Diane D. Gillette
I drive up the east coast, taking my time because you don’t know that I’m coming and probably won’t be happy to see me once I’m there. I could have reached out and told you I was on my way, a hurricane moving up the coast, but then you would have battened down the hatches or whatnot and never let me in. I have an internet printout listing every fortune teller open for business along the way. I stop and get a reading at every one, hoping one or two of them will tell me what I want to hear about the end of my journey.
One has wine on her breath and tells me I’ll need to reconcile with my mother before I’ll find peace in my life. I don’t bother to tell her it’s far too late for that. Don’t tell her that shitty mothers run in the family, but the regret about being a shitty mother tends to skip a generation.
Another tells me I’ll be having pillow talk with the love of my life before the year’s end. I breathe in the salty air and wonder why every psychic seems to think we all want romantic love. It’s like we live in a goddamned movie and only a soulmate can lead to a happily ever after. Chasing that sunset landed me in this situation in the first place, and I’ve vowed never again to believe a man who paints pretty pictures with his tongue, a man who buries me in false promises of the spotlight and all things shiny. I leave the fortune teller a one-star review from the comfort of my car while sipping bitter gas station coffee. I miss the cream but don’t feel like I deserve it.
I don’t tell a single fortune teller the truth. I figured they should know. When they ask me for my question, I tell them I want to know what awaits me at the end of my journey. I confess it’s a bit pleasurable watching them flounder as they try to guess what I want to hear. Hands wavering over their tarot cards, trying to find that dainty bit of foretelling that is obscure enough to apply to anyone, but just specific enough that I might believe it’s meant for me.
I take out my phone after each visit and snap a picture of the fortune-telling establishment, capturing the shine of the fluorescent lights. I plan to make a scrapbook eventually. Maybe someday I can show it to you. Then I go get a coffee and stare out my car window for a while, further delaying the end of this crazy trip.
The next fortune teller I visit reminds me of my own mother. Her big, brassy hair, dark roots showing, and caked-on lipstick, too orange for her skin tone. She does readings in her kitchen with no trappings to sell me an illusion. She looks more like a cocktail waitress long past her expiration date than someone who speaks to the future. I’m nearing the end of my trip, and I tell myself that this is why I’m nervous, standing in her kitchen waiting for her to get her tarot cards from the other room.
She invites me to sit at her kitchen table. The table cloth has lemons on it and her kitchen smells like she has recently baked something. She looks me in the eye, and I wait for her to ask me what I want to focus on.
But she surprises me. “You go ahead and keep your secrets,” she says. “Celtic cross formation okay?”
I nod. Swallow. Lick my lips.
She flips the first card to place it in the present position. The fool in reverse. I am being reckless. The second card is my challenge. It is an upright tower. My world is in upheaval. I remember the last time my reading started out this way. It was 14 years ago and you were only two. I was barely older than you are now. My fortune teller back then told me it was time to take chances, but she was inexperienced and that was exactly what I wanted to hear. I told myself I’d send for you once we got settled in California.
I sense that this fortune teller is not inexperienced. She’s going to tell me not to go. That my world built on fragile hope is about to collapse. That my reckless behavior will be my downfall. But she won’t tell me anything I don’t already know. I stand up after those first two cards.
“Thank you,” I said. “But I’ve changed my mind.”
She shrugs. “Suit yourself. Do you want to pay with cash or credit?”
She runs my card through a little reader plugged into her phone and then hands it back to me. “You already know you’re headed toward disappointment. I can see that.”
I look away. Study the kitten calendar hanging on the wall by the backdoor.
“That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still go there,” she says. She goes to her kitchen counter, opens up a cookie jar, and wraps two cookies in a paper towel. “Something to sweeten your journey,” she says, smiling and pushing the cookies into my hand. I leave and eat the cookies in my car with a cup of gas station coffee, this time with cream. I drive back to the fortune teller’s house and take a picture for the scrapbook, capturing the hand-painted wooden sign staked into her front lawn. It will be the last picture in the scrapbook, a reminder that no matter what happens, I tried, once upon a time.
Diane D. Gillette (she/her) lives in Chicago. Her work is a Best Small Fictions selection and has appeared in journals such as the Saturday Evening Post, Lost Balloon, and Middle House Review. She is a founding member of the Chicago Literary Writers. Read more at www.digillette.com.