Tarah, Cheryl, and Tarot
Originally, the Treehouse Club had a larger role in the book, and Cheryl and Tarah were good friends with Brigitta, along with Natalie. But the book already had so many layers. Cheryl and Tarah, though I liked them very much, needed to become background characters, so we could just focus on Brigitta’s friendship with Natalie. In this treehouse scene Tarah and Cheryl have some friction over Tarot cards.
Devon disappeared up the stairs just as someone tugged the pulley rope. “It’s Tarah!” Natalie stepped onto the porch. “Two pizzas, coming up.” Natalie hauled on the rope until the wooden “stuff bin” appeared.
“Sorry I’m late.” Tarah came through the trapdoor. “Bible study. Mom thinks I’m still there.” Tarah always came secretly because her mom was afraid The Center would make her demon-possessed.
Devon descended the stairs empty handed. Had the spiders made off with his coat? He began looking under the benches, studiously avoiding me. Well I wasn’t going to help him find it. He took off his hoody and stashed it under the window.
Natalie stuck some pizza on her plate. Canadian bacon. “So,” she said, ignoring Devon, “are we ready to start?”
Tarah moved the pizza box, uncovering Cheryl’s Tarot cards. She froze. “Not until she gets those things out of here.”
Cheryl put her hands protectively on her cards. “Tarot is part of my religion. I think you could respect that.”
Tarah took a step backwards. “I respect you, Cheryl, but this really creeps me out.”
Devon lifted his head. “Religion?” he said. “I thought you were a Lutheran.”
“That’s my parents you have me mixed up with.” Cheryl drew the cards into a pile. “Have you been gone that long? I am a solitary practitioner of Wicca.”
“Also known as witchcraft.” Tarah played with a silver ring on her finger.
“Devil worship?” Devon grinned. “Now we’re talking.”
“How can we worship the Devil?” Cheryl banged the edges of the deck together on one of the shelves. “We don’t believe there is one.”
Tarah took her ring off and put it back on again. “Unless what you’re worshipping is actually the Devil in disguise.”
I pictured the Devil in glasses with a plastic nose and mustache, fanning Tarot cards like a poker hand.
“Tarah get a grip,” Cheryl shoved the deck in her pocket.
“I’ve got a grip,” Tarah started picking up pizza napkins.
“Well, you don’t have a right to insult other people’s—”
“Hey everybody!” called Natalie. “I have an idea!” She held up her hand. “Let’s go to the Hansen place and see who’s moved in there!
Seeing Starzz Post on “Spock”
Hollywood People Find Their Deep Space July 2
Did I mention that Dr. Freuda is home from college? Yes! She’s just completed her first year of Mess-Up-Your-Little-Sister’s-Life 101. So now I and all my friends get to know that my former non-boyfriend, Spock, (see www.startrek.com for description) is developing normally for a psychosexual adolescent male. Or something like that. Anyway, that’s what Dr. Freuda had to say when we discovered that Spock has a bunch of porn on his computer.
I mean, I don’t mind, really. He can look at that if it’s what his sick little mind wants to look at.
This won’t be a very spiritual entry, I’m afraid. Except for Witchgirl’s Tarot reading, which I’ll get into later. I’m just too pissy to be spiritual tonight.
Missionary Mama brought pizza to the treehouse and was very freaked out by Witchgirl’s Tarot. Witchgirl is a little goofy about her cards, but Missionary Mama wears us all out with her paranoia. Last time it was my dream-catcher that was demonic.
Starlet, who had arranged for Spock to be at the treehouse, so that he and I could have a romantic and tearful reunion wrapped in his spidery jacket, had very little to say about it after he left. All she wants to talk about is Trent Yves at the Burger Arcade.
She keeps trying to get me to go see Rocket with her. I am not inclined to waste my time.~cindylou replies:
that’s funny! i’ve got a friend who sees pop singers everywhere. you really do need to chill, mystic. this just isn’t your night.
Yeah, I know. I think I’ll sleep in the treehouse. Can’t handle Dr. Freuda tonight.
good plan. hang in there.
Just checked you out. Good stuff. Spock! I had a BF like that once. How can you be sure your friends aren’t reading this?
