Friday, August 9, 2013

Fair Value

The barker's enthusiastic enticements encouraging me to spend a coin at his road-weary carnival attraction hangs suspended, along with the smell of funnel-cake grease and cotton candy, in the thick August humidity. The sun is beating down on my shoulders making me rethink the wisdom of wearing a black tee-shirt to the fair. I slurp the last of my now melted Icee and look around for someplace to take refuge from the heat. The haunted house and the fun-house, my favorites, have lines of sun-wilted patrons snaking across the dusty fairway. No way am I standing there kicking dust about, shuffling in line with Spandex bedecked, sweaty people.

I wonder where my little brother is, since I’d rather just get out of here and go swimming in the river. It’s too hot. The fair, on days like these, is best saved for the nighttime when the crickets and fireflies come out to sing in the cool air.

My unease in the heat is more though. I'm still gutted over the sudden death of my grandmother three months ago. And as if that wasn't enough, Alex broke up with me on the same horrible day that she died. What kind of person does that?

I feel nothing inside these days, I am a walking zombie. I feel as dead as dear Gram. Grief lurks under this layer of numbness until the early morning hours when the stars are heavy and the world is hushed. Then it claws its way out of my heart and runs down my face in hot, angry tears. I don’t know which is worse feeling nothing or feeling everything.

A trickle of sweat rolls down my forehead. I wipe it away in haste as if I can wipe away this listlessness, too. I stroll to a trash can to toss my Icee cup. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a brightly colored tent that sits back a bit off the main midway. It doesn't have a sign to invite people in, or even give a hint of what lies inside. Just an Arabic-looking symbol adorns the side of the flap that leads to the shady interior. There is no line in front of this attraction, that's a bonus for me, so I step up to the tent and call inside “Hello? Is there anyone here?” A thready voice answers after several long seconds “Come in, dearest. Come and hear your fortune, if you dare.”

My fortune? Do I have a fortune worth telling? I live in a small town with brother and, until three months ago, my grandmother. No career. No boyfriend. No life. No prospects. What harm could there be in having her tell me what I already know? I have no future. I have no life.  At least, I can get out of the sun.

I step inside the tent and feel as if I am transported to a Bedouin yurt on the high steppes. Tapestries cover the floor and incense fills the cool air. There is a low, warm glow coming from an elaborate, serpentine-shaped oil lamp suspended from the center of the tent which illumines a small figure seated at a round mosaic table.

She greets me with dark eyes that glow and beckons with an elegant motion to take the seat across from her. I look back at the tent flap as a tremor of doubt crosses my mind. I push the fear down and step across the plush carpets to sit on a heavily carved wooden chair.

“You have questions you don’t even know you have, yet. Place an offering on the plate. I set no price. There is no price for knowledge. You will get out of it whatever value you place on it.”

Value? How much is it worth it to be out of the 3pm sun? I fish a $5 bill out of my back jeans pocket and lay it on the little pewter plate. I feel like I've anted up. There are dragons and stars adorning the edges of the plate and a small crocheted doily in the center that lend my crumpled bill more dignity than I ever had.

“Very good! I am Darwhalla of the Tilikava Clan. Tell me your name, young one.” My eyes adjusted to the dim light, I look at this woman. She is beautiful in the way a sun-bleached skull is beautiful. There is a luminous glow that emanates from her bony features. Her skin is oiled and smooth, but I know she is ancient.

“Julia.” I say. My voice sounds high and hollow. “Julia.” I say again, clearing my throat.

“Julia. What a beautiful name!” She pauses and peers purposefully at me, studying me. I am unsure how to sit under her gaze and I wriggle in the chair catching my sleeve on the ornate carvings. I am grateful for this tiny distraction from Darwhalla’s intensity. “I have a message for you Julia. A message and a promise.”

“How can you have a message for me? You only just met me.” This ought to be good, she’s got the whole show going on here. I attempt to not actually roll my eyes.

“Comings and goings. Meetings and passings. These are not barriers to we who have The Sight. All that exists in time and space can be seen.”

So now she has “The Sight." I am so totally going to roll my eyes. But it's cool in here and I've got nothing better to do.

“Okaaay. So, what’s the message?”

“Ah. There is a message and a promise. One will bring great joy and one will bring great sorrow. They are bound. One cannot be without the other. Are you ready, Julia? You can still walk away and not hear these things. Knowledge affects the traveler’s course. Sometimes for the good. Sometimes not.”

