Across the booth, I nodded politely; boyfriend rolled his eyes, mumbled something.
“Did you see me finding a summer job?” I asked. I’d been home from college a week and had filled out resumes at dozens of restaurants; things weren’t promising.
Boyfriend’s mom didn’t smile, explained things she’d seen: O.J. Simpson and the White Bronco, an aunt’s illness.
“I once saw my son speaking to a crowd,” she said. “There was a blonde woman with him.”
“I’m a brunette,” I said, laughing.
Then she did smile, lowered her eyes. “I know.”
Popping an oyster cracker into my mouth, I joked about dying my hair. Other than the fact that boyfriend’s mother didn’t seem to be warming to me after a year, I wasn’t concerned, didn’t put much faith in psychics and seers.
I was still dating boyfriend, who hadn’t made any grandstanding speeches but had left for law school in Texas, when I graduated from Northwestern three years later. The lease on my Evanston apartment didn’t expire until September. Having nothing besides a vague desire to write on the docket, I spent the summer with my roommate hitting old campus haunts with the prickly sensation they were no longer ours.
Buzzed from cheap wine, we passed a storefront psychic with lights on after midnight. A sign decorated with stars offered a $5 tarot card special. I hadn’t done a lot of life planning. It seemed a decent place to start.
The psychic let us in with laundry basket balanced against her hip (her powers apparently didn’t extend to knowing when clients would arrive). Bridget went first while I waited in the parlor — really just part of the living room separated by a curtain; beyond it someone was watching The Late Show.
Bridget came out bubbling with excitement. Psychic said she would meet a new boyfriend Oct. 5.
I shuffled the deck and psychic told me to ask two questions.
“Will boyfriend and I end up together?” I asked.
She looked at the cards.
“Does his name start with an S?”
“J,” I offered to save time. She asked if he had green eyes. He didn’t.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m seeing green eyes.”
When I asked about my writing career, the card she flipped over showed a skeleton waving a scythe. “Death” was written across the bottom in a disturbing font.
I looked at psychic. She looked at me. We looked at the card.
“That doesn’t seem promising,” I said.
She shrugged. “You’ll have success in five years.”
Oct. 5 came and went. Bridget met no one. I wasn’t surprised.
Three years later I was finishing grad school at Ohio State and hadn’t done anything anyone might mistake for writing success. Boyfriend and I had broken up and he was engaged to a blonde whose parents lived across the street from mine in Blue Ash. I was dateless and contemplating New York City at my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah at the 20th Century Theater in Covington.
The party had a carnival theme and there was a woman applying temporary tattoos, another reading the palms of guests. Sloppy “S” drying on my forearm, I held out my hand for the reader to interpret.
“You’ll be married three times and have three children,” she said.
I looked at my palm. There was a dab of chocolate icing between my ring and baby fingers — third child? I wondered if she was getting paid less than the tattoo lady.
Five years to the day of the death card in Evanston, I sold a novel and started dating a green-eyed man. When green eyes and I got engaged, we ducked into on one of the shops peppering New York’s Lower East Side, giggled and pointed to my ring, barely glancing at what was in the cards. The woman reading them wished us a happy life.
Unengaged nine months later, I visited a friend in Toronto who’d recently moved home. A general malaise and a neon sign with tarot cards beckoned us to a second story apartment on King Street.
My friend went first, came out with stories of a significant change — a month later she’d move cross-country.
As the psychic laid out my cards, something flickered across her face. “Do you want to know bad as well as the goods?” she asked.
Is there any answer but yes?
“Dark energies, chakras out of whack.” She pointed to the cards, said everything I desired was there but something kept preventing me from getting it.
For a thousand bucks she could fix my aura.
“I live in New York,” I said.
“I can give you some names,” she said, looking serious. “It’s important you fix this.”
Fortune telling seemed less fun after that.
Halfway round the world at the A-Ma Temple in Macau three years later, people knelt and shook canisters of 103 sticks — the one that falls first corresponds to an ancient Chinese poem that can decode your future.
Stick 40 fell from my cup, and Master Wong interpreted the words on my paper. Getting excited, he told me I was a lucky girl.
“You’ll bring great prosperity to all who love you,” he said, asked to take his picture with me for luck.
“By the time you’re 50, you’ll be rich as Donald Trump and happy,” he smiled. “But this August, people will spread rumors. Be careful what you do.”
I told him I’ll try, didn’t mention I don’t put a lot of faith in seers.
CONTACT SHARI GOLDHADEN: firstname.lastname@example.org