“Your friends are not your friends, and the man you love does not love you in return.”
Jeannine’s reaction to this sentence was to pull her hand away, but the woman across the table had quick reflexes and promptly held it back. “We’re not done yet,” she said impassively, while opening Jeannine’s sweaty palm atop her own.
The short redhead felt the tears obscuring her vision. “He doesn’t love me?…I knew it!” She turned her head away in an embarrassed gesture, though the old clairvoyant had seen worse coming from her; the lady in emerald green was already used to this kind of scene. She placed a large box of tissues in front of Jeannine. “Here, my child. Wipe those tears and let’s get back to your game. We need to open your cards before my next appointment. He should be here at five.”
The younger woman blew her nose, as small and round as a mother-of-pearl button, and tried to recompose herself. She threw back her red curls with her free hand in an attempt to regain her temporarily lost sense of poise—it was the dignity of an immature and spoiled child, but an act of courage nonetheless. Her diamond bangles made a clunking noise as she rested her arm back on the table and the sound reminded her of her sick father, who had always covered her in jewelry ever since she was a little girl. She had not inquired about him yet. The ailing industrialist still paid his daughter’s bills, despite her 38 years. “That’s what parents are for!” she used to say, and justified it with the thought that she would do the same for her children someday.
“Someone close to you will pass away within the next two years—it’s a male. I think it might be your father.”
Madame Julia offered the information before Jeannine could ask.
“Oh…,” was her questioner’s lukewarm reaction. She was still in shock over the news regarding her lover, Hugo. He didn’t love her—! How dare he?
They had met at a fundraising party for the Opera Garnier. Hugo, who was barely taller than her own 5’3″ (in heels), had been surrounded—or rather towered over—by beauties of dubious repute and middle-class background. It is safe to say that every single one of them had hoped to break from their lower-income purgatory into the life of glamour, wealth and celebrity that he offered, either by marriage or some other form of illicit relation—whatever worked. Jeannine was curious and found him attractive in his sharp bespoke tuxedo, his slicked-back black hair gelled around a perfectly curved head. But in all truth, the real elixir was the beautiful women with whom he was surrounded. She had heard of his infamous standing as an incurable playboy, which had added to her interest. He, too, was aware of her background as the heiress to one of Europe’s largest shipping companies. It had seemed like a perfect match; and a convenient, albeit constantly turbulent, relationship ensued.
Now, it didn’t help that Hugo had recently been spotted at his usual bohemian hangouts sans the official girlfriend of the past several years, and surrounded by the habitual crowd of yeasayers and mercenary women who usually encircle the wealthy. Jeannine was no longer anywhere to be seen, and the girls around him were getting younger even as Hugo’s body got older and rounder—which only went to prove that there is a law of perfect proportion, even in this kind of ecosphere. Then there were the glossy pictures of the minute playboy aboard his yacht ported in St. Tropez, his paunchy belly covered in dark fur, in the company of two nubile blondes. Later, another gossip journal published pictures of him having a cozy dinner at Le Cinq with a dark Amazon he could not reach even on tiptoe. Most recently there were the rumors of an Asian beauty, a real geisha he kept at a loft in the Marais. And so it went.
Jeannine, her fragile pride wounded and in despair, had deployed her entire bag of tricks to keep this man under control, from luscious gifts to private detectives and scandalous public bouts of jealousy—all to no avail. Nothing seemed to work. Madame Julia was her last resource.
Madame Julia inhabited a large one-bedroom apartment smack in the middle of the Rue d’Auteuil, which told Jeannine the hand-reader was doing very well for herself, and probably enjoyed the patronage of other wealthy Parisians. In a sort of defeated haze, Jeannine inspected the flat about her. Exhausted and helpless now, she only wished to give in, or give up—whichever provided her with an exit from her miserable existence. She was starting to feel a bit suffocated, and asked for a break.
