In the Cards

To Patti

I found the deck in the back of one of my grand­fa­ther’s desk draw­ers — he had died in his sleep two weeks ear­li­er and the fam­i­ly was just get­ting around to tak­ing any­thing of sen­ti­men­tal val­ue from his house.

This was a deck of tarot cards, nice ones, too: large pieces of thick paper and I would almost swear they were hand­made and hand drawn. No one else in my fam­i­ly was even vague­ly inter­est­ed in this kind of stuff, so I did­n’t say any­thing to either my broth­ers or my moth­er, who were in var­i­ous oth­er rooms in the house. Instead, I tucked the deck away in my pock­et and kept going from room to room.

I got home about an hour before I expect­ed my wife, so I had a chance to look the cards over more close­ly. It was a nice deck — def­i­nite­ly one of the most expen­sive I had ever seen. The cards were not made of paper or even thin card­board like most; these were thin, stiff­ened pieces of leather with the designs care­ful­ly carved and dyed in. I looked through them care­ful­ly — there are 78 cards in a stan­dard Tarot deck, each with a dis­tinct­ly dif­fer­ent design, unlike a pack of play­ing cards, and each of these was sin­gu­lar­ly impres­sive. What real­ly stood out, though, were the backgrounds.

Like play­ing cards, a Tarot deck is divid­ed into four suits: wands, cups, swords, and pen­ta­cles. Though in this deck every card had a dif­fer­ent pic­ture, each suit shared a com­mon back­ground. A house. The wands showed the front, the cups and pen­ta­cles each showed a side, and the swords pic­tured the back.

It was my grand­fa­ther’s house.

I could tell most eas­i­ly from the swords, which pic­tured fair­ly clear­ly the big apple tree with the tire swing my grad­nfa­ther was always proud of. I remem­bered play­ing on that swing when I was younger and would vis­it him on hol­i­days. It was unmis­tak­able. I real­ized then that my grand­fa­ther must have either made the cards him­self or had them done espe­cial­ly for him. This, I thought, is a real tarot deck; it makes all the oth­ers look like fac­to­ry-made fakes.

Half an hour lat­er, Kara came home, and she was also impressed by the cards. After abut fif­teen min­utes of study­ing them, includ­ing the pic­tures of the house, she climbed the lad­der into the attic and dug around up there for a good twen­ty min­utes. When she came down she was car­ry­ing a small pile of books.

“Look at these,” she said, putting them on the din­ing room table. “These have been up there since we moved in.” She exam­ined the cov­er of each vol­ume after blow­ing off the dust that had gath­ered, and read the titles out loud. “Understanding the Tarot, Interpretations of the Rider Tarot, The Tarot and You, Mysteries of the Tarot–” Back in col­lege, when we had met, Kara and I had gone through a peri­od of play­ing with Tarot cards before mov­ing on to more-worldy pur­suits. But, like me, Kara had trou­ble part­ing with any good book, and these had been packed away for the past sev­en or eight years.

“Let me see that one,” I said, when she got to Legends of the Tarot. She passed me the book and I flipped to the Table of Contents, some­how remem­ber­ing some­thing from that par­tic­u­lar vol­ume. “A‑ha! Eureka, I’ve found it, yippee and all that!”

“What have you found, oh vic­to­ri­ous one?” she asked, putting down the copy of The Tarot as Fortune-Teller she had been flip­ping through.

“Unsolved Mysteries of the Tarot,” I said, quot­ing one of the chap­ter titles. “I thought I remem­bered this one.” I scanned the pages of the chap­ter. “Here we go. Listen to this: ‘There are leg­ends regard­ing the extra­or­di­nary pow­ers of insight of cer­tain Tarot decks made by the gyp­sy-like nomads of north­east­ern Yugoslavia.” I looked at Kara. “I don’t know why, but I remem­bered read­ing that in here a long time ago. Anyway, Belgrade is in north­east­ern Yugoslavia.”

She looked momen­tar­i­ly per­plexed. “Belgrade?” Then she remem­bered, nod­ding. “Your grand­fa­ther lived there, did­n’t he?”

