At 4:30 the kids and I are running about catching chickens and securing carafes of coffee and starting the car and hopping in and putting some Old Time Mystery Radio on the iPod. We have to be in the sewing shop before 6 PM to pick up my little Juki machine after its repair. I think Ralph and the kids and I love roadtrips quite a bit: especially when there’s an element of hurry, dashing along on some errand and a bit of shopping (more on this later) and for just a brief evening we can escape the clutches of the house and buy something or eat something that feeds my joie de vivre, an experience of vitality I can’t always summon with my hands in dishwater. OK, at this point, I realize I am talking about me entirely and I’m not sure how much the others like the whole thing, after all.
Despite missing the closing time of the shop by a handful of minutes, the proprietor (who’s owned the business for a long time; hanging above the counter is an old smudgy picture of him from back when he was thinner and had hair) has waited for us. Thank goodness. Downtown and Nels wakes up from his impromptu car nap and he’s hungry and just yelling and wailing and I have that flash of brilliance in knowing he won’t stop doing so until he has food in his face (and I’m right!). And the kids are cold because they didn’t bring coats and Olympia is chillier than Hoquiam was and Ralph strips off his coat and his outer shirt and wraps each kid and the kids walk through the streets, their eyes bright and everything about them perfect and precise in their self-ness. We are on our way to the beauty shop where I buy my current hair color (since I went yellow people are often asking me the name of this color, I don’t remember these queries when my color’s name did not involve an expletive) which again, I can’t find in my little HQX. The woman at the counter gives it to me gratis as the concoction has sat on the shelf for a while and she can’t vouch for its quality. And that’s nice, because free stuff is nice! And we’re still hungry and Nels is still loud but things are OK, Ralph and I are functioning well. And as he orders hot dogs at his favorite downtown stand and Sophie and I move off to find our favorite downtown pizza place.
And in between the hot dogs and the restaurant Ralph and I start on an Upsetting Conversation that is destined to go on for much of the evening. As these things happen the conversation has parts that are relevant and must be discussed, and parts that seem like so many tired and angry words thrown about, nothing permanently damaging but portions of bitterness and virtriol and hopelessness. As this unfolds I’m sitting in a restaurant I rather like, smashing pizza into my face because I’ve barely eaten and I’m shaky with hunger, yet I can hardly taste the stuff even though I love it, and at the end of the business I feel like my husband actually ruined my meal by being someone I don’t like very much. Except it was me that ruined it, because after all these years of being a person I often don’t know how to sequence, to push my physical hunger and mundane irritations aside and apologize to my husband about something (which I did, but not as quickly as I’d have liked) and be present and focused for him and for the time it takes then slide my pizza slice back toward me and enjoy my repast, because I love food and I hate to waste good food, which I just did.
After our dinner we visit our current favorite little Oly coffee shop and while I order drinks a strange (as in, not known to me previously) woman gently places her hand on my shoulder and says, “May I…?”, gesturing to my children. I say Yes, having no idea what she’s talking about, but hey, I’m quick to volunteer up my babies for whatever. I observe she’s set up a table in the corner of the shop: incense (actually expensive-smelling and richly appealing, not dusty and assy), a carafe of water, a deck of cards – and tea cups and saucers. Vaguely I remember I’d seen a flyer about the place, advertising tea leaf reading (yes! This is tasseomancy, as my post title alludes) and it clicks. Here is, then, a Fortune Teller.
I order the coffee and walk over; Nels, fresh from a car-nap and completely a bundle of energy, has picked up her tea cups and is handling them vigorously, if not ungently. I know he won’t drop them but, like I explained later to the children, picking up her tea cups is a bit like handling the dentists’ instruments: rude, mostly. Hang back, Little Guy. I ask him to read the little cardboard sign she has on the table. He is so keyed-up he can’t focus on the sign, which is pretty keyed-up for him as he’s an expert reader. My daughter steps in, saying, “It says ‘Tea Leaf Readings’, Nels.” He pauses and takes that in. “Do you know what that means?” I ask the kids. Sophie thinks for half a beat and says in her very adult way with her baby-duck voice, “After you drink hot tea there are leavings in the cup, and someone with special skills can interpret them and tell you about your future.” I am not kidding, this actually came out of my seven year old’s face! I ask the Fortune Teller if we have to drink our own tea to have our leavings read and she says yes; alas, we are there for coffee only, which is ready now and I walk over to retrieve it.
As I pay for the the drinks, the woman again asks my permission to do something with my children. I grant it and watch as she takes an Oracle deck (illustrated with very striking art; I discover at the end of the session she’d made the cards herself) and gracefully shuffles it. She asks each child to close their eyes, make a wish, and tap the deck. They do so. Then she deals – if you can call it that – six cards, face down, and tells the children she will give them a reading. Nels, finally, is still for this.
My daughter is circumspect and attentive. The Fortune Teller begins to turn the cards over. Sophie is told that she is a cautious and careful person; the card that led to this diagnosis shows a chess piece. Then: in the near future my daughter must take care to avoid things with germs on them (I’m thinking the neighbor boy, who comes over often and has some kind of stomach problem and uses our bathroom often and doesn’t wash his hands, but whatever). Finally the woman reveals the third card, sits, and then tells my daughter, “The Universe is going to present you with opportunities that will benefit you.” Sophie is straight, her eyes direct, her posture calm and perfect and accepting. I’m thinking This is crazy, my kids! My children! They are incredible!
Next the Fortune Teller overturns three cards to for Nels’ reading. And my son is… I don’t know how to put this, but spiritually cowed. I have never seen anyone bigger than Nels and this woman, through persistence and calm and direct eye contact, beguiles him into settling. He leaves the reading impressed and quiet. She has told him: he must learn to slow down, and listen, because he will hear a still voice inside him: his Intuition. “This place is in my nightmares,” Nels says to her, but he does not mean this in a fearful or dramatic way. It is spoken calmly, and indeed the coffee shop – which is beautiful – is dark, and odd, and has crystal doorknobs set in random intervals in the dried-blood red ceiling, and this is what Nels gestures toward when he says “nightmares”.
I appreciate this woman’s work and I ask the children if we should pay her. We place a bill in a glass jar she has set for the purpose. The woman bows a bit and says, “Thank you for your generosity,” and perhaps in gratitude for these wages, or because the reading of the children went according to her satisfaction, she presents the children with a gift: a small crystal ball they’d noticed earlier and cited as one looking like those juggled in the 80’s fantasy film Labrynth. The kids thank her; she instructs them to share with one another (something my children do very well in most cases, being one another’s Evil Twin and loving much of the same things). Being a parent, I have been witness to my children receiving gifts, and no matter the offered item I am always humbled by the generosity of friends, family, and strangers. The kids talk to her a bit more about the film and I quip to the Fortune Teller, “Do you have any David Bowies in tight pants in your bag?”* because I Am Immature and seriously why does this film keep coming up? and the woman laughs her low laugh and says, “I wish!”
And I tell her we’ll be back another Tuesday night, and have some tea. We say farewell and I’m back outside kind of … stunned, again, at life’s tiny meetings that so often make an indelible impression.
*I’m not going to link to that! Neither photos nor the many, many homemade drawings that have been rendered!