Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Monday, October 31, 2011

Minor Arcana

by Laura Eppinger

Sylvia glides from the kitchen to the bedroom of the dark Milwaukee apartment, cradling a steaming mug in her hands. This is a walk she has made many times. As she lifts the bed covers, Brandon looks up from his magazine.

“Be careful! I just changed the sheets.”

She laughs. “It’s just hot water.”

“I’m telling you, one day you’re going to get water poisoning…”

“You know I only like the warmth in my hands,” she takes a whiff. “And the steam. Besides, you’ve been saying that for years. Hasn’t happened.”

“What else have I been saying for years?” he asks.

She wrinkles up her nose. “That you’ve quit smoking. You think I can’t smell that? Don’t say anything—Gauloises do count.”


“Goo-wah-wah-wah. That’s all I hear when you talk.”

“You know what I’ve been saying for years?”


“That I love you.”

“Not on that first day. You said all sorts of things though…”

“Like ‘excuse me’ when you walked into me in that café.”

“What? You stepped on my toes while you were walking up to the counter. I was wearing sandals, and it hurt.”

“And you spilled your mug, but you said—”

“I told you ‘it’s only hot water’ and you looked at me like I was crazy.”

“I thought you were doing some type of cleanse or something. I thought you’d tell me next that you drank vinegar for fun.”

“Ha! You thought I was on some new age diet.”

“Something like that, and was I so far off?”

“Oh, you mean because I was having my cards read?”

“Mmmhmm. How did I get you to tell me that?”’

“Well, I wasn’t embarrassed. I don’t know, you asked if I lived on the east side, and I said no. I used to walk to Brady Street every Sunday morning to talk to that tarot card reader. I didn’t want to start my week without some guess at what was going to happen.”

“Yes, you did say that. I asked you what was in store for you that week, but you evaded the question.”

“Not quite. I believe I said ‘Nothing.’”

“I thought you were hiding something.”

“Like what?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Isn’t there a card for Death? Or worse, that you were supposed to meet your soul mate that week, that it was supposed to be me.”

“That would’ve been worse?”

“Well, I wanted to know. But you changed the subject—you said it was time for you to walk back to the Third Ward, but I was welcome to walk with you…”

“Again, you thought I was crazy.”

“That’s a long walk! Now, if you said you biked, I would’ve thought that was fine.”

“But then you couldn’t have come with me.”

“And I did.”

“Yes you did. Hitting on me the whole time.”

“I was a perfect gentleman.”

“We passed that Persian rug store, and you asked me if I’d take care of one if you bought it for me.”

“I was just being playful. I asked if you’d make sure to take it outside and beat it every once in while. What you said was far more shocking.”

“I just told you that you don’t have to beat rugs—you just turn them upside down and vacuum them, and when you move them, all the dust has already fallen out. So you sweep up all that and you’re done.”

“I was convinced you were a traveling rug saleswoman, or an importer—and I told you so. I made elaborate guesses about your adventurous life. You wouldn’t entertain a single one.”

“I thought, ‘Why should I lie?’ And so I told you that I cleaned houses for a while. I said ‘It was my job and it wasn’t romantic.’ Well, you jumped on that.”

“I told you it would’ve been romantic if you’d seduced a rich employer.”

“And it was my sad duty to inform you that I worked at a senior citizen apartment complex, and that most of my clients were widows.”

“I thought you were fascinating.”

“Because I cleaned houses?”

“Because you looked like any other university student in that silky summer dress—which didn’t have a blue collar, by the way.”

“Still clever after all these years, aren’t you? Anyway, we made it to Broadway, and I wanted to stall. I didn’t want to say goodbye to you yet.”

“I’d hoped that’s what was going on. You took me into that fancy paper store, and it was stocked with stationary for wedding invitations, and baby photo albums. I was very curious about why we were there…”

“It must have been a relief to hear me say, ‘Origami paper.’”

“It was, except I didn’t know what to do with it.”

“I couldn’t believe you’d never made a paper crane. I was planning to decorate my bedroom with them—to hang them from wires from the ceiling.”

“Very kind of you to invite me to your apartment for an origami lesson—you’re blushing! Even now!”

“We both knew what we were getting into. OK, not in the long term, but that afternoon…”

“You taught me all sorts of things. Except…”


“You never told me what that tarot card reader predicted. I noticed you never went again.”

“But I did tell you: nothing. That day, all 10 of my cards were minor arcana—no royalty. She was astounded by how unimpressive they were. She said things like, ‘The Pentacles remind you to be generous’ and ‘The Wands warn you of naysayers.’ But she prepared me for the most average and usual week of my life. And then I went to Rochambo Café and met you.”

“And you thought I was unusual?”

“I thought you were the Devil incarnate. But she should have seen you coming, if she could see anything at all. So I stopped asking for her advice.”

“Well, maybe I am just a minor event in your life?”

“If that were the case, I’d have to meet you for the first time, every day of my life. Running into you would be the norm.”

“In that case, I think I forgot how to fold a paper crane. Can you show me?”


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