‘Pictures from a Family Album Used as a Tarot Deck’ by Art Metzger

Take down the album. No one will see. No one comes up here, only us. Slide it out from the shelf. Handle it carefully, beware of fragility. It’s a heavy album, it goes back a long time. Sit down on the floor, right here in front of the mirror and open the album. We both need to see. Now choose pictures for the deck. Choose with care – twenty-one – seven times three. Seven for luck (good or bad?). Twenty-one cards, the Major Arcana. We don’t need the Minor. There’s no future to be read here. Shuffle the twenty-one and lay them out (though some already have been). Twenty-one cards for the deck. And the Fool.

Four is the Emperor’s number – Father, husband, cripple, drunk. He reigns from his wheeled chair, lungs shot, leg gone. His only love, his beer, at his side. Always there. Always.

Card of the Oracle, Card Seven. Seven for luck (again), luck for the Emperor, his wheeled chair a guarantee of servitude. Service at the ring of a bell, always at his left hand, bottle at his right. His chair a chariot to end his journeying, no more back and forth -refrigerator, table; refrigerator, table – all done for him now when the bell rings. Others must listen, others must fetch, others must serve.

The Tower of Destruction is a bottle of beer. It’s in every picture of Dear Old Dad. The Emperor. It is bottomless, infinite, ever-present. But it would be, it is his first and only love.

Mother of the Emperor, seated at the head of her dining room table with her sons – four of them. She rules with an iron hand and they obey without question. At least three of them do. I heard her say once, “I hope I outlive them all, otherwise who will take care of them?” As usual, she got her wish, one by one went into the ground, all save the Emperor, who never listened to anyone. Too bad. I took care of it.

This card shows a bedroom fit for deposed royalty. Not much light in the room, the windows are heavily curtained. There are two separate beds, plenty of room between. They were together once, certainly, but no more. Two beds, neatly made, but dusty, disused. A few cobwebs hang overhead. The Emperor drowses in his Chariot while his wife is asleep on the sofa where she can hear his bell and answer.

Let the mother be the Sun. Let her bring light to hide the darkness for a little while. Let her hide the pain. For a little while. She will let it return. She will let it fill everything, do anything. She serves the darkness, called by the bell. My mother, nursemaid to the Emperor.

Justice is blind. Glass eyes staring from a life-size doll. She looks to be six or seven, prettily dressed. “I always wanted a little girl, but all I got was you. Now this is all I have.” How real is she? You raise her dress, curious and disappointed. You wonder if she bleeds, one or two tiny cuts under the dress. No one will know. Lips don’t move when she cries “Mommy”. Eyes don’t cry when silence answers.

Here’s a kitchen shot, done in black and white. A family kitchen. In the background, to one side, is a kitchen sink into which beer can be poured to anger the Emperor. Hurry, grab it when he’s not looking. He moves too slowly, he can’t stop you. Pour it sweetly swirling foaming down the drain while he shouts and cusses, but can’t get up.

Whose picture is this? There’s more than one face here. Fallen angel. Angel of ambition. Angel of subtlety. Angel of lies. Many faces and Our Father. Our Father who art Our Father. He does bad things. I do things.

Look, it’s my birthday party! Five years old. Our tiny kitchen is full of relatives: mother, aunts, and cousins who have been given no choice. You were there, do you remember? There was the birthday cake that we never understood, a three-tiered cake with two tiny dolls on top – a man and a woman. We weren’t sure if it was a wedding cake left at the bakery or just something mom thought was cute (she had odd taste). After the party the dolls disappeared till a few years later when I found them in a drawer in Mom’s dresser, hidden under panties and bras. Remember how we took the man-doll, tied a cord tight around its neck and hung it on the wall of our bedroom, behind the bed where no one could see. No one saw us dress it in bits of the Emperor’s clothing. No one heard us smash its legs with a hammer. Just to see if it worked.

Judgment can be several pictures: A three-swing set where only one child plays, a table with only one place, a single bed. A final chat, just you and I, alone.

