Mondays suck, even for those of us who work at home. Why not improve it a little by throwing some fiction into the world for other Monday sufferers to enjoy? We’ll call this our new tradition. I’ll post some from me and from other writers, as well. Below is a story of mine called Palms. I’m particularly fond of it, but it has yet to find a home. I hope you all enjoy it.
The neon “open” sign hung in her kitchen window, just above the fence, where it could be seen from the road. She kept all of her other shades drawn, except that window. Sometimes she stood behind it, dark room enveloping her and “Palm Readings, $5” sign below her, staring at traffic to give her robin’s-egg-blue 1920’s bungalow more bleak mystique, less Better Homes and Gardens. She’d pin her dark hair back and give curious passers-by full view of her European lines and near-black eyes. She never saw their faces, but she knew when they saw her.
She majored in theater in college. She could hold that pose, that scowl, for hours.
Mary was psychic in the way that all women are psychic – uncanny lie detectors, especially in those under the age of adult; noses for the rotted garbage stench of impending personal doom; unparalleled seers of a coming monthly bleed. But, people won’t pay to see a vision of a bloated tampon. They don’t care if the relationship line in their palm reminds Mary of the crack that severed her own marriage three years ago. So when they asked the big questions – what does it mean? When will I die? When is that money coming that you promised me in our session last week? – she improvised.
It was ten AM. She had only just assumed her post at the window – dressed today in a blinding purple and gold scarf over her usual black sweater – when the alarm pad jingled the entrance of a customer.
That was fast, she thought, and commended herself on the scarf.
Hand penetrating a can of cheddar-flavored Pringles, the man surveyed Mary’s foyer, frequently freeing a crisp, only to stuff it, whole, into his glossed mouth. His calves were peppered in bits of tissue, mostly hairless. Black stragglers poked out from beneath his knee-length cargo shorts, betraying his lack of commitment to stripping the entire leg. Paired with an improvised, Bass Pro Shops, off-the-shoulder number, he didn’t look so much confused as insane. Mary inched closer to the Smith & Wesson taped beneath her conjuring table.
“Welcome,” she said, mustering a decimeter of sincerity. Five dollars was five dollars.
Shiny Lips grunted.
In one languid motion, Mary sat and placed her hands, palm up, on the table.
“I know why you’re here.”
“Don’t imagine many people come here other than to get their palm read,” he said.
The vibe was instantaneous. He was, as her fourteen-year-old daughter would say, a hater.
“Five dollars,” Mary said.
He dropped the Pringles can and palmed five one dollar bills onto the table before taking a seat across from Mary. She scooped the damp bills into a cigar box.
“Joe,” he said and placed his palm into her awaiting hand.
A paste of cheddar-flavored powder and sweat caked in the creases of his palm.
Mary handed him a disinfectant wipe. “I can’t read this. It’s tainted.”
Joe mumbled something along the lines of psychic… can’t even read through chip dust, and wiped his palm mostly clean.
Putrid Swiss cheese left to dry on the counter overnight – that was Joe’s palm. Rough, flaking, and smelling vaguely of feet. They say a person’s hands say a lot about how they spend their time. Soft, lineless hands belong to a creature of convenience – of remote controls, buttons, and phones that call other people to do things for them. Callouses eat the hands of those on the other end of the line. Mary couldn’t really read palm lines – she doubted anyone really could – but she could read hands.
“You’re a hard worker,” she began, studying the long, cavernous crease at the center of Joe’s palm as though it might begin to speak, “too hard.”
“Ain’t that the motha-fuckin’ truth,” Joe said.
No wedding ring.
“Look, lady, I don’t need you to tell me the stuff I already know. I need to know stuff I don’t know, ok?”
Mary closed her eyes to roll them discreetly.
“Do you have a specific question you’d like answered?”
Joe eyed his upturned palm like it might strike him the second he looked away.
She held his palm carefully, willing herself not to squeeze it. Five dollars was five dollars, no matter how much a backwater, borderline retarded, pain in the ass –
“Am I a faggot?”
Mary’s gaze settled on a smear of pink just above his upper lip, pocked by five o’clock shadow.
Mary winced at her pathetic attempt at stalling, but she hoped that Joe would back-pedal if he thought she hadn’t heard him.
“Fag-got,” he said, enunciating each syllable, a spray of crumbs showering over them, “pe-ter puf-fer. Fudge pack-er.”
Why couldn’t he just want to know about the money like everyone else? Money and their dead relatives. Both were so easy to wing.
The money’s coming.
Mom says, ‘hi.’
A self-taught psychic, Mary relied on twenty-year-old library books. None of them mentioned how to handle life-altering questions of self-identity. That’s how people end up in therapy, or worse. Early on, Mary became like a politician, delivering evasive answers that satisfied the listener because it was exactly what they wanted to hear.
What the fuck did Joe want to hear?
Mary centered her heart chakra, or was it throat? Whatever the hell it was that was lop-sided, she centered it, then expelled it from her body with a deep sigh.
Joe’s hand weighed a thousand pounds in hers.
Her eyes found his. They were wide, vacant. “I’ve no fucking clue, hon.”
A pause. A nod.
Joe left, his Pringles can still perched against a table leg, but a stench lingered.
Mary loosed the curtain over her leering window. Poured a glass of chardonnay from a box at the back of the refrigerator. She wondered if she was too old to go back to school.
Can’t do anything without a degree these days, she thought, and drained the glass.