In the 1800s, back when everyone was getting their palms and cards read, even kings, there was this guy named Slade. Slade wouldn’t just tell you your future, he would let you talk to your past. Slade was the guy you went to when you wanted your dead grandfather to rock the table or blow on the candles, just so you could feel his presence again. Slade, though, he was making some big dollars, so he got hauled off to jail, for fraud. So far, this is all pretty everyday.
The big deal about Slade was, all of a sudden, a bunch of scientists crawled out of the woodwork and into the courtroom for his trial. And these weren’t scientists he had conjured up himself, either. These were some of the world’s top physicists. Future Nobel Prize winners.
These guys said Slade had a gift.
The idea was, Slade was reaching into the fourth dimension, the one you and I can’t see, and moving things around. This is what I want to do.
And you’ve got to admit, these people, these palm readers and fortune tellers, they aren’t such sticklers about prerequisites. You give them a little money, and they’ll share what they know.
Not like the university, where you can promise them your first-born, and they won’t give you shit.
The bus drops me directly in front of Madame Belaire’s house. The doors close behind me, and the bus sucks all the air around into a dirty swirl, flapping my hair across my face and stinging my eyes. Maybe I’m too open to suggestion, but the whole world seems deserted and still once the bus is gone. I realize I’ve been standing there too long when I notice the woman in the doorway.
Madame Belaire, she’s just what you’re thinking. I’m looking down at her and all I see is eyes and folds. Maybe I’m too open to suggestion, but from the minute I step inside, I can feel her little black eyeballs clawing around in my brain. My eyes refuse to avert themselves from hers.
I’m shuffling cards that don’t really fit in my hands, thinking my question: what am I doing here? I try to concentrate, but she’s still staring at me, and I have to focus more and more on inhaling. Exhaling. I picture Johnny in jail and tell myself that this is an emergency. Don’t panic.
Madame Belaire snatches the cards and I mutter, “In Shah Allah.” My stomach starts a list of complaints, making me more irritable and slightly less open to suggestion, and then I begin to wonder if her own hunger or mood might affect the way the cards read? Maybe her stomach grumbles, and they say Cook the child.
Madame Belaire says, “Shut up and concentrate.”
I tear my eyes from the little piece of skin I’d been pulling off my index finger and say, “Excuse me?”
Madame Belaire’s putting down the second line of cards, and she doesn’t look up. First, I wonder if I actually asked out loud. Next, I wonder if she actually talked out loud. I decide the best bet is to blank my mind completely. That way, anyone that comes into it, I’ll notice.
“This here,” Madame Belaire says, with her fingernail on a drawing of a letter and a feather pen, “means you’re getting messages from far away. Because it’s pointing this way,” she points, “it’s going to change everything for you.” Madame Belaire says, “Forget about your plans.”
I look at the letter. The problem is, that could mean anything. My body spasms and I’ve forgotten about my bladder for just a second too long when I realize it’s just a cat that jumped into my lap. I shift in my seat, hoping it’s not enough to show through my jeans. Madame Belaire doesn’t look up. The cat paws at my jeans, slicing my legs underneath, and decides on a spot to settle in.
“This here,” Madame Belaire says, the black fingernail on a mountain. “This means you don’t forget about your plans. So you’re going to suffer,” she says. She stares at the cards and doesn’t say anything for so long, I start to wonder if it’s my stomach or hers that’s complaining. I stare at the cards, wishing I knew what she was seeing, hoping she doesn’t really know what I’m thinking. Which is how can I chuck this cat off my lap so it will stop clawing my goddamned leg.
She makes a clicking noise and the cat drops to the floor and waits at her feet. She lifts him up into her lap and rubs his head. He sits quietly, purring. Then she reaches a hand under the table and pulls up a small box, from which she draws another set of cards. Staring at the layout on the table, and completely ignoring me, she shuffles the cards slowly and methodically. Finally she chooses a single card and puts the rest of the stack to the side.
She nods. “Hecate,” she mutters. She grunts quietly.
I lean forward to peer at the card. A man sits in lotus position, floating in the middle of the card. The closer I look, the better I see he is sitting on the horizon, balanced calmly on the skin of the ocean. One hand stretches forward, holding a staff, the end of which is a woman’s conscious head, and the woman is gazing past us into the ether beyond. Or whatever. The whole thing is reflected in the water--though, since she’s not saying anything and there’s nothing else for me to do, I keep staring until I discover that neither her expression nor the man’s are accurate reflections.
She continues silently watching the cards. I wonder if she’s pissed about the cat. I wonder if I smell like urine. She stands up suddenly, and leaves the room. The cat remains in the seat and begins to suck his claws clean, watching me thoughtfully. I drop my eyes back to the card and edge it towards me with a finger, biting my own nails nervously. The colors of this set are more vivid, much more interesting than the other set. My eyes kind of cross, and then I realize there’s a third version of the pair, traced out in the stars. A door slams, and Madame is back in front of me, where she sits to open a pomegranate. She doesn’t say anything, she doesn’t look at me. In my mind, I’m screaming. In my mind, my pants are dry, and I’m walking out of here, unconcerned. Then I’m screaming again. A letter from far away? A mountain? Who is she kidding? She reaches out and slides her wet thumb across my palm, stretching it open for a moment. She offers me some of the pink, squishy seeds, and in the ten thousand years it takes me to get them to my mouth, I imagine all the different ways a body can become a corpse after poisoning.
I swallow. She nods and grunts some more. “That will hold you here,” she says.