Trust me, they’re not. They wouldn’t believe it was me if they did.
Mystic, you’ve got to give Rocket a chance. You will fall in love with Trent Yves. And the movie asks spiritual questions.
Aquarius, I might be tempted, but Trent’s conceited slimeball-ness takes over anything he’s in.
You’ll never see him once without a shirt.
Treehouse Club Emergency Meeting
My mouth went dry. Would he be glad to see me? I should go back to the house; I smelled terrible. My stomach hurt as I climbed. I felt a rush of anger. He had promised to help with the kittens! He had promised and then he had left. My hands found the last rungs of the board ladder and I pushed up through the trapdoor and onto the porch. It was absolutely silent. I felt like climbing down again. I took a breath and opened the door to the inside.
Natalie, Cheryl and Tarah stared up at me from the floor. Thank God there was no Devon.
“It’s not Saturday,” I stammered.
“We need to talk, Brigitta,” said Cheryl. “This is an emergency meeting.”
Natalie and Tarah nodded. “We’re all worried about you.” Tarah said. She patted the floor beside her.
Natalie didn’t say anything at all. She scooted behind Tarah and began braiding her hair.
I sat down, trying to stuff my disappointment. How much did they know? Who had they told? Would Felicity Bowen be here snapping pictures of the kittens tomorrow? What about Luke?
Cheryl took charge. “First off,” she said, “you need to know that this is a very bad week from a planetary standpoint. Mars is in conjunction with Pluto, which is in the fifth house, and especially for you, as a Virgo this could be cataclysmic.”
This was going to take a while. Would the kittens be okay without me? It was raining again, so they’d probably stay out of sight. Maybe Luke would still come back. Maybe he was down there now. Would he come up here to get bottles? He’d think they were still on Pedialyte.
“Cheryl,” said Tarah, “I don’t think planets are really what we’re worried about.” She winced as Natalie tugged too hard on a strand of hair. “The Lord is in charge. This is about relationships. Why don’t we get to that?”
Cheryl handed Natalie an elastic. Tarah, you weren’t here for Brigitta’s reading. She got the Emperor card, and even with the Knight of Swords, that means patriarchy. Patriarchy is a problem for you, Brigitta.”
Tarah shifted on the floor as Natalie finished with her. “I do not believe in Tarot cards,” she reached up to feel her braid. “Brigitta, we think you may be having premarital sex with Devon.”
Oh, good grief. Devon again. This was going to take a while.
Cheryl shook her head. “Whether she is or isn’t is not the point. The point is Devon.”
“We don’t want you to get hurt, Brigitta.” Tarah put her hand on my arm.
“Tarah—you guys—I’m fine. I’m really fine. This is sweet, but you don’t have to worry about me.” Would Mom and Dad notice I’d been gone all night? I hadn’t used Natalie as an excuse this time. What if Mallory had come back and found me missing?
“It’s the group we’re worried about,” said Natalie. She went to work on Cheryl’s hair. “We’ve hardly met all summer and now you’re too busy with Devon!”
“I thought you wanted me back with Devon.” How easily I slipped into the lie.
“And we are worried about that,” said Tarah. “There are reasons to be worried.”
Cheryl looked up at the ceiling as Natalie brushed. “Brigitta, he’s a player.”
This was news. Devon—a player? At Final Fantasy maybe.
Cheryl went on. “He’s just dumped Jazmina and not-too-pleasantly. She’s been crying to me offline. Now he’s trolling around for other girls on the DarkWorlds forum. He’s getting a reputation.”
An online reputation. Even Cheryl wasn’t Cheryl online. She was “Wraith” or something. Poor Devon. Having a life only as “Master of Shadows” on some forum was pathetic. I felt sorry for him.
I rummaged in the window seat for a floor pillow. Devon’s coat was still in there, along with the Risk game.
“Of course, he’s denying everything,” Cheryl handed Natalie a white headband. “Says he hasn’t seen you since the last meeting. But I know him well enough to know when he’s lying.”
“Um,” said Tarah delicately, “Natalie said there were two sleeping bags here Monday morning.”
“Tarah! I don’t know why this is such a big deal to you, but I did not have Devon here.” I settled onto my pillow.
