Tarot of St. Petersburg

Mr. Fellows is singing. If someone were in the bedroom with him they might recognize a popular dance tune from the forties. But probably not. Mr. Fellows’ voice, which used to be referred to as soothing, has taken on what his wife thinks of as a metallic quality, emitting the rusty tings and pings of an old music box. At this moment, though, Mrs. Fellows can’t hear him. She’s in the bathroom watching the tub fill.

Downstairs the phone rings. No one notices. There’s fresh peeled sunlight in the kitchen and the vines of strawberries on the wallpaper droop, ripe enough to pluck. Mr. Fellows’ catheter tube is drying beside the sink, along with teacups and sandwich plates. The screen door is on its final bounce shut, the respite worker having just left for the day.

Mrs. Fellows dips her hand into the water to check the temperature. This is Mr. Fellows’ first bath since coming home. The small, foul-smelling hole that opened up at his surgical site has healed but the doctor says he’s still weak. He’s still confined to a wheelchair. She knows she should wait for the evening PSW to arrive to help him bathe, but she can’t. He smells like the basement of the first house they owned. Dirt floors and porous stone foundation, it wept the intimate smell of the dank earth.

Of things going back to the earth.

Besides, she reasoned, she’s been helping him bathe for years with no help. Even though, before, he could at least walk by himself. Even though, before, he could bear most of his own weight.

Either way, she knows she can’t wait around any longer for her life to begin again. There’s not enough time left for that.

Mrs. Fellows watches the steam rise, shapeless. Not a single discernible image; an apple blossom for good things to come, a magpie for joy, a kite for freedom. Mrs. Fellows has never put much stock in signs. She’s never had to, the same way some people have never had to snare a rabbit or gut a fish. They’ve never had to rely on themselves to survive.

Her daughter took her to a tarot reader the day after Mr. Fellows’ surgery, when the doctor assured Mrs. Fellows that her husband was fine and would benefit from uninterrupted rest. A reading would be fun, her daughter had said. A distraction. They could go for lunch after. And Mrs. Fellows was so grateful that her daughter flew home to be with them for a few days that she’d agreed. It would be the first time she had been out to eat in five years. Mr. Fellows didn’t like eating out — being seen out — anymore and became ornery if Mrs. Fellows was gone for more than the hour it took her to grocery shop. And Mr. Fellows usually insisted on coming with her on these errands anyway but declined to go into the store. An image of him panting in the passenger seat would follow her as she picked out melons and canned soups, coating her in slobbery, guilty resentment.

Since Mr. Fellows has been home again, Mrs. Fellows often wakes in the night calling his name and then lies to him about it. She’ll pat his back. Nothing, nothing. Go back to sleep. This is the residue of their old life, a vacuum she used to know, and she’s tried to replace it with consistency, especially as she begins to feel increasingly inconsistent.

The tarot reader had said she was on the verge of a great change. His fingers were as fine as cinnamon. The signs are all here, if you are careful to look. Look, he’d said, but don’t interfere. A sign, like a life, will come and go as it’s meant to.

Mrs. Fellows leans over the tub and sees her blurred reflection; a smear of apricot lipstick. The only sure sign Mrs. Fellows has ever had was the one that told her she would marry her husband. His shoulders.

His shoulders in front of her in the stands of a county fair demolition derby. His shoulders packed tight as snow and thick as lake ice under a jean jacket. It’s hard for her to picture his shoulders, the way they were then. But Mrs. Fellows remembers there used to be a great distance between those shoulders that allowed her to move freely.

Mrs. Fellows turns off the water and registers her husband’s voice: tinny, breaking. She’ll try her best to get him in the tub. She gets up and goes into their bedroom. The maple tree outside is throwing shadows like ladies’ arms, like ladies’ elbows on the bed and on the wall. Ladies’ fingers on the handles of his wheelchair and in his hair. Shards of sun, bright and brittle, are on the floor. Mr. Fellows smiles when he sees her and tries to straighten himself. Mrs. Fellows smiles too, crossing the room to take the shaking hand held out to her. And she knows things aren’t looking so good, but no one ever said love is a kite making its way westward. On and on.

Hollay Ghadery is a writer living in rural Ontario on Anishinaabe land. She has her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Her fiction, non-fiction and poetry have been published in various literary journals. Fuse (2021), her memoir of mixed-race identity and mental health, was released by Guernica Editions’ MiroLand imprint. Ghadery’s debut collection of poetry, Rebellion Box, is forthcoming (Radiant Press, spring 2023). Follow her on Instagram @hollayghadery and Twitter @Hollay2