so Martine says, simply and honestly, “Absolutely.”

“Perhaps this is the ultimate thing holding you back then, the thing that has turned you into the Fool. Le Mat. But the Fool is more vagabond than anything else. In fact the term ‘le mat’ is an archaic word for ‘madman’ or ‘beggar.’ One and the same, most people believe.” Gesù gently touches Martine’s hand, knowing that this is the optimal moment to pounce on her susceptibility to suggestion. “You are on the Fool’s Journey right now. It is a classic trope. Something the Fool takes to unearth the enigma of life–what it means, who it favors.”

“Clearly not me,” Martine chimes in for the first time in a while. She’s been seemingly glazed over in awe by Gesù’s performance.

“We shall see about that. Pick the next card.”

Martine obeys, slowly pulling out La Papesse to represent the present. Gesù titters, “Ah yes, The High Priestess, possibly an allusion to the myth of Pope Joan. And after all, you are getting a reading from Gesù. It was bound to be religious.”

Martine had to laugh. It was all one could do in the face of absurdity. Gesù adopted an expression of revelation as he noted, “Now here we are back to the question you want answered. About where you should ‘be’–on this physical plane anyway. La Papesse is one of the ultimate figures of divine femininity. And within her dwells the very essence of the celestial. Any home she could ever want or need is inside of her. You are your own home, don’t you see? You don’t need to be at a fixed point in order for the world to accept you.”

She had never, in all her time on earth, had anyone tell her that she didn’t need to choose. Gesù was, thus, becoming her savior. “Why don’t you pick the final card?” Gesù dichotomously urges after just telling her she doesn’t have to choose, realizing he has to keep her wanting more if she’s going to come back or recommend him to someone else. Or at least fucking tip.

As Martine selects the last card, Gesù reminds, this will be the future, an aim to strive for. And so she pulls out Le Pape.

“Ah, so the religious motif continues. And obviously you have some sort of gender divide either going on inside of you, or affecting those around you.”

Martine chortles. “Mostly men posing as men is the gender divide in my and any other girl’s life.”

“How was your mother? When you were younger? I ask because I see her in this card. And because the Hierophant can symbolize a person who is a teacher or counsellor, who can fulfill that role for helping you on your journey.”

“I don’t know, she was…working a lot. To become a counsellor, actually. At a time when it still wasn’t socially acceptable for women to do anything other than cater to their children.”

“What about your grandmother? Did she have a distinct place or did she go with what she was told?”

“It was really my mother who started the trend. Of etching out an identity separate from one tied to a man.”

“Your mother lies within le Pape and la Papesse, I would talk to her. She will be the one to give you the wisdom you seek. I would ask her for her acceptance. It doesn’t appear you feel accepted. Not by her, or anyone in your family.”

“Okay, but…”

“This question you’re asking, about where ‘your place’ is. It doesn’t exist. You never even had it in the very first entity you’re supposed to: the family. It is therefore within you. But perhaps because of how it was with your parents when you were a child, when you could not carve out a place for yourself there, nor could you then do it in the world. That’s why you’re kind of floundering with the flow, but not really sure where to be right now.”

Gesù could feel himself possibly being overly severe with Martine and possibly saying many contradictory things at once, but something honestly possessed him in these final moments of the reading, as though he had to make her understand that her uncertainty and fear was going to eat her alive soon–send her down a track of truly no return.

“You have to tell the world who you are, or it will not address you. You must declare your identity, and everything else will follow. If you do not say anything, no one will hear you.”

With that, he pulled out his final stop and disappeared into thin air through the tried and true system of a trap door and a smoke bomb. Martine thought it was a bit much, and she might have actually attempted to talk to her mother had it not been for this final element of bombast serving to accent this was all fake. Nothing, in fact, was real, she learned the next morning when she awoke next to Jeanne holding a bloodied knife she had used to dig into the lines of her palms. Identity carving. Or something. Even if it was one Jeanne hadn’t initially wanted, she had chosen a line that others basically forced upon her (palm reading instead of tarot reading) and was sticking to it. Martine did not believe she would ever be able to say the same.

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