Testament

By: Katie Ashley

Raised voices greeted me as I stepped off the palace’s gold-plated elevator. Heated poker games played out at the five circular tables in the rotunda. I balanced a tray full of multi-colored drinks in one arm, silently praying I’d make it to the tables without dropping them. Despite my elevated position as dining hall hostess, I wasn’t the most coordinated or graceful. I wrinkled my nose in disgust as pungent cigar smoke stung my eyes and turned my stomach. I tried focusing on the sound of the poker chips clicking against each other as the highest ranking officials in the land weighed their options. I dutifully handed out the drinks, plastering on a smile that might garner a tip or two.

“Cadence!” My head jerked up at the sound of my name.

It was Ms. Sullivan, my boss. “Yes, ma’am.”

“A client wishes to see you downstairs. You can meet him in Suite 109.”

I nodded and headed back to the elevator. I glanced one last time over my shoulder at the cards floating between the players. The elevator’s sharp descent jolted a long forgotten memory into my mind.

I was a little girl, and I was making a house of cards. It was something I loved to do even though I knew my mother disapproved. It frustrated her to no end because part of a deck always ended up missing when it came time for my parents’ weekly poker game with friends. She was a stickler for order and organization. My father, however, would argue with her. “Why, Kathleen,” he would bellow in his warm voice, “building houses out of cards shows Cadence has infinite patience and determination. I mean, think about her constantly stacking and restacking those cards.” Just as soon as he finished, either my mother or my brother would interject that with my dark eyes and flaming red hair, patience didn’t reside in my DNA.

The memory faded from my mind like the wisps of morning fog that once blanketed our family home. I closed my eyes, trying to savor it. It’s funny, as a child you never really see the big picture. You don’t comprehend the enormity of the images on the television as you’re playing with cards. Political unrest, natural disasters, conflicting ideas—they were the house of cards our world was built on. As I grew up, it precariously survived on shifting sand until one day it all collapsed.

Historians would call it America’s Second Civil War or sometimes The Great Fall. Instead of the Blue and Gray’s brother against brother, ours was one of believer against non-believer and rich against poor. Organized religion of any kind was banned. We became a society ruled by industry and CEO’s rather than the democracy run by a president and houses of government that I’d grown up with. The Golden Rule was enforced: whoever had the gold, made the rules.

Our world scattered to the winds like a fallen house of cards.

The elevator shuddered to a stop on the palace’s main floor. I tucked the tray under my arm and hurried down the left wing of guest suites. I could almost hear Ms. Sullivan’s nasal voice in my ear. “Cadence, you never want to keep clients waiting since they are paying good money for your services.”

I rapped once on the door before swinging it open. A dark haired man in his early thirties paced around the suite’s main room. When I closed the door behind me, he jumped like he’d been shot. His eyes widened. “They didn’t tell me you’d be so young.”

My temper got the better of me, and I rolled my eyes. “Whatever, are we going to do this or not?”

He appeared to be weighing his options. Finally, he nodded and dug into his pockets. Without a word, he thrust a wad of cash at me. “Is this enough?”

I flipped through the bills. “Yeah, it should be.”

He glanced around the room. “Where should we…?”

“The couch is fine.”

Nodding, he eased down onto the green tapestry fabric. He shifted uncomfortably.

I sat down next to him. “Give me your hands.”

Obediently, he placed his palms in mine. I should have imagined they would be sweaty. “Now tell me about your dream.”

In a shaky voice he began to relate the events that stood out. Symbols and interpretations swirled around in my mind. “I was walking along a dirt road when I saw an injured animal on the side. I stooped down to check on it, and then a bird came swooping down and started attacking me instead of the animal…”

Closing my eyes, I gripped the man’s palms tighter, letting myself slip further and further into his world. A picture formed in my mind as vivid as switching on a television set. Family conflict raged around him. The face of his father appeared on the injured the animal, and then his wife’s face appeared as the angry bird. When I opened my eyes, I realized the man had stopped talking and was staring suspiciously at me.

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