Fiction, special to the Clarion Content every other Monday.
From Kate Van Dis, read more at The Palmetto Blog here.
Psychic, Highway 70
by: Kate Van Dis
I’m not saying I’m not actually a psychic and I’m sure as hell not saying that psychics don’t exist. I am, and they do. When I was five years old, I predicted my own mother’s death in a dream, and the dead have been talking to me ever since. I’ve lost more than one lover feeling his other woman’s breath on my neck when he walked in the door at night, and I also know exactly how I’m going to die. That’s God’s truth.
But people don’t come to a psychic because they want to know the truth. They don’t even come to a psychic because they want to know the future. They come because they want to be listened to. They want to tell a story. Whatever story I tell as they listen is like a river that bends and rises with a flood – they shape it to their liking, they tell me what they think it means, and that’s what they leave with, after they hand me their money. Trouble is, I’m left with a pile of stories in my lap that no amount of sage in the world can burn off.
I always wanted an owl for a pet so it could teach me to fly, fly, fly away, says one girl, skinny as a bird herself, and I can see the dark marks the length and width of a man’s fingers around her arms. Her blue eyes burning in her head like fire where it meets the ash.
Tell me where he goes at night, says another woman, clutching her pocketbook to her chest like a shield. Someone who hasn’t been doing this as long as me might think she means her man, but I know by the white of her knuckles and the locket she wears around her neck that she’s talking about her boy. Drugs, probably. When I show her the Tower card, she puts her forehead down on the table and weeps. I put my hands on her head, which I mostly never do, and just tell her to hold on. Sometimes, all a person can do about a thing is survive it.
What else do I have to do, says the man who wears silk around his neck and cashmere on his feet. Where are their weaknesses, he wants to know. A man who is ruled by one thing is easy to see through and even easier to control. Be ruthless, I tell him, because it is what he will do anyways and also because only through that ruthlessness will he ever encounter the fall that teaches him compassion. Do people tip psychics he wants to know as he is leaving. It confuses him when I laugh, but he leaves an extra twenty-dollar bill on the table anyhow.
The stories are like petals fallen off a flower, and they collect in the corners of my mind like dust. They cloud my vision, so I can’t tell which dreams are mine, and which are theirs. Today I don’t switch on the neon OPEN sign that calls people in off the road – most of them people who never planned on stopping in the first place, because that’s not the kind of business this is. I open all the windows, and I call my friend Marjorie and she says, I thought you might call today, which is a joke between us, see, because Marjorie is not a physic at all but she is a woman, and sometimes that’s just about the same thing. She comes in her beat-up station wagon and she beeps twice and when I get in the car she says, You sure you want to leave all those windows open? which is what she says every time. Then Marjorie drives, and I roll down the window and feel the wind rush through my hair and over my chest. Faster, I tell her, and she laughs, and the wind fills my mouth and then my throat so that for a second, I almost cannot breath.
Kate Van Dis publishes new short fiction weekly on the Palmetto Blog.
Though Katherine Van Dis is a long time Durhamite, her roots are in Michigan, where much of her fiction takes place. After seventeen years in the Bull City, she thought she would try her hand at fiction set in the south. Palmetto Blog Durham is a project dedicated to the people and places of Durham. Each tiny fiction is paired with and inspired by an original photo taken in the city. Katherine’s work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review and The Carolina Quarterly. She is currently finishing up a short story manuscript.