It was the first time I attended the art fair in three years, the first time I ventured anywhere to have some fun since Franklin died. I missed the feeling of adventure when we went anywhere together and wondered if I would ever find it alone. I found a parking place at least a mile away from the festivities and began to walk past block after block of gas stations and fast food restaurants. Then I found my self on Bavaria Avenue. On the corner was a balloon boutique with several 'smiley-face' helium balloons tied to the mailbox. Like little dancing babies they bounced to the rhythm of the music blaring out of the used record shop next door. 'Used' is what the rest of the block had an abundance of; used books, used clothes, an antique emporium, a take-out restaurant called "Old World Deli", and finally a Victorian style house painted powder blue. It was set apart from the rest of the block by a navy blue picket fence with an oversized brass latch. A royal blue sign, almost as big as a billboard, rested on the porch between two white pillars. In shiny silver letters, it beckoned me like a siren song.
MADAM KATRINA'S STUDIO
ENTER AND CHANGE YOUR LIFE
The idea of psychic readings has always fascinated me. I never indulged in one because Franklin felt so strongly that fortunetellers are charlatans that prey on the weak. Despite echoing his warning, I felt compelled to approach Madam Katrina's studio. Perhaps for a moment, I hoped Madam Katrina could and would change my life. I felt my heart beating faster and a jumbled mass of queasiness growing in my stomach as I undid the brass latch. As I walked up the stairs and crossed the porch, I boldly challenged myself not to turn and run. It was in that moment that I chose to knock. In the next moment, I was hoping she wasn't home or was doing a reading for someone else and could not come to the door.
The door opened and there stood an olive skinned girl in a black sleeveless summer dress. "Is Madam Katrina available for a reading?" I asked the girl whom I thought was probably her daughter. "I am Madam Katrina" she said in the deep, heavily accented voice of a much older woman. As she looked up at me, I noticed that she had the most beautiful green eyes I have ever seen. For one fleeting instant I thought that her pupils formed a long narrow band that tapered at the top and bottom of her lids. She had long black hair that fell in layers over her shoulders and half way down her back. She shook her head and her wavy locks seemed to glisten in the small stream of sunlight that fell upon her head and neck. I stared in awe at her graceful beauty. "Come in" she said softly. "I can see your discontent. I can help you break the curse that has been with you for years. It is true, is it not? You have an aura of sadness that hangs over you like a veil."
"I didn't realize it until you spoke but maybe, yes, I am a little sad. I wouldn't call it a curse." I told myself that I did not want to tell her everything. I wanted to test her, to hear what she would say without giving her too many clues. I entered a room that was barren of all but a café style table with a black lace drape and two chairs. On top of the table was a crystal ball the size of a grapefruit, a large deck of Tarot cards, and a tiny pink lamp made of etched glass in the shape of a cat. The glow from the lamp was the only light in the room except for a thin stream of sunlight that fell from a transom window above the door.
"I see. Sit and I will read your palm," she nodded and licked the tips of her fingers. Then she began to arch her back and stretch out her arms in an oddly feline manner. In my imagination I saw a fluffy tail wagging behind her. In reality she had picked a feather boa off the floor and draped it over the chair where she sat facing me.
I looked into her eyes one more time and saw fully dilated pupils with just a slight halo of bright green surrounding them. She took my hand in hers and turned it over to read my palm. It was then that I notice her fingernails. They were painted a dark blood color and she had filed them into sharp points as they arched over her fingertips. I gasped. "You like my nails, yes? They are natural but for the paint. They are a gift to me, exactly like those of my mother and grandmother." Several silent minutes passed until she said with a smile, "Your palm tells me that you are lucky with money and have learned how to use it for happiness, both for yourself and others. It also tells me of the curse that holds you back."
She handed me the deck of cards. "Hold these tightly and let your spirit live in them."
When she took them back she spread them, picture side up, in a circular pattern. She began to speak as if in a trance. "You have loved deeply. A love that is now lost to you. A love that calls to you to say goodbye. His spirit wishes for rest but feels it must stay to watch over you. You must break the curse that binds you to him before it is too late. I am right. I see it on your face. I feel the aura from your heart." She placed her hand just an inch away from my chest. "You must do what I say if we are to free you both."
“Free us both? I don’t understand.” I started to feel my stomach lurch and churn. I felt a fear I had never felt before. My amazement at her insight coupled with my desire to know how she would help me kept me seated as she darted out of the room. My growing image of her as a dark, sleek cat brought back old fears. My mother taught me to hate and fear cats at an early age. I knew it was ridiculous but my mother's mantra began to play in my head, "Cats are evil. They are the instruments of the devil. They will kill you in your sleep."
She returned carrying a tray that held a bottle of red liquid, a clear pouch of red crystals and a small wax figurine of a woman. "You must buy three red apples on your way home. Each night for three nights you must take a bath with the apples, the wax woman icon, one third of the red liquid and one third of the crystals. Please write this down. It must be done exactly as I say." She gave me a piece of paper and a red pencil.
"How did you know? What is this curse? What will happen to me if I don't break it?" These questions I asked but many more were bubbling in my mind.
She did not answer, instead she made a noise that sounded like a hiss.
"Keep writing," she said. "You must take the apples from your bath each night and place one at the head of your bed, one at the foot of your bed and one next to you near your heart. The icon shall stay guarding your bath until the three nights are passed. On the day after the third night you will wrap the apples in a sweater or jacket that your lover used to wear. You have one. I know you do."
"Yes I do." It was all I could say.
She hissed again.
"You must make a list of all the things you loved about him and place it in the sweater with the apples. Also, put in something you love, a gem or a favorite piece of jewelry, and on top of it all lay the icon. Wrap it into a tight bundle. Then go to the river and find a place where you feel peaceful. Stand on the shore and repeat these words three times. Be sure you write them down exactly. They must be exact," she began to make a soft, vibrant sound in the back of her throat and slowly spoke these words. "You may go my love. Rest peacefully for me. I can find my way now. I am no longer lost.”
I listened to her chant this refrain three times and struggled to write it down exactly."When you have finished you must throw the bundle in the river as far into the current as you can. Go and do as I say, exactly as I say. I can do this for you only once. It is up to you to do it right. You must start now or you will lose the chance forever." she moved gracefully to the door and opened it, "leave your money under the table, whatever you wish to give the spirits, it must not touch the table. Remember, you must tell no one or the curse will return. I placed ninety dollars, all of the bills I had in my purse, under the table and left.
As the bright light of day hit me I felt I was awakening from a drug induced sleep. No longer interested in attending the art fair I turned back the way I had come. My feet seemed so light that I imagined myself gliding effortlessly. My heartbeat was regular and steady and my stomach roared from hunger. I stopped at the Old World Deli for something to eat. As I opened the door, a longhaired black cat ran out the door. A withered old woman with an ornately decorated purple scarf tied around her head stood behind the counter. I ordered a brisket of beef sandwich and listened to her hum a sweet little tune while she sliced the beef and prepared the sandwich. As I approached the cash register I noticed a basket sitting there that held three red apples. "I would like these apples. Would you put them in a separate bag from the sandwich?" She winked at me and said, "Yes, I understand. The apples are free. I have been saving them for you."