You know how when a dog is at the end of their life, its owner will give them a perfect day before taking them to be put down? Like, take them to the dog park, the beach and let them eat a McDonald’s hamburger? Well, July 14th was the day I designated to do that for myself.
I was twenty-two, so I conjured up a list of twenty-two nice things to do for myself on my last day. Most of the listed items involved indulging in food, but there were a few I was more excited about- especially the grand finale, which was sneaking into a concert of some sort. It was a Friday in summertime Chicago, so there had to be something worth sneaking into somewhere.
The day so far had gone smoothly. I had made up my face to perfection, dropped my cat Sebastian off at the apartment of the nicest friend I had made at school, and taken myself out to breakfast, lunch and dinner. I bought licorice and Haribo peaches from the overpriced candy store and ate it all in between my meals. I took myself on a date to the Botanic Gardens and ate a blueberry muffin at the cafe, curled into my iron chair and watching the stillness of the pond beside me while I tore the soft pastry apart piece by piece. By the time I dragged myself out of Harold’s Steakhouse that night, my stomach was about to burst. I could feel all of the expensive food I ate seeping out through my pores.
When I stepped out onto the street, the sky had turned to twilight. The sunshine had simmered down, but the business of the street was only picking up, as it did on a Friday night. The cars were practically bumper to bumper on Halsted, and people were walking every which way up and down the sidewalk. The hustle and bustle of the city streets usually made me feel suffocated, like I was being drowned out by a million other people whom I was invisible to. That night, though, I stood for a second with my back pressed up against the rough brick of the steakhouse, people-watching. You only learn to appreciate some things when you know you will never see them again.
I decided to start making my way south down Halsted and search for some sort of concert to sneak into. I tried to listen and maybe follow the sound of music, but there was rhythm coming from every direction. The voices of people on the street and floating out from restaurants and pubs morphed into a melody. I could hear the different tunes playing in every car on the street, strung together into one big, incoherent song. Even the way my sandals were scraping against the pavement started to sound musical. I couldn’t help myself but begin to nod my head and sway my hips to the beat as I made my way down the street.
It almost felt poetic, as if the world was singing me one final song. I studied the faces I walked past, people who either briefly met my gaze or did not look back at me at all. Tomorrow, none of these people will know that I’m gone, I thought. No one will know that I was ever even here.
I was preoccupied looking at a teenage boy securing his bike to a pole with a comically large chain when I tripped over someone sitting on the concrete. I didn’t fall to the ground, but I did scrape a few toes and scuffed the side of the new sandals I had bought earlier that day during my boutique excursion. I spun around to see a girl with long dark hair piled atop her head and gold earrings that reached halfway to her shoulders sitting against the wall of an apartment building, holding what had been a full deck of cards but now was only a few. She had so many freckles they looked like constellations all over her body.
“I am so sorry,” we both said in unison. I stood frozen with guilt over the fact that I had just kicked this girl and scattered her playing cards all over the sidewalk. When the teenager who had been chaining up his bike almost stepped on one of the cards, I dropped to my knees and started collecting them from the pavement. Her mouth stretched into a smile and she waved her hand dismissively.
“Technically, I tripped you,” she said, gathering the stray cards that landed near her. “Maybe it’s a sign. You want a reading?”
I looked down at the bunch of cards I had grabbed and realized that they were not playing cards at all. They had roman numerals on them, and beautiful little images. I recognized them from somewhere, maybe someone’s dorm room. Tarot cards.
“You can read these?” I asked, tentatively handing her the cards back.
Her smile stretched into a grin that exposed all of her teeth. “The best that I can. And, it’s a full moon. I feel like this really was meant to be.” She patted the concrete beside her. “Come sit. I’m Hazel.”
I folded myself awkwardly into a sitting position, not wanting my new sundress to ride up my back and expose my underwear to the entirety of the city. I realized that if I sat with my legs straight out then I would probably trip someone else, so I settled on squatting so that my arms rested on my knees and I could feel the skirt of my dress brushing against the ground. “I’m Ana.”
In one slick motion, Hazel evened her cards into one pile and began to shuffle them.
“How much do you charge?” I asked. I realized that I drained nearly every last penny in my bank account that day, but I had some cash stuffed in my phone case.
She shrugged. “Whatever feels right to you.”