“For eight years,” I answered, then thought about it. “But wait — that does­n’t explain how the deck has pic­tures of his house engraved in it. That’s in Jersey.”

“Hmm,” she answered, get­ting a spec­u­la­tive look in her eye, “I guess it does­n’t, does it? Maybe he described it to who­ev­er made them.”

“Maybe. Or showed them a picture.”

“Four pic­tures,” Kara point­ed out. “What does that book say about those Gypsy decks?” she asked.

I scanned the next few pages. “It’s a bunch of fic­tion sto­ries — peo­ple who use those gyp­sy decks and that sort of–oh, wow!”

“What?” asked my ever-curi­ous wife.

I held the book open and passed it across the table. “Check out the pic­ture on page 217.”

“So,” she said, glanc­ing at it. “It’s a design on the back of a–” Her voice trailed off as her eyes left the book and looked at grand­fa­ther’s deck on the table.

The design on the back of his cards was exact­ly the same as the one illus­trat­ed in the book.


I raised my eye­brows and shrugged my shoul­ders. What was I sup­posed to say?

“Well,” I final­ly said, “We’ll just put that down as ‘some­thing inter­est­ing’ and treat the cards like any oth­er deck. We’ll wrap them up in–what is it, wool?”


“Whatever. If I remem­ber, we’re sup­posed to sleep near them, right?” Kara nod­ded. “So we’ll put them under the pil­low tonight and sleep on them till Friday. We can read up on how to do a read­ing and try a spread Friday night.”

“All right,” she said, after think­ing about it, “But they go under your pillow.”

* * *

That night I dreamed of being in the desert. Kara was with me. She was plant­i­ng a tree in the sand.

* * *

Wednesday morn­ing was Kara’s turn to make break­fast; I came down ear­li­er than usu­al and saw her sit­ting at the table, fid­dling with the cards instead. She must have slipped them out from under my pil­low. Bacon was siz­zling on the stove, cof­fee was brew­ing and toast was in the toaster.

I stood behind my wife and rubbed her shoul­ders. “Mmm,” she said.

“Something told me you would­n’t be able to resist the lure of the cards,” I told her.

“Um, Andrew?”

“Yes, dear?”

“I think you should take a look at them.”

“Hmm?” She had spread five cards face-up on the table: the Six, Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten of Swords — the suit which showed the back of grand­fa­ther’s house. But some­thing was missing.

The tire swing was­n’t there.

Kara must’ve read my mind. “The roof is slight­ly dif­fer­ent, too,” she said. “It’s a lot less slant­ed — I’d swear. And the win­dows are also dif­fer­ent.” She looked up at me.

“No way.” I said, but did­n’t believe myself. The pic­tures were dif­fer­ent; I knew it, Kara knew it, and the cards cer­tain­ly knew it. “What about the oth­er suits?”

“They’re all slight­ly changed from what I remem­ber, but maybe I’m remem­ber­ing wrong,” she answered. But I knew she did­n’t remem­ber wrong — Kara has a great sense of detail like that. The cards had changed.

That night we put them under the pil­lows again. According to the book, three nights sleep­ing with them like that would allow the cards to pick up the per­son­’s ‘aura.’ We should wait at least that long before attempt­ing a read­ing. I had no prob­lem with that.

* * *

That night I dreamed the tree Kara had plant­ed was begin­ning to grow. I watered it. Grandfather’s house was near­by, and as I watched it began to change, slow­ly, until it looked like–

* * *

“Our house,” I said, point­ing at the back­ground of the Eight of Swords. “Look at it — that’s our back­yard, almost — and that just about looks like our big window.”

Kara did­n’t say a thing.

I con­tin­ued. “Look at the Seven of Wands! That’s our house, our mail­box, our lawn!”

Now she nod­ded slow­ly. “I know.”

I flipped through the entire deck; every card had a back­ground pic­ture of our home. Ours. Not entire­ly, though — there were still some fea­tures clear­ly dis­tinc­tive of my grand­fa­ther’s house: some of the win­dows were divid­ed into four or six sec­tions instead of one large pic­ture win­dow. The col­or was wrong, too; the cards still pic­tured a red brick build­ing instead of our white, alu­minum-sided one. It did­n’t seem to mat­ter, though.

