Pancakes could hear her parents arguing. If she had asked, she knew, they would have said they were “having a discussion.” But their discussions sounded a lot like arguments to her, even if they weren’t all that loud. In discussions, people didn’t keep saying opposite things. They agreed about things a lot more. And nobody ever talked with their mouths half-closed like they were trying not to yell.
The reason she could hear their discussion wasn’t because they were being loud. It was because she had discovered a few months earlier that if she crawled into the large storage closet around the corner from the master bedroom, she could make her way all the way to the back and hear everything that was going on in there. One of the heating ducts to the master bedroom ran through part of the closet, and as long as the heat wasn’t on, the duct picked up the room’s sound. The only trick was getting out of the closet and back down the hall to her bedroom when her parents came out of their room and went looking for her. She hadn’t been caught so far, although a couple of times she’d been in such a hurry that she banged into the closet door handle and bruised her shoulder.
Right now her parents were arguing about her, or rather something that she had been playing with. A few days earlier, she had discovered a big deck of colorful cards in the house library. The cards were larger than regular playing cards, and there were more of them than the usual fifty-two. They had a lot of strange pictures of people and creatures on them. She had taken the deck out of their box and spread them out on the floor, looking at all the pictures and trying to figure out what they were for. All the cards were different, and she liked looking at them and making up stories about what was going on in each one. Knights rode horses and ships sailed into the distance. Kings and queens stared out at her. There were townspeople and people who lived in castles and all kinds of animals. Later when her father found her there on the carpet in the library, he explained that they were tarot cards. He said that some people used them to tell fortunes.
Pancakes felt disappointed when her father admitted that he couldn’t tell the future himself. There was a small booklet of instructions, and he paged through it for a few minutes, but after a while he told her it was a little too involved. Pancakes didn’t know what that meant. Involved with what? So Emiliano explained that telling the future with the cards was complicated. Every card meant something different, and they also meant different things depending on how you arranged them. Most of all, he told her, using the cards meant you had to study lots and lots of rules. That was enough for her. Rules meant not doing what she wanted, and she didn’t see any point in that.
Still, the cards were interesting, and Pancakes thought she might be able to figure out how to work them if she just thought about it for a while. She too the deck to her playroom, and every so often she took them out of their box, ignored the instruction booklet, and started laying them out in different patterns. She liked the storybook people from the kingdoms in the cards, but she grew more interested in the stranger cards. A big tower with a lightning bolt hitting it and a guy falling out. Some magical man with a wand or a candle or something. Flying people, Egyptian people, floating cups, people with swords. Every card had its own story, and she liked trying to figure out what was going on in them. And she really, really liked all the animals. It reminded her of the trip her class had taken to the zoo. Too bad the cards didn’t have any monkeys, though.
When her mother found Pancakes playing with the cards, however, she got upset. She took them away and asked where she’d gotten them. Pancakes had no idea why her mother was upset. Because of cards? It made her kind of mad, especially since Lorinda hadn’t been home all that long and she was already going around making rules as usual. “Dad let me,” she said. “I didn’t do anything.”
That had led to the present situation, with Emiliano and Lorinda “discussing” the matter in their bedroom while Pancakes listened from the closet.
“They’re just symbols, Lorinda. A bunch of pictures,” her father said. The sound was a little muffled. At first she though he’d said, “A bunch of pigtails.”
“Well, I know it sounds provincial, but I don’t like the fact that our daughter is dabbling in the occult,” her mother replied. Pancakes had a harder time with the end of that sentence. Something about a colt? Because there were horses on the cards? Horses weren’t bad. She knew some girls who even had their own horses, and no one got upset about that.
“She doesn’t even use any of the spreads or the interpretations,” her father said. “She just likes looking at the pictures.”
“And that’s fine,” her mother said. “But I don’t think she should be looking at some of those pictures. The devil? Death? She’s too young for those things, Emil.” Pancakes was surprised to hear this, and she wished she’d paid more attention to both of those cards. If she was too young for them, they must be a lot more interesting than she realized.
Emiliano sighed. Pancakes could tell it was his upset-sigh. He usually did that right before he told her that he’d had enough, and she always wished he had a sigh that meant he’d almost had enough so that she could stop whatever she was doing right before it was too late. “You’re coming in a little late for this kind of thing,” he said.
Lorinda paused. “What?” Pancakes recognized that “what” too. This discussion was getting a lot more arguey all of a sudden.
“For this level of parenting,” Emiliano said. “I’m not saying that you’re wrong about the tarot cards, but I never knew you felt that way.”
Now Lorinda sighed. It was a loud one. “Well, Pancakes hasn’t played with fortune-telling games before. Otherwise it might have come up.”
“But it wouldn’t have,” Emiliano said. “Because in all likelihood, you wouldn’t have been here to say anything about it. Pancakes could have been breathing the fumes in the cave of the Oracles for weeks at a time. Unless I called and told you, how the hell would you ever know?”
Pancakes didn’t realize the discussion was now over, but she knew it as soon as the bedroom door slammed shut and she heard her mother’s shoes clack angrily down the stairs. She really wished she hadn’t had her ear up to the duct at the time.