Destiny Jones watched the rain against the window and cradled her coffee mug in both hands. Like many naturally thin people, she had low blood pressure. And like many people with low blood pressure, she felt the cold. And on a cold November day, a single gas bottle heater cuts through the cold like a cheese knife through concrete.

The radio announced the composer of the week was Edgard Varese. “Varese said that in ‘Arcana’,” the announcer said, “you may finally find my thought.” The radio began what sounded like an orchestra in pain, and she sighed and retuned it. After avoiding the cricket commentary, which appeared to be talking about seagulls and a yelling DJ exclaiming about the merits of a particularly obscure dance record, the door opened just as she found a more soothing station. Sighing, she put the radio back down, called up a fake smile, and turned around.

The young couple who had come into the shop were smiling, jostling each other and giggling conspiratorially. It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to spot young love, Jones thought.

“Do you do tarot readings?” the young man blurted out. “Only we were passing and thought -”

“Oh go on,” the woman interrupted. “Please do, it’ll be fun.”

Jones eyed them, arching an eyebrow.

“Pretty please?” the woman asked, the smile giving way to a half-grimace.

“I do,” Jones said, and held up a hand to stall any celebrations. “But I must warn you that the tarot cards are not a thing to be taken lightly, and their original purpose must be borne in mind.”

“What was their original purpose?” the man asked.

“Gambling,” Jones said. “And as anyone who’s ever been to a casino knows, the house always wins. So I want cash up front.”

The two burst out laughing, and Jones smiled, pleased to have read their mood correctly.

“Seriously though,” she said, leading them towards the back door. “There’s a lot more to the tarot cards than you think. Some people say they tell the future, but not always in the way that you expect.”

Jones poured coffee from the pot, took their money, and then brought them into the back room. From the sideboard against the wall, she brought out a pack of tarot cards.

“Now, who am I going to read first?” she asked, shuffling the cards.

The woman pointed at her boyfriend. “Him,” she said, shaking her head. “Just him. Not me. No fear.”

“Shuffle them, then, Him,” she said, handing them to the man. “Then cut.”

“It’s Dave,” he said, taking the cards. “And she’s Gwen.”

“You can call me Des,” Jones said. “It’s short for Destiny, something I’ve never really yet forgiven my mother for inflicting on me.”

Dave laughed, and it was enough to break his concentration: the cards spilled all over the table.


“That’s all right,” Jones said shaking her head. “Just gather them up and cut.”

Dave gingerly gathered them together, took cards from halfway down, and then put them to one side, then put the lower pile on top of the other and passed them back to Jones.

She took the first card from the pack and laid it on the table.

“The moon,” Jones said, turning the card the right way up. “That’s a dog and a wolf howling at it.”

The girl pointed at the water at the bottom of the card. “And a lobster coming out for a stroll.”

“The moon doesn’t look very happy,” the man said.

“It’s frowning,” Jones explained. “Basically this card represents the separation of imagination from reality.”

“But what does it mean?” the girl asked.

“It’s saying to be still, be calm, and be patient, and all will be revealed,” Jones said.

“Either that or the universe wants us to get a pet dog,” the man replied.

“Or a lobster,” Gwen said. “The playwright Alfred Jarry had a pet lobster. I found that out when we did Ubu Roi in drama class.”

Jones smiled and turned over the second card. It showed a naked child riding a white horse, underneath a blazing sun.

“The sun,” Jones said. “It symbolises optimism, enlightenment, positive feelings.”

“Nothing like the newspaper then,” the woman giggled.

The man coughed and smiled. “She’s from Liverpool.”

Jones raised an eyebrow. “With that accent, I’d never have guessed.”

The woman giggled.

“You’re engaged, you two, aren’t you?”

They stared at her.

“How did you know that?”

“Nothing supernatural.” Jones held up her right hand and pointed at her third finger. “You’ve got matching rings.”

“I see you haven’t though,” the girl said. “Nobody special?”

“I did once,” Jones replied. “It’s a long story, but basically he left me.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” the man said.

