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The Fortune Teller

Some days, no matter how hard you work, your job just doesn't get finished. I felt that way today, surveying the explosive mess that was once a cubicle desk.

But five o'clock it was, and thus also time to go. There was still so much to be done, and I wasn't going to hang around while the day ticked away.

I grabbed my small bag from the chair and slung it over my shoulder with a smooth motion. I put my hand on the side of the bag and felt the bulge that showed me where my cards were, tracing the outline of the box. It was an automatic thing; even though I'd never forgotten the cards, I was strangely afraid that I would one day. The nervous habit grew out of that fear.

I passed co-workers with the usual ceremony: none. During the work day, I was part of their world, but over the last few weeks, they've realized that I turn off that friendly smile and my polite laughs at their jokes as soon as five PM hits. My honesty with them on this count doesn't seem to have affected our relationships during the day, but they don't spare a single glance for me as I sweep out of the building.

I ran down the stairs, dodging the people who got out of their office just ahead of me. Most of them leave a bit early every day, and I admit to resenting them just a bit, and constantly hoping that they get into trouble. That's a workday thought, though, and I don't think about them as anything more than obstacles on my way out after five PM.

I hit the remote on my car as soon as I was in range. I pulled open the door and slid across the leather, poping the key into the ignition and firing her up. I tore out of the parking lot like the place was on fire, and headed out onto the interstate.

While most people are heading out of town for their evening commute, I'm headed in. This has always made it easier for me. With no home to go to (unless you count a one-room apartment with a cot and a few books as a "home"), I don't need to go to the places they go. There are no kids waiting for me to pick them up. There are no animals waiting patiently by the door for dinner. There is no wife to welcome me home. And I like it that way.

I slid into a parking spot that's always open for me. I don't know how they always have it open, and I don't ask. I climb out of my seat, grabbing my small bag and my duffle bag and glancing at the perpetually broken parking meter. The meter has read "2:00" ever since I can remember, and none of the meter maids have noticed yet that it doesn't spit out any cash, so it never gets fixed. I push on through the door.

I pass by the counter out front, nodding to Justine as I head toward the back. I push aside the first curtain, cross a small room, then part the second curtain. The dark room I passed through was only slightly more well-lit than this one, which was downright dark. I dropped my duffle bag and started rummaging through it by feel. I pulled out a change of clothing and started to dress.

Dressed in new clothes, I grabbed my cards and stepped through into the less-dark room, and sat down. I began to wait.

As usual, I didn't wait long. Today's first guest was a small man of rat-like features. His suit was expensive, but ruffled. He constantly shifted his glasses further up his nose, which seemed to have a mind of its own, with all the movement it accomplished. He had never been here before, and placed a platinum Visa card on my table. I didn't look at it, but rather shook my head slowly. "Cash," I said. "Plastic attracts negative energy."

The man looked puzzled. I smiled inwardly, as I always did when I threw the customer for a loop. While the only "negative energy" a credit card produced was high interest rates, they could be cancelled or listed as stolen. Cash was always a cleaner option. "Cash," I repeated. "Nothing else."

The Rat twitched, then reached into his jacket pocket. He pulled out a pair of twenty dollar bills and placed those on the table, picking up his card in the process. "That'll do. Sit," I said, gesturing to the chair.

I spun the cards in my hands. The trick with cards, whether you're playing poker or pretending to tell the future, is to look like you can handle them well. I had never dropped a card in front of a guest.

"Your question?" I asked, shuffling and spinning the cards.

"You're the psychic. You tell me," said the Rat. Obviously, he's been conned before. Poor bastard. I wouldn't let him walk out feeling that way with me.

I put the cards down with a slam on the table. The Rat jumped, then pushed his glasses back to the bridge of his nose. "Your money is mine whether you play along or not," I said. "There are no refunds. Will I be advising you today, or simply collecting forty dollars for sixty seconds of shuffling cards?"

He sat quietly for a moment, then looked at me in an almost apologetic way. "It's my wife," he said. I saw his right hand fly to his wedding ring. He was worried. "I . . . I think she's seeing someone else."

I picked up the cards and began to shuffle again, thinking. Seeing someone else? He didn't seem like he wanted to believe it, but he already did. While I didn't much like the Rat, relationships are tricky business. The wrong advice could see him living a lie or committing suicide. Worse, he could walk out of here planning a crime of passion.

"And you would like me to do what about this? That is not a question," I said, looking bored. If he walked away in frustration, at least it wasn't blood on my hands.

The Rat looked at me. "I want to know if she is or not."

"Have you asked her? Communication is the basis of any good relationship." I was still shuffling the cards, and his eyes were being drawn back to my hands. This was good.

He paused, watching me bridge the cards. "I can't ask her. She'll think I think she is."

A card left the deck. To me, it didn't matter which one it was. I watched it land face up in front of him. "You already think she is," I said.

The Rat stared at the card. I'd had the deck specially made so that it didn't resemble a normal Tarot deck. Some customers know (or think they know) a bit about Tarot, and will sometimes call you on your "skills." The Rat wasn't one of them, so he didn't waste time trying to figure out what card the one in front of him might be in a normal deck.

"I don't think so," he protested. "I just . . . I can't explain some things, is all."

"But you haven't asked her about those things, have you?" Another card flew from my hands and landed next to the first. "You haven't examined all possible avenues. The fewer avenues you examine, the fewer doors open."

A small squeek escaped the Rat, and I had to bite my lip to prevent myself from laughing at him. I moved on.

Another card landed in front of my customer. "The path you're on now is dark." I kicked another card out of my deck. "At the end lies fire!" I cried, my voice rising. "Oh, this could be dangerous!"

The Rat's twitching became more agitated. A drop of sweat had formed at the end of his pointed nose. "What do I do? Can I prevent that? Is fire bad? It sounds bad!" He was backpedaling, and I didn't want such a good-paying customer to take things so hard. I flipped him another card.

"Ah! I see!" I said, excited. The Rat's look turned from shaken to hopeful. "There is your way out. The waters of calm, of reflection: they will keep you on the right path."

The Rat looked confused. Before the words even left his mouth, I knew his problem: he was thinking concretely. "Where do I get the water?" he asked.

I paused and looked at him for a moment, gently. I leaned forward conspiratorially, and glanced around. He leaned in to match me. "It's not literal. What this means is that you need to reflect on your problem, and remain calm like water. Right now, your subconscious is a mess. This card here," I pointed to the last card I threw, "is one of those possible avenues that this card," I pointed at the second card, "describes. There's something you're missing, and if you keep missing this piece, you're going to end up here," I pointed at the third card. "We don't want fire."

I sat back in my chair. "The first card is you. It's indecisive, inactive, and fearful. You're holding up a mask. The second card is a block. It could be a block of communications, or a block or wall between you and her. There's something there that you need to fix."

"The third card is where you're going to end up if you continue walking down this road. It's the fire. To answer your first question, yes: fire is bad." The Rat looked at me quietly. He was hanging on every word I said. He never even glanced at the cards.

"This fourth card is how you avoid that, how you fix your situation. In this case, it's best solved by reflection and calm. Think clearly, with your head, not with your heart. Remember, this could just be a miscommunication. If it isn't, though, nothing will be served by getting mad. Relax. Deal with it quietly and calmly. Only then will you aviod the fire. Your time is up. Go home to your wife."

I folded my hands in my lap and lapsed into silence. For a moment, the Rat looked at me, and then slowly got up and turned around. He stepped through the curtain, and I gathered my cards up and began to wait for the next customer, smiling. $40 richer, and all I did was tell him that he should go home and communicate with his wife.

Life is good.

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