From the Sky - Part VII

Piquet Cards...

They sat around an oval wooden table in a small room. The only light came from candles placed on several bookshelves which were otherwise bare. The walls were covered in a faded ivory paper done in a pattern of circles formed by pale-green delicate vines. The circles were filled with thin, irregular horizontal lines. The vines extended away from the circles, …left and right, up and down …to intertwine with other circles. All connected tenuously, all of a piece. There was but one window in this stifling room, and an oversized shade was drawn down over it. The shade was painted black, and brass tacks held it tight against the wall, blocking all light. In the center of the shade there was a drawing in pale white lines of what looked an upside-down house; a simple rectangle containing two small rectangular windows. Below the house, the triangular roof, its apex now its nadir, pointing, it seemed, toward the floor. The room smelled of rich incense, the table was worn and plain with the only thing on it a thin deck of playing cards.

Paulie reached for the cards, but the fortune teller raised her finger quickly and shook her head. Paulie pulled his hand back, but said: "I wanted to see if there were cards missing."

"All are there," Madame Béatrice assured him.

"It doesn't look thick enough."

"It is a Piquet deck, boy. The little cards are gone, all the two's through sixes."

"Well, that's dumb. You can't play without those cards," Paulie said.

"You don't know Piquet? For more than four hundred years, the game has been played. I played it with my father, in France. It is a wonderful game for two. But these cards are not for games. These cards are for reading, and only I may touch them. Only me, do you understand, boy?"

Madame Béatrice picked up the deck, fixed her eyes on Zia, and said: "Let us begin. I will draw three cards: The past, the present, and the future. Who among you is closest to the heart of this storm?"

The sisters looked at each other, but none answered.

"It is you, isn't it?" asked the old woman, pointing to Zia.

Zia nodded.

Madame Béatrice shuffled the deck, cutting it thrice, then drew three cards and lay them face up before her: A Seven of Spades, a Queen of Hearts, and a Queen of Clubs. She pointed first to the seven, and said: "They have fought, all their lives, your father and his brother. Many times they have nearly come to blows. Many times, each nearly abandoned the other. They should have drifted apart long ago. They were held together, all these years, by this…"

Her aged, crooked finger touched lightly upon the Queen of Hearts.

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