A fortune teller doesn't believe in magic.
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Word Count: 1747
New York, 1972
I didn’t have a tent – I had a booth on oddities row. Go figure. I really shouldn’t complain. Ringling Brothers didn’t want me. They said my fortune telling was bogus, but Circus Vargas didn’t care. They scooped me right up. After all, I was tall, skinny, and blonde. I wore large flowy blouses, big hoop earrings and baggy pants. I looked the part of a fortune teller. Also, it didn’t hurt that I’d stowed away on a boat from Romania to get here.
I got the circus minimum, but the tips were mine to keep. One thing I noticed that the more outrageous the fortune, the bigger the tip, so I tended to exaggerate. I’m a firm believer that magic is a figment of the imagination. Really. It’s all about how creative or wild I want to be, and I can get pretty ‘out there’ having grown up in the hills of Romania.
The circus pulled up to it’s next stop – Glen Falls, New York. It was up in the Adirondack mountains and fall was about to take over. I’d been in America for about two years now. Up here in the mountains, the greenery reminded me of an emerald – so bright and vivid. It even smelled fresh – crisp, and natural. The cities reminded me of Romania, smoggy with brick, dull buildings. Thankfully, the nights were cooler here in the mountains.
I pulled out a neon blue polish from my drawer and started to do my nails while I waited for a customer. The fat man next to me was drinking a lemonade. That was his oddity – he was fat. On the other side of me was the juggler. That guy had a ton of energy. Today he was juggling knives. Let me share something with you – the blades were plastic.
We had a booth that measured your weight on Mars, a couple of arcade games where you could win some rubber ducks, and a creepy ass mime. I tried to stay away from the mime. My booth was simple. I had a table, a payment jar, a tip jar, a chair, and a old crystal ball the owner gave me which the last fortune teller used. Every time you touched the glass, it got cloudy. I don’t know how it did that, but it fooled the folks and that’s what mattered.
Yesterday, the circus came in on the railroad and set up next to the Hudson River. I shared a tent with one of the trapeze artists. She was a small thing, really flexible, very pretty. All the guys, even the mime, followed her around when they weren’t working. She had to hire the fat man as a body guard. I rubbed my crystal ball wishing for a customer, and it got cloudy.
“Hey you! Fortune Teller!”
I looked past my nail polish. A kid about ten glared at me. He wore a black shirt and blue jeans. His dirty blonde hair was a rat’s nest and he smelled like a rotten egg. Looking over his shoulder was a girl who must have been about twenty. Maybe a cousin or his sister.
I put down my nail polish and picked up my fan, waving it in front of my face. “Just call me Darlene, kid.”
He crossed his arms. “What kinda’ name is that for a fortune teller.”
“One you can pronounce.” I pointed to the crystal ball in front of me. “Want me to read your fortune?”
“Maybe. Are you really a gypsy?”
I scoffed. “Straight from Romania.”
“Did you learn magic in Romania?” He scrunched up his nose. I wondered if he could stand his own stench.
“Sure did.” I rubbed my hand on the crystal ball which clouded up.
“Real gypsies don’t have a name like Darlene.” He put his hands on his hips.
“You can’t pronounce my real name.”
“Sure I can.”
“Nope, you can’t. No one here can. Go ask the juggler and the fat man. They keep trying, but screw it up every time. Don’t bother asking the mime. He doesn’t talk.”
“Gus, do you want her to tell your fortune or what?” the older girl asked. She blew a bubble from a wad of gum.
“I guess. So, Darlene, tell my fortune.”
“Two bucks.” I pointed to the payment jar. The older girl dug into her pocket and put two dollars in the jar. The tip jar was on the other side of the table.
“Hold out your hand. I gotta’ look at your palm.” I instructed. He let me look at his hand. After a minute I gave it back to him and shook my crystal ball. It got extra cloudy and then cleared. I sized him up and looked him down. He glared at me.
“You’re going to find something very important today at the circus. Something somebody lost and wants back, but you don’t want to give it back. You want to keep it.”
“Is it worth money?” he asked.
“Yep - a lot of money.”
He frowned. “You’re making it up.”
“Not me, I’m a fortune teller.” I rubbed my crystal ball, and it grew cloudy again. “My business is magic.”
“You don’t know real magic.”
“Don’t play with her, Gus.” The older girl pointed. “Let’s go see what your weight is on Mars.”
