The Saddest Thing About Magic

Deirdre Danklin


I always pick the Death card in tarot. We’re gathered for a witches’ brunch, my smart women friends and I. My friend wants to do a “past, present, future” spread. Someone is playing French synth pop on a record player. Someone lit a row of scented candles in the shape of screaming heads. Someone made a cheesy sweet-potato casserole. The floorboards creak underneath us. A cat used to live in this house, but doesn’t anymore.

The past is me in a prison of swords being my own worst critic and wanting too much. This is my central flaw. I want. To shed my wants I read books by Buddhists, books by minimalists, books about materialism and food and vegetarianism and yoga and meditation and candles and crystals and the oppressive crystal mining practices in Madagascar. I still want. The present is me up in the air, juggling pentacles, hoping that with enough effort things will work out and the pentacles won’t crash to my kitchen floor and ooze yolks like eggs that my cat will step into with her feather-light paws and track through the apartment. Once, I saw a set of wet footprints walking from my bathroom to my bedroom, but it was just my husband, home early, freshly showered.

My friends are supportive and fashionable and (mostly) in black and they tell me that tarot is a metaphor like religion is a metaphor like capitalism is a metaphor like disease and love and childbirth and psychedelics are metaphors. We’re writers, or we want to be, and our whole world is reflected back to us in occult symbols. Your persistent cold is fear of the unknown, my late-afternoon hunger pains are self-abasement and the way she tells stories is a means of putting distance between herself and the world.

“You need to break out of your negative thought patterns,” my friends say and I am obsessed with this possibility. I am obsessed with thinking that the way I order my thoughts, my own internal metaphors and occult images, will affect what happens in that dim horizon world of reality. That if I wear my pajamas inside out it will snow. That if I burn a bay leaf my wishes will come true. That’s what I want – the power to affect what happens to me. The saddest thing about magic is that it isn’t real. Before I flip over the future card I look around at my friends and say,

“What if it’s Death?”

They laugh or roll their eyes or think that I’m being dramatic. Or else they are busy thinking about their own cards and the faces they show me are far away faces, half in the room and half in a parallel universe where we’ve never met.

“Girls own the void,” one of my friends says.

“People you haven’t thought about in months don’t like you,” another one reminds me. “I ran into them in a coffee shop and they said they just didn’t like you, but they didn’t give a reason.”

When I flip the card over, it’s Death.

“It means rejuvenation!” the friend who is interpreting says. “There are parts of you that need to die.”

I can’t argue with her about that, but there’s something about the grinning skull that is begging me to take it literally. Look at my eye sockets, the skull says, look at the darkness between my teeth.

An alternative reading in the event that the Death card is reversed: When I followed my husband’s wet footprints to the bedroom, he was on our bed. I climbed on top of him, covered his body with my body, and breathed.


Deirdre Danklin holds an MFA from Johns Hopkins University. Her work was a finalist in the Split Lip Magazine 2019 Flash Fiction Contest and has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous literary journals, including Hobart and The Nashville Review. She lives in Baltimore with her husband and orange tabby cat.