Page 1

Alsdorf 1

Queen of Swords The sound of my fart resonated throughout the front of the salon, leaving behind an unpleasant odor, but nothing we weren’t used to in grooming. “Sorry,” I said with a shit eating grin. Amalie couldn’t contain her laughter, throwing her Kool-Aid red hair back, eyes shut. “I thought it was going to be a silent one,” I said. “Oh my God, that was hilarious!” she said, gasping. “Farts are so funny to me. You said, ‘Sorry!’” She shrugged, mocking my insincerity. “Farts are proof God has a sense of humor,” I said. I played it off, but I had my suspicions that my flatulence wasn’t solely due to my recent obsession with black beans. Still, I couldn’t be sure. I felt hungover, but I hadn’t had more than a couple of beers the night before. Oh shit. I’d forgotten to take my meds. That’s what it was. I hated that my doctor had prescribed them to me for the “foreseeable future” due to my Bipolar diagnosis. It was either pop pills or end up in the nut hut again though. I usually preferred life on the outside. The door to the salon opened, breaking my reverie, and in bustled Rory, our manager, white sunglasses in hand, fauxhawk gelled to perfection. “How’s it going?” he asked “Slow. Only two dogs so far,” I said. “Yeah, and they’re both mine,” said Amalie. “Smells like one of them pooped!” Rory said. “I have a couple dogs coming in later,” I said, ignoring Amalie’s renewed fit of laughter.

Alsdorf 2

“Aren’t you supposed to be off today?” “Yes,” he sighed. “And I still need to rearrange the back, get a haircut, pick my mom up and drive to Bellville for a funeral.” “Who died?” asked Amalie. “My great aunt on my step dad’s side.” “I’m sorry.” “It’s ok,” he said. “Someone help me move those kennels.” I followed Rory to the back while Amalie answered the phone. “I think we need to move the drying table over there,” he said, pointing to the left. “Rory,” I said. “Can I tell you something?” “You know I’m always here for my people,” he said with an easy smile. “I think I might be pregnant.” “Woah-ho, well we know what you’ve been up to,” he said with a wink and an air nudge. “How does PetLand deal with maternity leave?” I asked with a sheepish grin. “I think you get twelve weeks. Or six. I’d have to check.” “It’s too soon to take a test, but I just feel different.” “They say women just know,” he said. “But you should still go get a blood test.” “Oh and I wanted to ask you,” I said. “Can I get Friday through Monday off next weekend? Thomas and I are going on a camping trip.” “Sure, I can work it in,” he said. “Where are you two lovebirds off to?” “Pedernales Falls. It’s supposed to be really pretty. Were doing some primitive camping thing.”

Alsdorf 3

“Fun fun. I’ve gotta run! See you later,” he said as he turned to leave. At a quarter to ten o’clock my first dog arrived, a white maltipoo. The owner was a heavyset woman, a regular at PetLand. “How are you and Chula today?” I asked. “We’re fabulous! Chula needs her little nails filed and her teeth brushed. I want to go a little shorter on her this time,” she said. “No problem.” I pulled the contract off the printer. “Just sign and date the bottom of the paper and I’ll call you as soon as she’s ready,” I said. Janie showed up a few minutes later. She found me with Chula on the table, smiling out the window at a little girl in a pink hooded sweatshirt who stood there, arms folded on the ledge, watching me groom. Parents liked to bring their kids to PetLand. It was like a free zoo. Usually the kids would stand there making faces, leaving grubby little handprints on the glass, but this little girl just stood there patiently. “If I have a kid I want her to be like that,” I said to Janie. “She’s so well behaved.” “You don’t want one for a long time,” she said. “Trust me. I love Joanna to death, but she can be a little monster. They’ll suck the life out of you. Enjoy your youth.” “Don’t tell anyone,” I said in a hushed voice. “But I think I might be pregnant.” “No shit. Are you going to keep it?” she asked. “I think so,” I said. “Don’t you take really strong meds for your Bipolar? That sounds like Bad News Bears to me, girl.” “Yeah. It would definitely be difficult,” I said. “The last thing I want is to be a new mom

