The Psychic Fair
Holding my suspicions in check, I went to the Alachua County Psychic Fair with my coupon for a free reading. I tucked away my reservations that you get what you pay for and hoped the man or woman I’d encounter would have some insight into which future I’d best prepare for. My lover was dying. I had a handful of grad school applications for colleges in other states that I didn’t know if I should complete. I wasn’t living in my apartment, but staying at either the hospital or my in-laws’ house. I’d experienced meaningful revelations in the past—from psychics renown and recommended—but I’d never attended something so flippantly commercial and New Age as this psychic fair. Nevertheless I’d clipped the offer out of the weekly environmental tabloid and drove to the fairgrounds.
Inside the large tin-roofed livestock pavilion (of course, emptied of the livestock) booths were set up offering the gamut of metaphysical services: light spectrum readings and healings, spectral aura interpretations, aura spectrum photography, color radiography readings, and a host of other therapies and discoveries that weren’t directly related to aura or spectrum. The personalities and appearances of many of the practitioners were as colorful as the services they offered. Wild curly redheads with pentagram pendants and bearded Merlins in purple capes and wizard caps, middle-aged hipsters and healers in turquoise from all ilks and backgrounds meandered the labyrinth of the large exposition.
The traditional psychic advisers manned and womyned tables lining the perimeter, and I walked among them, hoping for an otherworldly sign or signal of magnetism that would lead me to the psychic best to read for me. I looked at their signup sheets, trying both to determine how popular each might be as well as how long I’d have to wait for whoever would next be available. I made a full lap before I zeroed in on Patricia P.
Patricia P. advertised herself as an international energy healer and card reader. An advisor of presidents, her sign purported. Used by the FBI in missing persons cases – Found, an enlarged newspaper clipping proclaimed. Verified. Her short blonde hair was naturally graying and cut in one of those boyish, free and easy styles that reminded me of my seventh-grade teacher, who was one of the first psychics I ever met. I remember Mrs. Reeves astral traveling to our houses and describing our bedrooms. Needless to say no one ever cheated in Mrs. Reeves’ class.
I overheard Patricia P. saying to the young woman sitting before her at the card table, “That shock is a normal reaction. I vibrate at a very high frequency.” Her hands were atop her client’s, the skin as loose and spotted as my grandmother’s. Patricia P.’s signup sheet suggested she’d be available in twenty minutes. We made eye contact. I smiled and penciled my name into the 11:40 a.m. slot.
* * *
When I sit down in the metal folding chair before her card table, I see a slender package of cigars in Patricia P.’s black leather purse. It gapes open on the cement floor beside her more solid, more comfortable wooden chair. I think about the strewn hay that must carpet the pavilion when it’s filled with sheep and cattle.
I have been in the homes and offices of psychics on more personal and professional occasions and have been overcome with fragrant incense, lavender candle wax, and smoldering sage, but as I sit in front of Patricia P., I smell her makeup. I think about allergies, ambient awareness. Her thin fingers are lousy with costume jewelry. They look like they’d be cold, but when she clasps my hands, they are surprisingly warm and, when we touch, there is a visible spark like we’ve met after dragging our feet across a shag carpet. She does not tell me about her vibrating frequency, but she pinches my fingers more tightly to keep me from pulling away at the static shock. She scrutinizes my face, seems to scan the near boundaries of my body’s outline, nods and smiles as if I’m easy to read.
“This relationship you’re in now is temporary,” she says to start the reading, “but you already know that it’s about to end.”
I try not to react to this brutality. I don’t want her interpreting my body language, but I am sure my left eye betrays me, folding and darting off to the periphery even as I keep my shoulder muscles still. My fingers don’t pull away from her hands, don’t shake, but I am sure she saw that weak eye trigger. I mean, if she’s a good advisor she has to incorporate the physiological signals of the parishioner.
“I’m being told you already knew this,” she says. “I’m being told you are already planning your way out.”
Patricia P. does have an investigative look in her eyes now, as if she’s imploring me not to break down at the news of her forecasted breakup.
I take a deep breath, nodding as I exhale. I want to explain that I’m not planning a way out but just planning for the “What if?” But I don’t want to say anything because I really want a pure interpretation of what Patricia sees.
“She’s not being faithful to you,” Patricia P. says.
“Pardon me?” I ask.
“I just repeat it how I get it,” Patricia says. “I don’t sugarcoat anything. This isn’t a bakery.” Her breath is sour with tobacco.
“You said she’s not being faithful?” Even though I’m breaking a personal rule by speaking or asking a question so soon into a reading, I emphasize “not” instead of the pronoun.
Patricia is quick to jump in. “But it looks like you already have your eyes on another girl. And this new girlfriend is there in the woodwork. She may be a coworker. I see really good things for you in this coming relationship.”
My look is so unforgiving that Patricia P. lets go of my fingers, and I’m angry enough that I flip my hands over with a thud, disturbing the stack of Tarot cards we haven’t even shuffled yet.
“There is no girlfriend,” I say, standing up from the table. “I’m gay!”
“Oh,” she says, clamping her mouth shut and withdrawing her head to her shoulders. “I would’ve never guessed.”
I shake my hands toward the ceiling and then I look at Patricia P. and I almost yell—but I collect myself and quietly lean in and put my index finger on one of the Tarot cards. I flip it over and, to my delight, place The Fool card before her.
I unfold my coupon for the free reading from my back pocket and toss it beside the Tarot cards. I raise my voice a little and, just to be dramatic, I say, “If you were a psychic worth paying for, you would have seen me coming.”
Chip Livingston is the author of the story collection, Naming Ceremony (2014), and two collections of poetry, Crow-Blue, Crow-Black (2012) and Museum of False Starts (2010). His essays have appeared in Ploughshares, Cimarron Review, Gargoyle, and Waxwing, among other journals and anthologies. Chip teaches creative nonfiction in the low-rez MFA program at Institute of American Indian Arts. Visit his website at www.chiplivingston.com.