Before going to sleep we read about how to per­form a read­ing. Again, we wrapped the cards in a silk hand­ker­chief and put them under the pillows.

* * *

I dreamed of being in my front yard, stand­ing with Kara by the tree we had just plant­ed. It had blos­somed, and small red fruits hung from its branch­es. I picked one and ate it, savor­ing the juice–

* * *

Friday morn­ing was bright and clear, and I woke up feel­ing as if I had slept for a week. Kara was already down­stairs mak­ing break­fast (her turn again) so I took a long, dis­gust­ing­ly hot show­er. I came down­stairs clean, refreshed and decid­ed­ly ready for just about anything.

“Good morn­ing,” said Kara, smil­ing and kiss­ing me hello.

“You too?” I asked.

“Me too what?”

“You feel like you had the best night’s sleep ever? You’re all smi­ley and bubbly.”

She thought for a sec­ond and nod­ded. “Yup.”

I returned her nod, think­ing to myself a moment. “Look at the cards yet?” I noticed that she had tak­en them downstairs.

“Not yet,” she answered, bring­ing break­fast over to the table, “I was wait­ing for you.”

“In that case–shall we?” I unwrapped the deck and flipped through it while my wife looked over my shoulder.

The trans­for­ma­tion of the deck was com­plete. Each of the four suits showed a clear pic­ture of our house in its back­ground. Otherwise, the cards remained unchanged. Otherwise, ha.

Kara sat down and shrugged her shoul­ders. “Think we should try a reading?”

“Later tonight,” I answered. “We’ll go out to din­ner and a movie, come home around eleven and try it then.”

“Sounds good.”

Dinner and the movie were both very good, and when we final­ly got home around 11:30 we were psy­ched to try Grandfather’s cards. They weren’t Grandfather’s any more, my wife point­ed out, indi­cat­ing the pic­ture on the Seven of Swords which clear­ly showed our backyard.

Kara had Mysteries of the Tarot ready (it had a fair­ly gen­er­al sec­tion on card inter­pre­ta­tions), so we cleared off the din­ing room table and unwrapped the cards.

“It says here,” said Kara, read­ing from the book, “That we start with a card which best express­es the sit­u­a­tion in ques­tion. It’s called a ‘sig­ni­fi­ca­tor.’ You’re sup­posed to remove it from the deck and shuf­fle the rest of the cards until you feel they’re ready. ‘The read­er then lays out the cards in the fol­low­ing man­ner–’.” She showed me the dia­gram in the book.

“Let’s put the book on the side and keep it open to that dia­gram,” I sug­gest­ed. “We can shuf­fle the cards and refer to the book.”

“OK. Do you want to shuf­fle or should I?”

I shrugged. “You can.”

Your grand­fa­ther,” she replied.

Again I shrugged. “What should we use as the–”

“Significator,” she answered, “We’ll use the ten of pentacles.”

“Why? And how do you know?”

Kara smiled at me. “I’ve been read­ing those books we dug up. Ten of Pentacles rep­re­sents the fam­i­ly and the home and things like that.”

I smiled. “I’ll take your word on it.” I went through the deck until I found the card, then placed it face up on the table. “Now what?”

“Shuffle the cards,” Kara said, “Until you get the feel­ing that you’ve shuf­fled them enough.”

I care­ful­ly picked up the remain­der of the deck and began mix­ing them. After four shuf­fles, I placed the pack face down in front of my wife. She picked them up and glanced at the dia­gram in the book.

“OK, here goes. I’m going to put them all face down and we’ll turn them as we go.”

She placed one on top of the Ten of Pentacles, and read aloud from the book. “This cov­ers it.” Then she laid one hor­i­zon­tal­ly across that: “This cross­es it.” Then one below those first three cards, “This is beneath it.” One to the left of the first three, “This is behind it.” One above, “This is above it.” One to the right, “This is before it.”