Alsdorf 4

locked away in a psych ward because I’ve lost my shit again.” “Mm-mm,” said Janie, shaking her head. “I have an appointment with my psychiatrist and my therapist tomorrow. I’ll talk to them about it,” I said. A couple of hours later, Mrs. Andaluza came to pick up Chula. “Chula threw up in her kennel,” I told her. “It looked like oatmeal. What did you feed her?” “Oh, I just fed her some chicken tenders,” she said with a chuckle. “Nothing unhealthy.” “Chicken isn’t bad for dogs when it’s grilled or baked but I’d steer clear of the fried stuff in the future. Other than that, she did great as usual. You guys have a good one,” I said. At three o’clock, I stepped out into the parking lot, inhaling the greasy aroma of the fast food restaurants across the way. I drove home and farted around for a while before meeting Thomas for dinner. We decided on Whataburger. Patty melts had become a staple in my diet since I’d met him. “Hey baby, how was your day?” he asked as he hugged me tightly. I breathed in the scent of the Versace cologne I’d bought him for Christmas, my nose level with his chest. He wasn’t much for designer brands, and neither was I, truth be told, but this stuff smelled fantastic. “Oh, you know. Same shit, different day,” I said. I knew he didn’t really care to hear about my work. He wasn’t a fan of dogs. “How was yours?” He set off talking animatedly about the new machine his company was building. He worked as a drafter for an offshore oil rigging company. I knew it was important work, much

Alsdorf 5

more vital than trimming dogs’ hair, but I always found myself zoning out when he talked about it, smiling and nodding periodically to feign interest. I thought I should talk to him about my latest pregnancy scare, but I didn’t want to interrupt him. He loved to talk but he wasn’t much of a listener. It was damn near impossible to get a word in edgewise once he got going. We finished our meals and said our goodbyes before he headed off to class. “No big toe in the butthole!” he shouted across the parking lot. “Nope! See you tomorrow,” I said. The next day, I showed up to my psychiatrist’s downtown office fifteen minutes late because of all the traffic I always failed to consider. After an hour’s wait, Dr. Ramirez ushered me into his office. “How are you doing?” he asked in his Spanish accent, pushing his square framed glasses higher up on the bridge of his nose. “Well, I’ve been okay in general. Work’s going pretty well and I’m taking a couple of classes this semester.” He nodded. “Are you still smoking the mary-juana?” he asked with a slight grin. “Only sometimes. Not like I used to.” “Good to hear, Eh-Stebi. Are you still with the boyfriend?” He raised his eyebrows. I’d told him about so many boyfriends over the years. Lord knows what he thought about me. “Yeah. I wanted to talk to you about that. What would happen if I got pregnant?” “We don’t want to talk about that. You are using the birth control or condoms, no?” “Not exactly.” “This is not good.” He shook his head vigorously, causing his glasses to slide back down

Alsdorf 6

his nose. “You are doing so well and you don’t need to have a child until you are older and you have planned for it.” “What if it happened though?” He pushed his glasses back up. “Well, we would have to take you off the medications and we would see you for more frequent visits throughout the pregnancy. Everyone would work together and you would be the star of the play,” he said. “You are not pregnant, are you?” “I’m not sure,” I said. “I have a feeling I might be.” He looked at me intently. “I do not believe you are. Make sure you start using some protection. Are you still seeing Phillip Garza?” “Yes. I actually have an appointment with him in about twenty minutes.” “Well, I will not keep you longer. Tell him I said hello, and I will see you in three months,” he said as he wrote out a couple of prescription refills. I decided to put the pregnancy thing out of my mind for the time being. I’d thought I was pregnant many times before and I’d always been wrong. I was sick of worrying about it. I made it to Phillip’s old Montrose house converted into office a bit early, which was refreshing. After I smoked a cigarette, admiring the bright, cloudless sky, I rang the bell and the receptionist let me in and paged him that I’d arrived. After a few minutes, Phillip creaked his way down the wooden staircase and greeted me with a smile. He was in one of his many jewel-toned button down shirts, this one a deep purple. We made our way up the stairs to his cozy little office lined with shelves of self-help books and I took my usual seat on the couch across from his round backed green chair.

