Tower of Jargon

Not only am I an ancient history fan, I’m also obsessed with words. Particularly idioms and puns. I can’t say that I’m an expert at any of the millennial or Gen Z jargon, but I love running across it.

Words are like cars. Each one has a different feel. And although I may never been a race driver, I do enjoy stepping into the seat of a new phrase and seeing how it handles. Sort of like a Top Gear for vocabulary.

Tim Kane

The Face That Launched One Ship

I’ve always been a fan of Greek legends. So if Helen had a face gorgeous enough to cause thousands to go to war, would that sort of fantastic visage diminish over time? My idea here was to also comment on the loss of realism in art. For the record, I’m a huge fan of modern art. I just don’t see Cubist woman inspiring ardor.

Olga is a reference to Picasso’s first wife and the image I used was a portrait of her. Picasso divorced her because the two did not get along, perhaps inputting the rather unflattering portraiture of her.

Tim Kane

The Tarot Cards Choose a New Owner

Epilogue

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

Kassandra

The bus screeched to a stop at the curb and the doors hissed open. Kassandra and Gabriel climbed on board. He had real boy clothes now. Auntie Jo had driven them by the Retro and Gabriel found some things that fit. They weren’t stylish—money was still tight—but at least he wasn’t wearing Mom jeans anymore.

Kassandra had ditched the Tarot-bought clothes. All of them into the trash. She was forced to pick up a pair of used jeans along with Gabriel. They were worn at the knees, but not ripped yet.

Scooting down the aisle, Kassandra tugged Gabriel along. “Okay. We have to go over your cover story.”

“Am I supposed to be your cousin?”

“Ew, no. That was Auntie Jo’s idea.”

Book Girl sat in the usual spot, her legs wedged against the seat in front with a paperback balanced on top. She glanced up, eyeing Gabriel a little too long.

Kassandra continued heading toward the back of the bus. “I’m pulling the plug on the whole cousin thing. I mean, what if I turn out to like you later?”

He scrunched up his face in confusion.

“Kiss. It means what if we end up kissing.”

“Oh.” Gabriel looked a bit embarrassed. “Courtship between cousins was not entirely uncommon in my day.”

“Well, these days it’s disgusting.”

The bus lurched forward. Kassandra managed to half sit, half fall into the seat, but Gabriel wasn’t so lucky. He stumbled to one knee before making it onto the seat.

“Sorry, I should have warned you about Driver Lady.” She pulled out the battered crocheted bag, searching for a pen and some paper. Next to the other purse, this thing was a cavern. “Let’s get some notes down so we both know your story.”

Something squirmed past her fingers and launched into the air. Gabriel snatched the slip of paper before it fluttered away.

“I should never have made this for you.”

“I like it.” Kassandra took the paper back. It was a drawing he’d made of the nightingale. She’d cut around the edges of the pencil sketch so it could move its wings. Even stuck back in the purse, the paper wings flapped back and forth, trying to fly. “You’ll have a heck of a time in Science class. Maybe let me do the drawings for cellular mitosis.”

“Do you still have them?” Gabriel eyed her purse.

He was asking about the cards. The way he did every five seconds.

“Don’t be so paranoid. Where are they going to go?”

But when Kassandra reached into the purse, they weren’t there. She started pulling things out, searching for the cards. The bus braked, throwing her forward.

“Where are they?” She stood and searched the seat, even stuffing one hand down the foam rip. Nothing. “They can’t disappear. They just don’t do that.”

Some of the kids twisted around to see what was going on. Kassandra had one final idea. She pushed past Gabriel and leaned down, scanning the floor under the seats.

“Sit down back there,” Driver Lady hollered, putting the bus back in gear. Kassandra balanced by bracing against the seats. Backpacks littered the floor. There was a forest of legs. Even if the cards were down there somewhere, she couldn’t see anything. Gabriel yanked her back into the seat.

“They’re gone.” Kassandra stared blankly forward.

She should be relieved. She’d wanted rid of those things since day one. But what about Luke? If someone let him out, he’d come straight for her. Just like Carol, the Clerk Lady at the Psychic Mind. Then another idea slipped into Kassandra’s mind. The first day she’d found the cards. Carol seemed so shocked. Maybe they’d vanished from her pocket.

