Friday
Jan142011

The Boy and the Palm Reader

Nick Kocz and Jenniey Tallman




1

His parents believed in fortune tellers. They lived not far from what was billed as the oldest spiritualist community in the country: Lily Dale, NY. Once, when he was young, his parents dragged him out there on an overcast autumn day. He remembers walking around a park where the trees were leafless and his parents swore they could feel the vibrations of dead souls speaking.

They paid a twenty-dollar donation and a gray-haired fortune teller proceeded to tell the boy’s fortune. It was something of a bargain: twenty dollars for your future. They sat in a darkened room, the boy and the fortune teller. He’d never been so scared in his life, for he honestly believed she could divine his entire existence. Finally, she asked, "You had a pet growing up, didn’t you?  You loved that pet very much, didn’t you?"

She knew that I had a gerbil! 

It struck him as a revelation, but really: what boy growing up in America wouldn’t have had a pet at some point?

2

She was taught in high school by a sporty girl named Monica. They sat beside each other for days in the cafeteria with Monica pointing out all the creases and counting the splits. Count these for children, count here for options, here for age. Monica didn’t know the real names so made them up — the big buckeroo line, the naughtiness line, the sunstroke line—and told her what they each meant. Later, she checked out a book from the library, enhancing her knowledge. She didn’t really believe in any of that babble, but wanted an excuse for touching a boy’s hand in the dark. Once she got a boy’s hand into her own she could make him love her just by tracing the lines.

3

Every once in a while, you hear an anecdote about someone who had an inkling, a tingly feeling telling him maybe they ought not board a doomed plane. We've all had inklings, most of which prove false, and yet from that one-in-a-thousand that proves correct, great anecdotes are formed.

As much as the boy wants to believe in palmistry, truth is, he thinks it's bunk. He doesn’t believe in crystals and harmonic convergences and the let's-smoke-some-peyote bullshit because that's the word that pops into his mind: it's all super bunk.

4

She has had inklings. More than she cares to admit. Her mother taught her to believe that she was special, some sort of spirit child of the stars, to believe that she had been kidnapped by gypsies and changed. Her mother asked her about everything, as if one child alone could divine the truth. It was unsettling, having a mother who demanded her opinion of every man who asked for her phone number or where she might have put her misplaced car keys.

What she really believes in is much more simple.

She believes in the honesty of sitting across from another person and running her finger along the lines of his hand while discussing life, love, and longing. She likes the touch, likes to be the one in charge. A boy will listen when she touches his hand, will tell her things he would not otherwise say. Access to a boy's imagination is the advantage of being a palm reader.

5

There is something wonderfully sweet about a woman touching your hand across a table and telling you about love.

6

Palmistry is the science of parting a man from his money, and it is in this profession that lovers and charlatans excel. The practitioners are sneaky devils who know the backhanded way into your heart. Prostitutes of talk and touch, that’s what they are.

How palm reading got popular: some sweet-talking lady dresses up in a turban and runs her fingers all over a man's hand, telling him things, glorious things, while he is too hot and horny and liking it to admit to anything other than, Ho ho, this lady palm reader is amazing!

7

The art of palm reading proved a good pick up show for the girl. She used it at parties. When introduced to a boy, she would shake his hand and run her index finger subtly along his love line and smile to herself. A small scratch just there and she could turn his eyes her way.

At one such party, she met the boy. He sat on a couch rubbing girls’ feet. "I have a foot fetish," he explained. She recognized his tricks immediately and left him alone. But later, after everyone else had gone, she stretched her foot into his lap.

"Go on," she said. "Tell me what you think."

So he removed her sandal and touched each of her toes, his fingers probing roughly between them. He pressed his thumb into her arch, ran his fingertips gently down the inside line of vulnerability, squeezed her bones between both palms. Just when she thought she could take no more, he pulled her foot to his mouth and sucked her pinkie toe. She squirmed, collapsing from the pleasure of it.

"It’s a nice foot," he said, releasing her.

"I read palms," she told him and he begged her to read his, tempting her with tales of the new and wonderful ecstasies he would perform on her toes in exchange for a reading. But she demurred, handing him a business card for her palmistry shop instead. The card was handmade; its edges were rough and the name, address, and hours were printed in longhand. The red ink bled into his fingertips.

"Give me a freebie?"

She blushed. "Don’t be cheap."

8

He goes into her palm reading booth a dozen times. Every day. When he gets needy for the sweet glide of her fingers over his lifeline and the touch of her leg under the table, he can frequent her palm reading booth two or three times in a single afternoon, each time pretending he is someone different—a new guy who just blew into town with a yen to see his future.

