The skin of my palm tickled as the elderly lady sitting across from me gently stroked my hand with her callused fingers.
“Let me see.”, she said. Her voice sounded as rough as her hands felt.
I looked at her looking at my palms. My left one. Because it’s closer to the heart she had told me earlier. I sat at the edge of my seat, waiting for her to say something. Part of me felt sceptical about the whole thing. Letting some random woman read my hand? The old me would have laughed. Ridiculous. Nothing but a scam. Did I really turn into one of these girls? Desperate and therefore easy to fool? But how could I still be hopeful after everything that had happened? How could I not be desperate after Jamie?
So here I was, spending my Saturday morning in a dodgy area of town in the sketchy parlor of a womanI had found on Craigslist who called herself “Madam Desiree”. One part of me was embarrassed at myself for paying more than I would like to admit, the other part dying to know what Desiree had to say.
“Every person has three major lines.” she began. I couldn’t quite place her accent. Maybe Eastern European?
“The one on the top. That is your heart line.”
Definitely Eastern European, I decided.
“It tells us about your emotions but also about the health of your heart”
I nodded, signalling her to go on while I wondered if she could read the words “devastated” or “utterly destroyed” while grazing over my so-called heart line.
“The one in the middle is called the headline. It tells us about how you learn, communicate and about your thirst for knowledge.”
Madam Desiree looked at me. Time had taken its toll on her face. Folds so deep they resembled canyons took over the space around her eyes. ageing skin, almost as grey as the woman’s long messy hair falling from the top of her head, framing it’s owner’s puffy visage. She was not an attractive woman anymore. And looking at her sunk-in eyes, the thin lines which formed her lips and that broad chubby nose, I wondered if she had ever been one at all. There was nothing special about her except a single feature.
So dark blue they seemed almost violet. I could feel them on me, and it was as if they were drilling a hole right into my soul. If they would have been able to dig deep enough, I was sure all my secrets, thoughts and fears would start to spill out of me like water from a long-forgotten well.
The silence between us made me anxious and unsure of what to do, I simply nodded again. Was the fortune teller quietly judging me for my lack of knowledge? Did she just read that I was not good at learning things?
“The curved line is your lifeline”, she finally continued. My eyes widened in shock while my lips opened and closed. My brain was looking for the right words.
“Do not worry. A short lifeline does not mean a short life.” I was eased and unsettled at the same time. Relieved, since I was apparently not doomed to die soon, according to the tiny carving in my hand. Troubled because Madame Desiree had read my thoughts.
“It represents your body's health and well-being, as well as major life events.”
“Does your fiancé impregnating your sister count as a major life event?” I thought sarcastically.
I did not say this out loud. I didn’t want to give Desiree anything to latch on to. If she was a real fortune teller, she should be able to read it anyway. And more importantly, it was too painful to speak about it.
“So what does it say?”, I said instead.
Madame Desiree let her thumbs grace along each of my lines as she nodded to herself, mumbling something I could not understand. Probably because she was speaking in a foreign language now. Her words, not more than a whisper at first, became louder and louder until they resembled a chant.
I felt ridiculous. This woman was clearly messing with me and I, like a fool, had paid to be ridiculed. What a terrible idea.
A burning sensation started in my stomach and found its path all the way up to my face. The hot flushes on my skin caused me to sweat. I knew my body well enough to know what was going to happen next. I tried to blink away my tears before they even appeared. I had already made a mockery of myself by coming here. I would not give her the added pleasure of me crying.
Just as I was getting ready to speak up when Madame Desiree suddenly snapped out of her trance.
“Your short and shallow lifeline indicates that you are often and easily manipulated by the ones closest to you.”
I stared at the old hag for a brief moment. How did she know? But after her questionable performance just a few seconds ago, I was still doubtful. I put on my best poker face, trying to hide the initial surprise.
“Your lifeline is interrupted. Not only that. There is also quite a gap. There has been a big life-changing event very recently.”
I felt caught like a child trying to steal cookies and I was sure this time I did not hide my emotions well.
“Ohh no, darling. This big event. It was not a good one. Not good at all.”
The entire time I had been staring at my hand. It was only now I dared to take a quick glance at Desiree and it immediately turned out to be a mistake. Her violet eyes pierced me frozen and I could neither look away nor lie to them.