Kassandra turned to Gabriel. “The cards. They’ve chosen someone new.”

Margaret

Margaret hiked her legs up, squashing it against the seat in front. What were these seats stuffed with—wood? It was impossible to get comfortable on one of these. She propped the book on one knee. With any luck, Ms. Sammers wouldn’t ride the brake all the way to school.

Cracking open the paperback, Margaret dug in. The hero, Billy, was shoved in a boxcar with plenty of other prisoners of war. The place seemed filthy and cramped. It reminded her of the bus ride.

After only a page, she swayed forward as the bus stopped to pick up more passengers. Great, here came the new girl. It looked like she traded boyfriend number one for a new model. Margaret watched them pass, poking her glasses up her nose. The first guy was cuter, though this one wasn’t half bad.

She tried to steer her mind back to the book and the boxcar rumbling through Germany, but the new girl kept chattering. The girl was way too perky today. Margaret liked her better before—all mopey and quiet. The bus lurched forward, sending the new girl on her ass. It served her right. If she hadn’t learned about how Ms. Sammers drove by now, she was hopeless.

Margaret snugged down in the seat, creasing the book open, but her heart wasn’t in it. The new girl would make an easy scapegoat, but truthfully, it wasn’t only her. Everyone on this bus wore Margaret down. They all went on and on, believing every word they said was vitally important when all it really amounted to was jabbering. These people didn’t know the first thing about life and how to live it. Margaret cracked her knuckles. She’d so like to educate them.

The bus jerked forward again and her face nearly mashed into her knee. The book tumbled to the floor. Mrs. Sammers was riding the brake again.

Margaret groped between the seats, but one hand brushed a stack of cards. She did a quick glance of the bus passengers and then scooped them up along with the book. The cards were oversized, meant for meaty hands and not her slender fingers.

A commotion erupted from the back of the bus. Twisting around, she saw the new girl was having a hissy fit. Enough with the drama already.

Margaret flipped over the top card and saw a stone pillar towering above an ocean. A single rose sprouted from the center of the rock. She tapped the person-shaped empty space right in the middle.

“It’s like someone forgot to finish the picture.”

The bottom read The Fool. “Now who on the bus fits this description?” She giggled. “Take your pick. Most of these folks tread water in the shallow end of the pool.”

Margaret flipped through the rest of the cards. The Emperor, Judgment, The Tower. This was clearly a Tarot deck. But the illustrations looked different from any deck she’d seen before. They had more life to them. Why were some of the cards blank, like The Fool? Had the artist skipped out before the end?

She paused at an illustration of a man wearing the most ridiculous red suit. The bottom said he was The Magician, but the guy looked more like a clown. Margaret was about to move on when the figure shifted. She blinked. It wasn’t her imagination. He really moved. One minute he was staring at the table. The next, he looked at her.

“Why do you look so familiar?” She tilted the card. “This some kind of hologram?” The image didn’t change this time.

The bus lurched, the wheels klunking into a pothole. Ms. Sammers was aiming to hit them all this morning. Margaret glanced back at the card. The man looked at the table again. Maybe it was only her imagination.

Margaret flipped the card back onto the pile and slid the Tarot deck into her backpack. She might as well keep them. They could be good for a laugh. The image of the Fool card popped into her head and she grinned. The blank spot was so begging to be penciled in. And Margaret knew plenty of candidates.

Kassandra Visits the Death Card One Final Time

Chapter 49

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

“We need another fork.” Gabriel arranged the silverware on the table. He was dressed in one of Kassandra’s oversized T-shirts and a pair of Mom’s jeans. They didn’t have any real clothes for him—not in a house of girls.

“Got it.” Kassandra hustled into the kitchen.

The scent of cactus gumbo filled the room. Auntie Jo stirred the pot on the stove.

“You sure it’s going to taste good?” Kassandra frowned as she peered at the brown sauce.

“Trust me child, your stomach won’t be large enough.”

“I’ll take that on faith.” Kassandra took the fork back to the dinner table, placing it at the fourth setting.