“A break from what?” Madame Julia retorted. “From your life? From your future?” She got up to get a glass of water from the kitchen, while Jeannine walked towards the window. The frames were large and allowed plenty of afternoon sunlight to inundate the room. At 5 p.m. the Eglise d’Auteuil would ring its bells in a call for mass. The palm reader’s apartment was across the street from the Mouton Blanc Brasserie, where the likes of Moliére and Racine had supposedly shared more than a few drinks in the good days, when inebriated inspiration was considered a higher virtue.
Jeannine wanted to hear those bells, to be soothed by their music—and perhaps to get lost in it, taking a brief respite from her quotidian life. Opening the curtains, she could see some children playing ball at the Place Jean-Barraud, and the last customers leaving the food market. The street still carried an old-Paris feel, as if it were part of the countryside and not of the city. The fact that it had remained untouched by Haussmann meant that the winding streets were still charming, still stuck in a period of rituals and chivalry. These thoughts calmed Jeannine, and she stopped crying.
“Come on, mademoiselle,” insisted the clairvoyant. “Let’s finish your reading and close your game.”
But Jeannine was far away. She felt desolate, thinking of all the moments she didn’t have, the precious memories she would have had with Hugo if only she’d had more time. What about all the mornings, all the happy mornings they could have woken up together, sharing breakfast in his yacht, or all the walks on the beach that never took place but which certainly would have been happy if she’d had more time to develop the deep bond she’d thought they shared? And all the shopping they could do on her father’s credit card! It was all so clear to her, right before her eyes…why couldn’t he see it too? The kisses they would exchange, the long nights of passionate lovemaking! Jeannine savored all the ecstatic moments she imagined, moments that tasted so much better than reality itself. She yearned for this perfect romance which had never existed, which would not—and she missed it all, she missed it dearly. All those potential perfect memories…
Feeling a new gust of tears rising up, she turned her curls toward the window again, and was briefly distracted by the figure of a tall man walking out of the Brasserie, en route to the building. There was something about his gait that attracted her, and she was impressed by how solid he seemed to be. His walk was decisive, as if he had no room for ambiguity. A colossal man, he seemed middle-aged, with greying temples and large hands. He wore an elegant beige overcoat and a lilac cashmere scarf.
Madame Julia noticed her client’s lost gaze and told her, as she spread the cards, “That is my next appointment, a pharmaceutical executive from Brussels.”
Turning to the cards, she went on. “There is a man in your life, but the fish card is beneath him—so he is fleeing. It must be Hugo; there is no security there. The next cards are the snake, followed by the anchor. The snake represents communication, while the anchor is stability; therefore you will find constancy through better communication. Finally, there is another male figure coming up, and this one is a king. He is tall and handsome, firm and kind—he brings a bouquet of red roses. This will be your next man.
“Now I close your game, but I don’t close your life. May God be with you.”
Jeannine silently got up from the table, as if acknowledging the sanctity of the ritual for the first time. She picked up her purse, and wrote a not-insubstantial check to Madame Julia. What is the price of hope? she thought. It was priceless. The clairvoyant had given her much more than any therapy session could have—she had given her a reason to smile again, to live again, to wake up, to go shopping.
As she left the card-reader’s apartment, she heard the sound of footsteps coming up the stairs. She thought this thud had a familiar echo to it. They were not just any footsteps, but the steps of a determined man—and they were quickly approaching the doorway! She stood there, paralyzed, second-guessing if she should stay or go. As the man passed her, he inclined his head in a gesture of discreet compliment, for he guessed that the little curly redhead was another client of his beloved fortune-teller. He smelled of cologne and tobacco, and Jeannine left the building exultant in the assurance that she was about to turn the page.
I welcomed my next querent without leaving the table. This one was an easy mark. We had known each other for years, and had negotiated and renegotiated over his soul a hundred times. Straightforward, rational, clearheaded…and yet, he still leaned on divine guidance for his factories’ operation and expansion. As I opened his game I thought of Jeannine, who was still waiting outside the building, waiting for this handsome man to leave my apartment, to bump into her, to fall in love!
And I thought of all the other Jeannines out there, male and female—always looking for love, always searching for a cure. And then looking for a cure for the cure.