Then she placed one to the far right and slight­ly below the orig­i­nal three: “Our feel­ings.” Three more went above that card: “Outside opin­ion”, “Hopes or fears” and final­ly, “Final out­come.” She placed the rest of the pack across the table, away from the spread.

“That,” she said, “Is that.”

I looked at the lay­out spread on the table, and then at Kara. “Now we turn them over, right?”

“One at a time,” she answered, mov­ing “This Crosses It” to get to the card under­neath. “OK,” she said, “This cov­ers it.” She flipped the card.

King of Pentacles, upside-down.

I picked up the book and turned the pages until I found the descrip­tion, then sum­ma­rized it out loud. “‘An elder­ly statesman–steadfast–money earner–concerned with the fam­i­ly and the estate.’ ” I turned to my wife who was already look­ing at me, and raised my eye­brows, questioning.

“The card that cov­ers reflects the gen­er­al envi­ron­ment of the ques­tion,” she said. “Or some­thing like that. Whatever. It obvi­ous­ly rep­re­sents your grandfather.”

I thought for a moment. “But the card’s reversed — upside-down. That changes the mean­ing, if I recall correctly.”

Kara shook her head. “It means that it should be looked at dif­fer­ent­ly that if it was right-side-up–at anoth­er angle. In this case, I guess it’s reversed because your grand­fa­ther’s um–dead.”

Of course. “You have been read­ing up, haven’t you?”

She nod­ded. “On my breaks. Some of the peo­ple there think I’m crazy.”

“You are.” I kissed her cheek. “Onward.”

“The next card cross­es it — some­thing stand­ing in the way of solv­ing what­ev­er prob­lem the cards are read­ing.” She turned the card.

Two of Swords.

“‘Indecision’,” I read, “‘Balanced forces–a choice–perhaps between the ratio­nal and what appears to be irrational.’ ”

My wife frowned. “Interesting.”

“That’s not quite the word I was think­ing of.”

She smiled. “It’s almost as if the cards are chal­leng­ing us to believe in them.”

“Maybe they are. Keep going.”

“As you like.” She reached for the next card. “What’s ‘Beneath It’ is a past expe­ri­ence relat­ing to the whole thing.” She turned it.

The Devil.

I made the appro­pri­ate com­ment: “Eek!”

“Don’t wor­ry,” said Kara with a laugh, “It’s not quite that bad. Check the book.” I did.

“Oh, OK,” I said after read­ing the descrip­tion, “It means ‘bondage to the material–spiritual blind­ness.’ ” I looked at Kara. “The cards speak again.”

“So they do. Let us con­tin­ue.” She indi­cat­ed the next card. “What is ‘Behind’ is an influ­ence just fad­ing out into the past.”

Eight of Swords — a woman, bound and blind­fold­ed, sur­round by eight swords.

“Hmm,” I said as I read the mean­ing, “Another one. ‘Bondage and blind­ness to all but the ratio­nal and sci­en­tif­ic.’ These cards are def­i­nite­ly try­ing to tell us something.”

Kara looked thought­ful. “What’s inter­est­ing is that the two ‘bondage to the mate­r­i­al’ cards both showed up in the past.”

“Hmm. Keep going. What’s next?”

“‘Above It’,” she answered, “Future influences.”

The Tower — light­ning, thun­der and two peo­ple falling from a col­laps­ing stone tower.

“And it means–” I said, flip­ping through the pages, “Ah, it means ‘the end of mate­r­i­al bondage–the col­lapse of exist­ing insti­tu­tions.’ Curiouser and curiouser.”

My wife raised her eye­brows in agree­ment. “I won­der if this is–normal?”

“I won­der if we are. Go ahead — turn the next card.”

She reached for it. “This is ‘Before It’ — um, future events, instead of just influences.”

Ace of Wands.

“Aces mean begin­nings,” said Kara. I was already turn­ing the pages.

“Ah — Wands have to do with spir­i­tu­al things. So–in the future, we’ll begin something–spiritual?”

“It makes sense,” she said. “All the cards so far are telling us about the end of spir­i­tu­al blind­ness and stuff — the Ace of Wands is the log­i­cal con­clu­sion. A spir­i­tu­al beginning.”

I smiled. “Good show, Watson! Shall we continue?”

