“It’s so lovely to meet you!” It was said in a way that immediately made him feel special, the long-lost family member. She came out of one of the dark corners of the room and into the light of the candles on the table in the middle. She didn’t look anything like a psychic, or what he thought a psychic should look like…no shawl or flowing skirts or deep probing eyes. She was tall and lanky and wore a man’s plaid shirt tucked into a denim skirt. Her hair was short and brown and there was a cowlick in front she’d smooth down with one large hand from time to time. She looked like a farmer’s wife or someone working at the local library. Even though she wasn’t smiling she looked so friendly and warm.
“Are you the psychic?”
She smiled a small smile. “Well, yes, although I prefer to call myself a searcher. Somehow I am able to find things, see things others can’t.”
“I am not sure why I stopped. I saw the red neon sign, and well,” he said hesitantly.
She motioned to him to sit down on the other side of the table from her. Up close he saw freckles on her nose and that the knuckles of her fingers were red and inflamed. She saw him looking at her hands and put them under the table in front of her.
“You stopped because you need answers,” she said.
“But I don’t know the questions!”
“You just think you don’t. I charge $35 for a reading. That work for you?”
He nodded. She brought her hands back out and lit a cone of incense on the table. Immediately, white smoke began to rise, making the air hazy and fluid. He thought he might start coughing as the smoke came closer, but instead he breathed in deeply and relaxed. She reached over and took his left hand to hold it in both of hers.
“I do best with palm reading. Or at least that’s how it feels tonight.” She began to lightly stroke his inner palm with two fingers, across and down and across again. It felt good and he relaxed further, feeling sleepy. He wanted to close his eyes but he didn’t want to be rude and he wanted to hear what she had to say.
“We’ll start with the obvious. You’ve been travelling. Really a lot of travelling. Some you like, some you don’t. You don’t know how to stop the travelling you don’t like. This true?” She looked up at him.
“Yes,” he said.
“You’ve been married twice. Both times to awful women. You don’t trust your taste in women any more. This true?”
“Yes,” he said.
“You lost your father a year ago and you still haven’t cried about it. It’s a dark shriveled heavy thing lying inside you next to your heart and you can’t get it out. This true?”
He groaned. “Yes,” he said.
“There’s a lump in your groin and you touch it compulsively, but you are too afraid to see a doctor, you are afraid it’s something really really bad. This true?”
He couldn’t move. “YES,” he said hoarsely.
“You feel like you are stuck in your life, just plain stuck, like a horse trying to pull a cart out of sucky mud, it’s quicksand, pulling you down, this true?”
Tears ran down his face. “yes,” he whispered. There was a humming in his head and it was getting louder. The room was blurry from his tears. She got up from the table and went to a sideboard and picked something up. It looked like a glass tumbler, but not like anything he had seen before. Colors swirled across its etched surface. She stood over him.
“Do you trust me?” she said.
She tapped the edge of the glass tumbler and it rang a loud clear bell sound. She tapped it again and again until the room was filled with ringing…and then she slammed it hard onto his chest, over his heart.
“OUT!” she said, in a booming voice. “OUT OUT OUT.”
He felt something lurch out of him and into the cup. The humming in his head stopped. She pulled the glass away in a slippery motion and slammed it down onto the table top, capturing whatever was inside. “I’ll deal with that later,” she said.
“What the hell was that all about?” he asked.
“Do you still feel stuck?”
He thought for a moment. “No. Not at all.”
“Then that’s all that matters, right? 35 bucks please.”
He got up, dazed and reached for his wallet to pay her.
“It’s in your other pocket. Sit in your car for a few minutes when you leave. You aren’t quite ready to drive yet.”
He nodded and handed her two twenties. “Keep the change.”
“I said 35 and I meant it,” she said brusquely and handed him a five.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” he said.
“You don’t need to. This is what I do.”
He felt an impulse to hug her, but he restrained himself and left, taking one last glance around the room.
She sat down at the table, staring at the tumbler. Something moved inside. She sighed.
“Here goes nothing,” she said, and raised the glass to her lips. She swallowed what was inside the glass. The knuckles on her fingers glowed bright red for a moment.