Juanita raised the crystal ball above her head, the bangles on both her arms tch-king, and then spiked it at the floor with a primal scream. It slammed into the scuffed linoleum with a doof, neither bouncing nor breaking. It just rolled an inch and stopped, a dead eye glaring up at her.
“No!” she wailed. She tore at her bandana, at her hair. “You can’t!” Her raw voice cracked. “Not him!” She sunk to her knees, her bead necklaces clacking a riot. “Not Andrew!” She drowned her face in her hands, overtaken by airless sobbing. Through a forest of fake inch-long crimson nails, she saw the ball.
Slowly, the crystal misted from within. The mist swirled, a tempest, and when it finally parted, there he was: Andrew. In a car, gripping the wheel, his eyes wide. It was dark, and then suddenly it was bright, everything lit by unseen headlights.
And then the other car slammed into him.
They met, really met, during his second reading.
When Juanita emerged from her tiny kitchen, holding a tray of what she called “spirit tea” – a bulk-bought black, with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of cinnamon – she saw Andrew admiring her parlour shelves. She carefully curated a collection of pawn-shop charms, eBay totems, and mass-market fetishes, interspersed with community-college portraits of Baron Samedi and other loa. The candles were real, though.
He scrutinized a (plaster) skull, and she scrutinized his broad shoulders. His every motion was awkwardly delicate; discipline masking an intoxicating beast. Could she see his aura – if such things existed – it would surely shiver with masculine power, radiating heat. He was a bull, but she was no delicate china shop.
She sashayed through the bead curtain and he startled.
“No reason to be nervous,” she said, setting down the tea tray. She donned her work accent, the one that sounded suitably foreign but couldn’t quite be traced to any particular people or place. “Come, sit, darling. Madam Anastasia not bite.”
He chuckled – and damn if that smile didn’t almost make her spill the tea – and then sat down, at the round table dominating the parlour. It was a plastic disc on gaunt metal legs, but all that was obscured by a voluptuous aubergine cloth.
“You don’t seem surprised to see me again?” he said.
She went to her credenza, dug out a match. “Madam Anastasia know you will return.” She arched her back, leaned down, and took her time lighting some incense. “Madam Anastasia know all.”
“You know,” he said, when she came back to the table, “I still don’t think I really believe in this stuff.” She lit a pair of candles at the table and then shuttered the blinds. Dialed the mood light down to business.
“And yet, here you are.” She sat opposite him.
“How did you know my boss’s favourite colour was blue?”
She smiled. “You get promotion, yes?”
He chuckled again, touched his chin. Looked away, bashfully. “Yes. I–oh, sorry!” Their feet touched under the table.
“No harm done,” she said, her voice as steady as her heart wasn’t. She took a sip of tea and he did the same. “Come, you ask question now, yes?”
“Okay,” he drew out. “Is… is this stuff real?”
“Very. All of it. This is real magic. I… am real woman.”
He raised an eyebrow. Whoops! Perhaps she was coming on too strong. He was, after all, a customer. Currently, just a customer.
“Hmm,” she said, waving her hand over the crystal ball. “But what is this? I see something in your future.” Her many bracelets tch-ked hypnotically. And she did see something. The ball misted, and she felt giddy. How did it work? She still had no idea. But what luck that she had the only real crystal ball in the world.
There was Andrew, and there was another man, in a suit. Then the other man at a strip club, then a gym. Then watching the game. At home? Shouting at a wife? He was a strong man. He gave orders in an office, making others miserable. A boss? No, not Andrew’s. Ah!
“I see meeting with important man. Important… client?”
At once, Andrew’s face grew tight, and his breathing shallow. “You… what? But, I have a…”
“Yes, Darling. Madam Anastasia know.”
He placed his hands on the table and leaned forward. “It’s with Cartwright, and the guy’s a notorious hardass. Can you tell me anything about it? Do I get the contract?”
In the mist, Juanita saw Andrew getting fired after pissing off Cartwright. She scowled and waved her hand. The mists shifted. She saw them at the club, with the strippers, getting drunker than drunk. Andrew quits and works for Cartwright–no, she didn’t want Andrew working there. Another wave of the hand, another shift. She saw their first meeting, and Andrew stepped in and grabbed Cartwright’s hand and squeezed hard. Cartwright shrunk. Intimidated? Respectful? Andrew got the contract.
She resisted scowling. Were men really this easy? Whatever, this was the right future.
“I see difficult meeting,” she said. “You must show strength.”
He leaned in even closer.
Juanita wiped her face on her sleeve. It was already night, but maybe there was still time. Maybe she could change things. She stumbled to her feet and tried to call him, but kept getting a busy signal. After the third time, she swore, grabbed her purse, then doubled back for the black velvet bag with the gold cord.
She scooped the treacherous crystal into the bag. It had gone blank again, and she dared not activate it. Not now, anyway. But she couldn’t leave it behind either. No, it was much too useful.
She flew out of her apartment and hailed a taxi.
She swore as she dug her phone out of her purse, looked up the address.
Once the cab started driving she snuck a peek into the black velvet bag, but the mists still showed the same scene playing out.
Things changed after his third reading.
“I do not know how you do it,” Andrew said. His eyes darted from the crystal, to her face, to the flickering candles, never settling on anything too long. He was grinning like a schoolboy and his hands didn’t know what to do. “You are absolutely amazing. Everything you say keeps happening.”
“Madam Anastasia know this.” She smiled her enigmatic smile, weaving her hands through the air.
He chuckled. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Is why you are here, yes?”