“Oh, quite.” She touched the next card. “These are our — or your feelings.”

Five of Cups — a fig­ure, turned away, look­ing at three spilled cups. Two unspilled ones are out of its sight.

“It means,” I recit­ed, “‘Loss, but with some­thing left over–perhaps unnoticed.’ ”

“Your grand­fa­ther dies and you got these cards from him,” said Kara with an air of satisfaction.

“Brilliant deduc­tion. I tell you, though, there real­ly is some­thing weird about the way all this is fit­ting together–”

“Uh huh.”

“–but maybe it’s just our imag­i­na­tion.” I concluded.

Kara was­n’t lis­ten­ing. Her eyes had dou­bled in size and she was star­ing at one of the cardsw we had flipped — the King of Pentacles. “Oh my God.”

“What? What?”

“The King. Look at the King!”

I did. “So?”

Look at the back­ground — the house in the back­ground.

I exam­ined the card more close­ly. In the suit of pen­ta­cles, the house was shown from the side.

It was a red-bricked side.

It was my grand­fa­ther’s house.

I grabbed the unused part of the deck and flipped through the cards, check­ing the Swords espe­cial­ly, to see if the tire swing had reap­peared. It had­n’t. The rest of the deck still showed our white-sided house; only the King of Pentacles — the card which rep­re­sent­ed my grand­fa­ther — had his house on it.

“It’s almost as if the cards remem­bered their old own­er,” said Kara, almost whis­per­ing. I nod­ded, and decid­ed to get off the sub­ject, quickly.

“Let’s fin­ish up the read­ing. Just for­get about that card.”

Kara point­ed to the next card, and when she spoke, I could hear the ner­vous­ness in her voice. “This rep­re­sents the feel­ings of the peo­ple and forces around us.”

The Magician.

“‘The abil­i­ty to direct the forces and abil­i­ties around to serve–power and con­trol–’ Well, some­one out there has faith in us.” I smiled. Kara smiled back nervously.

“Hopes and Fears,” she said, turn­ing the next card.

The Hermit, reversed.

“Upside-down it means ‘Lack of — or fear of — spir­i­tu­al guid­ance’,” I said. “Are you afraid that these cards real­ly do mean something?”

Kara was­n’t smil­ing. “Damn right.” She paused. “The last card is the Final Outcome,” she said. “No sense adding sus­pense.” She flipped it.


I gulped a breath, very quick­ly. My wife gave an invol­un­tary shud­der, and took a deep breath. “It only means change,” she said, smil­ing, “Not that bad.”

I had the book in front of me. “It means ‘dras­tic change, upheaval and rebirth’.” I looked at Kara, “Like the Tower.”

“Uh-huh. And if you look at the entire thing, it’s say­ing the same thing five dif­fer­ent ways: old bondage to mate­r­i­al and ratio­nal things, a great change, then a spir­i­tu­al awak­en­ing. I’ll bet the cards them­selves are gonna have some­thing to do with it.”

“You’re prob­a­bly right.” I leaned back in my chair. “Kara, my spir­i­tu­al awak­en­ing can wait ‘til tomor­row. Right now, let’s go to bed.”

* * *

That night I did­n’t dream at all.

* * *

Saturday meant shop­ping and oth­er such errrands in the morn­ing, and since our plans for the after­noon had been can­celled, we had it all to ourselves.

That evening we decid­ed to try anoth­er read­ing, this time with Kara shuf­fling. The cards fit togeth­er just as well this time, and again left us with ner­vous knots in our stom­ach­es. The read­ing showed love in the past, a recent con­flict and a renew­al of the old friend­ship in the future. The final out­come: reconcilliation.

“I don’t know,” said Kara as we scooped up the cards and rewrapped them in the silk. “I real­ly can’t think of how it could apply to me.” She shrugged. “Maybe the cards aren’t mag­ic or any­thing after all.”

Sunday morn­ing, her friend Patty called. When Kara got off the phone, she had a look of shock on her face.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“That was Lisa Baron,” she said, and when I looked con­fused: “We were best friends a long time ago — back in col­lege — but we had a falling out and lost touch. She looked me up just to say ‘Let’s get together’.”

