The Soothsayer

I had the dream again. The one where I’m only five and can’t reach the doorbell, so I’m kicking with all my might, shouting: “Marcsa, for fuck sake, open the door!”

She delighted in teaching me juicy Hungarian swearwords, favoring the ones with lots of s sounds, my lisp always good for a laugh. A few people pointed out that I was too young to have such a potty-mouth but she’d say it is the perfect preparation for an imperfect life and that at least I would never have an ulcer.

Her apartment was a magical place of incense, clashing colors and fabrics, throw pillows for castle building and heavy velvet curtains to hide behind. Women came and went, mostly elderly, mostly crying, and she would spread her cards for what she told me was her special game. Sometimes I watched, trying to understand the rules, but usually gave up and went off to a corner to play – except that afternoon when the woman with the peroxide hair came to Marcsa’s parlor.

I had never seen nails quite as long and her mouth was almost like a fat red snake curling on her face. I sat down at the table to admire her, close-up. She was talking about her husband in between sobs. I did not listen; just let my eyes wander hypnotized from her mouth to her hand squeezing a hankie into a tight ball. Marcsa shuffled and laid out the cards, the King of Spades in the middle. “The doctors just don’t know what’s wrong with him,” the woman said.

“The cards show clearly that he is sick, but they don’t tell me what kind of illness. Maybe we should pull three more cards.” Marcsa reached for the deck.

I stared at the King until I felt dizzy. When I closed my eyes, he was lying in bed, propped up by pillows. He tried getting up, but his legs collapsed and he lay on the floor. “There’s something wrong with his legs,” I said.

“What makes you think that?” Marcsa’s hand stopped mid-air.

“He keeps falling over, I can see it.”

“You’re not going to listen to a child, I hope.”

Peroxide woman forgot to cry. Marcsa looked at the new cards and told the woman to ask the doctor to check his legs.

More and more often, she would ask me to sit at the table when the ladies came and sometimes when I closed my eyes the cards would tell me their stories. They’d pair off, dance, or fight, just like real life. I was to keep it a secret from my friends. Marcsa let me touch the numbers tattooed on her arm and warned me to remember that people did not like those who were different. In the eyes of most, I was already different enough. I was lucky, she said. God let me see the future so I would never dwell on the past.

About the author

J. Kiss is a Global Nomad with a dash of the Wandering Jew and a pinch of Gypsy. She lives in Dubai, her seventh…

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