“She’s a fake.”
“Let it go, Gus. This is a circus. Every circus has a fortune teller,” said the girl.
I reached for my mirror and some lip stick.
The boy narrowed his eyes. “I’ll be back with something you lost.”
“Gus, c’mon, let’s go…” The girl grabbed his arm and tugged him away from the booth.
He glared at me as he left. I shivered, drew in a breath, and shook off a blast of cool air as I went back to applying some lipstick.
“Hey, Darlene, It’s pretty humid. Do you mind getting me an ice cream?” Fat man sat in his chair fanning himself.
I glanced at him. He had roll over roll hanging out from his shirt. It’s a wonder he could walk from his tent to the booth.
“Sure. What flavor?”
“Got the money?”
“Take it my from my tip jar. I’ll watch your booth while you’re gone.”
I stood up and adjusted my scarf around my neck. My hoop earrings wobbled back and forth, and my bangles jangled. It wasn’t busy and I didn’t mind. I do him a favor, he does me a favor, and we all help each other out. Grabbing the money from his tip jar I wandered to snack row. There was more of a line here. They had everything you could think of – ice cream, cookies, chips, chocolate covered bananas, and popcorn. Gus was in line for the chocolate covered grasshoppers. After ten minutes, I was served and headed back to my booth.
Fat man must have had five people around him – admiring him or…not. I waded through the crowd.
He took the ice cream and smiled. “That’s Darlene, our fortune teller.”
A bunch of the kids ohh’d and aww’d. “We want our fortune told!” they exclaimed.
“Thanks Fatty,” I whispered, no malice intended. Customers paid the bills.
He nodded his head and licked his cone. “No, thank you.”
I walked over to the table and my jar dropped. My crystal ball was gone!
“Fats, you seen my ball?” I cried out.
“It was there a minute ago.”
I sighed. He was distracted with a bunch of kids while I was gone. I could fake it using the palm, but still, the ball was the gimmick to lure the customers in.
“Can you tell my fortune?” a kid asked.
I frowned. “Sure. Give me your palm.”
The rest of the afternoon I stewed in my booth. Where had that ball gone? Maybe some good Samaritan would turn it in. I could only hope.
I had a break from five to seven for dinner in the chow tent. Sandy, my roommate, joined me over a bowl of goulash and some chicken.
Fats sat down at the table across from us. “Sorry about your crystal ball, Darlene.”
“I’m sure it will turn up,” I took a drink of water.
“What happened?” Sandy dipped her spoon in the soup.
I told her the whole story about how I went to get some ice cream for Fats and when I returned, it was missing.
Loud voices came from the front of the tent near the entrance flap.
“I can’t let you in. It’s only for performers.”
“Gus has something he needs to return,” came a high-pitched voice.
“Do I have to?” he whined.
Sandy and I glanced at each other and then toward the door before I stood up. Did he have my crystal ball? How? I saw him in line for chocolate covered grasshoppers.
Sandy followed me toward the tent flap opening. Mime slipped in behind Sandy. Fats wobbled over too.
I drew open the flap and sure as the sun was yellow, Gus’s chaperone had him by the collar and he was holding my crystal ball. Security stood him front of him, arms crossed.
I put my hands on my hips. “Well, I’ll be.”
“Sorry about your crystal ball. I found Gus asking it questions under the stands watching the elephants,” said the older girl.
I glared at the kid and held out my hand. “That wasn’t nice.”
“You don’t respect magic.”
“It doesn’t matter if I do or don’t. That’s how I make a living.”
“The ball says you have to show it and it’s magic more respect. That’s why it doesn’t give you any real fortunes.”
“Gus, hand it over,” the older girl said.
He thrust his hand out and I took the ball back.
“Iieana,” Gus said.
I froze. He said my name – my given name with perfect annunciation.
“How did you say that?” asked Fats, huffing and puffing.
“Yeah – how did you get my real name?” I muttered.
“The ball told me.”
The older girl grabbed Gus and tugged him toward the rides. “I’m sorry he took it,” She mumbled walking away at a fast clip. Gus dragged his feet behind her.
I glanced down at the ball in my hand and swallowed. It clouded up and formed a smile with the clouds.
Fats pointed at the ball and whistled. “That thing really is magic.”
I didn’t know if I should laugh, cry, scream, or faint.