Don’t Do That, Rosa

Drawing of two women, or one woman in two different line weights.

By Ethan Velez

“Is my husband cheating on me?”

She gives me this look. She was expecting this question, but she was still surprised I asked. She looks like my mother. That is the first bad indication about this place. My friend Katrina swore by it, though, she even offered to pay for it. I wouldn’t let her because I wanted her to know I trust her. There is a shadow in the corner of the room that disappears when I notice it.

“I thought you’re supposed to shuffle the cards,” I say flatly, the way I speak to my mother.

This woman is wearing face jewelry and an oversized Yankees t-shirt. She scoffs at me, but she also smiles. She shuffles her deck of paper cards and six of them fall out. She reveals ten of cups, ace of wands, the chariot, the devil, the magician, and two of pentacles. I smile at her.

“It’s possible,” she says, and she lights up a cigarette she rolled herself. She studies me through the smoke and I notice the shadow from before has moved somewhere out of sight.

“Do you expect me to cry?” I ask her, and I can feel my throat tightening.

She exhales her tobacco. Her rings have gemstones of different colors. I think about what it would be like to wear them, to be her, to have something of mine.

I start crying. Slow at first, like I’m trying to fight it, and then all at once. I reach into my purse that I know only has a book I’ve read 30 pages of, a box of my husband’s cigarettes, a lighter, a phone, and a water bottle I filled with vodka.

She extends towards me a box of kleenex and I make a scene of hesitating before I accept one. I thank her. I stop crying almost immediately. I wonder if she notices.

“So, I think this is a pretty happy spread,” she says in this accent that reminds me of high school.

“I think you and your husband are locked in. Are you suffering financially?”

“No,” I tell her, and it’s the truth. “He just got promoted. He loves me. He loves me.” I drink from my water bottle.

She picks up the cards from her glass table and sorts them back into a neat deck. I can feel the air change about us and I know that, unless I ask another question, it’s time to go.

When I stand up suddenly and unsheath a 20 dollar bill for her – 10 would have been cheap – she doesn’t say a word. Instead she watches me leave her corner shop. I want to believe the shadow stays behind.

I find a text message on my phone from Katrina, who wished me luck on the reading, and another text from my father, who asked if I could reach out to my mother soon. I think about taking the train back downtown, but it’s too easy to order a cab from my phone, and I’m in a black Lexus with a driver who speaks broken English. He smiles at me and I smile back. For the rest of the ride, I’m quiet and I wear my sunglasses.

I open my book. “Art does not have to be huge in order to be important or moving.” I read. “Art should be beautiful, but the function of beauty and art is to convey ideas.” I close the book after that, because I don’t think that Judy Chicago knows that beautiful things are terribly violent. I drink from my water bottle again.

My husband isn’t home when I arrive. I’m glad he’s not. I feel alone, so I leave my things on our linen couch and take the water bottle with me. Our apartment is clean because the cleaning lady was just here, the view is nice because we live in a tall building, the walls are egg white because that was the color I chose.

I lock the bathroom door behind me. I turn the handle for the bathtub and take off my clothes. I’m standing and I’m looking and I’m watching myself finish the rest of the vodka. My reflection is not happy with this company. I can tell. I smile regretfully.

The water in my tub is cold. I force my body to sit in it and my breath becomes fast. I’m crying again, unintentionally this time, so I take a deep breath and go beneath the surface.

“Rosa?” I think I can hear. Someone is in the room with me. “Don’t do that, Rosa…”

I erupt from the tub and spill water everywhere. The bathroom door is wide open and I can see, for a moment, the last of something trying to avoid me.

I hurl myself out of the tub and I follow it. I won’t let it get away this time, I refuse. My mother always said I was too stubborn and I think, for the first time, that she’s right.

When I’m in the living room again, I hear what sounds like scraps of paper crackling and stacking on top of each other. There is an oval mirror on the far side of the wall where I see the shadow pulling a card, holding it close to its reflection, and dropping it on the floor. Seven of swords, the hanged man, seven of cups. It looks like a person. I can tell it is not.

“What did you do to me?” I ask. My voice sounds unfamiliar to me. It is so cold. I’m shaking and water pools at my feet.

I want to believe it is an angel, that I’m finally saved, but it looks at me without eyes and I know I’m wrong. I miss my mother. I think I’ll finally call her.

Ethan Velez is a writer and journalist based in New York City. He loves writing and believes it is something everyone should do. Some of his biggest inspirations include his mom and Nan Goldin.