The Fortune Teller
Jackson Square is dimly lit. Flickering lampposts light the place, mirrored by the scattered stars in the sky. The ocean isn’t visible, but you can smell the salt of the pier and hear its breeze sweeping through the foliage of the garden. The air is warm and southern. It swirls and curves around our fingers and kisses our necks. Its hospitality is seen by the droplets of perspiration around my collarbones. One becomes heavy, and no longer able to hold its form it runs down my back.
Blake takes my hand. Our stride is careful, but full of purpose as we draw closer to shadowy figures suspended over cobblestone. Abstract shapes lose their mystery, becoming reality in our approach. A giant mass transforms into a grandiose bronze sculpture of a general atop a horse. The horse rears, and the hero raises his hat while they charge the constellations. Three or four crows are perched on his shoulders and several more share his saddle. They accentuate the ghostly nature of the statue that is set against the backdrop of the night.
We pause at the edge of our destination. I desire to stand here and be still for a while, taking in the mystery comprised of the moon, and the crows, and the shadows. I’ve always been hopelessly atmospheric, constantly getting lost in the dreams manufactured by my senses. But I am not alone on this journey, and our intentions float to the surface of Blake’s mind. He pulls me back to earth.
“It looks like we have a few options.”
I nod and we begin tracing the perimeter of the square, searching for the one we will hire, trying to remain discreet.
Our choice is between half a dozen vendors of fate, strewn about and hidden by the cloak of midnight. Some are already preoccupied with clients; young girls and boys that have flown from the Victorian balconies of Bourbon Street on a gust of adventure or a dare that’s been fashioned over too many whiskeys.
For a moment we stop to stare at a woman, perhaps to consider her. She is more than my imagination could produce in a vivid dream. Her hair is wild and free. Locks shoot out in all directions, like leafless branches of an elm tree. Her face is a circus of color. Blue eye shadow meets her brows and the rouge on her cheeks make almost perfect circles. She holds a stack of cards. Her aged hands search for precision, but they shake and she struggles to lay them in a straight line on the small table. The woman is alone, and wields no one’s fortune. Maybe some fortune tellers become curious of their own fate, and play a game of fortune solitaire, or maybe her patron is invisible.
The cards inspire a dusty memory. A memory hidden in the attic of my mind inside a cardboard box I’d labeled “God and Stuff,” along with all the other memories I’d tossed aside or chosen to forget.
I am eleven years old and sitting in a classroom during Sunday school. The room is sterile in appearance, the same way some hospitals and offices are. Eggshell walls are adorned with laminated prints of Jesus, and cornflower blue curtains sway against the open window. Our lesson is on the dangers of “toys” such as Ouija boards and Tarot Cards. The teacher recites several relevant bible verses, then says,
“The devil already exists. We should not beckon him into our lives with satanic games.”
I inspect the cards more closely as the wild haired woman turns them over. I expect to see pictures of daggers and crossbones, and figures hooded in black, but nothing menacing appears. There are only goblets full with liquid, kings and cherubic looking women.
The cards make me feel nothing. I place my new conclusion in the neatly organized filing cabinet I summon for these types of experiences. I put the earlier memory of Sunday school back in its dust laden box.
In silent agreement that she isn’t the one, Blake and I turn back toward the entrance and begin retracing our steps.
We see a man under a lamp post near the entrance of the square. The makeshift spotlight emphasizes his presence, and we can’t ignore it. Under the yellow light, flocked by night moths and mosquitoes the man sits in a canvas chair– his face buried deep in a paperback while his elbows rest on a card table. His hands grip a majestic dragon that illustrates the cover of his novel, and his chestnut hair is pulled back into a loose ponytail. Several free strands float in the breeze and pester his cheeks. He occasionally sweeps them away like flies, which also possess the annoying habit of returning to their last resting place.
I speak using as few words as possible, so as not to interrupt our reverence.
Blake responds in the same manner.
With the strange human quality that allows people to sense a presence, the thin man’s eyes leave his book and meet our own. A smile of anticipation spreads across his face.
He isn’t more than 40, but the sun or other elements have cursed his skin, deceitfully leaving him two decades older in appearance. I see his hands closer now. I always notice someone’s hands, which tell longer stories than someone’s eyes. Eyes are meters of a fleeting moment. Hands are true expressions of the past. His are bony and warn. Every knuckle and vein is etched in their surface, and his nails are long and yellowing. They look like hands with a past, like ones that might be skilled in a magical trade. But then, so did the wild haired woman’s.
I suddenly recall my skepticism, which I’d lost amid the mystery of the thin man.
“All fortune tellers gather information from self-disclosed clues and nuances, not from divine gifts or crystal balls,” I think.
I immediately feel silly for weighing the merits of proclaimed psychics, something I’d never done before.
“Hi there, what can I do for you?”
His greeting startles me. I was not expecting him to speak first, and his welcoming, generic tone belongs to a grocery clerk or bank teller, not a sorcerer.
“Do you do palm readings?”
“Sure do, palm readings, tarot cards—the works. Say, could I possibly bother you for a cigarette?”
