Canvas of orange and green. Gaudy by anyone’s standards. And yet he couldn’t help but be attracted to the small lonely tent at the back. It stood in virtual darkness against the ominous sky beyond the coconut shy. The oak tree hung its branches heavy over the tent and the neon sign flickered in the oncoming rain; even the electricity humming through its tubes was tired and faltering and knew its fading beauty was long gone.
He pushed through the beaded curtain and his nostrils filled with musty scent. Incense mixed with damp and mildew. An oil lamp hissed its flame at him from one side, its glassed stained black from years of impure fuel. The electricity of the fairground dare not venture beyond this curtain.
Stepping onto the Persian rug, he stood behind the chair and coughed an introduction. Her hands were placed flat, thumb to thumb on the tablecloth. Still. Rings on every finger. He wondered if she had bells on her toes too. Face low beneath her beaded headscarf; another curtain, this one to hide her features.
No reply so he took it upon himself to sit.
“Five pounds for the basic reading, ten for a full reading,” she said,
Her voice matter of fact and lilting; clear that she had said this same phrase a thousand times before. The words only ever changed to take account of inflation.
“I suppose I might as well go the whole hog,” he said, placing a ten pound note on the table, “one shouldn’t scrimp when it comes to predicting one’s fortune don’t you think?”
He sniggered nervously at his own wit, attempting to fill the still air between them. She sat silent, face still shaded by multi-coloured beads.
“Where’s your crystal ball?” he said,
“Crystal balls are for fakes and charlatans,” she said.
Again her voice lyrical and slow, like dripping honey.
“Oh…” he said,
“Place your hands on the table,” she said,
He noticed that his money was gone but he could have sworn she hadn’t moved. As if from nowhere a simple box had appeared between them on the tablecloth. Swirling mahogany patterns in its veneer. Her hands moved for the first time as she lifted the lid slowly, its contents shielded from his eyes.
“First I take a handful,” she said,
“A handful of what?”
“A handful of your life as it has been,”
“I see,” he said, not seeing at all.
She spread what appeared to be coloured glass beads across the tablecloth in front of her, soft fingers caressing them.
“What do you see?” he said,
She held her hand up to silence him.
“There are more chickens in this world than people,” she said,
“Your life has been oblivious to the facts, up to this point,”
“What do you mean?”
“It is a fact that there are more chickens alive in this world than people. And it is a fact that your life has been characterised by oblivion. You have stumbled through it as if in a dreamless sleep, unaware of the realities that surround you,”
“I don’t know what you mean?”
“To take an example; five years ago a beautiful girl with ginger hair was in love with you, and you didn’t notice,”
“Yes, Rebecca was her name,”
“Rebecca? Rebecca Cartwright? In love with me?”
“Yes, and your indifference broke her heart,”
He was stunned.
“How…how do you know?”
“Isn’t that why you entered my tent? To find out?”
“Yes…yes I suppose so,”
“Now you must take a handful, a handful of your life as it is now,”
She turned the box. He reached in and took a generous handful of cold glass and spread it on the table between them. His fingers caressed the red and green and blue. Several were clear glass and these formed a clump in the centre.
“You are beginning to realise you are empty, your life is centred around a void caused by your indifference to it,” she said,
“I’m still not sure I follow?” he said,
“Your ignorance is an excuse; a shield created by fear,”
He felt a lump of fear in his stomach. No not fear, more apprehension; the kind of apprehension you feel as a child when you know some misdemeanour you have caused is going to be revealed and punishment will surely follow.
“I…I don’t know what to say,” he said,
“The clear glass beads reveal the emptiness in your soul,” she said,
He wanted to cry; could feel the hot ache of tears pushing through his eyes. Desperately he tried to swallow them back; he hadn’t felt emotion like this since…since his mother had passed.
“Would you like to see your future?” she said,
“Yes,” he replied,
She turned the box away from him and quickly gathered all the beads and deposited them back inside. She shook it carefully, with the lid closed, before opening it and taking a handful of beads in each hand; holding her enclosed fists up towards him.
“These are your two possible futures. Our fates are not always sealed and you must choose which path you will take,” she said,
“Can’t you tell me what they are?”
“You must choose first,”
“But how can I know which to choose?”
“That,” she said, “is the eternal question. Is life merely led by the toss of a coin or the roll of a dice or does it simply wash over us like the tides, much like it has for you? Or…are we masters of our own destiny? You decide,”
His hand hovered in the space between them. Fingers hesitating, first her left fist, then her right. There was no way to make a rational choice, it was random. It was the toss of a coin.
His fingers tapped the back of her left hand. She spread the beads out on the table cloth between them.
“Ah…” she said,
“What do you see?” he said,
“Yes…the green and the orange I’m afraid,”
Her finger pointed to a clump of orange beads near the centre and a short line of green beads to one side of the haphazard pile.
“What does it mean?” he said,
“The green is your lifeline; it matches the lifeline on your palm,”
He held his left palm open between them and felt as if he were seeing it for the first time. The lines and twists of his life imprinted there for him to see but, until now, he had never looked. She pointed.
“This,” she said, “is your lifeline, this one here next to the ball of your thumb,”
His eyes widened as he realised this line was short, indistinct, and ended abruptly. How come he had never noticed before? The line of green beads on the table was short too and ended in the pile of orange.
“What does it mean?” he said,
“I think,” she said, “that deep down you know,”
He laughed. A nervous laugh.
“What do the orange beads mean?” he said,
“Orange is the colour of fire,”
“What are you telling me?”
“Like I said, I think you already know,”
“Well it’s all just a bit of fun isn’t it?” he said, leaning back from the table, “this fortune telling lark?”
“If you say so,” she said, standing as if to imply the consultation was over,
“Wait a minute,” he said, “what about your other hand? The one I didn’t choose?”
“Are you sure you want to know?”
“Come on,” he said, “I’ve paid a tenner for this,”
She spread the beads from her right hand. This too had orange and green, but here the green was a long line running right across the pile with small patches of orange sparking off from the line.
“Here,” she said, “your lifeline is strong, with the fire of life running through it,”
“But it doesn’t match my palm?” he said,
“Look at your other hand, your right hand,”
He looked, and sure enough, the lifeline on this palm was pronounced and clear and ran a good distance across his hand.
“How can that be?” he asked,
“The Latin word for left is ’sinister’,” she said,
“What do you mean?”
“You have chosen your path,” she said, standing again, “I’m afraid it is done. Now if you will excuse me, I have other clients to attend to,”
He stood and turned. Through the beaded curtain a figure in a raincoat was waiting, hood covering her face from the rain. As he left, deep in thought, he missed her glancing at his face.
“Please sit Rebecca,” said the fortune teller.
She took a handful of beads from the box and spread them on the table. A long green line spun and weaved through the beads surrounded by all the colours of the rainbow. Rebecca pulled back her hood to look closer, her lustrous hair revealed.
“It is done,” said the fortune teller, “now your life is free to weave its own magic,”
They smiled at each other.
He stood in the rain, deep in thought.
Rebecca? She couldn’t have been in love with him; they’d only had one night after all. It was all hokum anyway, this fortune telling business. Wasn’t it?
If he had been paying attention he would have heard the thunder. If he had been looking, and were able to watch in slow motion, he would have seen the straightest of lightning bolts zipping its electricity down from the sky. He would have seen as it hit the metal frame of the carousel and snaked fast as light through girders and supports down to the wet metal fencing. The wet metal fencing he was leaning his hand on. His left hand.
As the fire consumed him he thought of Rebecca’s orange hair…
© 2014 Simon Poore