The World is in four notebooks hidden in a behind the chair where Death will lie. Four notebooks filled with the cramped scratchings of madness punctuated with paranoia. Hundreds of pages filled with Fool’s words, Fool’s thoughts, Fool’s life. Four notebooks, opened by no one but us, read by no one but us, at least not yet. Four volumes of a closed world – self-perpetuating. They contain everything, all the answers to questions yet to be asked. Everything included save a final note.

Death is a note and a bottle of pills. They’re not in the picture yet, you have to imagine them even as I dream of them. They will be right there on the floor, next to the chair, surrounded by three walls of books and a closed door, mirrored so we can watch. When the picture changes the bottle will be open, empty, lying on its side in a pool of broken glass and spilled water. But the note will be dry, written neatly at first, then sloppy, pen catching the slur of words. But not yet. Only the empty chair, the books, and the Fool rushing in.

Hey, here I am again! I’m coming in the front door with my first report card of the fifth grade. I’m ten years old. Old enough to hate school. Old enough to hate. Mom is waiting by the door, smiling, happy until she opens the card. She grabs me then and pushes me in to the front closet. “Just stay there until your father gets home, we’ll see what he thinks of this.” She slams the door, leaving me in the dark, buried in the stifling heat of stored winter coats. F’s! F for Fool! F for Fuck-up! F is for Father.

Mom took this picture, and several more, of the next-door neighbor’s whelp, clicking away whenever she could. Leaving for school, coming home, playing, riding his bike. He was her hero. Why couldn’t I be more like him – a question she plagued me with every day. She would grab me, shake me, and demand to know why she was cursed with me. Look at his grades, she would say. Look at his friends. Look at his life. I have to admit, she had a point.

There is no sparkle of satin and velvet here. No magic wand. Only a black and white picture of a girl. The photo is wallet-size, often handled – an obvious favorite. The girl herself means little now, though she was nice to us once, it was quick and over long ago. But her name – her name stays in my mind. Her name is a mantra, a name to conjure with.

Here’s a photo of Cousin Bob! Remember him? Big, loud, not real bright. Strong. He was always coming to visit, always staying overnight. Mom used to watch him for extra pennies here and there always spent for beer. Beer to keep things calm, keep things quiet. She made me share everything with Bob – my toys, my comics, and more. Everything. She let him do whatever he wanted, take whatever he wanted. More than she knew. Bob was bigger, Bob was stronger. What could I do? I couldn’t tell what he did in the garage, in the basement, other places. All he had to do was deny it and she’d take his side, she always did. So I never told. I waited. No one knows where Bob is now. He was my teacher. He was surprised.

An old picture, eight by ten, black and white. Taken in a church. It’s the priest who married Mom and Dad, gave them his blessing. And they say I’m the Fool.

Ah, a picture of the Moon. How romantic. Who took it, I wonder? What special night was it, long ago? The picture is so old it’s yellowed. Even in the protection of the album it’s beginning to curl at the corners. A black and white picture, and yet the Moon is yellow. Does the Moon have a gender? There’s a Man in the Moon, but what about the Moon? If the Moon is a woman is she maid or madam? Madam is mad either way. Moon of madness. Moon of tides, bleeding. How romantic.

We’ve seen this girl before, you and I. She is The Magician. She’s in a new pose in this picture, and she’s nameless. Just a body in a different shot – a newer picture – color. It’s still glossy, less handled. She made it clear I couldn’t have her, but she let me get the camera while she mocked me. That’s all I’d ever have, she said. See the look of surprise on her face. She was the second, after Bob. This picture is meant to be worshiped, to sacrifice to. Her picture, her beauty. Her panic. The Priestess.

And here’s one of you. I bet you didn’t know I still had this, did you? My semblable, mon frere. It’s like a mirror. Just like me, but better. You stand there, you do what I do, but better, always better. Too good for me, really. You keep always to yourself except when you whisper to me, telling me things. And now here you are. You must be wondering why I’m letting you see all this as I finish it. Have I made you my confessor? Or are you in trouble? Serious trouble, I’d say. Bad luck. Seven years. Now you know. It’s smash for you and pills for me and ever the twain shall meet. Are you ready? It’s time. To go.

Copyright 2016 by Art Metzger. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

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