When I was in high school my girlfriend and I spent many hours travelling into Toronto by bus, then subway, and rambling around. The trip, one way, cost fifty cents. The city at that point, before the takeover of gigantic weather-proof malls full of gleaming stores that can be found in every other town and city in the country, was a great place for two teenage girls who would compete to find the little spots where treasures like silver jewellery and exotic imported blouses could be purchased for next to nothing. Interesting places to eat which didn’t cost the earth to patronize were on every street corner.
We decided on one particular Saturday to be outrageous and find a psychic. We didn’t spend time searching for the latest LPs or shopping for stylish clothes, no, not us. We were more evolved.
This being before the age of the internet, we spent some time looking for a psychic and were about to give up and go search for LPs (not the latest, rather ones which were obscure) when we found a place. It was in what used to be a residential neighbourhood of Victorian houses many of which had long been adapted to other uses. The building had a big store window on the ground floor which had curtains pulled across it and a sign in the window read: Fortune Teller 5$.
We stood on the sidewalk for a while, debating whether a fortune teller was the same as a psychic or was it more of an amateur psychic, less fully trained, less authentic, more...fake. We were growing tired and cold and had just about decided to forget the whole thing when the front door opened and a hand beckoned. “Come on girls...it’s not so bad. Come on in. Something to tell your friends.”
We liked to think we were rebels but when it came down to it, if an adult told us to do something we did it, so in we went.
The woman who had beckoned us in ushered us to the front room. She was old, older than any of our teachers. I realize now that she was probably younger than I am today. She was short and full figured, with a heart-shaped face and plenty of makeup.
The floors of the place creaked and they were covered with old carpets. The room was overfull of old furniture, little tables, deeply-coloured upholstered chairs, crocheted doilies. Unexpectedly the house smelled of cookies.
“So you girls want a beer?”
I had never had a drink. My friend was experienced when it came to alcohol and she immediately accepted the offer, hardly believing her good fortune. She was a good friend and didn’t chide me for refusing. The woman opened up a little cooler in the corner and pulled out two bottles, snapped the lids off with an opener that hung from a nail on the wall, kept one bottle and gave the other to my friend.
“So?” she said. She sat herself at a round table in the middle of the room and indicated for us to sit. I was relieved. I had been worried our readings would be clothed in secrecy and done separately. She must have realized we would each have filled the other in just as soon as we hit the sidewalk. We each dug out five dollars and put it on the table. There was no crystal ball. I wondered if this was a bad sign. I also wondered if the five dollars covered beer.
She took my hand and looked at me. Her hand felt like my mother’s: warm, dry, somewhat hardened. “You will meet someone on a train who shares your passion.”
A train? The subway train? Or a real train. And what was my passion, anyway? I didn’t know myself. I was too timid to get more mileage out of my five dollars by asking her if she knew what my passion was, or would be.
She took my friend’s hand. “You are more complicated.”
I was disappointed. I was at the age at which I wanted to appear deep, multi-layered, complicated. It would have made up for being a wallflower. My friend was extremely pretty albeit in a less conventional way for that time: she had unruly hair and a brilliant complexion, large dark eyes and a pretty mouth. However she was chubby and heavy boned, and her mother constantly harassed her about going on a diet. A diet wouldn’t have touched those muscular calves anyway.
“You will not take the easy route. You will meet someone and the two of you will swim upstream.”
My friend was not as timid as me. “When?”
The fortune teller looked at her Mickey Mouse watch and stood. “Sorry girls, I have client coming. So nice to meet you.”
As we came to the sidewalk, a large limousine pulled up. The driver got out and opened the back door for a well-groomed man in a suit who went into the psychic’s house. Before the front door closed we heard her greet him with enthusiasm and we stared at each other. The appearance of this apparently wealthy client elevated our opinion of the psychic and then we started to wonder why on earth she had asked us in.
I realize now it was our first experience of being used and cast aside by an adult, however gently: she had a few minutes, she wanted to be amused, she didn’t want to drink alone, she came out ten dollars ahead...whatever her reasons, we were brushed aside when something more profitable, or interesting, or with more status appeared.
In a few years we were following her example whole-heartedly. One of us brushed aside the other for a boyfriend; the other brushed the first aside to sleep with the same boyfriend. Studies took us on diverging paths and the last time we saw each other was in first year university, over forty years ago. I don’t know if it’s my girlfriend that I miss, or the city of that decade, or the ability to thoroughly enjoy whatever it is that I’m doing at the moment.
The only thing I would change about that day is that I would have accepted the beer.
Michele Hamilton is a former proofreader and copywriter (a LONG time ago!) who lives in Oakville and is now trying to rediscover her first love, creative writing. She studies music.
See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Alliston, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Georgina, Guelph, Hamilton, Jackson’s Point, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, New Tecumseth, Oakville, Ottawa, St. Catharines, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.
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