“Then who did you have?” Natalie wouldn’t look at me. What was up with her?
“I had two sleeping bags,” I said. “Do you know how cold it gets in here at night?”
“Oh!” Tarah sounded relieved.
“Yeah,” said Natalie. “I do know. ‘Cuz I grew up spending the night up here summers. And we never needed extra sleeping bags. And what you’d be doing with boys’ socks and a belt, I have no idea.” She wrapped her arms around her knees.
Cheryl tugged at her fishnet gloves. “Brigitta, it’s fine if you are exploring your sexuality.”
“No, it’s not!” said Tarah.
Cheryl plucked a pink hair extension out of her pocket and gave Tarah a look. “As I was saying. Just be careful.” She handed the extension to Natalie who began braiding it into her green and black stripes. “Your reading said you were liable to end up devastated. And we don’t want that for you.”
Should I go along with it? Make them think I was with Devon? “I’m not devastated. You really don’t have to worry.”
“But we are worried!” Natalie stopped mid-braid. She looked near tears. I’d never seen her like that. “You’re just pulling away from the group. How will we have a group if you’re not in it?”
“Natalie, I’m in the group. The group meets in my treehouse. How could I not be in the group?”
Natalie shook her head. She gave a laugh. “You’re right, Brigitta. Of course you’re in the group. Friends forever, right?” She smiled.
“Of course, friends forever.” I reached over and gave her shoulder a squeeze, trying to ignore the knot in my stomach.
Natalie resumed her beautifying. “So how’s Trent? Have you seen him?”
“No.” Now I couldn’t look at her. Lying did not sit well in my gut. Not this much lying. Even though I knew what a disaster the truth would be. But then, it wasn’t really a lie. I hadn’t seen “Trent.” I got up and began tidying my Onawa shrine, picking pieces of candle wax from the shelf below it and sweeping them into my hand.
Cheryl checked Natalie’s handiwork in the mirror, apparently done with her sex advice. “He was on the news Saturday night. Did you see it?”
“Yes!” Natalie brightened noticibly. “He was in Seattle!”
“He was?” It slipped out before I could stop it.
“Well, I tried to call you, Brigitta, but you were supposedly already at my house.”
I brushed the candle drippings through the floorboards and tried not to wince.
Tarah got a pillow for herself. “What was he doing in Seattle?” Her family also did not have a TV.
“He was feeding lunches to homeless people at some free meal program downtown,” Natalie went on.
“Publicity stunt,” said Cheryl. “Rocket was filmed in Seattle, you know.”
Natalie ignored her. “Don’t you get it, you guys? Seattle! He was 50 miles from us. And he was the entire time he was filming Rocket, too.”
“So?” Cheryl reached for the tin where I kept granola bars.
“So, he might have just bought a house out in the peaceful Northwest woodlands.”
“I thought you hated this town, Natalie,” Tarah teased.
“As of this week I love this town.” Natalie grabbed a granola bar. “Brigitta, what happened to all the Cheetos?”
I patted my stomach.
Cheryl passed the tin to Tarah. “You aren’t serious, Natalie.”
“Sure,” said Natalie. “Why not? You know, I asked Ruby Chavez at the post office. That so-called Luke Geoffrey guy just lives there with his mom. Just the two of them in that huge house. Ruby would know, since she’s the postmistress. AND Trent is an only child. AND his dad just left them and went to France.”
“Why?” Cheryl stuck the granola wrapper in her pocket. “Why would Trent Yves move to Kwahnesum? It’s not exactly an entertainment hub.”
“Of course not. That’s the point. We’re small. Out of the way. Trent is tired. His dad just left. The media’s been horrible to him. Wouldn’t you want to escape?”
“Um,” said Cheryl, “not to here.”
“It’s perfect.” Natalie had stopped listening to Cheryl. “Pastures and woods and the river and mountains in the background. He probably wants to use it as the location for his next film. And we’ll all be in it! They could have a casting call at the grange hall.”
“Right.” Tarah was getting as cynical as Cheryl.
“Why not?” said Natalie. “Gwendolyn Melier was an unknown until Imlandria. And oh, my God, that kiss at the end? How many times do you think they had to practice that? And now he’s going out with her.”
