Rating: PG, totally work-safe.
Genre/Fandom: Urban Fantasy?
Summary: When a door closes, somebody opens a skylight?
Prompt: seethe, fine, declare
<Disclaimer: My original work, a new story that I'm working on.
Belligerent, the letter said. Difficulties working in a team environment. Prone to confrontation. Indiscreet. Official reasons for my abrupt, but not unexpected, termination. I had tried to tell the district manager what was going on, but she already knew. She knew very well, and she didn't care. She had said, with her freshly-manicured hands folded delicately on the laminated top of her cheap desk, that her hands were tied, there was nothing she could do. I had failed to go through the proper channels to report my supervisor, and could not register a complaint after the fact. She looked me in the eyes while she said it, knowing very well that there was no such thing as a proper channel in this nepotistic boys' club they had the nerve to call a company.
What the supervisor called belligerence, I call standing up for myself. What he called unable to work with a team, I call refusing to rip off customers and cover up for his lying, stealing and incompetence. What he called indiscreet, I call honesty. I suppose it's all in your perspective, and his was that I was a liability to his superiors. Theirs seemed to be that it was easier to get rid of the low man on the totem pole, rather than irk the guy's father. Who that was precisely, I hadn't yet discovered, and while a part of me wanted to take these people to the cleaners, at the same time I really didn't want to get into a pissing contest with a company that had lawyers standing by for just such an event.
I found myself sitting in my car outside, shaking with nerves and delayed adrenaline. Though I seethed internally, my fight or flight response had clearly chosen the “flight” option, as if my co-workers had chased me out with pitchforks instead of sympathetic words and hugs. I felt like a victim, impotent and wronged, and simply saying I didn't care for the feeling would be like saying that the desert is a wee bit dry. I had no words. I had no plans. I had no backup.
I started the car, simply because that is what one does when one sits in a car; one goes places. My first thought was to find another job, and my second thought was to call my mom. Despite the storm of emotions fighting for dominance in me, I felt fine. Free, even. I had the day off, after all, and I never had to go back to that place, which seemed even more like the oppressive prison I had always imagined it to be (especially on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons). A weight had lifted from my metaphysical shoulders, and in an instant I realized that calling someone to explain my situation, especially someone sympathetic who would say all the right comforting things I thought I wanted to hear, would drive home the reality of my situation and I would quickly dissolve into ugly, unproductive sobs that would occupy the rest of my day. I didn't want that. Not yet. That would happen later tonight, or tomorrow. Right now I was free, and I wasn't about to waste it.
The sun shone bright in the sky, and the temperature had risen from this morning's 35F to a very respectable 65 degrees, and I had both a magazine and a project in my bag. I found a coffee shop in Short North, bought myself something hot and extremely caffinated and a ginormous cookie to keep it company, and planted myself outside at one of the wrought-iron tables chained to thick hooks in the concrete. I put on my sunglasses, turned my phone off, pulled out my magazine, and pored over an article on different bind-off techniques.
I sat there until my posterior complained and the last few sips of coffee grew cold in the ceramic cup, fighting the rising wave of panic that was apparently king of the mountain in the anarchic recesses of my gut. My hands began to shake again, but it wasn't from cold. My stomach muscles arched and twisted, and my eyes felt tight and dry, and no amount of blinking seemed to make them better. The words blurred on the page, and suddenly I didn't care about the review of new alpaca blends. They were probably expensive, and I didn't have a job.
I closed my eyes, swallowing the bitter taste in my mouth. Stupid coffee. What would I tell my husband? How would we make our bills? It had taken three months to find that stupid, crappy job, and we didn't have another three months for me to find another one. It paid little better than minimum wage, but it paid. I hated what I had to do, but it paid. Had I really entertained the thought of suing? Where the hell would we find the money for a lawyer? Maybe we could declare bankruptcy. We'd considered it before, just to get rid of the medical debt and credit cards devouring us in increasingly larger pieces. It looked inevitable. If my shoulders tensed any further, something was going to snap like a guitar string and put out the eye of the lady behind me.
As if on cue, she touched my elbow and I jumped a mile and a half. “You're not okay,” she stated, well before I was calm enough to turn around, look at her, and process her words at the same time.
I managed a very clever reply, trying to keep the cookie and coffee where I put them. “What?
She looked at me with the serenity of someone taking several substances simultaneously, her brown eyes glassy, dark smudges underneath them, and her paisley headscarf fluttering in the late afternoon breeze. “Your aura swirls with angry, fearful energy. Tell Mimi your problems.”
I stared at her, the first few tears of a nervous breakdown drying cold on my face, my expression probably as comical in its disbelief as this woman's idea of an outfit. I couldn't decide if she was crazy or...well...crazy seemed like the only option, especially when she pulled an enormous pentacle out of her pocket and swung it back and forth from a black, waxed cord. Her dark eyes widened, showing off how red they were, and making her look surprised in an exhausted way, not the mystique she must have been trying for. “What for?” Sometimes my wit surprises even myself.
“So Mimi can help you find a solution to your troubles. It is our life calling, after all.” She smiled, and even though it had all the trappings of an act, there was a crumb of sincerity in her smile, as if she knew how ridiculous she looked, but found it necessary for her job. I thought inexplicably of a mascot wearing a costume that looked nothing like what it was supposed to.
“And is Mimi prepared to do this out of the goodness of her heart, or does she want a little lettuce on her sandwich?” I can be really good at derision when I think someone's trying to take me in.
