Nicola scurries down Cedar Street, glancing behind her to ensure she’s alone. If word gets back to anyone where she’s headed, especially to her Catholic mother, she’ll never hear the end of it.
“Six months along after years of trying. Can you believe it?” the pregnant woman at the coffee shop had exclaimed to her friend earlier that morning. Nicola’s ears had perked up as she finished her Monday crossword puzzle and sipped the foam from the bottom of her matcha latte. She’d peered over at the expectant mother, trying not to judge her for drinking coffee, even if it may have been decaf.
“Was it IVF this time?” the friend had asked as she took a bite of her muffin.
“No, you’ll never believe it. I saw a palm reader that I heard about from a friend of a friend. Right in between this Jamaican take out place and dry cleaner on Cedar Street. She cast some spell on me. I know if sounds ridiculous, but it worked! Look at me!” she rubbed her belly and gazed down at it, admiring the bulge.
A palm reader? Nicola thought as she placed her hand on top of her own hollowed belly. She glanced over at the glowing, pregnant woman and smiled before picking up her crossword, heading towards the door.
Nicola feels like she’s been walking down Cedar Street for hours before she finally spies the Jamaican take out place. She pauses and looks next to it, noticing a small door with a neon sign on it: Yuliana’s Palm Reading. She glimpses left and then right before pushing open the door, hearing a bell jingle on the other side of the doorknob.
As she steps inside and swiftly shuts the door behind her, she breathes in a strong scent of incense blended with Jamaican chicken. She scans the room, noticing that the walls are draped in deep plum curtains trimmed with gold, giving the establishment a regal ambiance. The light bulb in the chandelier above her is a violet shade, making the entire room glow a purple hue.
“May I help you?” a woman’s deep, Russian voice asks from the back room.
“Yes,” Nicola clears her throat. How am I supposed to ask this woman to help me get pregnant? she wonders, gripping the strap of her purse tightly. “I’d like my palm read please.” She watches as the woman, who must be Yuliana, emerges from the back room, dressed in a velvet, purple robe that matches the curtains. She has a peppered mustache above her ruby red lips, and deep, cavernous wrinkles rooted down her cheeks.
“It’s cash only. Twenty dollars for ten minutes,” Yuliana instructs her as she approaches Nicola, hands out in front of her as if waiting for communion.
Realizing Yuliana is waiting for her compensation, Nicola shakes her head and opens her purse, grabbing a crisp, twenty-dollar bill. She places it carefully in Yuliana’s opened palms. “Here you go,” she says nervously before folding her arms in front of her chest.
“Spaseebah. Follow me,” Yuliana directs her as she places the money into her pocket and leads Nicola into the back room. Nicola sits across from her and places her palm up on the velvet tablecloth. Is this what I’m supposed to do? she wonders. She’s never had her palm read before. Come to think of it, she’s never seen a psychic, or done any of this nonsense before. But desperate times call for desperate measures…
Yuliana grabs Nicola’s right hand and pulls it towards her, inspecting it fiercely as if it were a treasure map.
“You’ve had a lot of hardship in your life, I see,” she says.
Hasn’t everyone? Nicola thinks to herself, hoping she isn’t about to get duped.
Yuliana runs her finger down a lengthy line on Nicola’s palm. “This is your lifeline,” she says, “I see a long life ahead of you.”
Nicola forces a smile. What good is a long life if I don’t have a baby to spend it with? she thinks, wanting the palm reader to hurry up and get to the good stuff.
“I see a heart break happened recently?” Yuliana poses as she glimpses up at Nicola’s blushing face.
“Yes,” Nicola’s feels a bead of sweat on her brow, “A few...” She doesn’t want to tell Yuliana her business. This isn’t a therapy session, it’s a palm reading.
“I just can’t do it anymore, Nic,” Enzo had told her six months ago before he’d left her, “Either be happy with just us or go have a baby on your own. I can’t keep doing this. If it hasn’t happened yet, it isn’t going to happen. Maybe not everyone is meant to have babies.”
That last sentence was the nail on the coffin for their marriage. Maybe Enzo wasn’t meant to have a baby. But Nicola was meant to be a mother. And if it meant being a single mother, she’d choose that over a childless marriage with Enzo. He’d moved out a week later, leaving Nicola the obligation of listing their newly renovated house. She’s now living in a small one-bedroom apartment down the street that has peeling wallpaper and smells of curry.
“Do you…” Nicola begins as she sees Yuliana’s eyes peer up at her in concern.
“Yes, dear?” Yuliana asks as she runs her finger along Nicola’s clammy palm.
“Do you see me having a child in the future?” she forces the question out, clenching her jaw together tightly.
Yuliana furrows her brow and looks down at her palm again, examining it carefully. “Hm…no dear, I don’t see you bearing any children in this lifetime,” she says bluntly before closing Nicola’s palm and holding it in her fist.
Nicola’s heart drops into her stomach. “None…none?” she musters out before getting up the nerve to ask what she came there for. “I heard that you’re able to cast some sort of spell, making it possible for people like me to have children?” she asks, holding her breath in rigidly.
Yuliana looks at her skeptically. “That my dear, is for people who I can see will bear children in the future. You do not have a future to bear a child.”
Nicola feels tears burning in her eyes and pulls her palm away as if Yuliana has burned it. She knew this was a stupid idea. What kind of phony bologna accuracy does a palm reader have anyways? Isn’t it all just make believe like unicorns and fairies?
“92% chance of not being able to bear children,” the specialist at the fertility clinic had told Enzo and her five years ago when they’d started trying. “A misshaped uterus.” But she had that 8% chance, didn’t she? Miracles happened every day. Why couldn’t she get a miracle in her life for once?
“It’ll happen someday,” her mom had assured her when she’d cried after the third miscarriage two years ago.
“You’re just too stressed. Just don’t think about it,” her best friend, Bianca, had instructed her when she couldn’t get pregnant again after the fifth miscarriage.
“You’re a great aunt. A great godmother. Why do you need to be a mother? Just stay with Enzo and be happy with just the two of you,” her sister, Rosa, had told her when she’d called her to tell her Enzo was leaving.
Nicola didn’t know what she needed to hear. But the advice of her loved ones wasn’t helping. She felt like the only woman in the world without a child. Or at least, the only woman she knew.
“Thank you for the reading,” Nicola mutters as she picks up her purse and dashes out of the room towards the door, feeling a flood of tears pouring down her face.
“Wait,” Yuliana hollers as she trails Nicola to the door.
Nicola turns hesitantly; she doesn’t want any more readings of her future.
“You didn’t let me finish. I told you I didn’t see you bearing any children, but I never said I don’t see you being a mother,” Yuliana huffs, her hand raised to stop Nicola from storming out.
Nicola raises her eyebrows in surprise, lowering her hand from the doorknob.
“I see you being a mother to two children. I see you finding love again,” Yuliana walks up to Nicola and grips her hand tightly. “You do not need to bear a child to mother it, remember that. I cannot tell you how or when it will happen. But it will. There will be many setbacks, but with patience, you’ll understand that all the good things that the world offers will come at the right time.” She gives Nicola’s hand one last squeeze before turning and heading to the back room.
Eyes wide, Nicola opens the door and steps onto Cedar Street, a smile creeping up on her face. Why had she not thought of the other possibilities before? Maybe I could adopt? Maybe I could be a stepmother? A foster mother? Before she starts to head back home, she turns towards the Jamaican restaurant and scans the menu. She has a craving for some jerk chicken.
Breathe deeply, and enjoy this miracle of your life, she tells herself as she takes a bite of the most delicious chicken she’s ever eaten.