Don’t ask me if I believe in psychics. They believe in me. They believe I’m going to fall for their fortune-telling schtick, by virtue of some open, approachable aura I give out. I may have the vibe of a pushover, suburban hausfrau, but make no mistake, I am wise to their game.
A decade ago, while on a weekend get-away at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. I had teamed up with a dozen of my female co-workers from the high school counseling office where I worked. We’d pooled our financial resources, then flexed our menopausal muscles to commandeer a luxury suite from the hotel manager. The rush of power drove most of the party downstairs to be undone by the flashing lights and whirring whistles of the casino. Not me, nor my two favorite cohorts, Patti and Barb; we had pledged to limit our gambling to $40 apiece. I tightened my fist around the two twenties folded squarely in the palm of my hand and righteously led the way, past the gaming tables and slot machines, straight towards the exit.
We strolled through the hotel’s boutiques, conscious of the price tags dangling from the small treasures we’d hope to bring back to the suite, and gloated over the wanton spendthrifts in our party. A window display of gardenia topiary coaxed our threesome into the garden shop. We moseyed past the potted plants, sharing office gossip while admiring the artful arrangement. I hung back for a moment and closed my eyes to take a whiff of the perfumy blossoms.
“Lovely, aren’t they?”
I turned with a smile assuming the comment had come from one of my friends. A face smiled back — a face I’d never seen before. The woman standing next to me was a stranger, yet she had addressed me with such familiarity, I wondered if I knew her from somewhere.
“Where are you from?” she asked.
I told her I was from the San Francisco Bay Area. She said she was from Florida. We bantered back and forth until I looked over her shoulder and caught sight of my companions talking with a sales woman at the register. Evidently, they had made a purchase. I wanted to see it before it was wrapped.
“Nice talking with you.” I smiled and started toward my friends.
“You have a story to tell.” The woman called back to me.
I stopped short. Her words rattled me, like hearing the recess bell in the middle of a quiz. That was a bit presumptuous. What did she know of my story? I took a second look at her: short brown hair, brown eyes, my age, my build. She was so ordinary as to be nondescript — not unattractive, but simple as toast. She waited on me to finish my assessment. There was, indeed, a glint in her eye.
“Have you ever had a Tarot reading?” she said.
My eyebrows raised instinctively. Ah ha! There’s the rub! She was quick to sense my skepticism.
“I’m very good.”
“How much?” I countered.
Game on! I nodded in agreement. Very good. We’ll see. She lead me over to a little cafe table nearby. Patti and Barb had been watching from a respectable distance with bags in hand. I waved them to go on without me. For the next half hour, the woman turned over tarot cards telling me things about myself, and my family, I already knew. Standard issue, I mused. She’s fishing. If she was as good as she claimed, she would have read through the flat affect of my expression, how I shut down my body language, and averted eye contact. I was not new to tarot.
I’d studied tarot in an off-shoot of a college psychology class. The mother of a fellow classmate was a renowned teacher of The Tarot. More Sherlock Holmes than Madame Mignon, she was an astute observer of human behavior with a Ph.D. in Parapsychology. Interpreting tarot cards was subjective, a tool she used to draw out an individual’s truth
“A truth they already know intuitively,” she told me. So far, I wasn’t feeling any truth from this woman.
Patti and Barb had gone from giving me my space to closing in on the two of us, eyeing the woman with suspicion. They tried getting my attention by flailing their arms and making “psst” sounds behind the woman’s back, annoyingly within my sight line. I ignored them to focus my attention on the reading. I wanted to catch every word.
“You are a writer,” she said, “There is a book in you.”
My whole body resonated from her declaration. She’d found my hook. I did have a book in me: a whole childhood to unravel, how to marry your high school sweetheart and stay married, the art of mothering, family history revealed, stories for the grand kids, a vehicle for setting the record straight. Up until now, I’d maintained a detached demeanor but became aware of my shallow breathing. I’d allowed myself to make eye contact, but only for a second. I was worried that I had given her too much.
She had caught my vibe. Confident now, she continued with a litany of uninspired insights.
“Your work with adolescents is admired by your co-workers.” Way to eavesdrop.
“You give too much of yourself. You need to make time for you.” I knew I should have had my roots done before I came.
“You are thoughtful and easy going, but when someone crosses you, you get upset and need time to cool off.” Me, and all but a handful of Buddhist monks. Get to the book writing deal!
I caught sight of Patti and Barb standing in the doorway of the garden shop talking with a tall gentleman dressed in a suit and tie. He stood with his hands clasped in front him casually listening to the two women who were peering and pointing in our direction. They think I’m being conned. I smiled to myself.
“Your husband doesn’t understand you. He’s not sympathetic to your need to express yourself.” The woman suddenly came into focus. She had misread my smile as encouragement that she was on the right track.
“WHAT!” I said.
“Your husband, he’s not supportive…” her voice trailed off.
“My husband, not supportive?” How wrong the words sounded coming from my own mouth. I wanted to wipe them away with the back of my hand. What did she know of the high school sweetheart I married almost forty years ago? The dear, sweet man who had saved my life — was my life. The woman had ventured to play the odds. She figured I was just another discontented middle-aged housewife in a boring marriage. She got it wrong! I felt the rush of pent up emotions from sitting unanimated for too long. I slammed the table with the palm of my hand and sent the cards flying.
“YOU COULDN’T BE MORE MISTAKEN!”
The woman recoiled slightly, keeping her eye on the two bills I had inadvertently planted on the table. When I leaned back to catch my breath, she got up to collect her cards and snatched the two twenties before making a beeline towards the crowded casino.
Patti and Barb took their cue and scurried over with the tall gentleman in tow. He introduced himself as hotel security. I was informed that the woman was with a band of “gypsies” who worked the casinos on the strip. It was illegal for her to be on the premises. Had there been an exchange of anything of value between the two of us?
Ten years of writing stacked neatly in piles surround the room. Sitting at my desk I secure a new set with a paper clip. Some papers rest inside folders or file boxes. There’s a circle of prize ribbons tacked to the wall within arm’s reach, some blue, some red, a Best of Show and a Writer of the Year award. The row of literary journals, “Carry the Light” and “Fault Zone,” bid me turn them over to find my name among my fellow authors. Had there been an exchange of anything of value between the stranger and me? Was I wise to the $40 con job that spurred me on to write my story? Read the book.
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