“The gates are open,” the Priestess said in the din of the back room of her psychic shop on Decatur where, minutes before, she’d told me to scram and grab a drink while she finished her slice of pizza. It had looked like a decent slice. Pepperoni, I think.
Because I’m from the Midwest, where pizza is king, and because I tend to be over-polite and presume fault in the face of discourtesy, I complied with her request, though I knew she was scarfing at the time of our scheduled appointment for a reading. (Eh, when have I ever failed to get a drink in this town when someone told me to get a drink?)
“I can see your timeline,” the Priestess continued as she tossed a paper plate and gestured for me to join her at a table draped in purple cloth. “Ordinarily, I give readings,” she said as she shuffled a tarot card deck, “but you have questions, words buzzing above your head. Ask them. 3 questions, of course, will be $80.”
She bid me cut the deck. I did. Thus did we seal the contract.
I had hopes. The Priestess had given me a reading, years before, that accurately predicted four radical twists leading to the life I was now living, a life in which I was no longer an advertising creative collecting mid-century modern furniture for his Brooklyn loft, but an impoverished yet published author residing with his husband in New Orleans.
Yet, as she gazed at me awaiting my first question, it became obvious that the Priestess neither recognized my face nor sensed the energy, if such a thing was possible, of our previous encounter.
Admittedly, I’d been tanked on absinthe when our paths crossed initially, but I’d thought of the magic of that first reading almost daily. Maybe it was the Green Fairy. Maybe it was chance subverting hackishness, but she’d pierced the veil of this world once.
Still, her lack of acknowledgment seemed to prove that either I’d been a fool all along or that this Priestess had changed in the intervening years. Shrank, somehow, in her powers.
Still, I was lost, and so I asked, “Will my book be a success?”
“Oh, you wrote a book!?!” she responded, both as a question and a statement, and she turned over the first card. I have no memory of what it was. Cup of swords. Rack of lamb, hold the pentacles. I just remember her answer. “Not this one,” she said, “but your second one will be.”
Which, like a dupe, prompted my next $26.66 query: “What will my second book be?”
She turned over the second card, gasped, leapt up from her chair and went over to close the door to the back room.
When she returned, I have no other way to say this, but she was no longer the Priestess. She took her gypsy do-rag off of her head, sat down slouching in her chair and lit up a cigarette.
“I’ve been wanting to retire for a while,” she confided, and I saw what was fucking coming, and I couldn’t even stop it in slow motion. The bitch knew magic, and I was paying her 80 dollars that I couldn’t just squander.
“I have so many stories,” she continued in monologue. “So many, many stories.
Where you’re sitting, an older man once came in and told me of an underage teenage girl who’d asked him to take her virginity.”
“As a mother, I freaked.”
Oh please stop this train.
“I grabbed the hammer. I always keep a hammer, as defense, beneath this table.”
Oh please stop sharing.
“See, here it is.”
She produced the hammer and started wagging it in the air.
“I threatened to spill his essence all over the walls. As I chased him with this very hammer from the shop, I spit curses he will not be able to clean from his soul.”
I put my head in my hands, and she set down the hammer, perhaps believing me to be scared when I was in fact disappointed and humiliated.
“I could sense you came in her for a reason. And here’s your reason: Your second book is my story.”
She stretched out her ringed fingers and made jazz-hands in the air, as if beholding the words on a marquee. Memoirs of a French Quarter Priestess. Please, no more.
“No, hmm. Memoirs of an Authentic French Quarter Priestess, that is our title. I will tell you these stories, and you will write them down, and it will be a bestseller.” I gulped.
“We split the proceeds 50-50,” she finished, tapping her finger on the table twice, as if saying, “Don’t you dare screw me out of this fortune.”
I’d come to her with a genuine desire for spiritual answers, and here she was pitching me her ticket out of a career in the psychic industry, out of services I’d trusted and believed her capable of providing.
“Memoirs are first-person works of memory,” I tried to explain, hoping to back out of this easy. “I couldn’t narrate your memories.”
It took the next 30 minutes to get out of the smoky room, and I didn’t even bother with the third question. She only stopped pressing the book when I got her to agree that we should “put a pin in” this fabulous brainstorm before someone overheard and stole the idea. This quelled her instantly because everyone, I find, hides some plan, some invisible symphony, some invention with a kind of paranoid grandeur, some cubic zirconia they mistake for an authentic gem because it serves as their proverbial un-torn ticket to Paris. It’s the whispering lie that says, “Soon, I’ll start my real life with this down payment.” I’ll leave that man. I’ll move to Arizona. She was, and is, no different.
As I opened the door and moved to cross the threshold and breathe the free air, she cleared her throat. “Forget something?” she asked. I turned and saw that she’d stubbed her last cigarette and, thereby, re-became the Priestess.
“Oh,” I responded.
She held the credit card machine in one hand, bouncing and rolling it in her wrist like an athame or a wand. And because I’m from the Midwest and because I’m over-polite and because I feared her curses and because I’m a sucker who tears at the veil of this universe and because I knew I’d never be writing her book, I paid the Authentic Priestess of the French Quarter her $80.