We’ve had quite a few spiritualists set up camp in the corner of the bar over the years, and no matter how mundane their presence has become, spreading their table-tents throughout the dining room, I’m always intrigued by the confidence these women (why are they always women?) radiate.
“Psychic Readings by Patricia” written in a sleek font on a white isosceles triangle with $20 on the back.
“Tarot Tonight! $10,” handwritten on colored construction paper below a stamped-out star.
“Ask the ‘Whispering Angels,’ $15” in purple flowery writing on a pink and light gray card.
I imagine ancient people once making pilgrimages to these women on some craggy mountain peak or jungle lair, seeking guidance from the oracle to determine the fate of nations. It’s fun to think maybe I have been hanging out with the modern reincarnation of Pythia every Wednesday night who, in this life, has been forced to take on a more conventional role as mother, chit-chatting about psychic hotline contracts, or her daughter’s boyfriends to a lowly barkeep.
“OK, here we go: the Queen of Cups,” Patricia said as she dealt the tarot cards chosen by her newest subject—a young woman in a business suit. She flipped another. “Uh oh, the Devil. Don’t worry. This mean-looking guy isn’t really as bad as he seems. Think of him as nothing but a manifestation of negative energy, and that could mean a lot of things, all of which aren’t that bad. Oh, look! Wow! Look at this! Because it follows the Queen of Cups, which represents a huge abundance of positivity, it looks like whatever negativity you are met with—maybe something of yours will be stolen or you might have an important meeting with someone who is in a really bad mood—you’ll be so wrapped up in a thick blanket of good energy that you shouldn’t have too much trouble overriding him. You might even be able to turn some frowns … upside down.”
I stopped eavesdropping as two girls came in, looking around nervously, as if unsure they wanted to stay.
“Hello, ladies,” I said. “How are you tonight?”
“We good,” the taller of the two replied, still scanning the room.
“Dinner for two?” I asked.
Eyeing up two stools with easy access to overhear the reading, they each took a seat.
“Got any Alize?” one asked.
Sort of an unusual request these days, but I was happy someone had been thinking ahead to this potential moment when they bought the lone bottle hidden behind the cognacs. “How would you like it?
“With some tonic,” she said.
“Coming right up,” I said, losing myself in the method: choosing an appropriate glass, filling it with ice, pouring in the blue booze, topping it off with quinine, dropping a cocktail napkin, putting in a couple of swizzle sticks, and placing it before her.
Turning to the other girl, I asked what she would like. Caught up in the bizarre spectacle of the psychic, she seemed surprised by the question.
The taller girl jabbed her shoulder and she sprang alert. “Huh, oh. No, nothin’.”
“What’s your name?” the taller girl asked me. “I think I saw you somewhere else. You ever been on TV or somethin’?”
I fell for it. “No, but thank you very much,” I said, trying to conceal my blush before going back to rearranging my station.
A short time later, I noticed the newcomer had barely touched her drink.
“Is your cocktail OK?” I asked, thinking the combination odd from the start.
“Nah, I don’t know what it is,” she said, her smile turning into distaste. “Somethin’ don’t taste right. I don’t know what it is….”
Taking it off the bar, I held it up to a candle. It looked exactly the way I imagined Alize and tonic would look. Going back over to examine the bottle, I poured a little over ice and drank it straight. My nose winced at the sweet, orange flavor.
“Would you like to try something else? I think this stuff is supposed to be served extremely cold—or maybe it’s the tonic?”
I dumped the glass into the sink below the bar, waiting for her verdict.
“Nah, we’re just gonna go,” she said. “How much was that drink?”
“Sheee-it! Nah, we best be heading out. But thanks anyway, baby.”
Leaving a dollar on the bar, they walked out laughing back and forth, and smiling.
Five minutes or so later, the psychic finished up, smiling happily to see that her new customer was pleased.
“Thank you very much,” the young woman said, reaching around to the back of her chair for her purse. “I just have to say, ‘Wow! How did you know all that? I am truly amazed.’” Then as an afterthought, she asked, “How much is it?”
“Fifteen dollars,” Patricia said, smiling. “I don’t know if you are interested, but, here, take my card, and if you think you might be interested in having a private party, I do whoever is hosting the party for free. The rest pay $50 for a full half hour reading.”
“Thanks,” the girl replied, rummaging through her purse.
Thirty seconds later, the truth set in.
“For some reason, all of my cash is gone—and my credit cards!”
Stunned, Patricia asked, “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I know I had plenty of money when I got here because I just went to the ATM!”
They both looked at me desperately.
“Where were your ‘whispering angels’ on that one?” I mumbled under my breath as I ran outside to an empty sidewalk. When I came back inside, shaking my head, the girl looked ready to cry. My stomach felt like it had been hollowed out with a drill.
“Oh, that’s so awful,” Patricia said. “Here, take this, my number and address are on the card. Just send me a check.”
Joel Finsel is the author of “Cocktails and Conversations from the Astral Plane,” and writes creative short stories, essays and musings every other week in encore throughout 2014.