Are you sure I haven't seen you before, she asks.

No ma'am, he says, taking off his baseball cap and looking so earnest. Name's Legs Amboy... er, um... Smith.

She squelches her smirks, for his sake. He rolls up his sleeve as if to give blood.

She takes his palm and cradles it in her hands. The hairs on the back of his neck stir. Will this be the time she predicts great calamities have entered into his future? Sometimes, she flips his palm over and takes one of the fingers, wiggling it slightly so that its knuckles crack. After some minutes of silence, she pronounces the verdict: I see a warm sweet thing in your future.

And then, That'll be ten dollars, boy.

9

The palm reader has, of late, been preoccupied by a vision of love and need. It seeps into real life, slithering its way between her toes, and she cannot escape it.

They are two people, the boy and the palm reader, following each other around relentlessly and both pretending not to.

In the park, where there are ducks to be fed, the boy hands her some bread so she can feed them. The ducks nip the bread from the palm reader's hand, and he laughs aloud as she jumps back in alarm from the ducks’ sharp beaks.

10

The commitment line is long and nearly invisible, a shallow groove that runs from the base of the thumb all the way to the heart. The groove is illegible to all but the wisest palmists; rarely does she peek at it for fear of the heartbreak it will reveal. Desperate people will push their way into her palmistry shop and plead for her to appraise their commitment lines, each of them bringing into her shop a tale of unrequited love or a romance gone wrong. They will cry into her tablecloth, then shove their thumbs into her face.

At first, she will feign ignorance. Then she will claim that her knowledge of the esoteric arts is insufficient to offer sound judgment.

"The science of the commitment line," she will say. "It is not a science you wish to mess with."

11

Sometimes she gets an inkling. A stranger will deposit their palm into her hand and a tingling will come over her. Before she has even peeked at his life line or heart line or girdle of venus or any of the other points of the palm that she has learned to assess, she knows what fate befalls the person. She will find herself breathing heavily, perspiring. An overwhelming scent, usually acidic though sometimes that of an ozone-heavy electronic charge, will flood her senses. Often she will feel herself swooning in her seat, moaning, but the person whose hand she holds will have no idea that something unusual is taking place.

She will know everything about that person: his favorite ice cream flavor, the destination of his next vacation, the moment of his death, and whether he shall have lead a satisfying life. Credit card numbers and the faces of past, present, and future romantic interests will tumble through her mind. It surprises her: how many one person will have. Or how few.

"So?" the person shall ask.

She will make up hasty lies, telling him that he will soon be taking a Caribbean cruise when what really awaits him are roundtrip Amtrak tickets to Boston. She will fudge the names of children and the advisability of career changes, telling the hopelessly well-educated that they need to pursue additional degrees. She will say any fool thing that comes to her mind just to speed these people out of her booth, knowing she will never see them again.

For weeks thereafter, she will be unable to clear her nostrils of that slightly acidic scent.

12

The boy picks up the bread that she dropped. While giving it back, he takes her hand and looks into her palm. Ducks are flocking around him, quacking for the piece of bread he has returned to her.

"Your head line," he says, running his finger along her hand. "You are a very emotionally stable woman."

13

Palmistry has never been a reputable art. Desperate people are her best customers.

Lucky thirteen.

14

The boy was stealing quarters out of fountains, pushing aside the ducks so that he could plunge to their concrete bottoms to retrieve them just so he could visit the palm reader every day. It was costing him a small fortune, and his dignity, what with the bronze mermaid and dolphin statues that line the fountains always spitting water at him.

15

The palm reader is surprised by these you are an emotionally stable woman words, and the surprise shows on her face. Her brows pinch together and her head falls back a bit. She looks as if she is training herself into a soothsaying trance, but that is just the illusion that she allows her customers.

What the boy does not say is that he has indeed spied his future, for he knows now her romantic inclinations.

16

Lately she's been imagining the weight of the boy pressing her body into the mud by the river where they feed the stupid ducks. Thinking of the warmth of that mud sloshing around, and the way the ducks would scream at the pair of them. His hand rubbing a palmful of that mud onto her breasts, covering them, and how her own hands would slather it onto his hips—a map of touch left on their bodies.

17

"That's sweet," she says, wanting nothing more than to cozy up to his words. So much about the true art of palmistry relies upon a steady gaze into your mark’s eyes. He needs to know that the palm reader is a woman who can be trusted, a woman who has no fear about the life she is looking into. Once learned, this trait of staring into one’s eyes is hard to shake, yet as she is staring into his eyes, she feels a sudden pang. She has not read his palm for several long hours, but she is sure that if she were to look at it now, she would see a new line etching its way down his palm.

