Finally, I’ve been doing some writing on my WIP (work in progress). I have bits and pieces of it all over the place because I don’t write in chronological order, but the story has to start somewhere. I think this is where it starts. For today, this is where the story starts.
I would love feedback, with the understanding that this is a first draft, and all that implies. Things could change. This piece could be thrown out completely. Or it may be the most brilliant thing I’ve ever written. Probably not, but writer’s have to think that way, or we’d never commit anything to paper.
~ o ~
How was I to know that this woman was a bigger liar than I was, that she used the same tricks I used just on a different audience?
It was the tail end of a cold, gray day, the misting rain insisting I pack up and go home early. But the cupboard was empty. Literally. I needed the money more than I needed an escape from the dreary Seattle winter. So, when the woman stopped in front of my stall, I did my job. I looked up at her and asked if she’d like a reading.
Most days back then, if the weather wasn’t too abysmal, I sat at the north end of Pike Market on a blanket under an umbrella telling people what they needed to hear. This woman, though, wasn’t one of my normal customers. She surprised me when she paused and then sat down on my blanket, curling her knees under her and settling in. I thought she must be desperate to lower herself like that, literally. My usual customers weren’t quite so… refined. Seattleites, especially ones perusing the market, rarely dressed as if they’d just walked from the pages of Harper’s Bazaar.
I could tell she was uncomfortable, physically at least, from her constant weight shifts. She was so thin that with each shift I imagined her hip bones grinding into the sidewalk. The blanket provided no cushioning, but what did I care? I laid the sand tray between us, and using a stick off a fir tree in our yard, I drew a circle in the sand, a medicine wheel. The readings I did weren’t true to any Native American tradition, but all the new-agey-tourists who visited the market didn’t seem to notice or care.
I had her draw four stones from a cloth bag, and I placed them at the elemental points of the circle. It didn’t matter which stones she drew, I read people’s body language and then told them what I thought they needed to hear. That was my gift after all, telling people their personal truths. Maybe I should have paid more attention to my own personal truths. But at this point in my life, that’s neither here nor there.
I then shuffled the spirit cards, had her cut them, and drew the card off the top.
“Rabbit would say it’s time to overcome your fear,” I said.
Rabbit fit this twitchy woman perfectly, all soft and fear-eyed, nostrils quivering as if afraid of even disturbing the air around her.
I told her it was time to face her fears, as if she had any real fears. For heavens’ sake, she was bookended by her stuffed-full Nordstrom’s bag and an overly large, funeral home-ish bouquet from a stall down the way. But the real tell was her somewhat sensible and obviously expensive shoes. Sitting on the ground all day gave me the perfect opportunity to notice and critique people’s shoes. Any shoes that ugly had to be expensive, fabulously expensive.
My brother Jeryl would have said I was being unkind. He often mused aloud, as if hinting to me or trying to annoy me, that he couldn’t understand how someone so close to him, how his mirror image could be so angry all the time when he was always so calm and easygoing. I would just shrug and remind him that he wasn’t the one sent away to be raised by rabid nuns. He got to stay home and have a normal life.
I wasn’t just being unkind. I was angry at this woman. She appeared to have every opportunity at a good life, a well furnished life, and here she was shivering, rabbit afraid. I wanted to shake her, tell her to take one of her platinum cards and buy herself a new life, but my income depended on me being empathetic, even if I didn’t feel that way.
What could she possibly need to worry about? Certainly not where her next meal was coming from. Not that I did either. If I had to, I could depend on Father to help out, but I didn’t want to be dependent, not on Father. Not on anyone. It was bad enough that I lived in the guesthouse without paying rent. Jeryl still lived in Father’s house. He wouldn’t move away. So I stayed, in the guesthouse, but I would not allow Father to fund the rest of my life. I would starve first.
The woman seemed to bring out the worst in me, and I wanted her to leave. But I also wanted her money. So I spent the hour with her, reassuring her that everything would be alright. After all, she wasn’t the one with a young man stalking her.