Mom swept in, munching on a carrot while typing one-handed on the phone. Maybe texting Comb Over.

Kassandra didn’t know and didn’t care. “We’re eating in fifteen. No phones allowed.”

Mom flashed a look and then retreated to the counter to finish the text message. Kassandra shrugged. As long as Mom stowed the phone before dinner.

“Gabe, come over here.” Auntie Jo backed away from the stove. “I’m in need of some of those muscles.” He headed into the kitchen to help wrestle the massive pot off the burners.

With everyone occupied, Kassandra slipped down the hall, sneakers padding softly on the carpet. She shut the door and plopped on the bed. The Tarot deck only barely fit in the front jean pocket, but she managed to wriggle it out. The same card sat at the top—Fortitude.

“Where did you go?” Kassandra stroked the empty space next to the lion.

Maybe Lindsay had escaped and was wandering the deck. At least Kassandra hoped so. The alternative was a lot more bloody. She wanted to examine every card, to spot Lindsay in one of them, but there wasn’t enough time right now.

The next card lay face down for a reason. Kassandra took a quick peek. Luke was dressed in the red monkey suit, stuck in his stained glass castle. His illustration somehow looked sullen. She flipped him back over. There was nothing he could say worth listening to.

The third card was Death, still showing Dad’s face at the bottom. “I may not be able to bring you back, but at least I can visit.”

Kassandra closed her eyes and summoned up an image the garage. She wanted to focus on something positive, like all those times Dad worked with the table saw or just puttered around. But that wouldn’t be enough. Instead, she focused on the ladder tipped on its side. The yellow rope stretched taut. His feet above the concrete, the laces of one shoe dangling. There was a twinge at her gut. Then a flutter, like wings beating. The air grew colder. Kassandra felt something mash her chest flat. A spike of pain jabbed at her with each breath.

Then, all at once, the pressure vanished. She was back. The nightingale flapped over to the workbench. Dad stood at the open garage door, staring out at the grassy meadow. Sunlight streamed in, coloring the concrete floor golden.

“Dad?”

He turned and smiled. She ran over and hugged him.

“I waited for you.” Dad gave a final squeeze before letting go. He glanced over a the meadow. “It’s time.”

“No.” Kassandra grabbed his arm, but he shook his head.

“I need to do this.” He gripped the side of her face, one calloused finger rubbing her cheek. “As long as I’m stuck here, you will be too.”

“I risked too much to get you back. Can’t you just enjoy that we’re together?”

“I am.” He wiped a tear from Kassandra’s face. “I made the choice to leave you and Louise. Now I have to see it through.”

The tears gushed down Kassandra’s face. She seized his hand, squeezing hard enough to crush bone. “This isn’t fair.”

“I love you.” Dad somehow managed to pull free. Or maybe Kassandra had let go. She couldn’t tell.

He stepped into the meadow and a burst of warm air washed into the garage. The wind picked up, sending dried leaves spiraling into the air.

Kassandra edged closer, yearning to rush after him.

Part of Dad’s shirt peeled away, transforming into a leaf and fluttering into the meadow. Gradually the color of his skin darkened, turning brown and brittle. Then piece by piece, he was blown away, his body splitting into hundreds of leaves, until only a small brown bird remained.

“Don’t fly away. I still need you.”

The horizon darkened, stained by a massive flock. Their squawks and chirps emanated from across the meadow. Dad’s nightingale hovered for a moment, looking back. Kassandra reached out with one hand, her fingers quivering.

“I won’t ever forget you.”

The bird darted away, flying toward the flock.

Kassandra stood at the edge of the grass, her breath raspy and uneven. Dad’s nightingale shrunk to a black speck among the thousands of other birds.

Finally, she marched to the workbench. The box of razors sat in the same spot as always. Kassandra snatched them up and returned to the meadow. The box felt so small now, like a kid’s toy. She hurled it in. The box flew a long arc and then disappeared in the tall grass.

“Goodbye.”

Kassandra backed up and pressed the button. The garage door shuddered, squealing as it lowered. She kept watching until the last of the sunlight vanished and the door thumped into the concrete. Only her own nightingale remained, staring from the workbench.