Alsdorf 7

“So,” he said, fixing me with his comforting gaze. “What’s been going on?” “I talked to Thomas about the house,” I began. “I told him that the idea of buying a house together so soon into our relationship scares me.” “How did he respond to that?” he asked. “He seemed pretty let down, but he said that he’s scared too. That made me feel a little better,” I said. “Did you tell him that you want to try living on your own?” “Well, not exactly. I guess I kind of just lamented that I’d never lived on my own before but then he told me how difficult it is and how we’re so much better off working together,” I said. “What was the outcome of the conversation?” “I basically ended up deciding to just go through with the house thing. I think I’d regret missing out on that more than I’d regret not getting that studio in the city, being alone with my thoughts and my cat, having time to read and write…” I trailed off. “I don’t think you’re being honest with yourself. You seemed very adamant about wanting some time to yourself at our last meeting.” “I know. I guess I’m just afraid of change,” I said. “I’m comfortable.” “It’s okay to be unsure of what you want. You’re young. This guy seems to know exactly what he wants and will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. While I get the sense that you two have a lot of compatibility, I’m afraid he may be moving too fast for you and if you never speak your mind, he’ll end up dominating you.” I sighed. “You’re right. I’ll try to talk with him again later tonight.”

Alsdorf 8

“Might I suggest writing out the points you want to make with him? I know you’re a good writer and it may help you organize your thoughts so you don’t freeze up in conversation.” “Thanks. That’s a good idea.” “That’s all the time we have for today,” Phillip said. “Enjoy this beautiful day.” “See you next time,” I said, rising from the couch. “By the way, Dr. Ramirez says hello.” I exited the dimly lit office, back into the bright sunlight, and decided to go around the corner to my favorite coffee shop and and take Phillip’s advice. I needed to write it all out. I ordered a bottomless cup of coffee and set up my laptop at a table outside. After a few minutes, a couple of guys came and sat down at my table. “It’s sunnier over here,” one of them said. “Do you mind if we sit?” “Feel free,” I said. “I’m just trying to get some writing done.” “Cool,” he said. “I’m Vince and this is George. We’re staying at the youth hostel.” “Nice to meet you. I’m Stevi. I had no idea there was a youth hostel in Houston.” “There’s actually two of them,” said Vince. “Where are you guys from?” I asked. “I’m from DC. Just got into Houston last night and a guy mugged me for everything I had. Took my backpack with my phone, cash, and stash.” “Sorry to hear that,” I said. “If you’d like a coffee or something, you’re welcome to put it on my tab.” “Thanks,” he said. “I’m glad that all Houstonians aren’t assholes. Do you smoke the green?” “On occasion,” I said.

Alsdorf 9

“Know anyone around here?” “No, I live in the suburbs.” “I see,” he said. “I think I’ll go ask that guy over there,” he nodded his head across the patio at a guy with a shaved head, wearing a baseball tee with the shoulders cut off and a faded black vest. I went back to my writing and after a few minutes, Vince returned with the guy he’d been talking to and a girl with long, dark hair and red, glossy lips. “Let’s get started,” said the guy. “Adam here is going to give me a tarot reading,” said Vince. “Normally I charge for this,” said Adam. “But since you’re down on your luck, this one is on me.” They all sat down at the table and Adam liberated his deck of cards from his backpack. “As it is, so shall it be,” Adam said, blessing the cards. “Please cut the deck in three.” Vince cut the deck as we all looked on intently. I’d never seen a real life tarot reading done, though I’d always been interested. As Adam pulled each card and explained the meanings, Vince’s eyes widened at the accuracy of the reading. When it was done, he was at a loss for words, which I got the sense didn’t happen very often. Adam looked pleased with himself. He took off his necklace and handed it to Vince. “I’ve been playing with this,” he said. “What do you feel?” Vince handed it back to him quickly. “Feels heavy, man.” Adam handed it across the table to me. I took it and inspected it more closely. It was a silver skull charm on a black cord. I looked up at Adam.