Of course, I didn’t mention to her that this young man had been watching my every move for the past week or so. The reading was all about her. I always gave the customer my full attention during a reading. They got their money’s worth. But with him watching me, I felt like Rabbit, soft, weak. Easy prey. Like her. And it made me mad. At her, but mostly at myself.
That day he sat at a table in the little Turkish coffee shop across the street from my spot at the market. He tried not to be obvious about it, but even the old biddy in the next stall had noticed him as he strolled by for the fourth or fifth time. On the sixth or tenth time, she rolled her eyes at me and mouthed, “It’s him again.” I had no idea who he was or what he could possibly want from me, but it had become obvious that I, not the old biddy, was the focus of his attention.
The two days before, I had snuck out, walking down through the market to Pike and then back around on First, just to avoid walking past him. But that day, I decided Rabbit was right. It was time to face my fear.
But I didn’t get that chance.
After the reading was done, ‘Fraidy Rich Bitch pulled herself up from my blanket, dusted herself off, grabbed her Nordstrom’s bag and bouquet and headed his way. Something made me watch her. Sure enough, halfway across the street, she waved to him.
And he waved back, not a cheery wave like hers, more of an acknowledgement.
My mind started spinning out a hundred different scenarios. It was obvious that they knew each other.
As I stored the sand and tray in a plastic baggie, I watched her stride up to his table, watched her bend and kiss him on the cheek before sitting down across from him. Watched them lean in toward each other as if whispering some arcane secret.
With a snap, I shook out my blanket—my eyes never leaving their table—and, for once not bothering to be neat about it, squashed the blanket into a tight bundle that would fit into my backpack. Anger swelled inside me, smothering me. The woman hadn’t been afraid of anything. It was all an act. Her shivering, her twitchiness was likely an adrenalin rush coming from the pleasure in the lie.
For the price of a reading, I was sure she had found out more about me than about herself. She didn’t need me to reassure her, to tell her about herself. She knew herself all right. Being able to act like that, to put on someone else’s face took a lot of self-control. And guile. In that moment, I hated her. She made me look the fool. And she was right there, right in front of me, sharing the joy of her deception.
What did they want? To make me look ridiculous? If so, it worked.
My face burned with the pure stupidity of my actions. I took the woman at face value. She used me, more than I used her.
And just as I decided to leave, to just walk away and try to forget, I noticed something between them change. I dropped my backpack on the ground and took a few steps closer.
His body language, something I had become familiar with the past few days, changed. When he got up and went to the counter, gone was the lazy stroll. At that distance, I couldn’t see that well, but I would have bet money he was frowning as he strode to the counter. His body was rigid as he waited for the coffee. His gait hardened when he returned and placed a cup of coffee in front of the woman.
She clasped his hand before he could pull it away, said something to him as he sat. The stiffness went out of him. Pulling his hand from hers, he slouched down into his chair. As if he’d given up, as if it was too much effort to maintain the anger or fear. Or whatever he was feeling.
She, in turn, leaned even further, palms flat on the table on either side of her cup, and said something that, of course, I couldn’t hear.
His chin dropped, and then she sat back and laughed. She was laughing at him? No, I was sure she was laughing at me.
Someone shouldered past me, and said, “Hey, if you’re just going to stand there gawking, don’t block the aisle.”
I stepped off the curb and eased out into the street between two parked cars.
Gesturing with her hands as if telling a funny story, she was doing a lot of talking. She made a circle as if drawing it on the table, and then laughed again. He said nothing.
And then, and then he turned and looked right at me.
I froze, rabbit still, for a moment and then backed up onto the curb, my heel catching the uneven concrete. I nearly fell backwards. Someone said, “Watch it.” Someone else said, “You okay?” But I didn’t see who.
Then the woman also turned to look at me. I felt my throat close up as she smiled at me, a Red Riding Hood wolf-like smile.
I swung around, ran to my stall, grabbed up my belongings, and fled up the sidewalk toward the bus stop that would take me home.