A young career woman, tired of her life and disgusted with the passive and boring person she's become, goes to a carnival to enjoy herself--take some risks, perhaps find some reason to stand up for herself. She finds just that, but not how she intended. She finds it in the form of a fortune teller who curses her.
She had almost passed the lavish purple tent on her way out of the carnival without noticing it. Better that she'd kept walking.
Twelve years she'd lived on her own. Barely a friend to speak of, besides her sister who visited on Sundays for their communal movie night, so much as communal meant to her. It wasn't the loneliness that got to her but the passivity, the shyness, her lifestyle had forced into her. And so she'd set out to prove to herself she could take risks, have fun. She'd visited a traveling carnival on her own. That's all. This from a woman who sprayed the doorknobs in her house daily with disinfectant, a woman who hadn't received a raise in four years and never brought it up with her boss. It wasn't that she didn't want to ask for a raise but that she could never quite convince herself she deserved it.
So, as one would expect, the carnival was, at first, a failure. The Ferris Wheel she had managed to conquer, but the Zipper intimidated her to a point she'd left the line before reaching the front three times.
On her way out, a bit disappointed with the night, she'd looked over her shoulder at a man. None of this amounted to the liberating adventure she'd envisioned. Certainly she would never talk to the man, another missed opportunity, but at least looking couldn't hurt. On second look, the man was quite ugly, but behind him was the purple tent. A twinkling black sign above the entrance read: Know Your Future Successes And Failures In Advance! and in a smaller font, beneath that, The Real Thing! Carla stopped, turned, and then walked over. The air around it smelled vaguely of incense. She went in.
A haggard voice greeted her instantly. "You are skeptical."
In a rocking chair to the far side of the tent was an ancient, dark skinned woman in an extravagant gypsy ensemble. "I don't like telling for skeptics," she said.
"Should it matter if I'm paying you?" Carla asked.
The fortune teller smiled, bared her jagged, rotten teeth. "Sit please."
Carla took a seat.
The old woman reached into a wicker bowl on the table between them and retrieved a match. She stood, then circled the room lighting several candles hidden amongst the clutter of strange items throughout the place. She switched off the electric lights.
"Oh, God," Carla said. "Isn't this a bit--I don't know--stock? I mean, candles, a dark room. Scary!"
"This is what I must do. If you'd like to leave--"
"No thanks." She put a twenty on the table. "Carry on."
The woman gave her a look of utter contempt, and then resumed.
So Carla felt a bit like she was bullying a senior citizen. Maybe because it was clear she could easily defend herself from this woman should one of her comments elicit a physical confrontation. But the woman had obviously seen many years and could likely take Carla's snappy remarks in stride. Even so, Carla remained quiet for the rest of the old woman's silly preparations. Carla, after all, wanted to grow a backbone, not become an abuser of pensioners.
After a perfunctory ceremony, Carla learned she would live a life the same in fifty years as now and never anything else. The old woman's rant was actually intriguing. What she said may have even been true would Carla never change anything herself, but being here tonight meant she was already looking to make changes. She'd bought the self-help book a month ago. Come to think of it, she was well on her way. But the fortune teller had struck a familiar note. That the reading was entirely bogus didn't matter.
There was a period of silence following the reading. Carla wore an expression of deep thought. The old woman stared at her, expressionless.
"Good guess. Yes, my life has been boring."
"It always will be, dear."
"Tonight is part of my plan to change it, actually. In fact--"
"No matter," the woman interrupted. "You are you and you will die regretting it. And it was not a guess."
Carla shot her an angry glance, then stood and turned toward the door. She meant to leave, because that was what she would normally do, but the situation begged for a different response. A left turn, perhaps, after twelve years of rights.
"Do you have something against me?"
The old woman was sifting through her wicker bowl of curious knick-knacks and seemed to have considered Carla gone already.
Carla raised her voice. "Do you have a problem?"
The old woman looked up. "You paid to learn of your future and so you did."
"Bullshit. You study people's demeanor and clothing and whatever else you do and assume what you can from it. I've seen shows."
"I do not offer refunds if that is what you want."
"You're a scam. I'm going to complain."
"Do you have a problem with me?"
"Yes I do. You're a scam. I just said that. And you don't even make people happy like fortune tellers are supposed to do."
"I am not a fortune teller."
"I know that already. Are you not listening?"
"I am something, but not that."
"Wow you're dense. I know that already. You're a scam artist. I hope you go out of business. Yes--I'm going to help you go out of business."
"Why?" the old woman asked as if she was actually surprised by this.
"Unbelievable. Because I don't like you. I don't like your type."
They stared into the eyes of each other, both reluctant to break the fix. The old woman's mouth trembled slightly. Carla wanted to smile but didn't.
It was the old woman who broke it first, looking down at something she'd retrieved from her bowl. In her hand was some old relic like a small doll's head. She was studying it closely. The bottom lid of each of her eyes began to well tears; a single tear broke, slid to her chin, and hung there. She looked back to Carla, her face an image of wretchedness. Bloodshot were her eyes, and when she spoke her voice unsteady.
"Would a different future help?"
"It--it might. I'm sorry. Really. I didn't mean--"
"Then I will give you one," the old woman interrupted. She stepped toward Carla and leaned in close, their faces inches apart.
"You will commit suicide," the old woman said.
"Oh? And why would I do that?"
"I am going to make you."
"Will you make me listen to another pitiful fortune telling? That could work."
The old woman dismissed Carla with a distracted wave and then walked, hunched, through a beaded curtain to some back room.