I still like this scene, but I couldn’t find a place in the story where it really belonged. My affection for Madame Serena almost clouded my judgment. 🙂
I had emerged from the dank underground of the subway—the Christopher Street stop in the Village—blinking at the sunlight and cursing myself for not bringing my sunglasses along with my umbrella, when a disheveled twenty-something guy in an NYU sweatshirt stained with…I really didn’t want to know…shoved a flyer in my face. Madame Serena—Psychic. Card and palm readings $30. Pricey, considering my crumbling financial foundation, but I needed to shake things up, try something new, live in the moment, a practice that didn’t come easily to me.
I looked back up at the flyer guy and he pointed across the avenue before turning his attentions to the next customer emerging from the subway, only to be ignored. Following his wordless directions, I spotted a sandwich sign that echoed the flyer in bright red letters, perched on the sidewalk. The traffic light changed to green and I weaved my way through pedestrian traffic and ducked into a faded storefront. Crossing the threshold, I parted the curtain of ruby-red beads, hesitated and entered the musty den of predictions. The tinkling of the curtain closing behind me announced my entrance, and the mingled scents of Turkish coffee and incense filled my head. As my eyes adjusted to the dimly lit room, I glanced around—the perfect blend of creepy and low-rent cheesy: the hot plate in the corner on the tapestry-covered table, the dangling electric wires surrounded by countless psychic tchotchkes. A fire hazard. A disaster just waiting to happen. But rather than detracting from the ambiance, the oddities added to it.
Madame Serena sat in the corner on an old wooden milking stool, watching the door as if she expected me. She smiled, nodded in the direction of the table pushed against the back wall and said, “Sit, sit, my pretty girl.” The accent was fitting—real or fake, I couldn’t tell. Her face was well worn, but it was impossible to pinpoint her age in the darkened room. The smell of just-emptied ashtrays suggested a hard-core smoker. Her crepey skin and gravelly voice left no doubt. With her pink velour jogging suit and her rat’s nest hair, she was dressed more for a trip to WalMart than the task at hand, though the noisy bangles cluttering her sun-speckled arms seemed appropriate. I was second-guessing my impulsive decision to walk through the door, when she stood up, came over and put her hand on my shoulder, led me over to the tapestry-covered table and said, “Madame Serena helps all.” I had lost my nerve to make a quick exit, so I took a seat in the creaky folding chair, reached in my purse for my wallet and handed over three crisp ten-dollar bills, which she folded and slipped inside her bountiful cleavage.
“Shuffle,” she said, as she handed me the cards. “Good energy.”
Feeling spectacularly foolish and already regretting the loss of thirty dollars, I shuffled the cards and handed them back to her. She spread them out on the table and methodically turned them face up, one-by-one. A tarot virgin, I was clueless…except for that walking skeleton.
“Is good. Is good,” she said, as she caught me staring at it “Not for to die. One door close, one open. Good things for you, after the bad.”
The bad? This whole thing was a bad idea. I wanted to get the hell out of there. She could keep my money. As I formulated my exit speech, she closed her eyes and began delivering her pronouncements in suddenly impeccable English. “You will realize your full potential. You will experience a change in fortune and move in a different direction in your life. You will fulfill your destiny and see life’s threads weave together.” She frowned, opened her eyes and looked at the cards, then at me, “You will have an unexpected encounter, experience desire, and respond with passion.”
I felt a reluctant wave of disappointment at her collection of wrung-out clichés, though I’m not sure what it was I had expected. She locked her eyes on mine and with a fleeting look of—was it concern?—took my hand and placed a tiny trinket in my palm, carefully folding my fingers over it. “Take. Keep always to protect.”
Protect? From what? Before I could ask, she rose from her chair, motioned in the direction of the door, her bracelets jangling. “You go now.” She was shooing me away, giving me the heave-ho before I had time to ask any probing questions. She had quite a racket going; About $120 an hour by my calculations. Maybe I should look into it as a career option. I scooted back from the table, rose from the chair and exited the same way I had entered. Incense trailed me out onto the sidewalk. Again in the sunlight, I blinked as I unfurled my fingers and stared at object in my palm. A tiny bronze hand with a blue eye engraved in the center. A trinket for a young girl’s charm bracelet? Then I remembered Aysel, a woman from Turkey I worked with during my brief stint at the record company, who wore something similar around her neck. It was a “hamsa,” a common good luck charm in her part of the world. “It protects you from the ‘evil eye,’” she had explained, “triggered by a person’s envy of something or someone belonging to you.”
The uneasy look on Madame Serena’s face as she handed it to me had wormed its way under my skin. I was never one to knock on wood, carry a rabbit’s foot or search for four-leaf clovers—and the tarot prediction about a passionate stranger was just a tad too kitschy for me. But, like watching a Paranormal Activity movie, I didn’t have to believe in that stuff for it to keep me awake at night.