“I’m not,” Jones said. “At least I wasn’t when I found out he had three other girlfriends.”

Gwen winced.

“Anyway,” the medium continued, waving her hand over the card. “This is good. Innocence, that sort of thing.”

Jones dealt the next card from the top of the pack. It showed an angel by a river, pouring water into a cup.

“Temperance,” she said.

“Like ‘Bones’, in the TV show?”

“Not quite,” Jones held back a sigh. “Actually in a lot of tarot sets, this card is called Art instead. Basically this is to show the attainment of a goal or mastery of something. So it sort of ties in with the knowledge from the last card.”

She turned over the next card. It showed a skeleton, in armour, riding a white horse. Underneath the card was written “Death.”

“Oh,” Gwen gasped. “That can’t be good.”

“Actually this is less frightening than you think,” Des said.

“He looks a pretty scary dude to me,” Dave said.

Jones smiled. “It basically means an end. Or even a change. And that usually implies an increased sense of self awareness.”

“Is he stepping on a king?” Gwen asked.

“It looks like it.” Dave replied.

“He is,” Jones explained. “But all that implies is that when change comes, nobody can really stop it just because they want to, no matter how powerful they are.”

“Ah,” Dave said. “So far I think I’m going to die, become a teetotal werewolf and howl at the moon.”

“Something like that,” Jones said. “Last card then.”

The final card was The Hanged Man: a man hanging by one foot from a tree, with a halo around his head.

“Are there any cards in there that aren’t horrible?” Gwen asked.

“This just means self-sacrifice,” Jones replied, dodging the question. “In Italy during the middle ages this was the punishment for traitors. Except here it’s a saint, so this is self-sacrifice. It essentially means enlightenment, prudence, wisdom.”

“So I’m going to become a really clever werewolf?” Dave asked.

“Perhaps,” Jones smiled. “Who knows?”


“There’s nothing in this tarot lark,” Dave said. “Is there?”

“Nah,” Gwen shook her head. “Not really.”

He pointed over the road to a pub called ‘The Moon Under Water’.

“Do you wanna go get some dinner?”

“Love to,” she said, taking his arm.

They crossed the road and entered. Gwen looked around the pub for a table, and Dave grabbed one of the loan papers from the rack. They settled on a table by the corner window, and Dave picked up the menu.

“You got the Sun?” Gwen asked.

“Only paper they had,” he said, handing her the card. “I’m having the gammon steak.”

“You always do,” she replied, eyes scanning the list of dishes. “Small rump steak for me.”

“Lager and lime?”

“Just a lemonade. I think I’ve had enough today if I’m honest,” she said, shaking her head. “And I’m trying to lose weight as it is.”

“Says she who’s having a rump steak.”

“The small one!” she grinned, waggling a finger at him.

He stood up, blew her a kiss and went to the bar.

The barman came over, wearing a heavy metal t-shirt, showing a thin man with rotting flesh. Underneath the picture, it said “Leprosy”.

“Evening guv’nor, what can I get you?”

“Gammon steak and a small rump please,” Dave said. “And who’s on the shirt?”

“Album cover,” the barman replied. “Band called Death. Chuck Schuldiner, best guitarist ever if you ask me. Can I take your table number?”

“Table six.”

“Anything to drink?”

“A lemonade and a pint of lager please.”

“I’ll bring them over.”

By the time they finished eating, it was raining again.

“Here,” Dave said, handing her his jacket. “You got soaked last time.”

Gwen looked at him.

“Self-sacrifice,” she said. “That was the last card.”

They glanced across the road at Jones’s shop. It was closed, and the shutters down.

“The Moon was upside down,” Dave said, realisation kicking in. “The water was at the top.”

“They only had the Sun.”

“And you only had lemonade.”

“So where did Death come into it?” Gwen asked.

“The barman’s shirt.”

Gwen pointed across the road. “Maybe we should go tell her, one day.”

“You know what?” Dave scratched his nose. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she already knew.”

Gwen nodded.

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go home.”


The post “Arcana” first appeared on and is Copyright © Simon Collis 2018. All rights reserved.

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