|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Tries To Help Her Sister, Part 1|
Rowena got a phone call from her sister. “It's really over this time,” Maralynne said.
“Oh, Maralynne. What happened?”
“She's younger than me; he left me for a younger woman.”
“Maralynne, if she's younger than you—”
“She's two years younger. She's a college girl. She—it's not fair. She does all this exotic stuff for him. It's not right.”
“She cooks for him. Like—she cooks. She's a Home Ec major. Rowena, I can't compete.”
“Maralynne, are you sure he's really—”
“I did everything for him!” Maralynne wailed. “All of the underwear I bought, the toys for both of us, the breast implants—”
“I thought those were for your Career.”
“Whatever. I did everything, and now he runs off with this—this Floozy Homemaker. It isn't fair.”
“Maralynne. I'm sorry, really, but that's—that's kind of the way he is, isn't it? I mean—”
“Some sister you are. You're supposed to sympathize.”
“All I mean is maybe now you can find someone better. You—”
“He was supposed to be better. It's that—that Betsy. I ought to—”
“Maralynne, as I recall, you stole Brian from Janeen in the first place.”
“But I did it honestly. I didn't pander to his appetite.”
“Come over and cheer me up. It's your duty.” Rowena thought she heard a clinking noise over the line.
“Maralynne, are you drinking?”
“No,” said Maralynne, “I am not drinking.” Rowena distinctly heard a swallowing noise. “Now I'm drinking.”
“Cheer me up, dammit,” Maralynne said.
By the time Rowena arrived, she was prepared to have to pick her sister off the floor and carry her to the couch, or, God forbid, the bathroom. But Maralynne was not nearly that drunk.
“There was hardly any booze in the place,” she said. “I hate grocery shopping.”
“There isn't any food, either, so I can't offer you any. I think there's some instant coffee.”
“Fine.” Rowena looked around, fearing the worst. The apartment was a shambles, but no worse than usual, as far as she could tell. So far, so good. She was surprised to see half a dozen books lying around, but on inspection found that they were all about relationships, or the occult, or both.
“That's a good one,” Maralynne said. “It describes the situation perfectly.” She hunted for a clean cup. “I'm just too giving. Too generous for my own good.”
“Maralynne, I frankly—”
“And of course a guy like Brian is gonna take advantage of that. I thought we were compatible, what with his being a Cancer. You know how they are about home and family.” She found a cup and banged it onto the counter. “A Home Ec major. I should have known.”
“Maybe this time you can find a guy who likes to cook. Then—”
“Yeah, right. Maybe he'll like to do the housework, too. Think there are any guy Home Ec majors out there?” Maralynne glared at an empty bottle, picked it up and tipped it. “I should have bought some more booze,” she said. “Want to run to the store for me?”
“I did not come here to buy you booze,” Rowena said. She made herself sit down and tried to look relaxed. “You wanna talk?”
Maralynne poured water from the teakettle into Rowena's cup. “I dunno. I shouldn't waste my breath on that jerk. Bad enough I wasted half my life.”
“Well, it feels like half my life.” Maralynne brought her the coffee. “A Pisces and a Cancer; that's supposed to be a match made in the heavens.”
“Listen, Maralynne, about the Astrology and—”
“I'm supposed to be irresistible, too. As a Pisces, I mean; not just my looks. Real feminine, you know? Which of course I am, but that bastard—”
“Maralynne, I don't think you should rely on that stuff. Life is—”
“Yeah, yeah; you're a Leo; you think you know it all. Always right, always perfect. You always—”
“Maralynne, that stuff is hogwash. I'm sorry, but it is. You have to live your—”
“That's it. Sneer. You always do. And all the time . . .” She ruffled up her hair, then turned accusing eyes on Rowena. “Sammy's a Scorpio, isn't he?”
“Maralynne, that is not very relevant. In fact—”
“You'll see. One of these days you just won't be perfect enough and he'll never forgive you for it, whatever it is, and it'll be all over.”
“Maralynne, I'm getting a little tired of all this Astrology garbage.”
“You never could handle bad news.” Rowena put her head down on her arms and began counting silently. “I'm just warning you. You're too headstrong for a Scorpio. He's gonna need someone who can really take care of him.” Maralynne drummed her fingers on the table. “I always wanted to try a Scorpio.”
Rowena took a deep breath and raised her head. “You don't try a boyfriend,” she said, “and certainly not on the basis of his astrological sign. You like a guy, he likes you for who you are, you learn to trust him—with reason—you—”
“They're intuitive, too. It'd be great to have an intuitive man. It's so hard to be intuitive on your own. Not that you'd know.”