“The cards were right.”

“Too right,” she said. “Andrew, it’s scary. I mean, think­ing that they have some sort of pow­er or what­ev­er. It’s like hav­ing some­one peek­ing in the win­dow. It’s–it’s not private.”

I gave her a hug. “I know.”

She and Lisa had a won­der­ful time that afternoon.

* * *

On Monday my edi­tor gave me a sto­ry assign­ment I was able to fin­ish in a few hours, and he gave me the rest of the day off and I got home ear­ly. Kara would­n’t be home for anoth­er two-and-a-half hours, so I con­sid­ered it an omen and decid­ed to do some­thing to make her feel less threat­ened by the cards. I went through the book care­ful­ly, not­ing down which cards would suit my pur­pose. Then I went to the deck itself and removed the cards I had cho­sen and set them up as if I had done a real reading.

Basically, I had the spread set up so that it said that in the past we had some finan­cial trou­ble (which was true), then we had sta­bi­lized, and in the future we were in for a wind­fall of mate­r­i­al success.

When my wife came home, they were wait­ing for her.

“Wow,” she said after going through the book to look up what it all meant, “Looks impres­sive. Planning to rob a bank and claim the cards made you do it?”

“What d’y’mean?” I asked, innocently.

She smiled. “The engine of your car was cool — I slipped in the garage and had to grab the hood — so I know you’ve been home for a while. Admit it.”

I shrugged. “I throw myself upon the mer­cy of the court.”

She laughed. “You almost had me–almost. It’s too bad; I’d’ve liked to believe it.”

The phone rang. Neither of us moved. I wait­ed for the third ring before pick­ing it up.

“It’s for you,” I said, hand­ing it to Kara. She took it.

“Uh-huh–yes, Captain–I sure do–really?–no, I didn’t–why, thank you sir!–yes, sir!” She hung it up, half smil­ing, half frown­ing. “I guess I should­n’t have spo­ken too soon,” she said, star­ing at the lay­out of cards on the table. “That was the precinct. Remember those three kid­nap­pers I helped track down last month?”

I nod­ded.

“Well, there was a reward offered. I had for­got­ten all about it, but some­one did­n’t, and processed it. There’s a check for $20,000 wait­ing for me. They want some pho­tos for the paper, too.” There was no enthu­si­asm in her voice, just an expres­sion of total shock.

“Wow,” I man­aged to say.

“Uh-huh.” We both stared at the spread of cards, then at each oth­er, then at the telephone.

Then Kara start­ed to laugh. I watched her turn red before I found myself start­ing in, and soon we were both flushed and bleary-eyed on the floor, lean­ing against the wall. Then we start­ed in again. We kept this up for ten min­utes, alter­nat­ing between catch­ing our breath, gig­gling qui­et­ly and laugh­ing hys­ter­i­cal­ly. Finally, our fit com­plete, we sat togeth­er on the sofa, Kara rest­ing her head on my shoulder.

“I don’t know,” I said final­ly. “Maybe there’s some­thing to those cards after all.”

My wife moved her head from my shoul­der and gave me a look of sur­prise. “Maybe?

“All right — don’t start laugh­ing again — so there is some­thing to them.” I walked over to the table and exam­ined the lay­out I had con­struct­ed. Kara stood next to me.

“Don’t touch it,” she said.

“Why not?”

“Just leave it here. We’ll eat out tonight. I’m curi­ous — if noth­ing else hap­pens by tomor­row night we’ll for­get I sug­gest­ed it, OK?”

I agreed, some­what reluc­tant­ly. “I’m wor­ried,” I admitted.

“Oh, real­ly?” Kara smiled. “About what?”

“That the cards are doing some­thing. I don’t like play­ing with–forces I can’t understand.”

“You mean can’t con­trol, don’t you?”

“No,” I answered, “It’s not that. I don’t know — maybe we’re chang­ing his­to­ry or something.”

“These are tarot cards,” said Kara, “Little pieces of leather. Not a time machine.”

“Whatever. I’m just not sure I trust them.”

