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12 Aug

Kristina. Astrologer. The brand new door plate looks nice. Shiny. Can’t help smiling every morning when I get here. It’s me. My office. And my job. Yep.

Some people might call me a crook. I rather consider myself as a dream seller. It’s an interesting balance between telling the customer what he wants to hear and saying what he already knows, the art being in making it not sound obvious. It has to come as a revelation, from the other person, not as a given from me. Subtle. Managing a bit of suspense, planting some obstacles in the way of the conclusion. Quest designer, that’s what I am. Lighting up little parcels of randomness that shine like the white pebbles in the fairy tale, guiding people on the way of life. Make people spot them, recognize them as signs and walk the way with a lighter heart.

And make a bit of money, too, sure. Just enough to rent the attic upstairs, that perfect take off place for my own dreams: looking out of the windows and watching other people’s lives under the tin roofs, in the fancy apartments below the maid’s rooms, down in the street where they hurry in all directions like busy ants or linger on benches. Imagining their life’s stories, over and over again.

Astrologer is not an easy job, but it’s fun and very creative: it’s like living a hundred stories a week and working on a better ending. Time to start my day! Getting my morning tea while waiting for the first client. Early clients are always special. And here she comes. A woman, in her 50s. She looks grey as if the light has been switched off her. Betting on a love story, I look at her very carefully. Her big blue eyes. My heart skips a beat. She talks. I can’t make much sense of what she says, hypnotized by these blue eyes. Picking up some keywords. Child. Gone. Left without a note. She has looked everywhere. Now trying this. Why not? Sure, why not. Let’s see. Focus on your runaway child and pick up a card. The sun, good! She’s happy and shining away. No evil befell her. She’s fine, no worries. Why does she not call or write? Send some kind of message? Second card. Hermit. She needs some time on her own to build peace and confidence again. To follow up with her story. Something happened and she’s got to digest it. Give her time.

The woman is lost in her past now. Dreaming away. When she gets back to the present, she seems to wake up. Her eyes fall on my blue eyes. And she understands. I can feel her heart skipping a beat. She opens her mouth but closes it, respecting my decision. She knows and I know that she knows but she lets me do the first step if I’m ready. No hostility, no offended pain, only hope. Hope that happiness would flow again, as easy and generous as the morning sun in summer. Right. It’s time for summer to come back.

Hi Mum, missed you too!


The Silence

8 Aug

Sometimes I feel like I can’t quite get comfortable in my chair. I’m not hungry. I’m not thirsty. I’m not tired. And yet something feels completely … off. As if the world is spinning crookedly on its axis and nobody else can tell, but I’m constantly leaning to one side to compensate. I itch to sit straight up.

This happens every year. It’s my mother’s birthday. She is turning 50.

I do her chart again. I have done this so many times I don’t even pay attention as my hands lay out the numbers, the stars, the planets, the predictions. My mother is suffering. The stars tell me. I hear them, and I do listen. But I don’t call her.

He doesn’t mean to hurt you. He loves you. Don’t worry, he really does love you. Her words echo in my ears.

I put the chart away and lock up my little office. For the 10th time since leaving home, I open my mind across the thousands of miles and encourage her to say, “It’s over. I have had enough.”

My phone doesn’t ring either.

Following a Star

6 Aug

I was sitting directly in front of my feeble rotating fan when the doorbell rang. It was one of those hot July days where you can feel each drop of sweat coming out of your pores and your clothes stick to your skin.

“Coming,” I called out.

I sat for another few seconds lifting my pits to catch the vague breeze, then got up and went to the screen door.

“Hey,” I said.

On my porch stood a tired-looking man wearing a sweat-stained golf shirt, holding a bunch of creased fliers on pink paper.

“Hi!” he said, with a somewhat forced smile.

I held open the door, “How can I help you?”

“My name’s Pastor Malcolm. I’m from the New Hope church up the street? We’re having a bake sale tomorrow! And You’re Invited!” he said, as if I were a special guest. He held out a damp flier toward me.

I took the flier and glanced at it. “I’m Kristina. I’m the neighborhood psychic,” I replied, smiling too broadly. I always bristled in the presence of organized religion, and that reply usually put them off.

His face, at first stunned, broke into a disarming smile. He asked, “So, how do you predict this bake sale will do?”

I paused and glanced upwards, as if beseeching some spirit, and replied, “Lemonade would be a better idea.”

He laughed.

I found myself saying, “Speaking of which, want some?” and holding the screen door open further.

And so it began. I invited Malcolm in for a cold drink and the small relief of my rattling fan. Despite our skepticism about each other’s professions,  we discovered we had a lot in common. Both of our jobs entailed listening to people’s troubles and providing hope. It meant we had to bear the searing criticism of non-believers and believers alike. We shared the heartbreak and folly of our “followers”. We talked about our own struggles with authenticity when struggling with our own faith in what we did. We talked about loneliness. We’d both lost people. We’d both grieved.

