Write about a fortune-teller.
March 21 prompt, “A Writer’s Book of Days”
Purple gypsy scarves, bangles and jangles and turbans. They weren’t for her.
Hers is a long line of ancestors in fortune-telling. Some were legit. Some were in it for show, donning those scarves of spaghetti fringe and rainbow beads and a thousand bracelets that clacked with every twist of the wrist.
Serafina sometimes felt burdened her ancestry, her special talents, her gifts. At times, they were a curse, as any gift that truly differentiates you from the masses is. Giftedness brings loneliness.
To relieve herself of that burden, she knitted or tended to mourning doves. About 20 of ’em in a walk-in aviary in the backyard of her 1-bedroom house. The house is the size of a postcard; the backyard real estate though makes up for it. It’s three times the size of her house!
The cooing of doves, their gentle guttural churnings and their varied vocalizations sooth her. They make this sound when she arrives with a pan of seed, another sound when they’re threatened, another sound when communicating danger, and still another sound when contented.
The doves, though not the brightest bird in the world, were at least honest, she thought. Like all animals. No facade. No deceptions. No manipulations. No personal agendas.
Unlike people, what you see in animals is who they are.
Serafina was an expert fortune-teller. The real deal. Like her doves. No flash. No fancy-schmancy dramatics that so, too, many clients sought and believed characterize a good fortune-teller.
Too many fortune-tellers belong in the business of acting rather than in the art of insight and predictions, thought Serafina a thousand times.
Some people will do anything for a buck and many will pay the bucks for a good show instead of authenticity. These facts depressed her but what could Serafina do? Certainly not impart wisdom upon the human race!
Like those of her mother and both grandmothers and their mothers and so on down the line back in time, Serafina’s tool was nothing but a simple deck of 52 playing cards. The very one and same used by men in countless poker games through time and in her families too.
Instructions on the meaning of each card began early. Just around 7-1/2 years old, she was. Both grandmothers and mother assembled around the kitchen table beckoning Serafina to take a seat.
Enticements included a plate of gingersnap cookies, homemade of course — her favorite — and a chilled glass of ginger ale. Also homemade. “Come, sit,” Grandma Amber would say, taping a seat with the palm of her hand.
As a girl, Serafina was far more keen on chasing wild rabbits and pheasants in the nearby fields than sitting around the table with adults learning the ways of the cards. Grandmas Amber and Mattie insisted. Too, Serafina’s mother gave her no exit despite long frowns and beggings to be outdoors where the fun was.
Recognizing Serafina’s knack with the cards — “you’re a natural!” – Serafina musta heard that a 100 times! — the three ladies brokered no refusal.
As with many things — piano lessons, yard work, home chores, everything from making the bed to milking the cows that kids balk at and refuse and GOOD caregivers insist upon regardless — it was only later that Serafina appreciated their intent and imposed discipline. Those truly made her a better person.
Around 18, Serafina came into her own. The study of the cards, their individual meanings, around the kitchen table with her elders was long completed.
Whatever card appeared in a layout, she knew well its “bookish” meaning. That, in simplest terms, a 3 of Diamonds indicated legal or money issues, possible disputes or delays. A 7 of Hearts challenges in love broken promises, disappointments or unfaithfulness. And so on.
Yet “academics” had no place in cartomancy — that’s telling fortunes with playing cards. Those were simply guidelines, the traditional meaning assigned to each card. She could look at, say, that 3 of Diamonds and see — just SEE — not legal problems necessarily but something entirely different. Something outside the box of traditional teachings.
Like an unexpected pregnancy, for example, in Susie’s case. Or a windfall from the untimely death of Uncle Joseph, in the case of Big Marvin –too bad about the tractor brakes failing. Or an unplanned road trip, in the case of Greta, who swore she never wanted to leave the town, never mind the state! But yet when she learned of a brother she never knew she’d had — a long-held family secret that came to light — she could only think of Serafina’s prediction as she sat on that Greyhound seat en route to Missouri two states over.
At 18, when she received her first deck, her very own!, Serafina’s world shifted. It was akin to her teenage friends getting their own telephone back in the day before the ubiquitous cell phones in every toddler’s hand! A direct line and private.
Serafina began offering readings to her friends, both for practice and fun. A good many pooh-poohed her invitations for readings — free, they were too, no less! Especially the boys. They verily laughed her out of town!
And since theirs was a town of 5,000 and the next one over was a good 20 miles’ drive — and she had no means to get there — being laughed outta town was unwelcomed banishment indeed!
Regardless, like her mother and grandmothers at that kitchen table who persevered with her long ago, so did Serafina. Over time, word spread.
Girlfriend Louisa marveled at her repeated readings. “She’s so accurate! How’d she know those things?!? I never told anyone about me and Mike! No one!” (Mike was her secret older lover from that town 20 miles away).
So it went. Praises upon praises. Even the doubters — again, mostly the boys — started coming around.
“Serafina! Tell me, when am I gonna meet a girl?!”
“Serafina! am I gonna be able to get outta here and go to college?!”
“Serafina! Is Debbie cheating on me? I really think she’s screwing around with Joey but she says no. Is she a liar?!”
“Serafina! How can I get money?? Workin’ at Bobby’s Burgers just ain’t cutting’ it.”
On and on it flowed, the questions, the concerned citizens. Some were everyday thoughts; many were soulful ones. Serafina was privy to more unrevealed thoughts and concerns and revelations than the minister!
“Serafina! I’m so unhappy being married to Billy. Should I leave him?”
“Serafina! I suspect I’m pregnant but I don’t want to have another baby. What should I do?”
“Serafina! I think I like women more than men. What’s happening to me?!”
Serafina in time became minister – counselor- fortune-teller and best friend to those she knew and many she didn’t. Her reputation for insight and accuracy grew and word spread, as it does. Even passersby through the little town called Cottonballs — at one time cottonfields draped the landscape far as the eye could see — stopped, drawn there either by word of mouth or a humble neon sign flashing simply “Cards! Come!” in the window of her little office along the main street.
Serafina achieved notoriety and outrageous success. Yet humbleness was her nature. She stayed in that tiny 1-bedroom house with the large yard despite ample resources to “upgrade.”
She never left Cottonballs. Never married and never bore a child. Her doves were her children and her craft. She was sought and never turned away anyone who was truly in need and had but a dime in a pocket.
Indeed, her knack with playing cards brought her her fortune. There were no purple scarves, bangles and jangles and turbans or bracelets clacking with every twist of the wrist.
Serafina was the real deal. And, thank god, there were still folks who favored that over entertaining performances.
When Serafina died and her simple “Cards! Come!” sign was switched off for good, the town, along with many regular clients from outside, mourned. But perhaps no one mourned as much as her doves. For in her, they’d had a kindred spirit. Kind. Gentle. Authentic. No artifice, no phoniness.
Just like the birds she so loved. The doves who were released on the evening of Serafina’s service at her little home with the big yard.
And on the gravestone is carved the 8 of Hearts. The meaning: An unexpected gift or visit or invitation to a party. A passionate relationship or success in business.
One of the few occasions when, in the life of Serafina the fortune-teller, that the traditional meaning held.
To Serafina … who from the other side teaches that our fortune lies not neither in prescribed texts nor rules dictated by others. It rests in our authenticity.