“I accept donations, of course. Better karma that way. I don't expect them anymore, but Mimi gotta eat.” She swung the pentacle in a circle over the tabletop with one hand, the other palm-up underneath it, fingers spread. “Also there's that thing about requiring a license to charge for advisory services, but it's mostly the karma. Begin with your questions, I am prepared.”
I hooked my folded arm over the back of my iron chair, smiling a little despite myself. “Are you for real?” You set 'em up, I'll knock 'em down.
The pentacle swung back and forth, right to left. “Yes,” she said in all seriousness. It actually made me laugh, one of those masculine seal barks that I won't admit to, but sometimes can't repress.
“Okay. Fine, then. Where should I look for a job?”
The pentacle swung between us, then in a circle. “That's too complicated a question. Try the yes or no ones.”
“Aren't you supposed to use a dowsing crystal on a metal chain for this?”
“To-may-to, to-mah-to,” she chirped. “Try again.”
“Of course, of course. Wouldn't want to strain the powers of something you got out of a gum machine.” I narrowed my eyes at the couple walking past us on Buttles, their expressions amused. It annoyed me, and I couldn't tell you why. “Okay. Will I get a new job this week?”
“Yes,” she said firmly, nodding her head for emphasis. “Go again.”
I laughed. It wasn't a nice laugh. “Will I make a lot of money?”
“Wiiiiilllll...Iiii.....” I drawled, stalling. “Will I have to resort to desperate measures in order to keep my family out of the poorhouse?”
“Oh, wow,” said Mimi, her eyes widening as the pentacle swung wildly from side to side. “I think that's a 'heck yeah' response, there.”
“Awesome,” I grumbled. “What am I gonna have to do, prostitute myself or something?”
“Yeah,” she nodded, pursing her lips. “Big time.”
“Great. Fantastic. Can't wait. Thanks for your help.” I shoved the magazine into my near-bottomless purse, a wave of hot, angry despair washing over me so that I could hardly breathe. “Excuse me, but I think I had better go pick out a street corner before the good ones are all taken. God help me, I honestly don't care what I have to do anymore, as long as it pays,” I said under my breath. I stood quickly, my thigh jolting against the table and making it jump. My coffee mug tipped over, spilling a few tablespoons of milky liquid over the table, most of it falling through the latticed iron to the ground.
“Ooh, a sacrifice, good idea. Was that a latte?”
I righted the cup and set it on the little plate. “Yeah, so?”
“They like milk.”
I squinted at her. “Ookay,” I said slowly, mopping up the mess on the table with my last napkin. I balled it up and threw it into the empty cup, then took the dishes over to the busser's tub sitting on top of a covered trash can by the side door. “Uh, well, I'm gonna be going now. You have a nice day.”
I don' t know where she put the pentacle, but I didn't see it anymore. Mimi jumped up and slid a card into my purse. “You should call me tomorrow when all this sinks in, 'kay? Do your own little divination tonight, then tomorrow morning, and give me a call. But not before ten, 'cause I'm not in the shop until then. 'Kay? All right, chin up, bye bye!”
I really expected her to try to hug me after that chipper deluge of words, but I have to admit that I was more disturbed by the fact that she had guessed right about my own version of divination. I play with tarot cards when I need some help with my introspection, when I want to think that there's something else in this world bigger and far outside my little self, and tonight would be one of those nights I would turn to them for reassurance, for self-guidance, for anything at all. My close friends knew I had them, but it wasn't common knowledge at all. I didn't talk about it, and I didn't ever keep them on me, and all I could think about was, how the hell did she know? Why did she pick me out of the little crowd of people on the patio?
It had to be a joke. It had to be some sort of weird, poorly-planned, practical joke. There were only two people in my life who knew me well enough to try for this angle, and neither of them was at all interested in anything involving the words “elaborate,” “planning,” or “effort.” As I drove home, I autopiloted the whole way, my mind anywhere but on the traffic. I went to the babysitter's and picked up my boy, I went home and threw together a cheap dinner, even for us, and since it was Thursday, took my night off as soon as my husband came home, hardly pausing even to kiss him hello and tell him what was on the stove.
I shut the study door and pulled out my tarot cards. I kept them wrapped in a black cloth, more to keep them from physical harm than to block the absorption of unwanted and interfering energies. I tried to focus, to calm my mind and pull myself together before I did my first spread, but my thoughts flew without me. It took me fifteen minutes of shuffling, my eyes closed, the fumbling with cards too large for my hands, before I finally felt that little hitch in my psyche that told me to stop and lay down a card. Repeating my mental request for general guidance, I laid down a simple, thirteen-card Celtic cross spread, the one I always used.
Greek gods and goddesses stared up at me from the cards. Major arcana in almost every single placement, many of them inverted, and so many that had never, ever appeared in a spread I pulled for myself. The High Priestess. The Devil. Strength. The Tower. The Hermit. The Magician. The Hierophant. The sheer amount of potential before me was too much; I rolled back in my chair and stood, pacing the three steps back and forth in the little room. I looked at the spread again after a moment, threading my fingers through my dark, shoulder-length hair. One card caught my attention, perhaps because it was one I found particularly beautiful. Pandora knelt naked and tearful before the mythic box, a swarm of blackness fading into the sky behind her. Her eyes were fixed on the bright, angelic figure of Hope rising like a phoenix from the bottom of the box, pure, white light pouring from every limb in a halo of gentle power. The Star.
I sat down heavily, my hands sliding the rest of the way through my hair to cover my face. Hope.