Vendors were handing fresh strawberries to pedestrians on street corners to celebrate the first day of spring, as I wove through busy intersections on my way to work. Ocean air was tangibly fresh and salty, and drew my eyes to the harbor. The pacific skyline was filled with giant orange cranes hoisting containers on and off railroad cars, as tug boats with blue roofs, white framed windows and bright yellow hulls pulled barges in and out of dock. Waterfowl played above the cool waters that lapped against the shore, incoming fog shrouded a distant beach.
I took a short cut through serpentine streets, as they descended through well groomed neighborhoods, past banked rhododendron hedges and white azaleas. Mt Rainier filled the horizon, as I eased into downtown traffic and finally to a parking place.
I was doing readings in a restaurant during happy hour to make extra cash. The uncluttered white walls and subtle curves of the restaurants’ interior had a calming effect. It was unpretentious and relaxed. I made my way to the long bar in the lounge and settled in under sepia toned lights. Happy hour had begun. Cozy wooden tables were already filled with conversation, cocktails and the energy of letting down after a busy day.
I moved to the coat rack and hung up my purple jacket. I wore purple high heeled shoes with a matching skirt, and a green silk blouse. I was in my purple phase. My hair was gathered and twisted away from my face with a decorative hair stick, emerald-like gems cascaded from each ear. I slipped a fake wedding ring on my hand to avoid propositions, and looked around the room to see how many numbers had been placed on tables. I was happy to see I had very few.
My first customer defined the word gentleman. He had white hair, wore a three piece suit, lavender shirt and soft yellow tie. A bright red handkerchief sprang from his left breast pocket. His face was narrow and intelligent, his eyes deep brown. He flashed a smile that was both tender and curious as I walked to his table. Extending my hand, he shifted a glass of white wine between long artistic fingers, until his right hand became free to meet my own. I pulled out a chair and sat across from him.
So, you’re the card reader, he said, My friends have given me amusing reports of your talents. I thought I would see for myself.
Amusing? I questioned.
You seem to have a skill that is insightful and yet based on chance. I understand your readings are accurate. I find that curious, amusing and improbable.
I liked him immediately, and decided to begin reading. You’re a man who has become successful by using your wits, I told him, but I see decisions being made just as often from your heart, a desire to be fair in all things and most importantly, an active intuition. What I do, is not so different from what you do. You define your abilities as hunches or gut feelings, but it is the same wisdom. You are better than most at knowing who to trust, and what deal to back away from. That is not logic, but the feeling that informs wisdom. We operate in the same way, so you must be amusing as well.
Fair enough, he said. Can I buy you a drink?
Music played in the background as the bartender scurried from one customer to the next. I was grateful for the quiet volume of the music, because Saturday night’s bartender preferred a louder variety of popular music and cranked up the sound. On those nights I went home with a headache after screaming my readings above lyrics about a Pink Cadillac.
I don’t drink, I told him. Odd isn’t it? A card reader who works in a bar and doesn’t drink. Thanks anyway.
Are you morally opposed to alcohol?
Not at all. My body just won’t accept it. It makes me feel ill. It’s the same with coffee. I might as well drop acid as drink a cup of coffee.
He smiled, but I could tell that my last remark made him uncomfortable. I was immediately sorry I’d said it. I didn’t want to give him the idea I was a drug head. He was already taking a risk. He looked at me with penetrating deep brown eyes that held such intensity, that I began to wonder who was reading whom.
You are a curiosity to me, he said kindly.
That makes two of us, I replied. I am a curiosity to myself. If you figure me out, let me know. I’d appreciate it.
He laughed and our connection deepened. The waiter came over to see if he wanted more wine, but was waved away.
Alright, he said. Let’s see what information you glean from those astounding cards of yours. He shuffled the deck like a man used to playing poker, then handed them back. I began placing them on the table when he covered my hand to stop me.
You don’t need these cards, do you? he smiled. Can you read for me without them?
Of course, I said, I already have. The cards just make it quick and easy. I like to use them because they give my customers visual images to go away with, which most people remember longer than words. I can do it with or without the cards, I repeated, which do you prefer?