I fished out the ten dollar bill I had stashed in my phone case and handed it to her. This felt like something fun to do on my last day, something that I had never done before. I did get a psychic reading once on a trip with my family, but she told me that my dog was going to die- and I’ve never had a dog. The memory of that trip struck something inside me- the memory of my parents, tanned and laughing like they were young and in love all over again. I quickly pushed the memory elsewhere.
“So, Ana,” Hazel said, thankfully bringing me back to the present moment. “Is there anything you would like to know in particular?”
I shook my head and watched her shuffle the cards so quickly, with such ease. “Not really. I guess… what does the universe want to tell me?”
She nodded, like this was a more frequent question she received. She opened her mouth as if to say something, but at that moment a card fell onto the sidewalk. I went to pick it up for her, but she thrust her arm out. “No, that’s how it works. The ones that fall out tell me the message. Let me see which card it is.”
It was completely dark out at this point, but luckily we were sitting by a streetlight. Hazel picked up the card and tilted it towards the orange hue of the light. She looked up at me, and then back down at the card again. “I’m going to do one more, and I’ll read the message of the two cards put together, okay? This one is the Fool, and its upside down. Hold it for me.”
I cradled the card in my palms, studying the man in the center. He was carrying some sort of bag, gazing up at the sky. I wondered why they called him the Fool.
The second card fell out quickly, and she took the Fool back and held them side by side.
“The Fool and the Wheel,” she said quietly. She looked at me again, this time for a long moment. “Well, the Fool upside-down means that you aren’t thinking about the consequences of something you are doing, or something that you’re about to do. You might only be thinking about what you are experiencing at this very moment, and not looking ahead.”
My skin began to feel hot. This was getting more real than just fun. I asked, “What about the other one?” Although, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
She sighed and held them up side by side again. “The Wheel of Fortune. It feels similar, with the energy I’m getting from you. It means… life has ups and downs. The wheel of good and bad does not stop turning, and if you’re stuck in a low right now you need to know that the high will always come back around.”
We sat in silence for a moment. My knees had started to hurt from squatting, so I was on my butt now, legs tucked carefully to avoid tripping people. My underwear was probably a little visible, but I had forgotten about that. Her words were circling around in my head.
“Well,” I finally said, climbing to my feet. “Thank you. If I had more money I would tip you, but that’s all the cash that I have.”
“Wait,” Hazel said, scrambling to her feet beside me, shoving her cards back into the case. “Where are you going right now? I could use a drink, if you could.”
I sighed and glanced at my phone. It was almost ten o’clock. I had two hours left.
“Well,” I said. “I had this weird plan to sneak into a concert, but I don’t really know of any that are happening.”
She laughed, tucking my ten dollar bill into one pocket and her tarot cards into a black tote bag that had been behind her. “I like your weird plan. I don’t know of any concerts either, but I do know somewhere that will one-hundred percent have live music and cheap drinks.”
I followed Hazel down the sidewalk and around the corner so that we were walking east. Facing the lake, there was a breeze that broke the stiffness of the hot night. I smelled funnel cake coming from somewhere. Hazel started skipping, and I found myself starting to skip with her. The people we skipped past and parted through gave us looks that would have made me crawl away and hide if I were alone. Hazel only waved at them. By the time we reached the door of a bar so small I would have missed it on a regular day, we had erupted in laughter.
Inside, the bar was a little smoky- something I thought wasn’t accepted anymore. No one inside seemed to mind the combination of different smoke, though (I could smell cigarettes, cigars and even something a little skunky). The moment we stepped past the threshold we were sucked into loud, smooth jazz music. It enveloped me like a warm liquid before I even had a sip of alcohol. Hazel took my hand and led me to the end of the bar, where the stools swiveled and even had backs.
Before I knew it, I had a pint of beer in front of me. I wasn’t a beer girl, but then again nothing I had done that day was typical of me. Hazel released her hair from its topknot, and it fell over her shoulder in waves. She took a sip from her pint and looked at me over the rim of her glass. “So,” she said after she swallowed more than I ever could at once. “What led you to me tonight?”
“What do you mean?” I asked over the music. “I tripped over you and made you drop your cards everywhere.”
She tilted her head. “Yes, and there was a reason that happened. It’s a full moon. Don’t question the universe.”