“Yes, that’s correct,” I said quietly.
“This is not a big deal.” I tried to reason with myself. “If I hadn’t had a big negative change in my life very recently, I wouldn’t be here.”
“Now your headline,” she said interrupting my thoughts.
I braced myself, wondering what would come next. I tried to be sceptical of this experience. Worried to be taken for a fool. But at the same time, I wanted to be open to the possibility of it. I could really need a miracle about now. Some spirits to guide me and tell me how to feel happy again. Or at the very least, get rid of this never-ending pain im my chest.
“You are a person whose thinking is clear and focused. But there are crosses all over your headline. You are going through an emotional crisis. That’s why you’re here.”
“She basically just repeated what she said before.” I told myself. „Same meaning, different words.“ But when I closed my eyes to take a deep breath the images of my sister's swollen belly flashed in front of my inner eye.
A gasp escaped through my closed mouth against my will and when I opened my eyes, I could see Madame Desiree’s thin lips forming a smug smile. Surely, she couldn’t be smiling about my misery. At least not that openly. She smiled because I had just confirmed her prediction.
“How about my heartline?” I tried to distract her.
“Do you want me to keep pretending to read your silly hands or do you want to hear what you really came here for?”
My mouth fell open at her words. I stared at the old woman in shock while I tried to think about what to say next.
“You heard me.”
“I’m not sure I’m following.”
“Oh honey, please.” she let out a snarky giggle.
“You are here because you caught your man red-handed in bed with your sister.
I was without words, but it didn’t matter. Desiree still had plenty left. She wasn’t done with me yet.
“He told you it was a mistake, that it only happened once and like a fool you believed him and kept on planning your wedding. That’s when your sister, the little whore, told you she was carrying his child.”
I could no longer explain her words away by chalking them up to good guesses or coincidences. Everything she said was true. I froze in my seat while cold shivers ran along my spine. I should run. Far and fast. This woman, how did she know? Tears started to roll down my face, small at first but then big as ripe grapes growing on vines.
“Are you crying over your dead-beat man or are you scared?”
I didn’t have an answer.
“Oh, don’t worry darling. I can see your past and future and I know this is not how you die.” A low-pitched laugh emerged from deep within her and if I hadn’t known any better, I could have confused it for a cough.
“But you aren’t here for me to tell you what you already know” she continued.
“Are you here because you want me to tell you things will get better? Sure, things always get better eventually.“ She put an unnatural emphasis on the last part.
“Is that what you want? How dull”
She rolled her eyes at me. Her words were empty yet full of disinterest at the same time.
I was still crying but slowly got a grip over myself.
“No.” I sobbed. Anger, resentment and my broken heart took over and became stronger than my fear.
“I thought so.” A slick smile formed around the edge of her lips. She looked right into my face and I saw the colour of her eyes dancing like violet fire.
This was when it happened.
The room around us started to darken. I had lost all feeling of time, but it could not have been past noon. And yet, in this fortune teller’s parlor, the sun was already setting. Within mere seconds it has gotten as black as a raven’s coat.
“Then what do you want?” The witches’ voice had transformed into a persuasive whisper. She was trying to seduce me to something.
“I- I don’t know?” I stuttered.
“I know what it is that you want.” She continued after a short while.
“You want revenge.”
“No!” I exclaimed in shock as I jerked back several centimetres. Revenge hadn’t even been on my mind for a second.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I am sure!”
“Remember when your sister confessed her pregnancy to you? When she told you, she was already 17 weeks along?”
Desiree didn’t need to remind me. I remembered it all too well. The hurt I felt after she told me about the baby. The feeling of pure hatred when my sister let slip how far along she was. The pain in my chest when I realized –
“When you realized that they had been screwing behind your back for months!” She ended my thought out loud.
I knew the fortune teller did this to let me know she was in my head.
Madame Desiree probably wasn’t even her real name, I gathered. Just a fake stage alter ego she used to draw in gullible suckers like me. But draw in for what? Surely this was no longer about the money she made from me? What was the witch really after? My throat tightened up until it became difficult to swallow. My heart worked hard to pump blood across my body so I would not faint. Cold sweat was running down my hands and my forehead, but at least my tears had dried.