All right, he said, turn them over. We had entered a contest driven by his curiosity. I turned over The Emperor, the Five of Pentacles and Ten of Pentacles. The symbols on the cards have a way of lighting up for me, so I can understand which aspects of the card holds the most importance. The face of the Emperor filled with light, the cane pictured in the five and the coins of the ten. I began to read:
I see another white haired man in the card of the Emperor, a close friend, someone with fullness of face and a more casual approach to both attire and his work life than you have. You share conservative views and a long history.
My eyes caught the figure of a man, leaning on a crutch in the five of pentacles. He is pictured outside on the street, as if kept away from the good things he desires.
I’m thinking your friend is in poor health right now, and that you are concerned for him. There is respect in the friendship that has been built on years of trust. He is going through a difficult time and you want to help.
My eyes moved to the ten of pentacles, a card filled with money and images of family.
He’s been a friend for so long, you are almost like brothers. I’m thinking that you share a business life, and that you are very affected by his suffering. The cards show recovery and a return to prosperity, so I wouldn’t worry.
He confirmed my reading and sat in silence. I had a sense that he lived alone, while his friend enjoyed both wife and family.
Has your wife died? I asked. He nodded and I felt an accepted loneliness he no longer questioned. I envisioned him raising from his bed in a well-ordered house, and going into a drawing room, where he sat by the window enjoying strong morning coffee and the New York Times. The table’s companion chair remained empty, as a reminder of his wife’s absence. In the evening I saw him going to a dimly lit study and settling into a leather armchair with a half finished book. The patterns and traces of his life invisibly defined and seized him in a way that had become unnoticed.
We talked casually for a few moments before I excused myself.
I’m sorry for your loss, I said, referring to his wife. He smiled in return, Thank you. I appreicate the information about my friend. I returned his smile knowing that it had not been the information about his friend that had brought comfort, but a sense of being truly seen, heard and understood without judgment. It’s not perdictions we crave, but soul recognition. I collected my fee and moved to the next table.
I glanced over at the next numbered table and saw a balding man with glasses in a brown cotton shirt, sitting next to a much younger woman. They were draining the last drops of Belgium ale as they pushed back their chairs to leave.
Sorry, they said, as I approached. We’re running late and have decided to move on.
I was glad for the break and headed toward the salad bar to fortify myself for the evening ahead. I was sprinkling blue cheese and olive oil on a plate of greens when Julia walked in.
Oh good, she said, You’re back. I want a reading as soon as you’re done eating. It’s very important.
Julia was a tall thin attorney whose wallet overflowed with hundred dollar bills. She slipped off her white business jacket and settled in a corner table with her friend, Jan. Julia liked white, the way I liked purple. She looked chic and Barbie doll like in linen. Silver bracelets rattled on her right arm, and black and white sling back heels graced her feet. Her best friend, Jan, was her opposite. Jan was tough, liked wearing heavy boots and jeans, chain smoked and rarely smiled. The waiter delivered the usual salt-rimmed margarita to Julia, and a gin and tonic ‘straight up’ to Jan.
Here we go again, I thought, cornering stray pieces of arugula with my fork and hurrying the last traces of salad into my mouth. The bartender inspected a glass in the overhead light, frowned at specks of dust, and polished it clean with a bar towel. He nodded his head in Julia’s direction to indicate that she was my next client, then smiled, knowing how frustrated I felt after reading for her. We shared a moment of silent understanding, before I took my dishes to the clearing cart and went to the table.
Jan never stayed for Julia’s readings, That woman freaks me out! True to form, she excused herself as I approached, pulled up a nearby stool and settled into more comfortable conversation with the bartender about politics and economics.
She wanted no part of Julia’s “woo- woo – personal growth experience,” and had no idea how someone with a rational mind could believe such non-sense, let alone pay to hear it. The bright flame of her match was replaced by the glow of Jan’s next cigarette, as blue smoke drifted into the air and encircled her head.
Oh, Karen, Julia said, with positive excitement. I want to read about Karl. I’ve just met him and we have a date this Friday. She held up a picture torn from a magazine of a stocky Lebanese man with olive skin and spiked dark hair. He’s a chef, she continued, a famous chef.
I mentally fortified myself as I sat under the glow of the wall light and examined her photo. Let’s not read about this guy tonight, I suggested. How is your work going?
She gave me a puzzled look and began fidgeting impatiently with her napkin. I have a big case pending, which you know, and have to travel again next week for another deposition. Work is fine. I want to talk about Karl, she repeated, moving into her forceful attorney mode.
