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Madam Adam's Sphere of Influence

by Sally Jennings

As ominous great gray clouds hovered in the sticky heat, I adjusted my sign, "Ensure Success -- Discover Hidden Secrets of Your Future Before They Happen." The sides of the tents flapped in the mounting wind like giant ghostly shrouds. On this the last hour of the carnival there were still a few fair goers wandering like lost souls in the gathering storm, but I was anxious to close up shop and go.

So I was already distracted by time and the elements when she walked in with all her glory crammed into a tight jungle print mini-skirt and flaming red, minimal tube top, bleached hair askew. I scrambled for two, no three folding chairs to arrange under her huge bulk. She started to flop down, then seeing the size of the chairs, gingerly lowered herself. Yes, I thought, better be careful, lady. I don't want to spring for replacements or I will really start losing money on this show. I was kind of heavy too, and had already broken one of these chairs myself.

"You the one, goin' to tell me my future, or 'z it some'un else? " She forced the words out around the revolving wad of gum. Bubbulicious Heavenly Grape, I guessed, at least three pieces judging by the size of it.

"Yes, I am Madam Adam, and I would love to look into your future." Boy would I ever, I thought, and your past, too. Who raised her to believe she could appear in this kind of getup in public?

"And my lovely lady, you are------?"

"I like people to call me Jewel, mos' pretty name I ever read in a Harlequin, but my real name's Lorna." A frown crossed her face. "Will you be able to tell my fortune if you use Jewel? Won't get mixed up with the Jewel in that book?" How charming, and truly accurate, mixing her fortune I was about to tell with that of a fictional character. If only she knew.

"Jewel, what a beautiful name. Oh no, I can easily use your preferred name. You made a good choice, your name speaks of great value." She glowed. So far so good.

I parroted what was on my outside signs, "You just can't go wrong making an investment in your future like this. It may be so important what you will learn." The gum movement was suspended momentarily, apparently by deep thought. I gauged receptivity about 8 out of 10. Doubtless clipped tabloid articles.

"Remember, it is not what I say, but how you interpret it that matters. The fulfillment of your fortune will be up to you." Vigorous nodding this time, likely a seasoned veteran of subjective interpretation of events.

"You may place your money here, in this box." When I first started this business, I had collected sloppily, sometimes at the end of the fortune-telling time. After one particularly acrimonious refund experience, involving the fair management and the cops, I had learned fast. I offered her the box which now had a good tight slot in the top, and was artfully labeled "I TELL IT, YOU LIVE IT--- SORRY, NO REFUNDS..."

As she settled into the seating arrangement I noticed she had some little girl's jewelry and a doll in a plastic shopping bag at her side. I loved it when they came in carrying things I could see into. As a fake, detail analysis and exploitation of opportunity was my forte. It made the tips a whole lot bigger.

I arranged my crystal ball in front of her, carefully watching her reaction. "Oh," she sounded disappointed, "not as fancy as Zelda's, I 'spected it 'ud be lots better." Great, all I needed was local competition with a fortune that wouldn't jibe. Better not to ask. The little I needed to know would likely be revealed involuntarily.

"Well, we all have our favorites," I said smoothly. "I call this one my Sphere of Influence. It was passed down from my great grandmother, who was a gypsy. Funny, isn't it, her name was Zelda, too. That may very well be a fortunate coincidence." The ball was early thrift store, $4.99, as I recalled. I had patched the small pock marks with windshield scratch repairer. Vaseline added a soft iridescent patina. There were a few little expenses of the trade. The only great grandmother I knew anything about had been a staunch Methodist named Maude. But hey, who knew about the others?

I rearranged my loops of garish plastic necklaces and retucked my hair into my loud polyester scarves, fussing with my pawnshop rings, examining my hands carefully. Buildup was important, I had found. Longer waits made the customer more anxious, more receptive.

I placed my hands over the ball, cupping them towards myself. "Ooh," she cooed, "yur green stone, that's so cool. You get that aroun' here?" Flawed green glass was always impressive when fashioned into larger rings. Hospital thrift shop, if memory served. Fifty cents. No tax. Two cents of pearlescent nail polish added murky depth.

"Columbian emerald, never met the man who bought it, was a gift from his wife for several years of highly accurate predictions involving great wealth. I am really sorry I can't tell you more, but you know, those in our profession must protect client confidentiality, our reputations depend on it."

"Yeah, course, I get it. Wouldn't want you to spill nothing 'bout this to my Bobby, neither. You won't tell him, will ya?" Her eyes searched mine in the dim light above the crystal ball.

"All of your secrets are safe with me," I assured her. "He will never know." If all went well, I would never see her again, and I sincerely hoped never to meet Bobby. I could only imagine.

"Perhaps you would be more comfortable with your eyes closed. It may really help me read your fortune better." Literally read, considering that I had a sheet with a few choice phrases hidden beneath the table next to my chair, and a mini reading light responsible for the unearthly glow upwards into my face. Some customers thought the glow was entirely supernatural. If they happened to mention it, I claimed ignorance and charged extra. Someday soon I hoped to be able to afford a dry ice fog maker.

"My, we are getting something already, Jewel." She settled in, a little anxious sweat appeared on her forehead. "Something about a child, a little girl....a doll and some bracelets, maybe."

"Oh," she said, breathless, "in the bag here. I just bought these for my niece Maryann. She's three, see." I had been right about the involuntary revelations. This just got a whole lot easier, since I had a three-year-old girl at home myself.

"Why she is so active, isn't she. And really knows her own mind. Such a talker."

"You bet. She is my little doll, with curly blond hair, such a little sweetie pie. She going to grow up okay? Can you see?"