She pauses. I nod that I am ready. I have to give her credit for the dramatic flair.

“The message is from someone recently departed. A loved one.”

“Gram!” As soon as she says it, I know it’s true. I can feel Gram there with us as if we were sitting on the porch swing talking about the day. I smile and look eagerly at Darwhalla to tell me more. A message from Gram must the good thing!

“Yes. It is your dear Gram. She says she loves you. And she is so very sorry to leave you like this. But the important thing she wishes you to know is that you must beware.”

Beware? Really? I am disappointed with the cliché. Isn’t that what all fortune tellers say? It’s either beware of something or you will find true love. Still, she does know about Gram, so that is something. I pocket my pessimism and decide to roll with it.

Darwhalla places her hands on a brass bowl covered with runic designs and full of water. She stares intently at the water. She is seeing something, but it’s not here where I am.

“You must go to the shed…the corner by the old barrel. Something horrible….something horrible happened. Someone has been slain at the hand of one who was trusted.”

I am no longer too hot. I am chilled to the bone. My hands shake and I feel clammy. Slain, as in murder? Who got murdered? Surely not Gram? She simply passed in her sleep one night. Peacefully. Naturally. I feel bile rising and swallow hard to keep from puking right there.

I stare stupidly at Darwhalla. What now? What the hell am I supposed to do with this information now? As if she read my thoughts, Darwhalla speaks again. This time she is not gazing into the bowl of water. She is staring at the space above my head. And the voice is no longer hers, it is Gram’s.“Find the box. Find the truth. Find yourself, darling girl. Be brave, but careful. I'll be with you, always. I love you so. Tell your brother, David, he's wonderful. Tell him every day."

Darwhalla’s gaze falls to the table and when she looks up, it is her, again. She smiles warmly at me revealing a line of straight teeth, stained by long life.

“You have received a rare gift of rare knowledge, young Julia. I think perhaps you will find your destiny awaits you in the contents of that box."  She stopped and looked expectantly at me. I have nothing. I am still reeling and have no earthly clue how to respond to a fortune teller who has just spoken to me in my dead grandmother’s voice.

Darwhalla takes pity on me and smiles. “Ah, yes. I owe you a promise.” Again she peers not at me, but around me. Like the edges of my soul are visible to her, open for the reading. “You will find the one who killed your precious Gram. And when you do, it will test you fiercely, Julia. Your road is forged in the fire of destiny. It is difficult and...perhaps...deadly. Be cautious, but do not be afraid. You will survive. At times you will think you cannot go on, but you must. A life-road like yours bears great fruit at great cost. On the other side of the coin, not living the great life that is placed before you, if you seek to avoid the challenges, it will result in ultimate despair.”

Already there, I think.

Her eyes fall once again to the table ending the reading. “We are finished. You must go.”

I can’t stand. I have a million questions. I want her to find Gram, again and ask her what I am supposed to do. Who is it that I trust that could slay someone? How am I supposed to find my destiny out of a box dug up in the shed?  “I can’t leave. You have to tell me more!” I am practically shouting at Darwhalla. My fingers dig into the deep carvings on the arms of the chair.

“There is no more to tell. You have your message. You have your promise. How do you value your information, now, young Julia?”

I look at the plate where the $5 is sitting. I wonder if I had laid the $20 out instead if I would have more from her. I reach for my back pocket when Darwhalla hisses at me.

“You have already chosen. Now, go.”

I stand to go moving my feet automatically while my mind reels. A deep cold has settled inside me like a bucket of ice water has been pumped into my veins. I am bewildered and angry.

“I’ll come back, later. Maybe you can see more, then.” I know it’s not true even as the words come out of my mouth. But it comforts me to think I am not alone in the world with this information. Someone, even if it is a Gypsy fortune teller knows that I am fated to find a murderous friend who may or may not have something to do with my Gram's death.

“Perhaps. Sometimes all we are given are pieces of clues. It’s up to us to create a pattern of them. Sometimes the picture makes sense and sometimes not.”

I turn away from Darwhalla and step out of the tent into the heat. I turn my face toward the sun and breathe in the sultry summer smells. The warmth fingers its way into my muscles. The unsettling world inside Darwhalla’s tent is gone. Her message seems counterfeit under the yellow gaze of the sun. I shrug off the last bits of unease and look around for David.

August heat engulfs me in a cocoon, sheltering me from the cold dread of a few moments ago. It never felt so good.