Why did this make my head hurt? Even if Luke was Trent, which was ridiculous, he wasn’t going out with Gwendolyn Melier. He’d only been seen with her at a party. Which didn’t mean anything at all. The kiss, though, had been spectacular. Surprising the camera hadn’t melted.
“Come on, Brigitta,” Natalie put the top back on the tin. “You’ve got to have seen him. He lives right next door. And he saved you from a cougar, right?”
Cheryl stared. “How did I not know this?” She sounded way more interested than she usually admitted.
“Because you were out of town.” Tarah stretched. “It was in the Chronicle. Felicity Bowen was running around interviewing everybody. Except Luke Geoffrey. He disappeared afterwards.”
“To escape the press!” crowed Natalie triumphantly.
“He was on vacation,” I said.
“How do you even know that if you haven’t seen him since?” Natalie pressed.
“I asked Ruby Chavez.”
Sister Susannah in the Treehouse
“It’s a long climb,” I called back. “Can you make it?”
“Watch me,” she called. She found the ladder and began her ascent. She was pretty limber for a gray-haired lady. Within a few minutes I was reaching a hand to her through the trapdoor. “Ah!” she said when she emerged. “Delicious!” She turned around and sat herself down at the edge of the porch next to me. “If I were you I would live up here.”
I put my put my head on my arms and looked out into a neighboring maple. “Sometimes I do,” I said. “It’s quiet and I can… think about things.”
“What are you thinking about today, Brigitta?” Sister Susannah turned to me. The sun glinted off her glasses.
For some reason it seemed okay to talk to her, even though I’d just met her. She wasn’t being pushy. “I’m thinking that I don’t know any of the people I thought I knew.”
Sister Susannah listened and I went on. I told her about Natalie and Cheryl and Tarah. I told her about the blog. I left out Luke and Felix and Kalimar. “So now my so-called friends are determined to completely humiliate me.”
Sister Susannah picked up a cedar twig and twirled it in her fingers. “Do you know anything about printing?” she asked.
I wondered if she was changing the subject because I’d said something stupid and boring. “Printing?”
“My father was a printer,” she said. “When he died, he passed his print shop on to me — that is to the convent.”
Why was she telling me this?
“If we want to print a whole page of something on that old press, we have a metal plate that prints the same thing over and over again. Guess what it’s called?”
I shook my head.
“It’s called a stereotype.”
“A mold applied over and over again to different pieces of paper, stamping them all the same.” She winked. “For example, nuns wear black habits and don’t know who Lindsay Lohan is.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.”
Sister Susannah laughed. “Not at all!” she said. “That’s not what I’m getting at. It’s your ‘so-called friends.'”
I winced. “You mean, Starlet, Witchgirl and Missionary Mama.”
“Bingo!” she said. “And I can say that because nuns do know about Bingo.” She looked at her watch and said she had to go. I watched her back down the ladder, amazed at her agility.
How had she known I needed one of those grandmas? And what do you do when you’ve done something you can’t undo? I didn’t even really know why I’d done it. My friends hadn’t been nasty to me or lied to me or done anything to deserve my meanness. And the blog did seem like meanness now.
Sophia and Moose Soup
I sat down at the edge of the sidewalk to think through my options. But my thinker was too fuzzy; it wouldn’t work. I tried to stand up but the weight of the pack unbalanced me and I landed back in the grass. Two boys on bikes slowed down to stare as I wrestled the pack off, got to my feet and then put it on again. The boys rode away. My head spun. I needed food worse than I thought.
Would I pass as one of the “blessed poor” that church was feeding? I apparently looked the part. I had money; I’d give it to them for their program. I wouldn’t have to beg.
The church was a boxy, gray building with a row of narrow windows. Even with money, I felt stupid doing this. How did the “blessed poor” feel about it? I pulled on the door. Locked. I glanced back at the readerboard. “Thursdays,” it said. “Free lunch for our blessed poor Thursdays.” Today was Saturday. The depth of my disappointment surprised me.
I looked in the direction of the voice. Across the street was another church. From the sidewalk in front of it a dark, gray-haired woman in a long yellow skirt beckoned. “Over here!”