“Madam Anastasia,” he repeated. Met her eyes, made it hard for her to meet his. “Is that really your name?”
She bit her lip, felt her cheeks grow warm. You’re not supposed to reveal secrets of the trade to customers, but there are exceptions to every rule. “My name’s Juanita.”
“Whoa,” he said. “Accent’s gone.”
“Yeah,” she pouted. “It’s good for business, but it’s not me. But the readings are real.”
“Yeah,” he said. “You don’t have to convince me. Well, your secret’s safe with me, Juanita.”
She rested her chin on her hand and grinned. “Good. I’d hate to have to cast a hex on you.” She wiggled her brows nefariously, and they both laughed. Then the laughter faded into silence, and the silence yawned. Her heart raced and it took all her effort to keep still and maintain the illusion of control.
Finally, Andrew cleared his throat. “Um, listen. I don’t know if this is okay, but… I figured, I wanted to thank you for your help last time, and, um…” He ducked under the table and unzipped his backpack, and then produced a bottle of wine.
Her heart almost skipped a beat. They shared the wine. They shared the evening. They broke fast.
All, as she had seen in the mist.
She threw a handful of bills at the driver and was out the door before the cab had fully stopped. Andrew lived in a quiet suburb and she spotted him on his driveway. He was illuminated by the garage light and he was packing a suitcase into a car. The car in the mist.
“Andrew!” she shouted, running. It wasn’t too late.
He turned, surprised. “Juanita?”
“Andrew! Oh my God, I’m so glad I caught you!” It wasn’t easy running in heels. “Don’t go! Don’t get in!” She threw herself into his arms.
And his expectant hands caught her by the shoulders. “Jesus, what the hell are you doing here?” he hissed.
Then the door to the house opened, and a woman stepped out. “Andrew? Who’s that?”
During the first reading, Andrew and Vanessa had come together.
They wanted advice on which house to purchase. It was going to be their first, and they narrowed it down to three cozy locations.
“We want to start a family,” Vanessa said, beaming at Juanita. Beaming at Andrew. Her disgusting hand always on his, always pawing at him. Like he belonged to her.
It took Juanita a lot of effort to keep up her business face. She asked them for the addresses and decided to fake this consultation as fast as possible. But when she waved her hands over the crystal – a mass-produced piece-of-junk she got at Walmart for $89.99 – it actually did something. It worked.
And not only did it show the future, it showed several versions of it. She picked the house and the fate she wanted them to have. And kept the address, just in case.
“Is that her?” Vanessa said, stepping onto the driveway in slippers and a bathrobe. “Oh my God! Is that her, Andrew!?”
“Stop shouting,” he said. “The neighbours might–”
“–might what? Find out you’re a cheating son-of-a-bitch?” Vanessa turned to Juanita. Her eyes widened, and then narrowed. “You? You!?” She shook her head, completely at a loss for words, and then rounded on Andrew. “You throw us away for some goddamned psychic whore? What’s wrong with you!”
“Jesus,” Andrew growled. He threw his case into the car and stalked to the driver side door.
Juanita rushed after him, grabbing him by the arm. “No, don’t–”
He pushed her away and she fell on the lawn, winded. The ball fell out of its bag and rolled a few feet away. Then Andrew was inside the car. The door slammed, the engine roared, and the tires peeled.
“And don’t come back!” Vanessa shouted after him, standing in the middle of the street.
“No…” Juanita whimpered, struggling to get to her hands and knees.
Their twenty-something’th reading, Juanita was alone.
It was early noon, and Andrew had already left. He was distant. Said he didn’t want to keep betraying his wife. That they’d have to end this sooner or later. Sooner.
The thought of losing him made her sick, and this dogged loyalty to that dog frustrated her. But he had a point. A man should be loyal to just one woman.
“How can I make him mine?” she asked. “Mine, and mine alone.” No clients today, just her and the crystal. “Show me the quickest way to my man’s heart.”
The crystal ball misted, and the mist swirled.
Night-time. She saw their house. The driveway, and the car. She saw herself. Under the car. She was doing something, cutting something. Juanita didn’t know what it was, but she watched unblinking, committing the deed to memory.
And then the mist shifted. Bright morning, Vanessa driving. Sudden panic, a horn. And the other car slamming into her.
A lovely funeral, a consolable widower, and abracadabra: she had him.
They saw Andrew speed towards a stop sign, only he didn’t stop. A garbage truck blared its horn but it was too late. It rammed into him, sending his crushed little sedan spinning.
“No!” Juanita screamed.
Vanessa shrieked and crumpled to her knees. Any hopes of reconciling, any dreams of forgiving, of family – gone.
“It was supposed to be you!” Juanita hissed, but Vanessa didn’t hear.
Then the crystal misted up.
Juanita snapped to it, though she could barely see it through her bleary eyes. It showed Vanessa, distraught, on the phone. Then a police officer, inspecting Juanita’s sabotage. Another officer speaking with Vanessa, and Vanessa pointing the police her way. Then a jail cell–
“No,” she said, hoarse, shaking the crystal. The mist shifted.
And showed her a way out.
Juanita rose to her feet, steadying her breathing. She’d have to mourn Andrew later. She saw Vanessa in the street, blubbering, still on her knees, and fumbling in her bathrobe pockets for her cellphone. Then struggling to hold it in her shaking hands, failing to unlock it.
Juanita approached her, calmly. Quietly.
“It was supposed to be you,” she whispered. She stood right behind Vanessa, undetected.
Juanita raised the crystal ball above her head.