Life had not gone the way he’d hoped since his retirement from teaching. Instead of traveling the world, renovating his home, landscaping his yard, and finally getting himself into decent physical condition, all he’d accomplished was eating and drinking more, and wearing out his couch with binging every TV show he’d missed out on over all those years of working his life away.
This woman was highly recommended on Yelp. The reviews were rarely other than five-stars. Still doubting not a little, he went ahead and made an appointment with her anyway.
He wasn’t sure what to expect. The elderly woman, an Asian-Haole* mix, was very close to his age, he guessed. She welcomed him warmly, in a very local manner, with a big hug and a brush of her lips on his cheek.
They sat opposite each other at a small table covered with a red palaka* cloth. His eyes scanned the walls. Then stopped.
“I see you’re looking at my diploma,” she said.
“You’re an MD?” he said, sounding very surprised. “Really?” He looked at her.
“People are sometimes interested to know that I graduated from the John A. Burns School of Medicine. That was a long time ago.”
“Do you still practice medicine?”
“Oh no,” she said. “I gave that up a long time ago as well. It was too depressing for me. Had I gone into something like OBGYN or pediatrics, I might have stuck with it. There’s something joyful about bringing life into the world, caring for children.”
“What was your area of specialization?” he asked.
“Huh, well, I could see how that might be depressing,” he said. “No pun intended.”
“So,” he said, “you went to the opposite end of the spectrum, then. No more science for you.”
She laughed again. “I know what most people think about my career choice. Believe me, you’re far from the first person to sit in that chair who has trouble believing in what I do. But you try me out anyway. Just in case. I want to assure you about my ability. I knew I was proficient at what I do from the time I was in elementary school, long before I ever thought about going into medicine. I assure you, anything I tell you will be one hundred percent accurate. I’ve never been wrong as far as I know.”
He nodded, although he was certainly not convinced by any of this at all.
She said, “So tell me a little bit about what you’re interested in knowing, and I’ll suggest how we can approach the reading.”
“Approach it?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, “what method you think you would prefer for me to use.”
“How many are there?” he asked.
“Oh, a few,” she said. “I could read your palm, use Tarot cards. There’s the crystal ball. It all depends on what you would prefer. So tell me a bit about your situation.”
He explained how the years since retirement had not gone the way he’d hoped. How he was looking for some direction that might lead him on a path to resurrecting his plans for productivity in however many years he had remaining. If she truly could tell him what would happen, that would be most welcome.
“Well,” she said, “is there a method you’d prefer?”
He said it really didn’t matter, that whatever she thought best was fine with him.
“Spoken like a true non-believer,” she said, smiling. She was very pretty when she smiled, looked younger.
“Give me your hand,” she said. She brought his palm quite close to her face, almost as if she needed glasses. This, he mused, would be a close reading. She ran her index finger over the lines. Again. Ever so slowy. Then a third time, slower still.
“Hmmm,” she mumbled.
He smiled. “What’s the good news? What do you see there?”
“Oh, nothing, it’s just that your palm is very interesting.”
“I have a suggestion,” she said. “Let me get my crystal ball.”
Oh brother, he thought, regretting how much this was going to cost him. “Yeah, sure, okay,” he agreed.
She disappeared through a curtain behind her. He could hear her doing something back there. It sounded like more than simply retrieving the crystal ball. Finally she reappeared.
Laying the ball carefully on the table, the woman began to hocus-pocus her hands over it, just the way he’d seen it done in the movies. He thought back to those expensive calls he’d made to the psychic hotlines when he was young and stupid. Why did he do things like this to himself?
Just as happened in the movies, a jet of smoke magically appeared in the glass ball. The woman began to hum softly. Oddly, he noticed, she closed her eyes. Wouldn’t it be easier to see what was up with the future inside the ball if she had her eyes open?
Gradually the woman stopped humming. Laying her hands on the table, she sat there, rocking back and forth ever so slightly. She opened her eyes and looked at him. Her gaze became uncomfortable, and he turned his eyes away, looking over at another diploma, this one from the University of British Columbia.
“I’ve been to UBC,” he said, trying to shift gears. “It’s a beautiful campus. I went there one summer to research Canadian literature. What kind of degree did you earn there?”
“Oh, that’s where I got my BS in Biology. Hawai‘i girl goes to Canada for college. Stop the presses.”
He laughed a bit nervously.
“I also pursued certification in alternative medicine there. The integration of Eastern medicine practices in US medical schools is only a very recent phenomenon, relatively speaking. The Chinese community in Vancouver is the second largest outside of China. San Francisco is number one, but the Canadians were farther out front with education in Eastern medicine, so UBC was the perfect place for that kind of program to flourish.”
A whistling sound came from back behind the curtain.
“Excuse me,” she said, rising and disappearing again.
He listened to her clatter around for a bit. Then she emerged with a cup. “I made you some tea,” she said. “I find that of all the methods I employ to see into future, reading tea leaves is the most accurate.”
She laid the cup before him. “You’ll need to drink all of it before I can do the reading.”
He laughed. “Come on, please. You’ve apparently seen something in my palm and in the ball. What is it? Can’t you give me any details.”
“Please,” she said, “drink the tea. I’ll be able to say more once you have.”
He blew on the tea. Sipped. Burned his lip. Blew more. Sipped more. All this time she watched him, silent. Finally he was able to finish it. Passing the cup to her, he said, “Here you go. Let me have the bad news.”
She took the cup and set it on the table. He waited. She watched him.
Finally he said, “Well aren’t you going to look at the leaves?”
She smiled, gently shook her head. “No,” she said, “there’s no need to do that.”
He gave her a puzzled look. “No need? Why’s that?”
“I was fairly sure about what I saw when I looked at your palm. Sadly, my reading of the crystal ball confirmed it.”
He looked at her face. It seemed blurry. “What,” he said, “what is it?” His head felt foggy.
She continued to watch him, smiling, a sad expression on her face. Then, “I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, but there would have been a great deal of pain in your future. Within the next few weeks you would feel this pain coming on and go to the doctor because of it.”
He was fighting great fatigue now. His whole body felt heavy.
“They would find cancer, I’m afraid. It began in your liver and has metastasized throughout your body. And though death would have come soon, the ever more excruciating pain, even with the strongest medications, would have been beyond unbearable over that period.”
His arms slid forward on the smooth palaka cloth. His chin came to rest on the table. His lay on his right cheek, closed his eyes.
“I couldn’t let you go through that. I made this tea for you so you could avoid all of that. There will be no pain for you.”
The last thing he knew was the feel of her hand, first patting the back of his, then running smoothly along his forearm, comforting him into a painless darkness.
palaka: a Hawaiian plaid design
Haole: a Hawaiian term for Caucasian