“Screw ’em all,” I said, attempting to sound cavalier and bold. (I felt a strange sense of indulgence swearing in front of this pastor.)

He gave me a wan smile. One that let me know he didn’t have that luxury. That he could only bless. Only be kind.

“The thing is, Kristina,” Malcolm said, twisting his cotton handkerchief into a tight spiral, “I don’t know if it’s right. My congregation… I don’t know… Sometimes, I hate my job.”

“Do you really want to know what I think?” I asked.

“You don’t understand,” he groaned. “They all knew Marissa. They all loved her. They all … She was… the perfect pastor’s wife.”

I shook my head. “So what you’re telling me is that you think you don’t have the right to love again?” I put my hand on his and said, “You do. Surely your God thinks so too.”

He looked back at me, his eyes filled with tears, and his thumb brushed my finger. He got up abruptly, “I have to go.”

When he reached the door he looked back at me, and I said, louder than intended, “Come back any time, when you want to talk about … a bake sale.”

The Night Shift

2 Aug

The lampposts along East Thirty-Third Street began to brighten from a dull flicker to an amber glow. Kristina smiled at the elderly cab driver as he rounded the corner to continue his night’s work, knowing she would be doing the same. The chains lightly clanked against the glass door as she locked it tight, the wooden sign with the words “Sorry, We Are Closed” now facing the icy sidewalk as the auburn beauty walked towards the register.

Any other day after closing up shop for the night, Kristina would play a record and sing along as she counted the till and dance with the broomstick as she swept up flour from the tile floor. Though wearing her favorite knee-high go-go boots and a heavy-knit turtleneck dress, she would easily crisscross about the room with her apron strings floating behind her like a kite tail; unfortunately, whether she liked it or not, this night was best spent in silence. “How can you stand that blaring racket, Krissy?!” her mother would yell from the kitchen of their old Lower East Side efficiency. Kristina remembered those days well, the days spent fearing to show a smile: too wide and she was rubbing her happiness in her unfulfilled mother’s face; too small and she was showing her mother her ungratefulness.

It had been nearly 15 years since the eviction and over a decade since she last saw her mother, but the smell of the bakery’s pilot lights took her mind back to her old life. It was a life that caused more bruises, scratches and concussions than she would like to think about. After every one-sided bout, Kristina would retreat to the linoleum-tiled kitchen for ice or cold water to soothe her aches. Oftentimes she would sleep there, against the avocado green-colored oven or water-heater for warmth. There was barely enough room on the living room loveseat for her mother and whichever gentleman was staying the night, not to mention a school-aged girl.

The clock chimed nine GONGS as Kristina untied her apron, folding it neatly on a shelf by the refrigerator. She snatched her red pea coat from the coat tree on her way out the door. Carefully holding a twine-tied box of lemon squares under her arm, she checked that the bakery door was locked before turning her back on it.

Turning onto Lexington Avenue, Kristina’s stomach turned into knots. Any other night, this would be a carefree walk to her after-hours job. The disco kings and coke-stoned ladies were easy clientele for a mid-town astrologer like herself. Tonight was different, as she had reminded herself for hours, for days, for weeks, for years. It had been over a decade since she last saw her mother through the plate glass at Riker’s Island, and as the neon sign screaming “Kristal Stargazer” came more into focus, so did the diminutive silhouette beneath it.

A Circle and a Square

1 Aug

Devin was two and he hadn’t met his grandma. She had Venus in Aries which led her to bolt to decisions, and the Grand Square had been triggered worse than ever by her Jupiter return three years ago, so, predictably – a trip over land over water over mountains to the east.

He looked so cute in a baseball cap, a navy blue cap on a blue-eyed toehead and a sky blue little polo shirt and when he ran across the green grass in his dark blue elastic waisted pants his little diaper-puffed butt sashayed like a duck tail waddle.

But his grandma just couldn’t take one more year of the arid summers. Damn square. Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter and summer were always too inconvenient for a visit. But there is water on Jupiter, as it turns out.  So we must remember knowledge is always limited, and that’s why we have faith.  People do change, so as the universe expands, so should possibilities with people.

Thursday the big power moon was coming to tweak its blessing on the mother-daughter relationship. Today she would call her mom and suggest Skype.

Wishes can be mushy.  Wishes can twist.  Wishes are magical only as they are wished. “Oh but that’s such a cold way to visit,” she said, “I really want to see him, touch his little hands,” she said,  “I’m thinking I’ll visit this springtime.”

Devin was pulling off his cap and sitting down on the floor in that seemingly involuntary way that toddlers abruptly sit down.  He was inspecting the brim, scratching at the stitching with his tiny fingernails. Kristina inhaled to encourage the visit but her mother interrupted, “Though spring is the best time of year to be right here in Boston.  And your summers are so hot.”