I took a step or two towards her. “Come on!” she called, motioning more vigorously. She opened a side door to her church, a little old-fashioned clapboard one which looked as if it had once had a steeple. The steeple had been chopped off and in its place a dome with a cross on top had been stuck like an upturned goblet. The sign outside said, “St. Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church.” What was an Alaskan church doing in Indiana?
A little unsteady on my feet, I crossed the street. The woman smiled at me from a wide, brown face – a Native American face, though I couldn’t figure out her tribe like Dad might. “Are you hungry?” she asked.
I found my tongue. “No, it’s all right, I–”
“Come,” she said. “Come, come, come.”
The parish hall was lined with tables, folding chairs, a small library. The woman bustled into the kitchen, putting on an apron. I followed. She opened the refrigerator and pulled out a large pot, uncovered it and began ladling soup into a smaller pot, which she placed on the stove. I’d have eaten it cold. “You have a name?” She reached back into the fridge and found a round foil-wrapped loaf, which she stuck into the oven.
“Brigitta,” I said, wondering if I should have made something up.
She turned and leaned against the counter, folding her arms. “I’m Sophia,” she said. “Are you Orthodox?”
I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but I said no.
Sophia nodded, considering this. “That’s all right,” she said, as if I had just apologized. She stirred the soup. “You’re in luck that the Bishop is visiting tomorrow. I made soup.” She turned the stove down. “Not just me. Matushka Lubya, Father Basil’s wife, also made soup. But mine is the best, so you’re having mine.” She dolloped some into a bowl and set it on the counter.
The soup was full of noodles, rice, chunks of potato. And meat. I considered telling her I was a vegetarian, but it seemed ungrateful. I took a spoonful. I was almost too hungry to taste it. It was unusual. Not like anything I’d had before.
“That’s a Native Alaskan recipe,” Sophia said. “From my family.” She opened the oven and pulled the bread out. “So you’re not Orthodox. What are you?”
What am I? “I don’t know. I’m nothing, I guess.”
“Nobody is nothing,” said Sophia. “What’s your father?”
For some reason this made me smile. “He’s a shaman.”
“Mm,” said Sophia matter-of-factly. “So was my grandfather, seven generations back.” She handed me a hunk of bread.
Dad would have lots to say about this — how the shamanic teachings had been suppressed by Christian missionaries, so that even Alaska Natives had forgotten them. It had been one of his arguments with Nonni and Opa about their religion, even though he wasn’t a shaman until after they died.
I had emptied the bowl down to the meat and now I tried to find a way to surreptitiously set it aside.
“You didn’t eat the moose!” Sophia exclaimed. “That’s moose soup. The moose is the best part. My grandson sent it out to me. Eight packages of moose.”
I had eaten meat by accident once. Chicken. At Natalie’s. I had the last bit of my bread. “I’m pretty full,” I tried. “Thank you so much.”
Sophia folded her arms again. In a funny way she reminded me of Nonni, always wanting to be sure I was fed.
I put a chunk of moose in my mouth and chewed. And chewed. And chewed. And finally swallowed. “It’s good,” I said.
Sophia beamed and looked encouragingly at the remaining moose in the bowl. Maybe I could find a way to distract her.
“Tell me about your 7th great-grandfather,” I began. “If he was a shaman, then why…” I didn’t know how to ask the question.
“Why…?” Sophia echoed, waiting.
“Well… the missionaries… they changed everything. Didn’t they?” I finished awkwardly. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone down this path; maybe it would offend her.
Sophia rewrapped the bread. “My 7th great-grandfather was a shaman until Apa came from Russia. ‘Apa’ is what the people called St. Herman. It means ‘grandfather.’ After he knew Apa, my 7th great-grandfather became a priest.”
“He went from shaman to priest?” Dad would shudder. I moved the soup bowl quietly behind a stack of plates. Did I even care what Dad thought?