“No, I don’t want revenge” I mumbled finally. My words were quiet as if they had been spoken by a mouse. But still, I was proud to have said anything at all.
“Really? What if I tell you that you didn’t walk in on Jamie and Lauren by accident?”
I tried to blend out her words. I felt betrayed, heartsick and grief-stricken, sure. And how could I deny that there was a small part of me which was graving for them both to suffer. But at what price would her revenge come?
“Lauren was running out of time.”
“I don’t want to hear it!” I covered my ears, but her voice could go through any barrier. She might as well sit directly in my head.
“Nonsense. If that were true you wouldn’t be here. Did you never wonder why you caught them in your bed, at a time when they knew you would be home anytime? Because SHE wanted to get caught. She could not hide the baby much longer. HE told her he would leave you for her but kept her waiting for over a year.”
I remember the exact moment my heart broke. When I had walked our apartment on that fateful Tuesday after work. Women’s shoes in the hallway which didn’t belong to me but at the same time were very familiar to me.
The moaning coming from my bedroom. Her naked body between my sheets.
For a few seconds, you feel nothing but then it’s like someone pulls the ground under your feet while at the same time the entire house collapses on you. They call it heartbreak for a reason. Your chest becomes the epicentre of your pain.
“He proposed to me after they started the affair?” I could barely bring myself to speak the words out loud.
But this time it felt different. A broken heart was just that. Broken. And while not great it was still possible to fix it. Now, my heart burst into a thousand splinters. And all of them simultaneously turned to cold ash. If colours could represent our souls, mine would be turning black at this very moment. Only the thought of them slowly and miserably perishing in boiling lava brought me a little solace.
“I still don’t want revenge.”, I whispered after what felt like a human lifetime.
“Ugh. Then what do you want”. Madame Desiree started to sound impatient.
“I want you to take the pain away.”
“You want me to kill you? Pathetic.”
“No. not like that.” Despite everything, life still sounded better than death. “But any other way.”
The witch thought for a moment before she began to speak again.
“I can offer you to switch places with me. But I will only offer it once. So, decide quick.”
“You will become a powerful witch. Abilities you can’t even imagine yet. And I will turn back into my mortal self.” she explained.
“But why would you want to do that?” I asked. Why did she want to lose her powers? Why did she want to become human?
“You say you don’t want emotions. Witches don’t have emotions. Not like humans at least. You don’t want to feel anymore, I want to feel again. It is perfect.”
I was startled. This morning I came here and paid someone to tell me that I would find love again someday. Now I was confronted with the opportunity to become a witch. What was the catch?
“Will I look like you?” A shallow concern I admit.
“This is not my real form. Just something I put on for customers. Something you will learn when you are in my shoes. So what is it? Yes or no?”
“I’m not sure.” I hesitated. I knew with every fibre of my being that this was a stupid idea.
“Yes or no, decide now or get out!”, she yelled.
“YES!”, I screamed deprived of thinking and without losing any more seconds the witch grabbed my arm and pulled me towards herself.
My vision went blurry at first and then completely black. Hot blood pulsing through me. I felt no pain but a weird, tingly sensation throughout my entire body. If I had to describe it, I would probably use the word “pleasure”. I was not able to tell for how long this went on. Minutes? Days? Seconds? All I know is that when it ended, I was longing for more of it. I craved to repeat the process.
The relief I felt immediately after the transformation was immense. There was no more pain in my chest or anywhere in my body at all. It was as if I had aged down by at least ten years. I realised that I suddenly couldn’t care less about Jamie or Lauren. They were fading away into a blurry memory of a past life.
I opened my eyes and to my surprise, it was not Madame Desire standing in front of me but a young woman. Her brown eyes looked at me so innocently and pure. Her hair curled itself into big loops of liquid gold. I noticed she had grown by a few centimetres.
“You fool.”, she laughed out loud and I noticed her accent was gone too.
Before I even opened my mouth to say something, she ran out not to be seen again. I searched the palor to find a mirror or anything I could use to see my reflection. I had to make do with the cheap glass of a fake crystal ball.
I looked at myself but hardly saw any changes. I was still the same old me. Except for my dark blue, almost violet eyes, staring back at me.