For the third time today, the word sign stole my attention. First, I woke to an old song touting signs were everywhere. I didn’t take any particular notice at the time. Instead, I slammed the snooze button and never gave it a second thought.
An hour and a half later, I made my typical, apathetic appearance at work and headed straight to my cubicle. Once there, a petition beckoned me from the center of my desk. One-inch red letters urged that I sign here. This gave me a momentary pause as my alarm clock song replayed in my mind. I scribbled my signature on an available line, tossed the clipboard in my outbox, and went about my day.
Now, with a takeout tuna niçoise salad in hand, I find myself staring at The Crooked Crone. Don’t ignore the signs! These words splayed below a huge, purple crescent moon painted on the shop’s window mesmerize me. From the moon’s lower tip dangles three black feathers in an inverted triangle. Behind this, another triangle, but upright and made from white feathers. Together they create a six-pointed star which is both mystical and strange.
My eyes dart back, and I revisit the warning. Don’t ignore the signs! This is stupid. Fortunetellers. Psychics. All charlatans scamming money from the weak, but here I am contemplating going inside this occult shop. I glance at my wristwatch. Twenty minutes left. I raise the brown bag. A ten-block walk back to work, and my lunch remains uneaten. Shit. I’m going in.
I force myself, stomach grumbles and all, to hurry and get this over. I grip the handle and depress the thumb latch. The mechanism moves freely, but the door doesn’t budge. I try it again. Definitely stuck. What am I doing? I don’t believe in this stuff. Maybe my sign, my message, is to stop being such a chump.
A commotion in the interior peaks my curiosity, and impulse takes over. “Hey.” I rap on the glass. “Are you open?” Someone is in there. I grab the latch. This time, the door swings open with no resistance. “Hello?” I step inside.
The shop, although dimly lit, is extraordinary. A museum full of oddities and rare mystical finds. I’m giddy with the desire to touch everything, but which one first? A crystal ball garners my attention, and I feel the tug of its invisible force draw me in.
I chuckle at the sign-in sheet next to this glass globe. Every line on the paper blacked out, except for the time slot five minutes from now. I take the pen, and for the second time this day, I transcribe my name.
“Hello?” Still no answer other than the loud rumble from my gut. I turn to leave.
The crackle in the woman’s voice sends a premonitory shiver down my spine. “Sam,” I reply, before turning around to face her.
I expect an old, wrinkled hag—a crone like the store’s name suggests, but instead, an exotic, olive-skinned woman stands with the crystal ball in her hand.
We stare at each other until she asks why I’m here. “I’m not really sure,” I answer.
“You want a reading?”
She sets the globe down, pulls an ivory stick from her black hair, and taps on the page next to my name. “You’ve requested my time.” Her mouth draws upward into a huge, cunning smile, and a coo-coo clock chimes the precise hour.
“Yes, I did.” I gaze at my signature and wonder why I even took the pen in hand.
“Come, follow me,” she says.
The woman glides through the narrow aisle and back to a doorway covered by an amethyst-beaded curtain. Every tiny gem clinks against the others as she draws back one side and gestures for me to enter the room. She trails behind me like a shadow. The beads clatter again until they hang still.
My eyes try to adjust to the dark place. She claps. Four lamps click on, each with one of those fake, flickering flames, and the room comes to life.
Shelves cover the wall opposite me. Trifles and baubles cram together on every available space. On the center shelf, a porcelain hand rises up with its palm lines labeled in ink. Below this, off to the right, a wooden skull delineates the phrenological faculties of the brain. My eyes arrive on a rather immense collection of pendulums. I suppose the different colored rocks are employed for various reasons, but I’m not sure of this. Books. Stones. Pyramids. Jars full of herbs and other strange things.
“A glimpse inside my mind.”
“These represent pieces of me. Memories.” Her eyes pierce mine.
“I see,” I reply, as I glance down, but I don’t understand at all.
“Have a seat, and we’ll begin.”
There’s that smile again, half delightful and the other half wielding a canary.
“What is your desire? Love? Money? Or something greater?”
“What’s bigger than love or money?”
“Don’t those come with love and money?”
“Perhaps.” She lifts the silk scarf and uncovers a worn, tarot deck on the table. She shuffles. “What’s your question, Mr. Weis?”
I study her poised frame, her stern expression, and her long fingers, which wrap around the cards like spider’s legs. Without warning, my thoughts drift to Suzie in accounting. Blonde, perky, and lips the color of bubblegum.
“Cut the deck,” she commands, and my attention snaps back to her.