"What’s wrong?" he asks, thinking she has just spotted some horrible blemish in his future.

She hems. The ducks crowding around them are not the affable ducks that waddle through fairy tales, but hungry beasts that stretch their necks and flap their emerald wings, their feathers raised at the affront of not being immediately fed more bread. The ducks here will bite the crap out of her but it is not the ducks that scare her. Standing there, she imagines his commitment line widening into a deep burrow that is capable of engulfing her.

The ducks peck her feet, perhaps expecting that she has stashed a cache of breadcrumbs in her suede sandals. She knows she has to go, flee. She gathers her skirt in her hand and begins running up the small hill that leads back into town. Glancing over her shoulder, she sees the boy looking at her.

 And still the ducks yap.

18

He runs after her. He can think of no reason to explain her sudden departure, so he races through briars and side roads, beating her back to the palm reading shop. The sign on the window is that of a blue turban and a red crystal ball, below which prognosticates "CLOSED." He is not deterred, for he sees an open window and crawls through it, kerplunking onto the floor.

He hides under the table, sitting on the very spot of the worn carpet where their legs have met on numerous occasions. On the underside of the table, against the wall, cobwebs hang, tickling the back of his neck.

A moment later, he hears her key in the door, unlocking it to let herself in. He can see her taking out her costume turban from the closet, righting it on her head. From a side drawer, she takes out the ruby rings—fake, most likely—and slides them onto her fingers. While she is doing this, he gets out from under the table and sits on the chair.

She is about to turn the sign over, opening herself up for fakery again, when she stops suddenly and stares at him.

"Do I know you?" she asks, affecting the accent she thinks her customers expect.

"No ma'am," he says, looking down and seeing the mud he has tracked on the parlor floor. "I'm new in town. And I really need someone to kinda tell me a few things."

19

Smirking, she narrows her eyes. "You sure I don't know you?"

"Not yet."

She seats herself in the chair opposite him, letting her sandals slide off her feet. The table between them is small and circular, covered with a black velvet tablecloth that always reminds her of the strapless gown she wore to her senior prom. At the time, she thought it was provocative but now the memory feels silly: showing up for the prom in something so slinky.

"So, shall we start?" he asks, setting his hand palm-side-up on the black velvet.

She runs her bare foot up his calf and under his thigh, wedging her toes beneath his bottom.

"You don't mind, do you?" she asks. "My foot is cold."

20

Her foot is hot despite what she says, or that is how it feels to him. She has the sexiest legs he had ever seen and from the way her dress had folded around her as she sat, he was able to see plenty of them.

He runs his hands along her leg, and then grabs her foot, pressing his fingers between her toes.

This is what it is like to be coupled with a fortune teller, he thinks.

21

Her breathing is shallow, and her fingers are suddenly shaking. Something is taking hold of her that she cannot understand. She throws her hands out towards him.

"Shh! Quiet! Quiet now. You have come far to be here," she says, hissing. "Give me your hand, boy."

22

He does as told. Even though he is now a man, some large part of him still likes to be called that: boy.

23

She traces the lines of his hand. "Your life is long. Your heart is weak. Your fortune is cracked and your children are plenty. You have one love and the line is unwavering and deep. The second line of love is just as steady and continues all the way around to where I cannot see. I believe it traces all the way to your heart. How it stabs you there."

With these last words she shoves her foot back between his legs and massages him with her toes, refusing to look at him, refusing to be touched. And as she does this she sings an old gypsy tune she'd learned from her mother, one about a duck that refused the wheat crackers offered it by the constable’s boy.

24

Back in the earliest days of mankind, before men and women had stumbled firmly into the art of soothsaying, ducks were used to alert lovers of the presence of intruders. Couples would make love on the soft silty riverbanks, painting images onto each other with that soft inky silt. They drew hearts that were pierced with Cupid’s arrows on each other’s tummies, and traced the outline of their hands onto each other’s breasts. Men get so hard when they draw their intentions across their lovers' nipples, and the women, they get so soft. Ducks would quack, warning them of the need to re-robe themselves should village-people approach the river to refill their clay vessels with water.

25

Nestled as they are in the palmistry shop, no ducks are present to alert them to danger, which suits the boy fine for he does not particularly enjoy their quacking.

The woman in his arms feels white-hot, as if she might burst into flames at any moment. A smell like vinegar overwhelms his senses, causing his nostrils to flare.

She looks up at him, unfazed. "What’s wrong?"

He raises his head off her shoulder.

That smell scares him something terrible.