Sophia heaved the soup pot back into the fridge. “Apa cared for our people,” she said. “When there was an epidemic, he healed the sick; when there was a fire, he stopped it with his prayers.” She began to wipe the counter with a red towel. “Once, there was a tsunami.” Sophia watched me out of the corner of her eye to make sure I was listening. “And the people ran to Father Herman. ‘The water is coming!’ they said. Apa took an icon of the Mother of God and put it in the sand. ‘The water will come no farther than this,’ he said. And he was right. The water came up to the icon and that was where it stopped.”
Icons. Weren’t they those saint paintings? I let her voice lull me. Nonni used to tell me stories like that. They were about people in the Bible – Ruth and Naomi, the little girl Jesus brought back to life. And she would make sure I listened. Had she told them to Dad, too? Had it bothered him that she didn’t want the stories questioned? Why had it never bothered me? But then, I had questioned. I had questioned her all the time.
I took another dishtowel and wiped part of the counter. “Why was Apa able to do that? Stop fires and tsunamis?” I asked- not adding that it was impossible. Maybe that was why Dad had been so angry with Nonni. She had taught him to believe in miracles. But in real life, things ended; people died. The sea inside me stirred again. Did I have a tsunami coming? When would it happen? Not here; not in front of a stranger.
Sophia put some spoons into a drawer. “Apa was a monk. His heart was always at prayer.” She smiled. “Even wild animals didn’t fear him. He could understand their language. The fiercest mother ermine let Apa hold her young in his lap; Apa would feed bears with his own hands.”
I felt tears pricking me and had to stare hard at a mixing bowl. Wild animals. Why talk about that now?
Sophia took off her apron. “So, Brigitta,” she said. “Tell me why you are here.”
“Visiting my grandmother,” I mumbled.
“And where is your grandmother?”
“She’s -“ I shook my head. I couldn’t go on.
Sophia lowered her frame to a kitchen stool and put her hand on mine. “Honey,” she said, “you look so lost.”
I took a wobbly breath. Why wouldn’t she stop? “I’m not lost.”
“We’re all of us lost,” said Sophia. “Ever since we lost Eden.”
Eden. I inhaled sharply. Sophia’s dark eyes scanned my face. I felt silly for reacting: Of course she’d talk about Eden. We were in a church.
“We lost Eden because we forgot who we are,” she said. “We’re icons, don’t you see? We’re icons of God.”
Icons. Paintings? I shook my head again.
“Come with me,” she said.
I followed her upstairs to the sanctuary. The smell of incense hit me first. Not sandalwood, like Mom sometimes burned, but something spicy that clung to everything.
It wasn’t like Nonni and Opa’s church, with its organ and stained glass windows. The walls were covered with these “icons” — paintings of people with gold halos. Strange, with large eyes and faces that didn’t frown, but didn’t smile either. And the perspective was all off — as if I was the painting they were looking at, rather than the other way round. Sophia put on a blue headscarf from a table in the back. She took a thin taper from a box that said, “Candles 50 cents.”
She kissed one of the icons — the Virgin Mary I decided, because she was holding a baby with a halo – only he didn’t look like a baby; he looked like a miniature man. She crossed herself and bowed several times before lighting the candle.
I felt like I shouldn’t watch something so private. I looked for place to sit, away from the front, but there were no pews like at Nonni’s church – not even folding chairs like at Tarah’s. Did the people have to stand the whole time?
Sophia turned and swept her arm in front of the icons. “These are the ancestors,” she said, “the ones who’ve gone before us.”
The ancestors gazed out at me.
“We ask them to pray for us,” Sophia went on, “because they are alive in God’s presence. Death is not able to defeat us, Brigitta. Christ defeated death.”
It was something like Nonni would have said. Everything was “Christ this” and “Christ that” with her. And she had ideas about death I’d never understood. They had made Dad angry. Would they still? Had he become a shaman to make some sense of Nonni and Opa’s stories? Were they all looking for the same thing?
And what about me? What was I looking for?
I couldn’t stop myself from giving Sophia a hug. She seemed happy to hug me back. I asked her if there was a place with wifi so I could look something up. She shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, honey, but there is a library. Go two blocks and turn left.” She touched my cheek. “May an angel always go before you, Brigitta.”
She turned and went back to the icons as if they were old friends she wanted to spend more time with. I put five dollars in the box in the back and took a candle. It seemed like something I might want later.