Thursday, September 8, 2011

Short story: The Fortuneteller

The tent was different from all the others. Instead of sturdy canvas, it shimmered and flowed like bouquets of silk. Shades of violet and green were trimmed with gold. There were no signs to tell customers what kind of wares it sold. A soft breeze fluttered the ribbons at the entranceway.

I drew back the flap and stepped inside. A scent of fresh-cut roses wafted past my nose. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I looked around me. A thick mossy carpet cushioned my feet. Flames flickered in shiny glass globes. Pillows of every size and shape lay on the floor and around low tables. Paintings hung on the silk walls. I gazed at them, one by one, and my surprise grew.

The Happy Buddha. Kwan Yin. Ameratsu. Jesus Christ. Mohammed. The walls were a shrine to every religion and belief system; there were several I didn’t recognize. A shimmering painting of the phases of the moon sat directly behind a wooden stool.

It was if I had stepped into a mystical universe. I shivered, although it was warm inside the tent.

Hello, dear. May I help you?”

I turned around. A tall, dark-haired lady glided to my side. She wore a white blouse and a purple skirt that touched the floor. The gold bangle around her arm clinked softly as she put her hand on my shoulder.

Um–I guess so. I hope I’m not intruding–“

She smiled. “Of course not. You are a welcome guest. May I offer you a drink?”

Yes, thank you.”

Before I knew it, I was seated at one of those low tables, sipping from a delicate porcelain cup. I recognized the taste: jasmine tea. The woman poured herself a cup out of her jade-green pot. I observed her from lowered lids. She had a dark beauty, an exotic flair that spoke of desert nomad princesses. Her almond-shaped eyes hinted at some Asian heritage. A smile appeared on her full-cherry red lips. She knew I was watching her.

Thank you for the tea,” I said. “Jasmine’s my favorite.”

That smile grew wider. “Yes, I know.”

You do?”

I do.” She extended a hand. “My name is Shona.”

Mine is–“


I raised my eyebrows. “How did you know that?”

I know a lot of things,” she said. It was not a boast, just a statement of simple fact. “A lot, but not all. Only the Gods know all.” She pointed to the various paintings with her chin.

I grunted and finished my tea. I did not consider myself religious by any means. Years of Catholic school hardly endeared me to a stern, omnipotent God. I vowed never to put my own children through the same ordeal.

Shona put down her cup with a click. “You’re a skeptic at heart, Rachel. You question everything. Curiosity is important to you. Discovery. Novelty. Freedom.”

She picked up a green sphere from its perch on the table. “What is this?” she asked.

A green ball,” I replied.

She handed it to me. “What does it look like to you?”

I turned it in my hands. Its smooth surface reflected the candlelight. Bands of light green alternated with dark emerald. It reminded me of a strange, alien planet with thin clouds. I said as much to Shona.

She nodded. “You see all sorts of possibilities, Rachel. Sometimes there is more underneath the literal surface.”

Shona asked me other questions about my outlook on life, my travel and my interests. She never tried to pry; if I wanted to decline any answer, she did not insist. The more we talked, the more comfortable we became. It was as if she was a sister, a confidante. A part of my mind said, She isn’t your typical fortuneteller. Shona did not use tarot cards or crystal balls or ouija boards. Instead, she dug beneath the surface. She used her intuition and her powers of observation. As she analyzed me, I analyzed her. She struck me as some kind of shaman or medicine woman. Mysterious but clear. Inscrutable but expressive. It was a maddening combination.

A mass of contradictions,” she said. “Rachel, you are a mass of contradictions. Social but alone. Skeptic, yet willing to accept on faity. Restless, yet staying where you are.” Shona inclined her head. “You will find what you are looking for, and soon. You will no longer be alone.”

I chuckled. “Let me guess. I’ll have a husband, two kids, a house, a car and a dog.”

She laughed. “If that’s what you want. You will also be successful in your craft.”

I’ll win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature.”

My cynicism did not faze her. “And you will find the courage to seek out all kinds of possibilities, even the ones that seem impractical or foolish.” Shona held my gaze. “Do not lose that talent, Rachel. Ever.”

I sighed. “I’ll try.”

She reached over and placed her hands on the green sphere in my hands. Then she murmured something that sounded like a blessing. “You can keep this, Rachel, as a remembrance,” she said.


Thank you, Shona,” I said. We both stood up at the same time. “I enjoyed your company.”

And I, yours. Take care of yourself, Rachel.”

I smiled and left her tent. The cold night air chased the scent of the incense from my head. I felt as though I had been there for hours, but my watch told me only fifteen minutes had elapsed.

Strange, I thought. I headed for the carnival exit, cradling the ball in my hands.


There is more to the story. I never saw Shona again. The next day, I went back to the carnival, but her tent had disappeared. The other vendors told me that she never stayed in the same place. Shona was always moving, like me.

Two months after this, my life changed. I found a nice little cottage by the seaside. I wrote my stories and painted my pictures. For the first time, I felt a sense of peace. I chased down and captured my whimsical ideas, no matter how impractical and foolish. By year’s end, I found myself fulfilling Shona’s predictions.

Right now, I have a husband, a car, a house and a dog.

I haven’t won the Pulitzer Prize yet.

Maybe someday, I will.  


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