“For twen­ty thou­sand dol­lars, I’ll trust almost anyone.”

“–or anything,” I added.

We slept that night with the lay­out still on the table.

The next day, Kara found a three-month-old lot­tery tick­et. After a glance at the spread on the table, we called the lot­tery office. We had won a lit­tle over two mil­lion dol­lars, two months ago. They would be hap­py to start pay­ments as soon as it was verified.

We cel­e­brat­ed by both call­ing in sick the next morn­ing and tak­ing the first avail­able flight to Las Vegas. We left the cards on the table, of course. We stayed there through the week­end and returned home Monday evening, $362,000 rich­er, not to men­tion anoth­er $250 we found in an enve­lope on the street. Needless to say, we were very hap­py when we got back.

I unlocked the door, and Kara had already tak­en the mail from the box. After get­ting our bags into the house, we went through it, piece by piece.

“Wow,” Kara said, look­ing at what­ev­er was in the first envelope.

“Let’s hear it.”

“It’s from Shop Rite,” she told me. “Remember that con­test they had, oh, I guess it was a month ago or so?”


“We won.” She was­n’t let­ting any excite­ment into her voice; it was a sim­ple, mat­ter-of-fact statement.

“What did we win?” Another one of those obvi­ous questions.

She read from the let­ter. “One elec­tric blue Supercharged Toyota MR2, cour­tesy Gray’s Toyota. Please respond by–” She looked at her dig­i­tal watch. “–tomor­row, to claim your prize.”

“Wow,” I said.

“That’s what I said,” Kara point­ed out.

“Next let­ter. Who from?”

“Brandow Funds,” she said. “I’m ter­ri­fied to thin what this one is.”

“Wow. That’s a bro­ker I used to use, a long time ago. Open it.”

They want­ed to know if I was inter­est­ed in sell­ing the elec­tron­ics stock I had been giv­en as a gift when I was six. I had earned about eight thou­sand dol­lars over the past week, but they expect­ed it to start going down. They rec­om­mend­ed I take my mon­ey now.

“Mail like this should come every day,” Kara said, “Oops, maybe not. This one’s from the phone company.”

I opened it, took out the let­ter inside, and scanned it. “Now I’ve seen everything.”

“What is it?”

“The phone cred­it card we lost? They nev­er can­celled it. Someone made about twelve hun­dred dol­lars worth of calls on it.”


I smiled. “It’s an apol­o­gy from the phone com­pa­ny. And a year’s free long-distance.”

“I won’t say a word,” said Kara. “No, I won’t.” She did­n’t think I saw her shoot a glance at the din­ing room table. She opened the last let­ter. It was from the IRS. “What was that about ‘now you’ve seen everything’?”

“Oh no.”

“Oh, yes. It seems the IRS has made a minor com­put­er error. This–” She held up a small piece of paper, “–is a tax refund from three years ago. Six hun­dred twelve dol­lars and sev­en­teen cents.”

We ate out a lot, and did­n’t use the din­ing room table at all.

Wednesday brought news from a bank in Vermont, where we lived for a few months. An old account of ours (one we had com­plete­ly for­got­ten about) was still active. Did we want the $5,000 that had accumulated?

On Thursday, Publisher’s Clearance House informed us that we had won $2,417,000 in their sweep­stakes (now do you believe that it’s legit?). We did. I did­n’t even remem­ber send­ing the form in.

On Friday, a pock­et­book I had found a month ago was still unclaimed, and there­fore became my prop­er­ty. It con­tained two thou­sand dol­lars, cash.

“Enough!” I shout­ed on Saturday when American Airlines called to tell us that we had won two round trip tick­ets to any­where in North America. But it was­n’t enough, not for the cards, anyway.

Every lot­tery we entered, every invest­ment we made, every stock we bought made us more mon­ey. Our bro­ker sent Kara a birth­day card. American Express sent us a per­son­al­ized Platinum Card invi­ta­tion. The President of the State Lottery Commission had seen us in his offices so much, he invit­ed us to dinner.

Almost a month after it began, Kara and I sat down, cal­cu­la­tor in hand, to fig­ure out exact­ly how much we had.