Julia always wanted to talk about the next man, but I could no longer indulge her. She was radiant in her excitement, but my obvious reluctance stopped her in mid-speech.
I can’t do this anymore, I confessed, because the men are not the issue. They’re a diversion. For me to continue reading about each new man is a disservice to both of us. I think you know that.
A look of cold despair crossed her face, an unsettling sense of delusion. She began to lobby me once more. Julia did not allow herself to think of her past, although it festered in the depth of her soul. She wanted to focus on external relationships and staying in control, the very qualities that made her a excellent attorney.
This man is different, she continued. I’m sure he’s the right one.
I was unyielding, knowing from experience that she would become rapidly suspicious, jealous and finally cold toward him in a few short weeks.
When Julia came for her first reading a year ago, I was surprised by her past. She was a frightened child whose mother valued material things and worked excessively to acquire them. Her father had abandoned the family at an early age. In their absence, Julia looked to her uncle to provide the love and connection she needed. When she was in elementary school her uncle disappeared, and she was the one to find his body. He had killed himself a week earliest in a small trailer and the body had decomposed in summer heat. In a moment of unguarded vulnerability, she described the overwhelming smell that came from the trailer, and the sound of buzzing flies that blanketed the screen door.
Julia could not allow love in her life, as much as she craved it, because she believed it would end in abandonment. She knew she could not stand a repeat performance of loss, so she abandoned the men in her life first, before they could abandon her. Her friend, Jan was a reflection of the tough person she wanted to be, but could not achieve.
Julia gave me a ‘what am I paying you for,’ look and continued. Please, just put the cards out. I need to know.
I put the cards away and restated my message, It’s time to address this issue at its core, I said gently. You need a good therapist. You have post traumatic stress, and no man is going to fix that.
But, she continued, if I can’t talk to my psychic about these things, who can I talk to?
A therapist or a shaman, I repeated. This is not for your psychic, Julia. See someone else. She pushed her chair from the table, paid her tab and went away. I had no doubt she’d come back another day with the same questions about another man.
That evening, I did readings about impending legal battles, custody cases, internal political disputes and for a secretary who believed she was being stalked. I even read for a woman persistent enough to have tracked me from the television station to the restaurant. Her face was especially sad. She wore loose knit clothes over a large framed body and had deep lines in her face that showed years of stress and toil.
As she and I sat together, it became clear that she was looking for future predictions of the National Inquirer type. She’d come for a reading because she wanted her future told, without taking responsibility for anything it might hold. When I repeatedly brought her back to a path of action and accountability, she recoiled. In the end, she threw down her money and left saying, You’re nothing like you were on television!
I smiled to myself as I packed up my things. I guess that was my worst fear, to have someone tell me I’m horrible at what I do, but because of the painful place that birthed her comment, I didn’t take it in. To be read for, a person needs to be open to being seen, and to the possibility of new thought, which requires the courage to change.
I was relieved to finish work when I packed up my things and headed for the door. My thoughts were racing from the people I had seen and the energies taken in.
The lights of Seattle shown on downtown office buildings, as I pushed open the door and stepped outside. The night air teemed with the wet, green smells of marine life, as I stopped to breath the cool night air, trying to be more present, trying to release the visions and stories I had so intimately held. The bobbing procession of tug boats and fishing fleets were at rest under evening shades of purple and pink, as I cut through alleys that led out of downtown and back up the hill to Mt Baker. I was grateful for my car, but missed visiting the salmonberry, quince and little violets I once walked past on my way to the bus. The lights of downtown faded with each mile I traveled, and the maple lined boulevards skirting Lake Washington rose in the headlights. My little Datsun wound around residential streets until it came to rest in front of my storefront perched at the crest of the hill.
I held the energies of my clients too strongly to go to sleep, so I went to Rip’s market to pick up the evening paper. Rip and I were visiting about our work days, when a man from the neighborhood burst through the door, pulled a gun from the folds of his jacket and handed it to Rip. Here, take this, he said. I just shot my wife. Better call the police.
Seattle was a city of extremes and it was taking a toll. Some mornings I would stand in a welfare line to receive free rice and cheese, and the same evening dine on pheasant in the wealthy homes of grateful clients on ‘millionaire hill.’ I felt myself being ripped apart by the intensity of Seattle’s urban environment, and decided it was time to move back to Portland.