Shiva tried to sleep, but the sound of whips and paddles working Mags’s willing victim on the other side of the wall made it impossible. She turned up the rain track in her headphones and curled into a tiny ball on her tiny bed in her tiny room. Her room was a poorly-converted crawlspace in the back of a walk-in closet. Photos and other relics of her travels covered gaps in the drywall; the rafters laid bare, insulation, partially-exposed, but it was home when she needed it, which after being forced out of her beloved houseboat a month earlier, felt frequent. Every part of her new home besides this room was shared with strangers.
La Lune Rouge served as sort of a halfway house for trafficked girls, providing a safe place for them to make money on their own term’s outside their loverboy’s eyes, either while still under their control or after being freed. Below Mags and Shiva’s top floor “lair suite” were six floors of eighteen rent-free bedrooms, a piano bar, and an underground cabaret lounge where the girls could also express themselves creatively in La Lune Rouge’s nightly, all-night cabaret show, Hell, made up of mostly formerly trafficked persons.
Being a Parisian-style cabaret show in Amsterdam below a speakeasy-style piano bar, the Hell show had become wildly popular with the locals, but also their most highly-guarded secret, hence the zero online presence and its unwelcoming locality. And while the police were aware of the questionable activities in the rooms above, the police chief was one of Mags’s best clients and the department just had one of its biggest trafficking busts because of the girls help, so for the most part, they looked the other way.
Shiva turned on a dim light overhead and switched to music. Her mother’s favorite, “Il dolce suono”, from Lucia di Lammermoor struck like electric equanimity. Tragic operas always made her and her mother happier.
Before the disease, her mother had aspirations of being an opera singer, but like her fleeting interests in poetry, photography, and painting, she never could commit to something. She wasn’t really the commitment type. Neither of Shiva’s parents were being longtime swingers before they were parents. But still, even when her mother’s sickness was at its worst and she was not at all pleasant to be around, Shiva had never seen two people who loved each other more, a love she greatly starved for but simply didn’t have the time to find. Love is not easy when your life is so limited and it means damning someone else to your curse.
Although her parents never said it, Shiva knew she never would have existed had they known about the disease before conceiving. No parent wants to damn their offspring no less than they want to damn their lover. This was why she had decided long ago art was a better place to put her heart than love and children. There it wouldn’t be damning anyone. That is until she met Mags, or “Queen Kali” as she called herself in those days. Mags too was living with a lurking killer she’d inherited from her mother, spinocerebellar ataxia.
“That’s why it couldn’t have seemed more aligned,” Shiva said to her mother’s tarot deck. “I had just lost luna hunny and my heart was empty, and right when I needed it, right after I ‘passed through the eye of insanity’, the perfect love somehow found me just like you said it would Mom. But now I know divine doesn’t mean perfect, because divine love visited me last night and it was far from it. But I’ve lost it now and I need your help finding it again. You are, after all, the one who brought me it, right? How else can I explain it?”
Shiva always spoke to her mom as if she were praying and always had the Ace of Cups in her hands when she did. But today her Ace of Cups was missing, so it was the full tarot deck instead.
Her mother had bequeathed her the Ace of Cups along with the deck in her suicide note, left with her will and written long before she lost her mind, body, and life completely. She wrote it during her pregnancy after discovering her unborn daughter had a fifty percent chance of inheriting her curse, and it was written in the event if she had.
When I’m not there, let this card be a reminder I still am, the note said about the Ace of Cups. It represents the love and curse that connects us, a connection that goes much further than just mother and daughter, and one that reaches far beyond Earth. Let it also be a reminder of the chalice in you that deserves to be filled. You may be cursed, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have gifts for this world and don’t deserve to know divine love before you leave it. And I promise you will know it before we see each other again. I’m just leaving you for now before I become something other than your mother. That’s what’s so horrible about our curse; it hollows you out while you’re still living and not only robs you of your mind and body, but replaces you with a crippled demon. I want to be remembered as your mother, not a demon.
None of this will make sense to you right now and you’re probably very confused and hurt, but divine love always looks like certain madness in the beginning. Peace isn’t sewn without passing through the eye of insanity first. However, after you do, divine love will find you, and that’s also when you’ll know the divine love I always had for you.
Shiva took the deck out of the case and began shuffling, then placed two cards on top of each other in a cross formation, a simple problem-answer formation. First was her problem. She flipped it: the Death card again. She flipped the next one. It was impossible. The Ace of Cups. Where had it come from if it wasn’t with Walter?
The closet door then opened and blue light from the bedroom oozed in. Shiva put the Ace of Cups card in her nightgown pocket, then put the rest of the cards away. She then crawled out of her crawlspace. Fate was waiting.