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Trump Card

by Anthony Santulli

The true Tarot is symbolism; it speaks no other language and offers no other signs.
— Arthur E. Waite, occultist and co-creator of the influential Rider-Waite tarot deck

The Fool


Clothes torn, standing with naked feet on the window’s ledge. Sirens at the bottom blend with the screams of human ants, pawns. On my back, everything I need. Staring into the crowd, I look for something to be discovered. Even if it is nothing at all. The note in my hand and the sun on my neck sting as I feel the weight slipping into the void, waiting for my feathers to catch me. Eyes closed. No fear. Checkmate.

I: The Magician


His sleight of hand was quick like fire. His father’s Swiss Army knife had sliced the bottoms of countless handbags, leaving material possessions to vanish into thin air. He ebbed and flowed through the crowd of Niçois like the water of the French Riviera. “Excusez-moi, excusez-moi,” he would have said. He pinched the dry earth like salt, but it never woke.

He counted the scrawled tallies on the wall. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Just one more year.

II: The High Priestess


The three of us live together in silence, like pomegranates and palm trees. We keep our money hidden in a black stocking underneath my bed. During the hours where sleep seems to escape, I feel the stares of dead presidents peering through my rusted box-spring. Tomorrow, the moon will be whole once again.

“Where do you go at night?”

The Torah burns like toast on the armoire and the baby is kicking. We all have secrets.

III: The Empress


we are all in the womb and mother is the refuge of sinners and she sits by the waterfall we can all hear it and she is waiting for us all of us and she is warm and safe and we can feel her heart beating and the flow of life all around us and it won’t be long before we are born into the world and we can be nursed and we can be raised and then we can see and then we can feel and then we can touch and we can be pregnant and then we can nurse and then we can raise and we can be old and then we can die and only then can we understand

IV: The Emperor


And then there were four. The atmosphere glows like auburn hair fitting a fair complexion and hazel eyes. One day, my eagle will leave the nest and the house will feel empty again. Nobody can know where I am going. I tear open the unemployment check for the last time. $900 every two weeks with tax.

“That ought to cover it.” Get in the car and drive. The handicapped parking permit dances with each turn, and I stare at the figure of a man in a wheelchair as he hangs from the windshield, disconnected. Behind me, I see an old cemetery with crumbling tombstones and boring epitaphs.


V: The Hierophant


Black smoke. “Speak now or forever hold your peace.” I turn my fist towards the glass and watch as my knuckles come close to touching in the reflection before the glass shatters. The cross’s handle is splintered and cold from neglect. I grab her lover by the wrists and throw him to the floor. All is silent in the wedding hall.

When he dies, she picks up the corpse and watches it fold in her arms like rope. “What a pity.” Her veil is stained crimson like his boutonniere. White smoke.

VI: The Lovers


“Can we keep her?”


“Why not?”

“Because I said so.” Her dead hair dropped to her breasts like waves, her cheeks flushed red with pride, the corners of her mouth were wrinkled paper, her skin was pocked and sinewy.


“I said no.” Her eyes fell to the floor.

“What would dad say?”

“I don’t know.” She looked to Heaven, and he looked to her.

“Then what do you know?”

“I know that your father hated them.” In that second, their bodies were exposed, standing at the foot of a mountain, listening to the beckoning hiss of the serpent, feeling the flame of the tree scratching the child’s back, and cognizance was at its peak like high noon. The apple has not fallen far from the tree, and it has gone rotten. Woof.

VII: The Chariot


Three weeks after my father’s death, I converted to Kashmir Shaivism. The religion is practically extinct, I guess that’s why I joined it in the first place. I felt accepted by something tight-knit and small, almost suffocating. I read the works of Rabindranath Tagore, Abhinavagupta, and Jayaratha, learned the thirty-six tattvas by heart, wrote my college thesis on Pratyabhijna, even achieved Kechari mudra. Prithvi, the first tattva, is earth, one of the five ingredients of the physical world. It is represented by a yellow-brown square because it is symbolic of the limitless fertility and creativity it supplies. Kundalini Sakti lives inside of the Prithvi tattva and is the force of potential located in the bottom of the spinal column.

I used to be a lot of things. An artist, a dreamer, a whole man full of potential. I had two wings, two wheels to carry me everywhere. If any part were to be damaged, I wouldn’t be able to move. Now I just sit in this wheelchair. Now I am half of a man. Now I am only a Kashmir Shaivist.

VIII: Strength


You are a very good dog. Your brother is a very good dog, but he isn’t always as good as you. It’s been three months since master had your brother fixed. He looked really strange for a long time. He was never the same after that.