“But I haven’t told you my question.”
“You want to learn about love. Perhaps someone nearby. You want to ask if you have a chance.”
Her accurate response makes my upper lip sweat. “How the hell do you know that?”
“Your wistful expression, for one. You’re wearing an expensive suit, and you bought your lunch at Carmen’s.” She points to my takeout bag. “I think the assumption you have some money is fair.”
She is right. I do make a decent living. I own a fabulous loft which oversees the downtown, and by the way, with flawless furnishings.
“Plus, no ring,” she continues, eyes wide, eyebrows raised.
I shove my hands under the table because she’s sizing me up. That’s what they do. Read your body language. Search for traces of evidence in appearance and behavior. “Well, you have me back here. Now, what’s your fee?”
“For a card reading? Today, for you, it is free.”
“Okay, I’ll give it a go.” But I’m on to her, and won’t give her a dime or any more clues. I cut the deck into three piles as she instructed. “Fine, have it your way. What’s the outlook for my love life?”
She stacks the cards from right to left and flips the top one over. Death. “The end of a cycle presents itself,” she states and turns over the next. The four cups.
“This card appears more promising,” I spout.
“An opportunity to choose happiness,” she says, and her eyes lock with mine. “The love of your life awaits.”
“So, there are several potential partners to pick from?”
“No, Mr. Weis. That is not the meaning. You exhibit disinterest for your greatest love. A disconnect.”
“Well, I wouldn’t exactly…” My words stop, and I envision another twenty, thirty, or even forty more years smacking the snooze button and eating alone. “You’re right. I don’t socialize much.” My tone now melancholic, and I wonder if I contain enough courage to ask Suzie on a date?
“I’m not talking about relationships with other people.” She flips the third card over. The High Priestess. Another. Judgment in the reversed position.
“I see it!” I exclaim. “This woman—the High Priestess, she waits for me.”
“No, she indicates your inner voice.”
“A woman of stature, elegance, and maturity,” I say. I’ve never given a thought to dating an older woman, but there she is right on this very card. I glance up, eyes filled with excitement. “I’m all in.”
The woman’s expression grows tired, and her brows scrunch together.
“I know. I know,” I say, both of my hands gesturing for her to hold her tongue. “Be prepared for the judgment of others toward this unconventional pairing.” I lean in and ask, “So, how much older do you think she is?”
“I’m afraid you misunderstand.” With her hands, she sweeps the cards back into a pile, wraps the silk scarf around them, and stands.
“Oh, I get it. Time for the rub. What? For a certain amount of money, you reveal my beloved’s name?”
“I don’t want your money.” She walks to the doorway and parts the beads. “You simply must love yourself like no other. Accept your power as the maker of your own life. Then and only then will all things good come your way. Love yourself before you try to love another.”
I laugh. What kind of nonsense is this? She must take me for a fool, and yet, I sense the cards’ message is real. “Is this the point where you tell me I have to pay you to perform a spell, light a candle, or some other voodoo witchery?”
“It doesn’t matter what you think of me, Mr. Weis. Truth isn’t contingent upon belief. All the answers you seek are within. All that is required is that you love yourself.”
I move closer, and somehow, she strikes me as older, like a crone—at least, in her eyes, she does. I reach for my wallet. “How much? Fifty?” I gaze up at her frozen stance. “One hundred dollars?”
“Fine.” She glides toward the register in the main part of her shop. She takes a piece of brown parchment wrapping paper and tears a section from its edge.
“Are you writing a spell?”
“Silence,” she demands.
Her pen wriggles as she scratches out her prose. She folds the spell into a small square and ties twine around it. “That will be fifty bucks.”
“For that? A piece of wrapping?”
The woman snatches a bag from under the counter and tosses a candle inside. “Here.”
“Is that all? Don’t I need to sign my name or something, so the magic is directed at me?” I question her, not about to let her short change me, not after all this. I snatch the pen and scribble my name on the outside of the bag. Third times the charm, and makes the spell work. Everyone knows that.
She yanks the bag from my hand, opens it, and throws a handful of dried herbs inside. “Light the candle. Burn the herbs in the flame while you repeat the words I wrote.” She pushes the bag to me.
“Thanks.” I rush out of the shop, anxious to read the incantation. I round the corner, far from the Crone’s view, drop the bag, and unfold the spell.
What you believe you will receive!
What? I paid fifty bucks for this hogwash. The paper crumples in my hand. It rolls from my open palm, and my stomach replies with its loudest rumble yet. Damn, I left my salad in that witch’s den.