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Playing cards is a serious matter


It was that time of year when the season was on the move. It was now late spring and the blossom was falling. It lay beneath its parent tree, looking like snow. If the bees had done their work, the fruits would soon begin to set. They began as froth and ended as sweetness. If everything went right. 

Sarah sat by the open window, playing solitaire. She could have played chess with herself, pretending to be the two halves of her personality. The Queen would have been taken by the pawn. But since she felt profoundly alone, solitaire seemed the best game to play. This time, however, it wouldn’t come out. She sat in the fading light, and the cards stubbornly refused to perform their task. Jack, Queen, King: hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades. They came out in the wrong order and they were all supposed to be in the same suit. 

But after all, she thought, why should like always be matched by like? Wanting that had been her downfall. What folly! You should never expect other people to have the same repertoire of desire as you, never want them to know the same things, never snuff the same air and paw the same ground. To abandon that expectation might set her free. Giving up ideas that she no longer needed might confer a sort of power. Or freedom, anyway. 

She pushed the cards together into a heap and drew a deep breath. It was the work of a moment. She began to clear her mind. She remembered a remark by Cezanne, when he was asked how long a particular painting had taken: “only an afternoon, and my whole life”. Perhaps her whole life had led up to this moment: the blossom, the light, the cards on the green baize.

The boundaries between herself and her surroundings began to dissolve. She became the tree, the table, the chair: she was the motes of dust dancing in the air. The world was as it was, and not as she wished. It was itself. If she became that self, she would understand everything.

A rustling sound recalled Sarah from her reverie. The cards were on the move. First they twirled on the tabletop, balancing on their corners: black, red, white. They flew in the air. Then they trembled, and fell rattling like hailstones onto the table.

There had never been a solitaire outcome like this. All the aces landed together, all the Kings, all the Queens. It was done without her volition. There they lay in serried ranks, not in the right order according to the rules and the law, but in categories she was not prepared for. And then she knew what she was meant to see: that multiplicity and variety is all, and that richness comes from difference. 

From that day, Sarah knew that her happiness would reside in knowing that she was a whole set of Queens composed of hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades, and that other people, even (or especially) the ones she loved, were made up in the same way. It felt - what? - not comfortable exactly, but more realistic. A different sort of order. Not a quietus, but a kaleidoscope.

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