She spread the cards on the table, forming three columns and three rows from left to right. A total of nine cards were there, all facing down. The woman, wearing a wine red shawl and several rings and bracelets on her arms, passed both hands over the cards and seemed to be talking in a strange language. Her clients were two girls, around twenty years old, who looked at her with eyes open and an expression of fear but also looking forward to her next words.
The woman then did a sudden movement and asked one of them which card to flip over. The young woman indicated one and she complied, revealing the card of death. The woman then did a speech, explaining the deep meaning of this card. She asked several questions too, ranging from past relationships to dead family members. In less than twenty minutes, she flipped over all the cards and told the girl it all meant she was going to have an unexpected surprise very soon but that she should be weary as someone may be there to betray her. The girls looked at each other and, after paying, they went out giggling, discussing their results.
The reader waited for them to be far and then called for her assistant, a young woman that looked a lot like her, in order to ask her if more people were waiting. The young girl told her that no and that her lunch would be done in just a few minutes so she could use the time to eat something. The card reader’s name was actually Suzanne and she had been a pharmacist for some time but that job had made her unstable, cranky and bored with life. She had always wanted so much more from everyone and everything and a pharmacy would never fulfill her dreams of grandeur.
So one day, she overheard some women talking about going to a woman that read the crystal ball in a fair and she decided to go. The woman was a big sham but she learned that people would decide to believe in anything if it’s well presented to them. Before becoming a card reader, Suzanne had been a very practical and skeptic person. In one second, she could debunk any stupid thing people believed in and that had earned her a friendless life and a difficult interaction with men and even with her parents.
So after seeing all the glitz and mystery of the crystal ball reader, she decided to become Madame Zelda, a mysterious seer that had come all the way from Romania to help souls in need to find their way by reading the cards of their life and other things. Her business, located in a small store in the city’s downtown, was very successful from day one. She had hired her niece Amanda to be her assistant and to give away fliers to every nearby college. Suzanne knew that the younger people were especially prone to believing anything so she knew that was the way to start.
Six months had passed since that and her strategy had worked. Lots of giggling girls came in and decided to get their cards, their coffee and even their cigarettes read. Suzanne did everything and anything and people would buy what she said and even if they didn’t, she knew very few would tell anything to her face. People were strangely polite when referring to something as plain and simple as the arts of divination. But the point was that they always came.
A she ate a bowl of pasta with meatballs with her niece, Suzanne realized they looked very much alike: their hand were both skinny, their skin the color of olives, big bushy hair and big brown eyes. She asked her niece what would she like to be when out of school and she told her that she had a dram of becoming a nurse. She wanted to help people and thought the best way was to care for people’s health. In the long run, she might even become a doctor but that wasn’t going to be decided just yet.
Suzanne then asked her about her sister, her niece’s mother. She was not the best mother in the world, that’s for sure. She had the traces of all the women of the family: beautiful heavy smokers but convulsed souls inside. After all, they had a recurrence of mental issues in the family and Suzanne’s sister Amelia apparently was the prime example. She was always thinking of things that helped no one and had never really cared for her daughter. In part, that was why Suzanne had decided to accept Melanie in her home for her last year of school. She didn’t regret her decision so far.
Melanie proved to be different than her fellow female family members: for such a young girl she knew very well what to do and what not to do and how to do the things she wanted for herself. After all, she was only sixteen and about to step out of school. Suzanne had already spoken with her sister about Melanie’s education but Amelia had assured her that there was more than enough money for that. The girl was the daughter of a very rich man that wanted nothing to do with them and paid handsomely every month in order to keep them away. And it worked perfectly for all of them so there was more than enough money to pay for her nurse education.
Suzanne often liked to go out with her, shop around or to the movies. They were both lonely girls, no real friends around and Amelia had never grown fond of her own daughter, always seeing her as only her source of money. It was true and obvious that Melanie felt much more at home with Suzanne than with her own mother. They had fun together and they both learned a lot about each other in only the first few months of living together. They would share magazines and talk about boys, and fashion, and the future. And they both loved to finally have someone to hear them.
Suzanne’s life as a young woman had been exactly the same, if not worst. She had very few friends because she wanted so much more from life. She was not happy with the crumbs she received from both her family and her present, she had always wanted more. She left home after refusing her father’s orders to study in order to be secretary. He thought there were roles and jobs for women and other for men and that she had nothing to do in a hospital, even if most nurses were actually women. He said he knew that she wanted to become a doctor and he didn’t agreed. So she left and never went back.
Years later, she attended her father’s funeral and her mother refused to speak to her. After ten years, she still wasn’t speaking to her as if it had been her that had been harsh to her daughter. But that was the way it was. She was one of those women that live for the man they marry and in that moment, she was lost. She nothing and she felt empty and alone. It would take a few more years for her to become closer to her daughters and when she finally did, death came for her too. Now, it was only Suzanne and Amelia and even if they didn’t agreed on their life choices, they called each other every so often to ask how the other was doing and if they could be of any help.
When she finished eating, Suzanne grabbed a metal box and organized what was inside. Melanie, who hadn’t finished eating, stared at her, looking all the types of cards she had inside, the cigarettes, the guides of how to read the cups of tea and coffee and also the hands. She had everything in that little box and then Melanie realized her aunt’s life was all inside that small object. It all summed up to that.
- - Aunt?
- - Yeah?
- - Are you ever sorry?
Suzanne looked at her, confused.
- - What do you mean?
- - With people that come here.
- - hat should I feel sorry?
- - You’re not a real seer. You lie to them.
The woman was frozen right there on her chair. She had never discussed her business with anyone but Melanie was the person he loved most and she knew they had to talk about it. So she just answered that was the way she had found to feel she was receiving what she deserved from life. The girl then asked if she didn’t feel bad to tell lies to every person that entered the store. Suzanne took one of her niece’s hands and held it. She then looked at her in he eye and told her that people chose to believe what she said and that that was their decision. She knew she was lying to them and she knew it was wrong but her way of living was honest as she was true to herself. Then she took everything out of the box and showed the bottom to Melanie.
There were two transparent bags and both had money inside. Then Suzanne told her she was saving for both of them, so they could live better and she could put up another kind of store, something better and that she could be proud of. The girl smiled and right then a bell rang. It was the next costumer. Suzanne straightened her shawl and went down to her smoky, cinnamon scented room as Melanie followed her in order to get the door.