“Oh, my,” I said after twen­ty min­utes of but­ton-push­ing. “Oh, my.”

“Yes dear, what is it?”

“Are you ready?”

“Go for it.”

I smiled. “28 mil­lion, 469 thou­sand, 317 dol­lars in cash–” Kara whis­tled. “–plus about 212 thou­sand in merchandise–”


–and about 12 thou­sand in stocks,” I finished.

“We,” said my wife, “Are rich.”

“Quite,” I replied, smil­ing at her. “We have cash to last us fifty years at $569,000 a year, before tax­es. Comes to over $300,000 after. And I’m not even think­ing about invest­ments; we can live off the interest.”

“I knew I mar­ried you for a rea­son.” She kissed me.

The phone rang.

“Don’t put your cal­cu­la­tor away yet,” she laughed, pick­ing up the phone. “Hello–yes it is–yes–oh–oh, I’m so sorry–uh-huh–yes–yes of course I will–right.” She scrib­bled some­thing down on a piece of paper. “We’ll be there–thanks–goodbye.” She hung up, not look­ing happy.

“What was it?”

Kara took a breath. She stared at me a full ten sec­onds before say­ing any­thing. I saw tears begin to form in her eyes. “My aunt Sarah died last night. She left me some­thing in her will — the read­ing is next Tuesday.”

I did­n’t say a word. I did­n’t have to.

Kara sat down across from me and took a deep breath. She held my hand, and I felt it shake slight­ly, and watched a tear roll down her cheek. “Andrew, all this mon­ey we have — it had to come from some­where. We just nev­er thought about it before, because it was OK when it came from casi­nos and lot­ter­ies and stuff, but–well, some­thing’s wrong when it starts com­ing from–from peo­ple. Like Aunt Sarah.” And for the first time in a long while, Kara begin to cry.

I held her against me, know­ing there was noth­ing to be said, or done. In a few min­utes she looked at me again, her eyes red and puffy. She wiped them and blinked a few times.

I just looked at her. “Do you real­ly think–”

“I don’t know what to think. But think about it — we’re rich. We have enough mon­ey to live com­fort­ably the rest of our lives, and then some.” She sighed. “Let’s pack up the cards now, before some­one else dies.”

I looked at my wife (God, she was beau­ti­ful even with tears in her eyes), at the fig­ures I had just writ­ten down, and at the spread of tarot cards on the table. I nod­ded. What had we done?

“You’re right. We’ll put them away.”

We undid the spread and packed the deck away in the attic, wrapped in the silk. I won­dered if putting them away would start a trend of bad luck, and we’d end up giv­ing all the mon­ey back, some­how. At least, that’s what hap­pens in the movies. No, it did­n’t hap­pen; the mon­ey, it seemed, was ours to keep.

* * *

On Tuesday we went to the read­ing of the will (Kara received five thou­sand dol­lars and some stock cer­tifi­cates, though at that point we did­n’t care) and then over to her aun­t’s house out­side of Hartford. We paid our respects and stayed sev­er­al hours, until most of the guests had left. Then Kara told me that she’d like to look around upstairs to see if there was any­thing of sen­ti­men­tal val­ue she wanted.

We searched the bed­room and attic, where my wife picked up some old pho­to albums. Then I went into the base­ment while she checked the oth­er upstairs rooms.

I saw it in a cor­ner down there — a long, flat wood­en box on top of a small table. It had been well cared for; the box was clean and dust­less. I care­ful­ly undid the small latch and opened it.

The inside of the box was lined with soft fab­ric, and my eyes widened when I saw what was inside. It was a Oujia board, but a hand­made, not store­bought, one. It was made of oak as far as I could tell, and the let­ters on it were burned in, the whole thing cov­ered with a coat­ing of shel­lac. The cor­ners and edges were plat­ed with what I assumed was gold. I lift­ed it out of the case and saw that the mov­ing piece of the ora­cle was made of gold as well. I replaced the board and closed the box, tuck­ing it under my arm.

I did­n’t think any­one else would want it, and it might be good for a rainy day. Maybe we could talk to some ghosts.