I smiled and just shrugged. I wasn’t sure what to say. Luckily, I felt my phone vibrate. I dug it out and unlocked it to see a text from Nathan, my friend whose apartment I had dropped my cat off at. It was a picture of Sebastian laying on his chair, gazing up at the camera with his huge green eyes. The message underneath read: Sebastian misses you.
I turned my phone to show Hazel, to give us something to talk about other than what I had been doing that day. Her eyes lit up and she grabbed my phone to get a closer look. “Oh my God, what a cute cat. Sebastian? Adorable.”
“He’s a tabby,” I said, taking a sip of my beer. It actually didn’t taste that bad. And it was easing the sense of dread that had begun to creep up within me from somewhere.
She smiled at the screen for another second and handed the phone back to me. “Is that from your boyfriend?”
I shook my head. “No, Nathan’s a friend. He’s watching Sebastian for me.”
“How come?” she asked.
I didn’t know what to say, so I took another sip. I couldn’t think of a made-up reason for why I needed my friend to watch my cat. I should have just told her I was giving Sebastian to Nathan. But then again, not even Nathan knew that.
“Well,” Hazel said. “I bet he can’t wait for you to come back.”
That sentence hit me hard. I felt the tears begin to well in my eyes. I tried to hold them back, but before I knew it they were spilling over my eyelids and down my face. I hid my face in my hands, embarrassed. I wasn’t a public crier. Hazel patted my back and downed the rest of her beer. I picked my head back up, wiping my face with my hands as she slapped some cash down on the sticky surface of the bar.
“Come on, let’s go for a walk,” she said over the music. I slid off the bar stool and followed her back out onto the street, which was still busy but less so as it got later. Hazel was in the lead again, taking me by the hand back west. The air was cooler now, and it felt nice compared to how stifling the day had been. I thought about the card she had described, the Wheel of Fortune. Every low is followed by a high. Even the hottest day will eventually be broken with a breeze.
“Do you want to know why I was named Hazel?” she asked as we stood at a crosswalk, waiting for the orange signal to change and allow us to cross the street. The street was empty, and she abruptly began crossing anyways as if she had just realized that. I jogged to keep up with her.
“Why?” I asked, half genuinely curious and half wanting something distracting to talk about. A sign outside a bank on the corner read the time as 11:38 p.m. Less than an hour left of air to breathe.
“My mother wanted to end her life, a few years before I was even a thought in her mind. She had everything all planned out- she was going to go home after work and do it. I don’t remember how, pills or something.”
We turned another corner, and I realized we were heading in the direction of Nathan’s apartment. I hoped we would end up turning a different way, so I didn’t feel Sebastian so close by. Hazel continued, “Well, she was on the train on her way home from work, mentally writing her suicide note. She stood up to get off at her stop when this old lady grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. My mom tried to push her, but the old lady got real close to her and said, “Don’t do it.” My mom was so freaked, she was just like, “what?”, but the old lady just said it again, “Don’t you dare do it.””
I stopped in my tracks. Hazel stopped too, but she didn’t look at me. She peeked in a storefront window where there were shelves of fancy chocolates on display. “She said the lady had these hazel eyes, the most beautiful hazel she had ever seen. It freaked her out, and she obviously did not kill herself. But she named me Hazel, because of her.”
I felt a chill run up my spine.
“How did you know that?” I asked shakily.
“Know what?” Hazel asked.
I didn’t say anything, so we continued to walk. Hazel began to hum a vaguely familiar tune. I was so lost in my mind that I didn’t realize where we were until we were standing in front of the door of Nathan’s apartment building, bathed in the light of the motion-sensored lamps above the door.
“What are we doing here?” I asked. “Do you live here?”
“Go get your cat,” Hazel said. She looked at me then, and I saw in the brightness of the lights that her eyes were an incredibly vibrant hazel. The kind of eye color you don’t forget.
I felt my body begin to shake. I didn’t know what to say, or even what to think. Hazel reached out and pulled me towards her into a tight hug. “Don’t do it,” she whispered. Without another word, she stepped back, turned on her heel and skipped away into the night. I stared in the direction she went long after she was gone.
Finally, I checked my phone. It was 12:05- a new day. When I went to put it back in my pocket, I felt something else there. I pulled it out and gasped. In my hand was a ten dollar bill, and the two tarot cards Hazel had drawn for me.
I unlocked my phone and called Nathan. “Hey. I’m here for Sebastian.”