First card: Seven of Cups
The Record of Coco Charbonneau
July 25th, 1949, The Black Forest
Sara la Kali, stretch your black wings around me— If I am no one, inscribe me with purpose. If I am someone, speak it to me. I will believe anything you tell me.
My dear, sweet once upon a time….
In The Black Forest, I stand over the man who I’ve hated most in the world, the man who is now bound and gagged at my feet, his balding head bruised by the butt of the MAC-50 semiautomatic pistol that’s pointed at his third eye, and I need to decide whether or not I am a person capable of ending another human life.
I know that I am Coco Charbonneau, nineteen years old, burlesque dancer and fortune teller at Zenith Circus in Paris, but that’s just a dress I wear, and when I take it off, all that’s left is an inscrutable bastard with translucent skin. But I know that most fairy tales begin, I mean really begin, with an interdiction.
I learned this when I was young and my mother told me old Romani folk tales that she learned from her mother. When I say she told me these tales, I mean that she translated them. I am the first generation of my family unable to speak Rromanes, the language of the Romani people. The rest of the world calls us Gypsies, a word that falls from their mouths like a curse. And it’s because of that curse, the world’s hatred and fear of us, that we were forced to run and hide from the Nazi’s purge in these woods and shed our language. Anyone who thinks that Gypsies are nomads because of inner wanderlust is a fool. Nomadism is born from persecution, as ugly as rape and murder, and we’ve been dogged for so long that running has become part of us.
Most Roma keep their language but my mother decided against it as an extra precaution. It’s why I have no soul. Well, one of the reasons. Just in case, I learned some Rromanés at the circus Girard and Sunita.
The man sobs into the gag and the dead leaves softening the ground. It’s the first time I’ve seen him cry and it’s undignified—I enjoyed ripping a strip from the hem of my skirt (a calculated insult) and stuffing it into his mouth. May he choke on my pollution.
Anyone who thinks that Gypsies are nomads because of inner wanderlust is a fool. Nomadism is born from persecution, as ugly as rape and murder, and we’ve been dogged for so long that running has become part of us. Latcho drom. Pray for a safe journey.
Still, I haven’t shot him yet.
The crow is silent in the Norway Spruce boughs above us and won’t give me any more directions. When I asked her if it’s wrong for me to kill a man, even a man of his poor cut and caliber, she said, “There was never a time when I ceased to exist, or you; nor will there come a time when we cease to be.”
He’s sobbing too much, even with the gag, and either he’s shitting his fear or he’s trying to weaken me. Either way, I’m not about to tolerate it. I snap, “Shut up! You think crying will work with me?” He quiets in an instant and his mushy red cheeks slacken as though he never wept at all.
In a proper story, the hero has to disobey before anything changes, good or bad. There is a specific moment when the hero makes a choice that irrevocably spins Sara-la-Kali’s wheel of fate in one direction or another.
When I was a child, my mother taught me drabaripé, the art of fortune telling, which is really the art of reading human nature. She taught me to pin-point that moment of interdiction in my clients’ lives over their palms, cards, or tea cups, and, most importantly, their conversation. Finding that moment became an obsession. Every time I broke a rule as a child—riding our ancient pony, Baxt, when he’s out of humor; touching my lips to the drinking vessel; crying out in pain—I wondered if that was my interdiction, the thing that had set my life on fire. But interdictions really matter. It’s not like when your mother tells you, good Gypsy girls don’t curse (even though that’s bollocks), and then later, when you’re stirring the soup over the fire and the broth spits and scalds your hand, you cry, cock-sucking bastard! because you’re angry and you learned it from your uncle. The worst thing that happens then is the slap your mother gives you. No, I’m here with a pistol in my hand because, for better or for worse, I broke an oath.
I promised myself I wouldn’t wait before shooting him, and yet, I’m holding a cold gun. I’m not afraid of the blood that will pour from his shattered head; I’m not plagued by warmth or nostalgia. My uncle deserves a brutal death. But there is the lingering question over the signs that led me here: I cannot unknow what I read in my cards. Every good teller knows that when you read your own fortune, you fall prey to your own fears and desires—like shadow and light, they throw your vision, flirt with your heart, and spatter the wall with the darker dregs of your mind. The card I drew signifying me, the querent, had this to say on top of it: “The Seven of Cups suggests she is creative, observant, and intuitive, but prone to hallucinogenic fantasy and too indulgent in dreams. When her heart aches or hopes, it aggravates the scorpion within and prods her self-serving nature (her wildness to survive). The scorpion is protective and self-protective, deceptive and self-deceptive, and unable to differentiate between those dreams and reality. If she believes her feelings to be the objective truth, she will make errors in judgment.”
The crow speaks obliquely on these matters, saying, We are infinite, eternal, and whole, and that answers none of my questions. Up on that bough, she looks like an open, bird-shaped door to the cosmos suspended in a boldly blue sky.
Jessica Reidy is a writer of part-Romani (Gypsy) heritage from New Hampshire. She earned her MFA in Fiction at Florida State University and a B.A. from Hollins University. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart, and has appeared in Narrative Magazine as Short Story of the Week, The Los Angeles Review, Arsenic Lobster, and other journals. She’s a staff-writer and Outreach Editor for for Quail Bell Magazine, Managing Editor for VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, and Art Editor for The Southeast Review. She also teaches creative writing, yoga, and sometimes dance. Jessica is currently working on her first novel set in post-WWII Paris about a half-Romani burlesque dancer and fortune teller of Zenith Circus, who becomes a Nazi hunter.