“Am I imperfect enough to lose my temper?” Rowena yelled. “I don't want to hear another word about Astrology. Not another word!”
“God,” said Maralynne. “Bite my head off.” She fidgeted a moment, then rose. “C'mere,” she said, crossing to the living room. Rowena gulped the last of her coffee and followed.
She came to a stop a few feet from her sister's coffee table. The table was spread with a deck of colorful cards which were not meant for playing poker. Maralynne was bent over the table, gathering the cards up.
“I did a reading on myself,” she said. “I was too hasty getting together with Brian. Naturally Card 2, my Current Situation, was Yama, the Death God, so of course I have to use a lot of self-discipline to start my life over—”
“Maralynne,” said Rowena with what seemed to her to be remarkable calm, “that's doubtless a good idea, but—”
“I'm to break off with him entirely. Of course there are big changes in store for me, and of course my family has been no help at all—”
“You want me to leave?”
“Sit down,” Maralynne said. She backed Rowena into a chair and handed her the cards. “Shuffle.”
“Maralynne, I don't think—”
“Just do it.” Maralynne sighed. “According to the cards, I'm in trouble. Card 10 is Decline. Decline, of all things.”
Rowena shut her eyes and shuffled. Time to let it all wash over her.
“Watch what you're doing,” her sister was saying. “You're spilling cards everywhere.” Rowena opened her eyes and picked the cards up. She was still determined not to say anything. After a few more shuffles she gave Maralynne the little stack and sank back into her chair. For a while there was only the whisper and slap of cards being dealt. And a moment of silence.
“Well, you keep to yourself,” Maralynne said, “and you pretty much expect the worst. Card 2 is Tyr, real warlike, so you have that kind of situation to deal with.” Rowena peered at her, but was still resolved to keep quiet. “In the short term you've got Romance, so you're hoping your relationship will work out. You'd think I'd have drawn that card, you know, find a new guy—”
“You would think so,” Rowena couldn't help saying.
“I have to cleanse myself of You-Know-Who first, though . . . so that's love and intimacy and trust and fulfillment and marriage—”
“Maralynne,” said Rowena gently. Her sister took a breath.
“So that, and, let's see, your Influence from the Deep Past—that's the Love card. So you had a nourishing childhood, not like mine—”
“Maralynne, don't be silly. You know better than that. You were there.”
“But you were always the favorite.”
“What favorite? Maralynne, I got pushed around, just like you.”
“No buts. You're a big girl now. It's time for you to take control of your life.”
Maralynne sniffed. “Yeah, that's what the cards said.” Rowena opened her mouth, but Maralynne went back to her Tarot. “You've had hardships in your recent past,” she said. “That's something.” Rowena opened her mouth again, then closed it. “I guess that was that Neil guy. Speaking of whom, you're a fine one—”
“Well,” said Rowena, “if I'd had a reading first, maybe all that could have been avoided. Depending on how the psychic felt that day.”
“Maybe.” Maralynne was past sarcasm. “Let me know first next time, okay? Let's see, next we have Doom.”
“Keep in mind that it also means a fresh start, some kind of change.”
“Sounds like it means whatever you want it to.”
“At a rough guess, Sammy is going to dump you.”
“Is it true, what they say about Scorpios in bed?”
“How do you know I'm not going to dump him?”
“Or you could change jobs or something. Whatever. You've also got hidden poetic fantasies and stuff. But they're deep; you might not know about them.”
“What kind of thing is that—”
“Now, here for your family influences, you've got the Virgin Mother.”
Rowena laughed. “That's where all the nurturing came from, huh? This is—”
“This means you love nature and stuff. Plus you might get pregnant.”
“Let me get this straight.”
“If that was Card 9 or something, you might get pregnant. I'm getting confused.”
“Actually, Maralynne, if you ask me—”
“Your Unexpected Fortune is Passage, which is pretty much what it sounds like. And your Probable Conclusion—that's the Hermit card, which is very spiritual. Maybe you'll discover the New Age after all.”
“I doubt that.”
“You could be enlightened. You may end up alone, but you'll learn from it and . . .” She trailed off. “I should have had that card. I'm alone; why didn't I get that card?”
“Dumb luck. I bet if you did it again, it would be all different.”
“Why was I even born?” Maralynne wailed. Rowena jumped up, scrabbled the cards together and shuffled them with vigor.