Alsdorf 10

“What are your thoughts?” he asked. “I don’t have any,” I said. “How does it make you feel?” “Uneasy. My mom always told me not to get mixed up in this stuff. My granny had a reading done and the reader accurately predicted which one of her nine children would die first, so this stuff kind of freaks me out.” “She should’ve been grateful for the warning. Is your mother a Christian?” he asked. “Yes.” “Well that’s why. Tell her the Anti-Christ says hello!” Adam was definitely a character. When I asked him how he’d gotten into tarot readings, he told us a story about how Odin had allegedly struck him in the nether regions with a bolt of green lightning, chiming in at random with phrases like, “Avada Kedavra” and “Versace Versace Versace.” As everyone continued to chat, I just stared at Adam. Could this guy have the answers that I needed? Was this the universe’s way of helping me out? I wanted a reading but I was afraid to ask. Adam stopped talking all of a sudden and looked me dead in the eyes. “Would you like a reading?” he asked. “Yes,” I said weakly. “Cut the deck in three,” he said. “As it is, so shall it be.” I cut the deck and held my breath as he drew the first card. “This card is your current situation,” he said. “Two of Cups. Your fate is not set in stone.

Alsdorf 11

You could go a number of directions.” I nodded as he drew the next card. “This card reveals your true nature,” he said. “Queen of Swords.” He drew another card, then another, creating a pattern with them on the table. “More swords. You have a lot of aggression,” he said. “What you need to take from this reading is that you are okay. Break the cycle of the old ways, or you will be damned to keep suffering the same fate. I see in you a noblewoman. People have probably always told you that you would do great things, but you let others stand in your way. You let them yell at you and take you for everything you’ve got, leaving you empty and without confidence.” I nodded as salty pools stung my eyes. He was right. I was always letting people decide my fate for me, never speaking my true feelings for fear of being alone. “It’s okay to be alone sometimes,” Adam said. “Let’s see what will happen if you are able to do this successfully,” he said, as he drew one last card. “Ah,” he said. “The King of Wands. Do all these things and the king will see you for the queen you are.” “Have I met the king already?” “Possibly, but since it’s the last card drawn, it’s likely someone you’ve yet to meet,” he said. “Thank you,” I said. “Is there anything else you can tell me?” He held out his hand and I placed mine in his. He screwed up his face and and stared me in the eyes. “Your boyfriend’s cheated on you about two and a half times now,” he said. “Tell him to

Alsdorf 12

fuck off.” “Someone’s about to get slapped,” said Vince. Embarrassed and even more confused, I quickly packed away my things, closed my tab and headed to my car around the corner, crying silently. As soon as I started driving, my phone rang. It was Thomas. “We’re through!” I said, not bothering with a hello. “Baby? What’s the matter?” “Don’t baby me,” I said. “I know you cheated on me.” “What are you talking about? I love you. You know I would never do that to you.” “I don’t know what to believe anymore. You, Phillip, Adam, the Universe…” I sobbed. “Who’s Adam?” he asked, sounding alarmed. “He read my cards and told me you cheated on me two and a half times.” “Two and a half?” he said, laughing. “What does that even mean?” “I don’t know,” I said. “But I do know that I don’t want to buy a house with you and I need to be alone.” “Baby can we talk about this when you’re feeling more rational?” I hung up the phone and drove home to my parents’ house. When I arrived, Thomas was waiting for me out front, leaning on his silver hatchback. He held open his arms to embrace me, brown eyes smiling the way I’d grown so fond of. I just looked at him. “Stevi. You’re my best friend,” he said. “We’ve been together for almost a year now and we’ve been through a lot. If you don’t want to get the house, we won’t. Are you really going to let some guy you just met tell you what to do with your life? Are you going to believe what he

Alsdorf 13

said over me?” I took a step back as realization dawned on me. All I ever did was listen to other people. Thomas, my parents, Phillip, Dr. Ramirez, my co-workers, mysterious strangers. I gave and gave and silenced my own intuition to make everyone else happy. I was tired of it. I needed to listen to my own inner voice and take my life back into my own hands. “Baby? Why won’t you talk to me?” he pleaded. “I need time to think,” I said as I set off walking down the street. “Don’t follow me.” For once, I left the worried look on my lover’s face. It wasn’t my duty to remove it. Not right then. As I walked away with an unknown purpose, I held my head high. I didn’t know what the future held--city apartments, suburban houses, babies, marriage, career changes--but Adam was right about one thing. No matter what had happened in the past or what was to come, right now, in this moment, I was okay. I was a queen in the making and I would wield my sword with the utmost confidence.

Queen of Swords  

This is my first ever college CW workshop short story. "It was all I could do to keep from cryin'..." [when my professor told us not to writ...

Queen of Swords  

This is my first ever college CW workshop short story. "It was all I could do to keep from cryin'..." [when my professor told us not to writ...