The Two of Swords – Tough Decisions

The Two of Swords, by Erik C. Dunne. Used by permission of the artist.

Tea with Strangers is inspired by the Tarot Illuminati deck, by Erik C. Dunne, and the companion book by Kim Huggens.

On a concrete bench set on rocks in the surf, a woman sits unmoving. She is blindfolded and holds in front of her two crossed swords. The winds of storm whip her hair all around her face. The waters of the tide splash her feet; they have soaked her beautiful gown to the knee, and the air is saturated with the smell of salt and ocean life, seaweed and mollusk. It is not so cold that we are in danger of freezing, but cold enough that the splashes on my jeans are painful against my skin. I wrap tighter in my anorak, wipe the salt spray from my face with my sleeve and walk carefully from rock to rock until I am close to her.

Those swords look really sharp. They look like the real thing, and with the grip she has on the wrought handles, I’m not eager to find out how well she’s been trained.

I step back and clear my throat.

Unfortunately, between the wind and surf, there’s no way she could hear me.

“Hello?” I call.

No answer.

“Excuse me!”

She sighs, disgruntled, and in a slow, smooth motion, lowers the crossed swords until they are resting on her lap. She lifts the blindfold from one eye. It’s a green eye, unexpectedly soft in expression. “Yes?”

“I’m from the ah…” I gesture behind me. I have to yell a little to be heard. “Didn’t they tell you I was coming?”

“Oh, someone came and made noise. I didn’t pay attention.” She sighs and pushes the blindfold all the way up. “My focus is total, when I’m here.”

I find that impressive, given the tempest around us. “Of course, of course. Would you like to come with me? We can talk somewhere else.’”

Her face brightens. “I can do that?” She sets the swords on the bench, and we pick our way back across the rocks.

There is a lighthouse up higher on the rocks. The keeper is at the top, always, binoculars to his eyes, watching for ships that may come. He pays no attention to people who come and go in the cozy kitchen on the first floor. My lady of the Two of Swords warms her hands on the teacup, dries her face on the towel I find in the drawer, and stares wistfully into the fire in the hearth.

“It’s not easy, you know,” she says. “I have a decision to make. And I do not know the future.” She mimics holding the swords and looks at her hands. “Which path do I take? This one, or this one? Life is full of choices, and half the time we make the wrong ones.”

I’m thinking about the work I’m revising, and the decision I have to make between implementing a major change that will require extensive rewriting, or going with the original idea, which may be less engaging for the reader, but which remains true to my original vision for the story. “Tough place to be in,” I say.

“Do we die by this blade, or this one? Do we take what looks easy, and learn it was easy because it was right? Or do we take what is hard, and learn that hard work is always the best way? I just don’t know. I am stuck.” She slumps.

“Have some more tea.” I fill her cup and put a warm biscuit on her plate. “Tell me, why do you wear the blindfold?” My intention is just to distract her from her distress, but as soon as I say it, she takes the blindfold off the top of her head and perks right up.

“This helps. It really does. It’s lavender-scented. See?”

It is, indeed, though also sweat- and ocean-soaked. It is a thick, soft knit of some kind, and looks like it carries more stories than one life could hold.

“My grandmother gave me this a long time ago. She told me that, whenever I am stuck, I should put it on. It blocks out the constant chatter of the mind. When I wear it, I just listen, and then I’ll know the answer.”

She closes her eyes and takes a long, mindful breath. “So many times we think we can make a tough decision by logical analysis. There are times when that is the right way, but those times are not as often as we think, because there’s no way for us to know all the factors that will determine the outcome. We live in a world that constantly changes in countless ways, a kaleidoscope of possibilities, and the ego just isn’t well equipped to direct us. That’s what this is for.” She holds up the blindfold again. “You can do the same thing by meditation, or any activity that engages you completely. And then you listen, and you know the answer.”

“Ah, intuition,” I say.

“Yes. And most importantly, perhaps, you stick with your decision. Going back and forth, hesitating, waffling – you are juggling the swords, then, and you risk being wounded by your own actions.”

“And as writers, do we allow our characters to access this kind of knowing?”

“They can act decisively, yes. They can know what is right, and they can be intuitive, but when they are faced with critical decisions, we have to be cruel. They have to make their decisions in the dark. It must be a choice the reader would struggle with – and then the character must face the difficult consequences that result. Author March McCarron has a succinct post about this element of fiction. There’s no tension if the path is clear.”

She stands. All the energy that she lacked when she entered the warm building has returned. “But I am free of the need for story. I live in this moment only, and I know that this is the moment to be silent and listen. I’m going back to my bench. So long!”

The cozy lighthouse kitchen is a lovely place for me right now, but there are times, I know, when I am the one out there on the rocks. There’s no simple solution for my revision. I believe, though, that I’ll try what she suggested, and distract myself with something meditative, which for me is riding my bike on country lanes. As I pick my way back up the cliff to my home, I see the lady there, on her bench, storm raging around her while she sits frozen in her moment of decision – not frozen in indecision, but frozen in perfect peace, listening for the right answer.

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