Blake reaches in the front pocket of his trousers and produces a pack of Camel Gold’s. He lifts one towards the thin man who anxiously takes the thing, snapping off the filter with his thumb and index finger in one quick motion.
“I usually buy unfiltered cigarettes,” he explains, while placing it in his mouth, muffling his next line of speech, “but this’ll do just fine. Gotta light?”
“Oh!” Blake declares, scrambling back into his pocket as if it was rude to not assume they were a package deal.
I remember an occasion where I attempted to smoke a rolled cigarette. Its harshness punched the back of my lungs, hurling me into a fit of coughs that left me searching for my beer. The thin man takes a long, relieving drag. His action burns my throat.
“So, which will it be?” he asks, looking first at Blake, then me, “Tarot, or Palm?” Smoke escapes from his mouth while he speaks, like the window of a house on fire.
I ask him what the difference between the two is, and he says there are no similarities.
“A palm reading reveals your personality, and a tarot reading introduces your fate.”
I think about how fate and I will meet eventually, and how I don’t need to expedite the process. My fear of knowing outweighs my fear of the unknown.
Maybe Blake feels the same way, because he is now sitting across from the thin man with his arm raised in obedience, his palm upturned and his fingers spread. The thin man retrieves a pointed stick, about pencil size in length, from the edge of the table. It resembles a knitting needle, only instead of a thin hook at the end it comes to a dull point.
His sermon begins without hesitancy. There is no pause in his speech as he dissects Blake’s personality, using the stick to navigate over the topography of his skin, each crease exposing another talent or curse.
“You’re very ambitious, which is admirable, but you’re also unsettled.”
At times I feel as though I’m hidden behind a church confessional, eaves-dropping on a private conversation between a priest and his confessor. Other moments are lighthearted and humorous, and make Blake and I laugh.
“You seem unorganized to other people, but the places you put things make perfect sense to you.”
Blake and I are newly dating, and there is much to be learned about the inherent qualities of each other. I’m still doubtful of the thin man’s craft, but if it holds any merit, I am learning some of my new boyfriend’s more personal traits rather quickly. This is like dating on crack.
Finally, the thin man’s prayer comes to a close, and Blake shakes his hand in thank you and amen. It’s my turn now, and I take Blake’s place at the card table, which is hidden under a stretch of crimson fabric that bares clues of a former life as a window curtain. A trickle of nervousness starts in my head and creeps downward where it settles in the cave of my stomach. I attempt to fend it off using reason, but it persists and remains. It flutters and travels, like the night moths that are still dancing above us. As the thin man touches my hand and begins speaking, a cloud moves, and the moon glares heavier on the square.
At first his words seem broad and generic, but still applicable.
“You’re curious. You question everything you don’t know, and sometimes it gets you into trouble.”
He pauses while he traces the metal utensil across my hand, holding the silence until he finds another lead.
“You’ve never pictured yourself in a job as a nine-to-five drone. You’re too creative, and routine annoys you.”
He quiets to search again.
“You seem organized to people from the outside, but it’s mostly a show. Behind closed doors, you’re a bit of a mess.”
He continues this for a while, touching my palm carefully, making concise statements about my character based on the little lines and ridges in my skin that I’d assumed were menial. But something happens, and I am listening more intently now. The thin man begins to whittle away at the stump of a generic life, and I begin to take shape.
“You play an instrument of some kind, and you’ve always loved music. A while back music was all that mattered to you, but lately you’ve had an affair on music with something else. Make music again. It will sooth your soul.”
“Something once happened to you that instilled the value of keeping promises. I don’t know what it is, but you do, and it had a big effect. When you agree to something, you’ll never stray from it.”
“Ah-ha! A writer’s line. You love to write.”
I wonder if I’m the one giving it all away; if it’s body language, the way my legs are crossed, or a nervous shift in my seat. Or perhaps he’s studied various trends in the human population, and all hazel eyed blonde girls, about age 23, possess eerily similar qualities.
“One day you’ll have a career that is long and fulfilling. You’ll do this for a long time, until you retire, actually.”
For a moment I stop questioning his methods, but only to acknowledge a new horror. My future and I are shaking hands, being introduced right here in the square by our friend the thin man, who had once said that only tarot cards were the real spoilers of fate.
“Someday you’ll be a mother; a good mother, a nurturing mother. It looks like you’ll have two kids.”
I contemplate a mad dash back to Bourbon Street, where several vodka tonics will help me forget, and I can return to unknowing.
“And you’re one of the lucky ones. One day you’ll meet someone, if you haven’t already, who will grow old with you until the end of your life.”
He continues to throw darts, hitting another bull’s eye, exposing another truth, revealing another moment that hasn’t yet happened. I realize there is no reasoning with the moon, which is still harsh on my face. I relax in my chair, and just start listening. Perhaps fate is being disclosed, or perhaps it is not. The real mystery still lies in the way the moon sits cradled in a nest of clouds, heckling the cobblestone from above, and the crows that laugh alongside the moon, making me wonder. But only wonder.