It still hurts to walk after all these years.

There’s a hole under the fence again, but you don’t think you’re going to go under it. It hurts to go under the fence alone.

Your brother always wonders what happened to Mom. She’s still back at the cage, waiting, or so you’ve been told. You haven’t seen Mom in a really long time.

It gets really cold this time of year. You hate the snow; it makes your paws freeze, and you can barely walk in it.

Your brother likes the snow. He is a very good dog.

There is a river beyond the fence. It is usually still, but it gets louder after the rain.

Two weeks ago, your brother went past the fence. He is older, so you follow him. You swim in the water like your brother and feel shivers run down your spine. A catfish brushes up against your fur. You swim after it and catch it with your teeth. Fish is better than the food master gives you.

Recently, entire days are spent waiting, patient. Good dog.

Your brother is sick. He tells you he wants to leave, that he wants to go past the fence. There is a river beyond the fence, and you want fish.

The whole world is out there. But you don’t think master would like it if you left so soon.

Your brother starts digging. Maybe he should wait, but he keeps digging. No more waiting. You start barking, but your brother just keeps digging.

You thought your brother was a good dog.

IX: The Hermit


“Papà, è quello tu?”

“Sì, figlio. Sono qui.”

“Perchè porti quella lampada?”

“Cercavo il mio bambino.” He saw his son’s face illuminated in the darkness. The boy was a lot older now. His face had started to grow hair, and his teeth were all straight in his mouth. All cheeks were glowing on the Venetian street, and the father took off his shirt and jumped into the Grand Canal while his son watched the bubbles float to the top and disappear.

X: Wheel of Fortune


The day I won the lottery, I swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills. Call it beginner’s luck. For the life of me, I cannot remember why. Something about fate or karma or something. My friends told me I was crazy and only stopped by the hospital to ask for drug money. It didn’t really bother me that much. I am a patient man.

“I’m a patient, man. I can’t collect my winnings like this.” The IV dripped into my veins and I thought of my father, hunched over and sallow.

“Doesn’t some guy like Ed McMahon show up at your bed with a giant check or something?”

“I wish. Plus, I have to pay taxes on it and everything, it’s complicated.” I avoided eye contact.

“Yeah. You know, if you ever, like, need anything, I’m always here for you.”

“Get out.”


XI: Justice


Day 8

We, the jury, find the defendant, Stephen Steinbrink, guilty on three counts of first-degree murder.
We, the jury, find the defendant, Stephen Steinbrink, guilty on three counts of first-degree murder.
We, the jury, find the defendant, Stephen Steinbrink, guilty on three counts of first-degree murder.
We, the jury...

Over and over in my head. I am in over my head. I am innocent. I am guilty. God.

When the time comes, I think my last meal will be a shrimp cocktail and some cheap wine. Maybe tip the scales in my favor a little bit.

They won’t know I’m allergic.

XII: The Hanged Man


I wanted to throw out all of the gifts. I wanted to return the diapers and the clothes and the crib and the teddy bear that played music when you squeezed its stomach. They never even let me see her.

The hallway stretched into an impossible labyrinth. A blur. I supported my weight on the empty picture frames that lined the walls.

I ripped the curtains from her wall and locked the door. The television hummed and strobed the air. The pink satin folded in my arms and tickled soft against my neck. My wedding rings tightened like vises, cringing as they watched me tie the knot for the second time.

XIII: Death


10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

“There’s always next year.”

XIV: Temperance


Grocery List

XV: The Devil


Her name was Zoe and She was born on February 13, 1998, 6 pounds, 9 ounces. The doctors planned for Her to be born on Valentine’s Day. Zoe was Her grandmother’s name. I could see through my window that the parents had wanted a boy because Her walls were a pale blue rather than pink. She was truly a gift from God, and every day she breathed was Christmas.

For the first five years, I let my voyeurism get the better of me. I didn’t know Her name, but I watched her as often as I could. Her parents don’t know that her first word was “No” or that I have it on camera.

XVI: The Tower

The phoenix hope, can wing her way through the desert skies, and still defying fortune’s spite, revive from ashes and rise. — Miguel de Cervantes


“Come on, man, you have to wake up.” I pounded on his hairless chest. “Don’t do this to me, not like this, man.” Boom. “Please, you have to wake up.” Boom. I choked on the words. “Please.”

“Get your act together, man, we have to go.”

“We can’t just leave him here like this.” Boom.

“He’s dead, there’s nothing we can do. We have to go. Now.” Explosions danced around us, igniting the sky. The ground hot and wet and sticky and covered in ash. We heard the acclamations of civilians cheering for their country while one of their own lay dead at our feet.