“There!” she said. “Do it again!” Maralynne sniffled and blew her nose. “Deal them out!” Rowena said. “Go on!”
Maralynne set the cards out, still sniffling. “There!” Rowena said. “All different.” But Maralynne let out another wail.
“Love!” she cried. “Romance! Happiness! Empress! Salvation!” she all but sobbed. “The Outcome card is Salvation!”
“Whatever happened to—”
“Dewi! Reward! Success! Grace! Alliance! It doesn't get much better. Where's Protection? You've got about everything else.”
“Maralynne—Maralynne, calm down. Look—”
“You always had all the luck. You always—”
“What, my life gets that much better in three minutes? For God's sake, Maralynne.”
Maralynne grabbed up the cards and shuffled them furiously. “Once more,” she growled between her teeth. “Just once more.”
Rowena watched apprehensively. Her sister banged the cards onto the table, one at a time, loudly.
“Loss! Yeah! So what else is new? Disillusion! Of course! What else? No duh!”
“Defeat! That's my short-term goal! Defeat!”
“How can Defeat be your—”
“Hardship! Yes! That's my stinking childhood, back when you were basking in adoration and love!”
“Who, me? Maralynne, get a grip.”
“Oppression! Right! Sorrow! Sorrow is my near future! You could have fooled me!”
“Maralynne, please—” But she shook Rowena off and slapped down another card.
“Cruelty! My not-so-secret fear! Regret! That's my life, all over! Tyr! Death and disease and war and God knows what else—that's my Unexpected Fortune, only how can I not expect it? And the Final Outcome!” she shrieked. Rowena wanted to snatch the last card from her, but Maralynne was too quick.
“Ruin!” Maralynne screamed. “Ruin! Ruin! Ruin!”
Rowena pushed her into a chair. “Maralynne, you know it's not that bad. You—”
“It's about as bad as it can get! Even Doom has its good points, but that—” And she waved at the cards.
“Maralynne, he was no good! You're better off without him! Now you can start over and make a better job of it! Don't you see that?”
“Better! Nothing better will come to me.”
“Rubbish! You just have to use your brains. Think for yourself. Are you listening? Believe whatever you want but live as if your life is yours and your decisions count. Do you hear me?”
“I bet you cook for your Sammy.”
“I can teach you, if you like. But don't go jumping into things, okay?” Maralynne muttered under her breath, but Rowena ignored her. “Remember the Doom card?” she asked, and plunged on to forestall her sister's interruption. “You know how you said it goes both ways, good and bad? Well, most things are like that, and that's where your brains come in. Okay? Don't take everything at face value, and don't give up before you start.” Maralynne wasn't looking at her, but at least she was quiet. “Right?”
Maralynne sniffed and said something; Rowena could only catch the word “sign.”
“You want to know about signs,” Rowena said. “I'll tell you something about signs. It's a real bad sign when your new boyfriend makes passes at your cousin and your sister and your sister's friend at your apartment-warming party.”
“I didn't believe you. I thought you were just jealous.”
Rowena knelt in front of her. “Maralynne,” she said. “I can't speak for Claudia or Terese, if only because it isn't polite. But I promise you you can trust me not to sabotage any relationship you may have, ever. Even if I disapprove. Okay? A promise. Because despite everything, including what those silly cards say, I love you. You know?”
Maralynne raised her head and looked at Rowena, then threw her arms around her. Rowena hugged her back. After a while she said, “What do you say we go out and have dinner? Just us. I'll buy.”
Maralynne nodded, still sniffing. “Let me get ready,” she said. She scrambled to her feet, and made for her bedroom door. She stopped just short and turned around.
“You know any places where a lot of guys hang out? Cute ones?”
“One thing at a time,” said Rowena. “Right now let's just have dinner, okay?”
“Okay.” And Maralynne trudged off. Rowena took a deep breath and let it out. She noticed the Tarot cards on the table; she couldn't leave them like that, signaling all that horror to her susceptible sister. She scooped them up and shuffled them together, then found herself thumbing through the stack, just looking at them. Some of them were really quite distressing—skeletons, entrails, all kinds of things. Others looked friendly: blissful couples, stately ladies in long dresses, little children. She paused at one that showed a woman with a lion; there was a buzzard in the picture too, but the woman was evidently not in danger. “Strength,” this one read. Rowena scowled at it.
“Where were you when we needed you?” she demanded. She put the cards back on the table, with Strength facing up, and sat down to wait for her sister.
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