The suffocating smell of incense wafts through the curtain of colourful beads hanging across the doorway. She feels ridiculous for even coming in. But it’s warm inside the little building and the glow of flickering candles is inviting.
She takes a deep breath once. Twice.
And then parts the beaded strings and steps into the room.
‘I’m sorry, we’re closed,’ comes a low voice.
The woman is dressed very differently from what Abby had imagined. Instead of velvet skirts and copper bangles, the psychic is wearing a smart pantsuit with a starched collar and a pearl necklace.
Her black hair is swept back in a loose bun.
She smiles gently.
‘Or perhaps I have time for just one more reading,’ she adds.
Abby looks around the room.
It’s as tacky as she had imagined. Dreamcatchers of various weaves hang in the corners, tapestries of women running with wolves and dragons cover the walls, and a round table in the centre of the room holds a crystal ball, a candle and a deck of cards.
‘You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to,’ says the psychic.
Abby starts a little at this.
‘Relax. It doesn’t take a psychic to know you’re not comfortable and you don’t believe in this stuff. It’s all in your body language. The way you hold your arms close to your body. The way you stand, as if you’re trying not to enter the room even though you’re already in it.’
Abby smiles with relief.
‘So if you’re interested in a reading, now you know that I can take you on a journey into your psyche, as opposed to your future.’
‘Thanks. But maybe I’ll come back tomorrow instead,’ she begins.
‘You won’t come back tomorrow, Abby. You’ll talk yourself out of it and continue on with your conflicts. Come on, now. I can give one last reading for the night, and if you’re not happy, I’ll return your payment in full.’
‘Ok, it’s a deal,’ says Abby.
‘My name is Jenny, by the way.’
‘Nice to meet you, Jenny.’
Jenny gestures to the stool at her little round table as she seats herself behind it and starts to shuffle a deck of cards. Abby notices how nimble her fingers are as she moves the cards between one another. She divides the deck into three piles, and lays them out in front of Abby.
‘Put them back into one pile in any order you want.’
Abby places one pile on top of the other. Jenny takes back the deck and puts three cards in front of her, each one lying face down on the table top.
‘This first card represents you on your journey through life.’
She turns it over.
The text along the bottom reads ‘The Fool’.
The Fool is dressed in ridiculous clothes and holds a walking stick in one hand and a rose in the other. Abby’s vision blurs a little. She blinks a couple of times. And then the room begins to swim. The image loses focus and starts to swirl, as if all of its colour were washing away down an invisible drain where someone had pulled a plug.
Her ears fill with static.
Suddenly she’s standing near the edge of a cliff with a narrow trail leading right around its lip. In the distance she sees someone coming. They walk along with a spring in their step, whistling merrily as the sun shines and the birds sing. There’s a dog at their heels. It rushes back and forth around them, barking constantly, but the person takes no notice.
As they draw nearer, she gasps.
The motley stranger is her, dressed in the Fool’s clothes.
‘Hey!’ she calls out to herself.
But the figure neither sees nor hears her. She continues on, looking about at the blue sky as she walks along the edge of the cliff. The dog keeps running back and forth in a panic. It’s trying to warn her. She’s too close to the edge of the cliff. She’s not looking and at any moment she’s going to fall to her death.
There’s a deep groan in the ground before it gives way.
She shouts out.
The dog barks.
And then she feels herself fall with a violent jolt. When she opens her eyes she’s sitting before the psychic, glazed with sweat and panting slightly.
Jenny doesn’t wait.
She turns over the next card to reveal an image of a boat with a cloaked figure at its head and a man rowing. There are six swords sticking up out of the boat. She looks closely at the card.
The water glistens.
She can hear the faint sound of waves lapping against the boat.
‘This card represents where you are now. The Six of Swords suggests that you’re rowing away from the tumultuous waters of change and into…’ Jenny’s voice starts to skip like a scratched disc. ‘Tumultuous – tumult. Waters – Wat.’
And then it’s drowned out by the rush of water.
She lands in the boat with a thump.
The hooded figure sits before her, unmoving. She holds a paddle in her hands. She lowers it into the water and begins to row instinctively.
She can feel danger at her back.
She rows faster, heading for the safety of the shore. She can see the calm bay ahead, but no matter how hard she tries to get to it, she remains in a choppy stretch of water that jostles the boat back and forth.
She rows harder.
Her muscles start to ache with the effort.
And then she realises she’s only using one paddle. She’s been turning about in a circle without actually getting anywhere. She searches for a second paddle, but there is none. She can feel something from behind bearing down upon her, getting closer and closer to the boat, but her fear won’t let her look back.
‘I need help!’ she calls out to the hooded figure.
It doesn’t acknowledge her.
‘Please,’ she tries again, ‘we have to work together. We need to hurry!’
The figure remains as still as a statue as it sits there gazing straight ahead.
The water starts to churn around her. It turns black under a dark looming sky. She paddles harder, first on one side of the boat and then the other. She makes some progress this way, but not enough.
She throws down the paddle and reaches out over the edge of the boat to use her hands instead. The hooded figure stands, places a hand on her back and pushes her in.
There’s a rush of cold black water.
With a great gasp, she opens her eyes to the soft glow of Jenny’s room.
Jenny smiles gently, as if to comfort her. ‘Are you ready for the final card?’ she asks in a low voice.
Abby is shaking. She feels unbearably cold. But after a few moments the feeling subsides and she nods weakly.
‘This next card represents your future, Abby.’
She turns it over.
Abby stares at it, waiting for something to happen, but it only sits in front of her, the clean white surface reflecting the candlelight.
‘Is it – is it meant to be blank?’ she asks, her heart hammering in her chest.
Jenny only smiles. She seems to consider the question for a long time before offering a response.
‘Because nobody’s future is set in stone, and a deck of cards can’t tell you what’s going to happen. Your future is in your hands.’
Abby looks at the blank card for a long time, lost in thought.
When she finally looks up, the candle has been blown out, Jenny is gone and the room is completely bare.
She rises slowly.
There’s a blank piece of paper before her. She picks it up and turns it over.
In a crisp Times New Roman print, it reads:
Jenny Lawson Travel Agency
Tour Packages ǀ Flights ǀ Accommodations
Your professional guide to the trip of a lifetime.
Embark on your journey today.