“I knew it could hurt, probably burn you real bad. I didn’t think it could do this.” Veins of red light stripped the night of darkness and rained down like blood and pain and sin and courage and sacrifice.

God Bless America.

XVII: The Star


The embers of the home gleamed like Christmas morning. Ash caked the windows and smoke kissed the air as it floated away. The husband begged and the wife pleaded and the daughter cried and the building groaned and all came down on the nuclear family like a bomb.

That night, I dreamed of my teeth rotting and falling out of my mouth like sand in an hourglass.

I knew where they kept the spare key. Now they will never catch me.

Charles Richard Thorne II

CARBONDALE — Charles Richard Thorne II, 33, died Saturday when his house caught fire in what police suspect could be arson.

He was born in Chicago, a son of Dr. Charles Richard Thorne and Barbara Dodge Thorne, and attended high school and university there.

On Jan. 13, 1995, he married his wife, Dana Romanosky.

He was a florist for six years until he earned his doctorate in dentistry and worked for his father in Chicago before filing for bankruptcy in 2001.

Surviving are his wife of Carbondale; a daughter, Zoe, also of Carbondale; mother Zoe Thorne; brother James Peter Thorne of Knoxville, and sister Elizabeth Wolcott of Bloomington.

A graveside service will be held at Woodlawn Cemetery, Carbondale. The Rev. Timothy O’Sullivan will officiate.

XVIII: The Moon


There sits a man who strums a guitar. Calls himself Oscillations. His pet goat’s name is Untitled and he keeps the goat leashed to the side of his chair. Day after day he plays the same dull chords to the bark of the trees, his only audience.

Legend says if you listen to him play, he’ll write a song for you. Only problem is most people don’t ever hear their songs. Yeah, he says, I’ll have it ready by tomorrow.


A boy pokes at Untitled. “What’s his name?”

“Ain’t got no name. Now get.”


“Because there ain’t any use in words, now leave.”

“Well, I wanna hear you play.”


His guitar is old. Rusted steel bounces on his calloused tips. A key dangles out of the chamber. To unlock what, who knows. Chain reads I Rode the Bull at Bobby Mackey’s. The glossy finish has been chipped and repainted and cracked and coated over and swollen and nursed many times now. Loose change in the body smashes the acoustic walls.

“You gonna play me a song?”

“I ain’t gotta play you nothing, boy. What you doing out here, anyway?”

“Nowhere else to go, sir.”

“What’s your name?”

“Kenneth.” Oscillation sighs.

“Alright, then. This one’s for you. It’s untitled.”

“What kind of a name is that?”

“It’s your name now. One, two, one two three four.”

Bah. The dissonance hits the leaves and shivers. Bah.

Zenith crests over the boy’s head and falls into nothing. The chair is empty. It is morning now. Bah. Listen closely, he says.

You’ll get your song, alright.

XIX: The Sun


“Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Thorne. You two are now the proud parents of a beautiful baby girl.”

“Thank you, Dr. Caffery.” She looked to him, and he looked to Heaven.

“Would you like to see her?” He gestured to the nursery.

“Please, doctor.” A moment passed, and the doctor carried in his arms nine months of life swaddled in pink fleece. The mother stared into eyes that were still adjusting to light. Her husband’s palms were cupped around his hallowed and hollow eyes.

“Where is my son?” the father interrupted.

XX: Judgement

What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from. — T.S. Eliot


Beneath their feet, they felt the Earth tremble like nervous hands. Loki, Poseidon, and Namazu were all at work. The ground split in two, creating a fiery abyss of crust, upper mantle, mantle, outer core, inner core beneath the troposphere. Entire coastal cities were dragged into the ocean like Atlantis and mushroom clouds vacuumed the planet clean. Everywhere, sirens blared like the trumpet of Gabriel. Pets grabbed their toys and children grabbed their pets and mothers grabbed their children and husbands grabbed their wives and it was warm and close and wet like the womb.

All around the world, time was swallowed up whole. They could have leaped across. They could have stayed.

XXI: The World


I choose to jump in.

I open my eyes and stare out towards the horizon. My flesh is exposed. My toes are numb from standing on the precipice. Beneath me, I hear the screams of family members, friends, doctors, children, priests, pets, infants, cripples, drug addicts, and the dead telling me to get down. Every one of them with a story that’s been lost somewhere in time, I just pick up the pieces. The world comes full circle, and I have to begin again at zero, fifteen stories above the ground.

Nothing ever really changes anyway.

Copyright © 2013 by Anthony Santulli

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