There had at last been a dry spell in the cold wet autumn; indeed the day was quite mild for November. The Queen of Swords was in her garden with her new folding saw. It had been recommended to her by Nine Pentacles, who was quite a gardener in her way, but she had her image to think of, so she kept quiet about it. The Queen sawed happily at the shrubs. In the background she could hear the King’s voice coming through his study window while he “Zoomed” a tutorial for a group of Final Year undergraduates. The Queen eyed a berberis warily. “It’s amazing,” she thought, “how branches don’t grow straightly and separately. These are all interlocked ……so I don’t quite see how I get at them ….. and the thorns ……” She made a start, pulling the woody stems this way and that, trying to get some space for the saw.
“Hi, mother,” said a voice, “what on earth are you doing?”
The Queen turned. “I thought you were working,” she said to her older son.
“I was, I’ve finished for the day.”
“But it’s only two o’clock.”
“I know,” said the Knight, “but I was online by six this morning, so I’ve finished. The slow-coaches can catch up with me later.”
“I hope you really have finished,” said his mother.
“It’s not school, mother. No-one writes ‘Careless, do this again’ in red ink any more. I just work faster than everyone else, that’s all. And now I’m going out on the bike ……. get some air.”
“Well you can call at Cousin Four’s and check if she needs anything, and if it’s not complicated, you can get it.” The Queen flourished her folding saw at
her son, and resumed her assault on the berberis.
* * *
The Queen of Wands looked at the attendees in her gallery view. She was rather pleased with the way an idea born out of desperation had taken off so well. The free mini early-morning well-being sessions via Zoom that she had started in the Spring for her loyal customers had developed into full-length paid-for movement classes for all age groups. Zoom saved paying for a suitable room, so she could charge less than she would have had to; the slight downside was that people did not have large spaces in their homes (But, so what? Tailoring the movements was easily done.) The clients got a recording of the class so if they missed one they were still able to do it later.
“I don’t think anyone else is trying to get in,” said the Queen. She paused. “So I’ll just mute youuuuu…euch! Excuse me,” she added with her usual aplomb, “I’ll mute myself as well for a moment.”
“You awful cat,” she said, realising that she hadn’t closed the door properly. “What on earth is that in your mouth?” The awful cat, with a pleased expression on its face, dropped an unlovely trophy from the garden at its owner’s feet. “Out! Now! And take that with you …..” The cat understood “out” and “now” but not the rest of the instruction…….. and stalked out with a stiffly upright tail, leaving whatever it was on the studio floor.
“Apologies,” said the Queen, returning a few minutes later. “Now, shall we begin?”
* * *
The Queen of Cups didn’t know what to do. Her clients still needed to see her, and she was regularly receiving calls from new people. “The clinic is closed,” she explained. “No, I don’t have a suitable space at home ….. there are four of us living in it ……… No, the garden wouldn’t be suitable ….. too distracting……” She put the phone down.
“There’s no help for it, Mama,” said the Page who had been listening, “You’ll have to learn to Zoom.”
“Zoom?” repeated the Queen faintly. “I suppose one of the Wands
“No, Mama, I’ll help you set it up. You’ll be fine. Embrace technology!”
The Queen didn’t want to embrace technology but there was no alternative.
The Queen started her first Zoom session. After a few moments her client said, “Have you unmuted yourself?”
“I can’t hear you.”
“Well I can hear you perfectly,” said the Queen.
She waved frantically to her client and left her chair. “Help!” she said to the Page who was seated nearby but out of earshot of the actual session. “He says I am mute.”
The Queen started her second session. “I can’t hear you,” she said to her client. The client mouthed at her, then started typing a message. “Just a
moment, please,” and she went to find the Page again. “I can’t hear him, now,” she said, “and he’s emailing me at the same time.”
For the third session the Queen and her client could both hear each other. “Why are you sharing your screen?” asked the client. “Sharing my screen?? I thought that’s what we did.” She excused herself and fetched the Page yet again. When the morning was over she burst into tears. “I can’t do this,” she sobbed. “It’s all too peculiar.”
* * *
Pentacle Manor Conference and Catering School was open for the school, but not for conferences. “It’s quiet in here,” said the Queen to one of the Tutors.
“Yes,” he replied. “Not close enough to chat so much now we’ve spaced out the work stations.”
“Now,” said the Queen addressing the students, “we have a lot of produce in the kitchen garden, what are we going to do with it all?”
“Eat it ourselves,” said Four Pentacles; “Sell it,” said Five; “Share it,” said Six.
“We can’t eat it all ourselves,” said the Queen. “I agree we could sell it, but if so how? And we could also share it, so anyone have any ideas how we do that?”
The students set up a locally directed website advertising “select and collect” fruit and vegetables, then branched into ingredients bags with a recipe card for more ambitious people to cook at home. “This is fine, said the Tutor. “We are making some money, and the students are getting good at packing boxes and bags prettily, but they aren’t cooking anything.”
“I don’t want us to have a pop-up restaurant,” said the King. “Other restaurants in town are struggling, we don’t want to compete with them. We’ll set up for just two hours twice a week, or less if we sell out, then we’ll leave.”
The students and the Tutor took one of the refrigerated vans loaded with a small selection of student-made “ready to cook” and cold lunch boxes, “Though who’ll want a picnic lunch when everyone’s working at home I can’t think,” said Five Pentacles…….. “Ah,” she said later as they collected the rubbish and prepared to leave, “I see now.”
* * *
The four Queens met in a small park not many people knew about, so it was quiet. “Have you slaughtered all your shubs yet?” the Queen of Pentacles asked the Queen of Swords.
“Probably,” said the Queen. “But I enjoyed all that sawing.”
“I’ve nearly got the hang of Zoom,” added the Queen of Cups, “but it was awful to start with, I was so embarrassed, but the clients were very understanding.”
“My cat now has to attend the classes, by popular demand. I refuse to let him have his own FB page, but I post the occasional picture,” said the Queen of Wands. “He is getting above himself.”
“We ended up lending one or two students to outlets in town when their staff were off,” said the Queen of Pentacles. “We said it was part of their training so they could do it gratis. And that way the staff who were off still got paid.”
The four Queens sat in silence, thinking.
© Lucy Voss