27 Jul

Kristina had always been fascinated by the sky she sat in her relaxing room, feet curled up underneath her drinking coffee in a giant cup, relaxing after her last client she looked out of the window at the patch of blue that she could see between the trees that line the street the rest of it blocked out by the buildings across the street, and thought to herself Its kind of funny really that the thing I make my living from is not something I can even see sitting looking out of the window, I suppose it’s hardly surprising that I am feeling deflated and blocked, I barely see the sky from here she said to herself maybe I should move my office somewhere with a better view.

Still she continued to stare up at that tiny patch of blue, and as her mind relaxed she remembered lying in long grass as a child staring at the sky, and the clouds and then at night with her father gazing up at the stars as he showed her how to identify the constellations. “See Kristina there is the plough, the north star, the bear, Orion, Gemini, that bright one there that’s Saturn. It takes 29 years or there’s about to travel round the sun it will be gone again soon and you will be a woman before you see it again, when it does,  come see me so we can stare at it together like this again.” she used to love those times lying in the long grass the coolness of the night after a long hot day chewing grass shoots.  “how did they get there dad? How many are there?” he laughed gently “hush child you are always so full of questions, lie quiet and take it all in, you know that the lord created us and everything around us enjoy the beauty of his creation”. And they would lie there in quiet contemplation and companionship until mum would call them in to bed.  I was such a daddy’s girl she smiled sadly to herself it’s funny the things you remember she thought.

Her mother was always much sterner, strict and stiff with her somehow, the feeling always made her uncomfortable somehow they never quite understood each other, mummy was very religious though and things became so much worse when just two weeks after her 16th birthday her father died, mummy if possible became even more locked in and frozen, in grief, in life in so many ways and the whole turning to god thing? Well that just got worse. She had nothing against religion per say or god or a creator or anything else that people believed but it did not seem to do anything beneficial for her, or her mother in fact when like any other teenage girl looking for answers she started looking to the stars for answers, it started just reading them in the papers and magazines her mother caught her and went ballistic! “This stuff is from the devil girl, I won’t allow this rubbish in the house! I forbid it, I will never talk to you again if you defy me” and dragged her off to the reverend for cleansing.

However she was hooked a need to know and learn and understand every thing, why and what controlled things that happened in life, of course mummy found out, and was true to her word, she had not spoken to her mum in .ten years it was sad that she could not understand the connection it gave her with dad.  She often thought about going out to the farm taking the twins, she was missing out on so much of life and being an only child there was really no one else. And she missed her in a strange way, it had been playing on her mind a lot lately she did not really know why it often got in the way of her charts and work these days.  Gazing at the sky again for answers she did a quick calculation.  Saturn was coming back into the sky a new cycle round the sun, has it really been that long? She thought to herself. Well maybe I should go see daddy like he asked me.  I shall sit with him a while and we shall watch the stars like the old days, maybe he always knew this would happen, and that I would need an excuse to go home.

In the Shop of Woo

26 Jul

“So. What do you charge?” The woman put her hands on where her hips used to be. Plaid golf shorts, three kids and the time it took to turn brown hair to salt and pepper had worked to round her frame. Kristina thought she was spritely for an old woman.

“It depends on the depth.” Kristina answered while using the natural moisture of her hands to pick up grains of sand from the shop counter. “I can do a basic chart for fifty and go up to a very in depth chart for three hundred. That one comes with a written guide I will provide for you, and another free consultation in case any questions arise after the first.”

“I have a website right here.”The sprite held out her smartphone.  “It asks for my birthday with exact time and the longitude and latitude of my birth location. How is what it will give me for free any different than what you charge fifty dollars for?” The sprite had turned into a harpy.

“Listen, I have to work here to make a living. Nobody can make a living anymore with astrology because people think websites can do it all.” Kristina lifted her arm to indicate the shop around her. When her hand reached the end of the sweep, the broken end of the hourglass on the counter scratched and drew blood. As she pressed the scratch of one hand with the other she looked like a very sincere beggar.

“The website can’t do it all? What can you do that’s better? I hope your hand is okay.” The harpy turned into an innocuous  crone and Kristina softened.

“I can help you with your relationship with your mother for one.” Embarrassed by betraying herself and revealing her gift, Kristina avoided eye contact and looked at the counter through the awkward silence that followed.

“Okay then.” Said the crone. “Three hundred is the top of the line then?”

Kristina finally made eye contact and was relieved to see the deep wrinkles around the crone’s smiling eyes. “Well, yeah, but since she’s been dead for, what, twenty years at least, I’ll cut you a deal for half.”

Through the window outside of the shop two women inside could be seen carefully shaking hands.

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