"Well now, Jewel I don't get detail when you pay a single fee just for you, but there seems to be some bonus information here where she is graduating from some kind of high school." Maryann might do better in school if she was shoved into it by a fortune teller proclaiming graduation was her destiny. In any case, I would be long gone in the fifteen years it would take little Maryann to graduate, or not as the case might be.

"Remember, Jewel, this is just your fortune you paid me to be telling."

Fast like lightning, Jewel flipped her eyes open, grabbed another couple of bills from her purse, and jammed them into the slot on the payment box. "Tell me everythin' you see about anybody aroun' me," she said, shutting her eyes tightly.

The bump up, it's called.

"Certainly, you have now moved into our premium offer for all your loved ones as they relate to your life," I murmured. "Oh my, there is a dark cloud over that man there, in the center of the picture." I figured it was time to find out about Bobby.

"Dark hair in a pony tail, sideburns, real heavy, tattoos, lots of hair on his chest, beer belly?" she gasped. "Beat up motorcycle in front of him? Sittin' on a dirty front porch, cursin' an' smoking an' drinking?" I barely stifled a gag reflex. Wow, I had sure been right about not ever wanting to meet Bobby. Surely she wouldn't let him anywhere near her niece? Duty was calling me to stop what could happen.

"Why yes, I see exactly what you described. But the cloud, we may have to wait a bit to see what develops," I whispered. I used the remote to flip on the CD player hidden in the curtains behind me and out came soft spooky music. "Oh my," I said, "it sounds like we're getting some audio. Most unusual. This must be extremely important."

Jewel moaned, and began to tremble, wringing her hands. She began wiggling on her tenuous seating. How alarming. I must be very careful. I really did not want to spend time in the Walmart furniture section searching for replacement chairs.

"Oh no, now I see you and Bobby with little Maryann and the cloud is growing a lot bigger and darker," I murmured.

"Can't you jus' tell that cloud to scram out'a there? Bobby, he's only ever done time twice for all those drugs and B and E's, and he never beat me up bad 'cept that one time, cops're not even lookin' for him, last few days," she was pulling at the tablecloth now, her hands gripping the edge of the card table underneath the cheap vinyl cloth.

Drugs? B and E? A record? She really had my attention now. How much more did I need to know, anyway? I judiciously avoided crime detail; I did not wish to be part of a cover up.

"Well, now Jewel, maybe we can see what you might do about that cloud to make it leave." I was pushing her learning curve to take action about Bobby and stalling for scheduling detail.

She was sweating heavily now, getting louder and louder. "Oh, but maybe that cloud's over tomorrow. Maryann, she's comin' to visit and he's s'posed to help babysit, jus' us two. Oh please no, not my pretty li'l Maryann," Jewel moaned. She began to bounce on the chairs now, holding her hands tightly over her eyes, everything inside and outside her clothes shaking. B and E, drugs, booze, battery, and babysitting? Was she kidding?

"Well Jewel, you will have to be very careful, if you want to escape what I see here. I just cannot tell you all the detail, it is too awful. But according to what I am getting, you and you alone can prevent all these events under the black cloud if little Maryann is NEVER around when Bobby IS and Bobby is NEVER around when Maryann IS." I patted her now quivering arm. She started to shake violently, swaying and shaking the table. Rats, too much Vaseline on the ball was making it hard to hold steady. And the chairs were not going to make it through this, I saw. Maybe not the table either. I deftly swept the black velvet curtains behind me. One of a kind, estate sale, painstakingly embellished by hand with gold stars, not replaceable.

"Can you tell me, do you think, should I jus' tell him goodbye? Do you get any kind of sign 'bout that, cause I don't want little Maryann hurt at all, she's my lil honey. He lays a hand on her and I'll, you better believe, I'll, oh would I ever, if he--." She rocked the table fast and hard, tears squeezing out the corners of her closed eyes. I tried never to advise on love relationships, it was just way too dicey, plus I never wanted to meet Bobby in any of my lives, present or future, especially incarnated as her recently dumped ex-boyfriend. It had to all come from her. I would have to push harder.

"Well, now Jewel, you will get a sign very soon, I'm sure--"I began to sweat a little myself, trying to conjure up a suitably supernatural sign to release her into action, when the entirely predictable occurred.

There was a sharp cracking noise and a second loud report, accompanied by a flash of lightning. Jewel gave a horrific scream as the chairs failed under her and her mini skirt split from bottom to top, and um, well um, well anyway--. She grabbed the tablecloth, pulling the table over with her as I neatly managed to save the crystal ball from disappearing down inside her red tube top. Then she screamed again as her skirt fell victim to gravity. I shoved the vinyl tablecloth into her hands to wrap around her to get as far as her car, and she flat out skedaddled out of there just as the heavens broke loose with a deluvian downpour. Last I saw and heard she was racing between the flapping tents shouting "Bobby! Split! Bobby! No! Must save Maryann--!"

Since I had no idea whether Bobby was just around the next tent, I was glad I had cleanup to full exit down to five minutes flat myself. As I hurried to put away my crystal ball, I reflected. Well, maybe I hadn't made any money on this one, but hey, you know, in this job the salvation of three-year-olds outweighs the value of a vinyl tablecloth and a few Walmart chairs. In the telling of every fortune, I consider it is always my mission to divert someone from obvious folly, if I can. As Madam Adam I have probably saved hundreds from potential destruction. I certainly have a unique sphere of influence, reaching those who seem to be oblivious to traditional teaching and common sense. As I congratulated myself on collecting my fee up front, I picked up my cash box and read once again, I TELL IT, YOU LIVE IT -- SORRY, NO REFUNDS IN THIS LIFE.

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