If you don’t listen carefully, infinite and intimate can be mistaken for one another. Colleen thinks about these things while buttoning up their coats or wiping their noses before they leave for the bus, or their parents, or the wooded walk home. She can’t share these thoughts with them, of course. They’re too young to know that one of the few things more dangerous than fireworks is to split the word: fire works.
Colleen wraps little Cyndi two more times in her too-long red wool scarf so it won’t trail the ground when she dodders toward the parents’ pick-up area. She kisses the air before Cyndi’s nose, wishes her a good night and reminds her to get her mother to sign the permission slip for their field trip to the zoo next week. Colleen knows the slip will be signed at the last minute or not at all. Like the report cards riddled with C’s and D’s, Cyndi likely will return it at the very last moment with a signature scrawled across it that may or may not be her mother’s hand.
To forge: either to manufacture deceptively or to progress at an even rate of speed.
Colleen wonders who will teach her children the intricate wonders of the language long after the cubbyholes and recesses of her time with them has passed. It saddens her that not all her students will remember even her name, perhaps just that she favored bright green markers while teaching basic arithmetic on the dry-erase board or she preferred to receive oranges instead of apples.
When Cyndi cries for help, who will have taught her the words she uses? Who will be blamed if no one understands her?
The last of the children dressed to face the cold afternoon file out her door and Colleen shuts it behind them. Suddenly, her eyes brim with tears: there is so much she wants to teach them, so much she can’t. Through the half-open coat closet door, she notices a blue rain jacket still hanging from a peg. She goes to retrieve it, holds it to her face with both fists as if identifying it by scent.
Only one letter separates closet from closest.
There was a boy in Austin, where Johnny used to live, who wasn’t doing well. Each bloop denoting a new instant message in his chatbox filled Johnny with dismay. The Austin boy’s mother was breaking things in another room, the car was busted, he’d never have the money to return to Dallas. But Johnny hoped matters would improve, so he kept typing.
There was a boy in Dallas, or Arlington. Maybe Fort Worth. There are so many cities with their square glass eyes and patchwork roads and low heat. Johnny and this boy chat online three or four times a week. He was elusive but something in the pale blue eyes of his profile pic, when seen through the pixilation and grain, ignited within Johnny the brittle embers of possibility.
Down Johnny’s street, past the elementary school, over two blocks on Cedar Springs and in a sweaty apartment complex with buckling brown paint, there is another man, nearly forty. A drug arrest, an abandoned career as a pastor, a shabby string of roommates who leave Johnny and this man in peace as they make love and take hits off the pipe through the early morning onward till late afternoon.
But these men were not why Johnny asked for a love spell. He was a man Johnny has known through the nebulous, static world of technology for four years and had met exactly and no more than three times. They, of course, made love. And got high. Johnny seized at the few hours of each encounter as they departed, slipped out, out and away. He photographed this man, he showed him his poetry, which was labored and earnest. What is “make love” after all but a simplification of to manufacture endearment? The man’s name was Edgar Blunt.
For Johnny, Contessa Blanche had come expecting only to perform a Tarot reading. She placed her deep violet cloth across the section of the coffee table he cleared of junk. She invited him to place his hand on top of the deck, empty his mind of everything but the question he wished to ask, then cut and shuffle the cards to his satisfaction. He did not formulate in his mind any specific question about Edgar Blunt because he knew too little about the man to ask one. He feared the cards would flee from the Contessa’s hands in protest. Instead, he simply conjured an image of Edgar in his mind, motionless, just body and face surrounded by oblivion.
“This card represents where you are presently in your life,” she said, pointing at a card in the middle of the spread. He had forgotten most of what he learned about Tarot cards from his sister during high school, but he recognized an illustration of several wands littered about a wooded area. Each of the cards also carried a keyword to help the client better understand his interpretation. His first card carried the keyword delusion.
The Contessa sighed. Her numerous cheap bracelets slid down her forearm as she lifted her hand to her head. “I’m sure I don’t need to explain this to you.”
“What am I deluded about?”
“Likely the subject of your inquiry.”
The image of Edgar vanished from his head, and only the oblivion remained.
The card reading continued. Johnny was at a crossroad, he held the power to dictate what next course his life took. There was a danger of dissipation and, again, delusion. The Prince of Pentacles meant, she said, a man who is likely an earth sign would enter his life within the next two years. The card positioned to represent the final outcome of his query was The World. This, the Contessa told him, was good news.
She collected all the cards and began sorting through her canvas bag.
“But what’s going to happen?” he cried. “You didn’t tell me.”
“All I can offer is my interpretation.” She lit a cigarette.
“So I just wait for some other man to pop up in the next two years?”
“Companionship can be a great gift.”
“Do you cast spells?”
The white smoke sagged about her as the Contessa took a moment to study her client. “A love spell, I presume?”
“I have fifty dollars.”
“That won’t be necessary.” She searched her bag.
“I have to pay you something.”
“I’m charging you precisely what it’s worth.”
The spell involved lighting a candle, writing Edgar’s initials, finding the northernmost point of his apartment and a dash to his supermarket’s produce section. The spell would make Edgar Blunt fall urgently in love with him. “But remember,” she warned, “how a person reacts once struck by love cannot be predicted.”
“When should I do this?”
“Cast it at midnight on the night of the next full moon.”
Johnny felt foolish just listening to her. “When will I know if it worked?”
She closed his hands around the supplies she had just placed in them. “The world will provide her answer when you are ready to see it.”
After Contessa Blanche left, he placed the materials in his pantry. According to a meteorology Website, the next full moon was two weeks away. He spent his evening chatting online and updating his email before bed.
A love spell. A love spell with no guarantee of success.
But Johnny’s mind panged with optimism, erected a fortress around the meager chance he had been given to win Edgar Blunt’s love. This hope filled his sleeping body, it rose from him and blossomed inside the bedroom, it ballooned up and out of the apartment, blanketed Dallas and finally the world. This hope drifted into the lonely homes of all the boys Johnny knew and all the boys he did not. It stood, undetectable but undeniably there. There was hope enough for all of them.
Copyright © 2009 Thomas Kearnes
Thomas Kearnes is a 33-year-old author from East Texas. His fiction has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Night Train, Temenos, Parting Gifts, 3:AM Magazine, Thieves Jargon, Blithe House Quarterly, Pindeldyboz and other publications.